Sitting down with one of the big names in this business this week was a really cool opportunity. I am honored to have on the show today, Academy Award-winning director, producer, and screenwriter, Taylor Hackford.
Taylor’s has directed films like An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), White Nights (1985), Proof of Life (2000), Dolores Claiborne (1995), Against All Odds (1984), Parker (2013), the iconic Ray Charles biopic, Ray of 2004, and The Comedian (2016) just to name a few. He also has served as president of the Directors Guild of America and is married to the incomparable acting legend Helen Mirren.
Long before gaining popularity, Hackford had an interesting journey on his climb-up. Taylor served in the US Peace Corps in Bolivia after college. Before then, while pursuing his studies in law there was an odd turn of events. Inspired by mutual friends who were film students, Hackford, quit school and sought out an entry-level position with KCET TV in LA. There, he learned and grew. He did everything. From office assistance to investigative reporting, which earned him two Emmys and an Associated Press Award, to documentaries, short films, and directing.
Hackford racked up his first hit directing and writing Teenage Father in 1978. The film won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject. It explores the life of a 17-year-old senior boy who is a soon-to-be father with his girlfriend, a 15-year-old sophomore. They evaluate the decisions about how they got here, and the decisions on what they will do next.
He then went on to direct the very successful romantic drama film, Officer and a Gentleman in 1982. Recognized as the best film of the year and grossing $190 million from a $7 million budget. The film also made history at the Academy Awards where a black man, Louis Gossett Jr. won the Oscars for Best Supporting Actor for the first time in Academy history. The film tells the story of Zack Mayo (Gere), a United States Navy Aviation Officer Candidate who is beginning his training at Aviation Officer Candidate School. While Zack meets his first true girlfriend during his training, a young “townie” named Paula, he also comes into conflict with the hard-driving Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley training his class.
Besides winning two Academy Awards, the film also won a BAFTA, two Golden Globes, one Grammy, one NAACP Image Awards, a Japan Academy Film Prize, National Board of Review 10 best films of the year awards, and a Writers Guild of America Awards.
If this isn’t every director’s dream, I don’t know what is. Of course, success like this sets the bar even higher for oneself and can make or break any filmmaker.
Another of Taylor’s classics is 1997 The Devil’s Advocate starring Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Connie Nielsen, Craig T. Nelson, Judith Ivey
An exceptionally adept Florida lawyer is offered a job to work in New York City for a high-end law firm with a high-end boss – the biggest opportunity of his career to date.
Taylor Hackford delivered another outstanding film in 2004. Ray. The biographical musical film on the three decades journey of the legendary blues musician, Ray Charles—from his humble beginnings in the South, where he went blind at age seven, to his meteoric rise to stardom during the 1950s and 1960s. It starred triple threat actor, Jamie Foxx.
Ray received riveting reviews from the critics and multiple awards including Best Actor at the Academy.
Hackford’s most recent work he produced or directed is The Comedian, starring Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Danny DeVito, and other big names.
The film plot has Jackie (Robert De Niro) who is a comic icon, attempting to reinvent himself despite his audience only wanting to know him as a television character he played earlier in his career. It is a look at the life of an aging insult comic named Jack Burke.
It was certainly incredible to sit back and chat with Taylor. His Ray Charles story alone is worth the process of admission, trust me.
Enjoy my conversation with Taylor Hackford.
Alex Ferrari 0:04
I would like to welcome to the show Taylor Hackford, how you doing Taylor?
Taylor Hackford 0:07
I'm doing great.
Alex Ferrari 0:09
Thank you so much for coming on the show. It is a, it is a humbling honor to speak to you. So I'm a huge fan.
Taylor Hackford 0:18
I wanted to say that, you know, it's interesting with your last name, I love it. Well, you know, you got the fast car, but I there was a guy who ran, he ran actually, two different big companies. He ran Columbia Pictures in Italy. And he ran Warner Brothers in Italy. I mean, he was by far the best European distributor of American films I know of. And his name was Paolo, karate. And you know, you drive with him in raw, you know, in Rome, and he'd be driving around, you'd be gripping things. And he looked at you and, and, and raises eyebrows and say, they don't call me FERRARI for nothing.
Alex Ferrari 0:59
Well, if I ever give you a ride, Sir, my Prius does not corner Well, at high speeds.
Taylor Hackford 1:05
Well he's a great guy anyway. Side mentioning his name,
Alex Ferrari 1:12
I appreciate that. So, first, before we get going, how did you get started in the in the business?
Taylor Hackford 1:20
You know, I'm not one of those filmmakers who grew up, you know, with chronic asthma, or, you know, I was in a terrible accident. So I, I lived through movies when I was growing up, you know, I was pretty active in various things, I played sports, I was involved in politics, student politics, all those kinds of things. And, you know, I went to the movies, I liked the movies, I read a lot of books, but I had not really kind of outlined as a child or as a adolescent, or even as a teenager, that this was what I wanted to do. You know, I, as I said, I was a political animal. And I grew up in the 60s, when I say grew up, I reached a majority in the 60s. So when I was in college, you know, is 1967 1968 it was major things that were happening in the world, I think 1968 is still the most momentous year minmatar, free with all the things that happen. And I in 1968, I was in the Peace Corps, I lived in South America in Bolivia. And at that point, I had been, I thought I was going to maybe go to law school, I'd been accepted to law school, I started hanging with some film students, in my senior year in college, and, you know, I'd go to they would series film that, you know, and they go and they, and I spend time looking at their, at the films that they would see, and seeing through their eyes, the study and the process of looking at style. And I got hooked. And I got myself before I went to the Peace Corps, I got myself a super eight camera. And I took it to Bolivia with and I started shooting, you know, just whatever I wanted, you know, making little films that were part and parcel of the experience that I was going through, which was intense, you know, Americans when they grew up, you know, we are so fortunate we so lucky. You know, you live in a culture where most people are healthy, you know, you have media, you have all the conveniences of modern life. When you go to a third world country, you realize that you realize how lucky Americans are. And then you have to confront a different life. You know, we I was living in a, you know, in a barrio outside of La Paz, you know, with mostly imar Indians. And it was it was intense and very interesting. And the process of seeing that, and when the camera, I started shooting, and I was interested, what I'd become interested in when I hung with my film students was the political power of film, the impact what film could do in terms of communicating ideas, and to create change. So without being too pretentious, they know. But at the time, in the 60s, if you were political, you were pretty political. And one of the reasons I was in the Peace Corps was that I didn't want to go to Vietnam, I didn't want to fight in Vietnam, I freely admitted, but I did want to serve my country. So you know, that was an alternative and the alternative i thought was far preferable. And when I was there, it just, you know, you're bombarded with all of this cultural diversity. And, and, and, you know, plus, like, I'm speaking Spanish. I'm learning Spanish and learning and to speak. So it's it's it was a really really positive, very strong experience for me. And what I came to the realization was that I liked shooting film, I liked being able to express myself visually, that it wasn't, you know, I, when I came back from the Peace Corps I was there, got involved in, we created a volunteer newspaper only for volunteers, but still I was. So doing journalism. And what I found was that expression, being able to express myself, both in print and, and on on screen, I mean, these are little screens separate. Remember what I do did. It just captured me. So when I came back from the Peace Corps, I had been accepted law school. And I went, you know, it's kind of like, you have that momentum going, this is what you're supposed to do. And I spent two weeks there in the class, and kind of went, you know, this could be perfectly fine to do in life, you know, I'm sure, but it's not what I want to do. And it was weird, because I didn't have any money. I put any money I had down on tuition. I got up, walked out with, you know, for fitting all of that. And when I was in college, I had been student body president of USC. And I said involved in student government, student politics, and general politics in general, leaning toward the left, I might say. And I had been interviewed at a public television station in Los Angeles called KC et when I was a student politician. And the producer, there had been nice and so on, I just quit law school, drove up to Los Angeles. went over to Casey t asked to see this guy. Just call it a cold call, you know. And basically, he would did remember me and I and he was quite well, he didn't go to film school, did you? I said, No. I majored in international relations and economics. And he goes, Well, I can tell you what, we got room in the mailroom. And it's a good place to go, and you can work your way out and I said, I'll take it. And that was it. So and I was married at the time. You know, my wife had been with me, my then wife was with me in the Peace Corps. I mean, basically, I took a really low paying job, I had to learn how to mimeograph print, and deliver mail. It's a far cry from expressing myself visually. But on the weekends, I still short film. And I and I started going to film you know, I attended a lot of screenings with my friends in the film and film school and I was the scene. But I really started taking it seriously, I would go because there was a lot of, at the time in Los Angeles, there were a lot of repertory film houses and then showed classics. And I basically did what my friends that had been film schools did my though their film students had seen all those films, and I decided I had to do it. So I would go to probably, and this is no baloney. I would probably see 12 1314 movies a week, and I was working full time, ya know, at night, I would go, you know, I would go to see a double feature. You know, you see all of Birdman, you see all the Fellini, you see all of Andre vida, you know, you see all these years, you know, at that time, I was looking at European films, but at the same time, you know, john Ford, Howard Hawks, you know, that, you know, john used in the, the, the great American directors who had style, I was also and so, you know, I was soaking that up, plus, I was out shooting my own kind of super eight and eight millimeter movies. And basically working in the mailroom, and then, you know, I got to know the great thing about being in the mailroom, and I think you hear about it in Hollywood, you get to go to every department, you got to go you get to meet everybody, you're handing them, they're male, that's an important thing. And you shoot the shit, you know, if you're a good bullshitter you, you talk to them about what they're thinking and they either like you or they don't. But there is a process that if they do like you, and they feel that you got something on the ball, they might be you know, it might be conducive to them giving you a break when the time comes. And so there was a there was a show in case at a couple of reporters from the LA Times, and at that time, there was a lot of student ferment going on. When I graduated from college, I got into the Peace Corps I'd come back but it all that political stuff was roiling, and up at UCSB in Santa Barbara, the bunch radicle students burned down a bank of america crazy and literally burnt it down. And on my own, I got up and it was on the weekend. And I said to hell with it, I got in the car, took my super aq. And I went up to Santa Barbara. And I got up at like four in the morning so I could get there. I read that it had been burned down at midnight. We literally got one up there. And I'm now at this place, and it's still smoldering. And the students are standing around kind of like, hey, look what we did. You know, they're there. They they have the police had been there and done things. Some people have been arrested, and there's others. But clearly, it was a big kind of mob. This painting, which I thought was an amazing kind of statement that was that's, you know, the fact that it's the Bank of America and the students decided to take that as a symbol. And I shot some footage, and I interviewed some people.
Taylor Hackford 10:57
And I came back down to kct. And on Monday morning, I went and I said I went up and did this. And these guys put me on the air. They basically put me on the air and I showed my footage. And they asked me as though I were a reporter. You know what I'd seen who I'd interviewed, etc. And I expressed myself because I'd always you know, as I said I was a student politician, I could talk and they liked it. And all of a sudden, they said, Can you shoot? Well, then, one day, the cinematographer who worked for the studio, you know, got sick or didn't come in and something they say Can you shoot 16 and I lied and said I could, you know, because, you know, super eights very different, you'd have a cartridge to put in. And I was shooting a millimeter, you did have to thread it through the camera. But I've never shot 60. But I went out and I kind of taught myself and I didn't screw up too bad. And I started shooting. And then I started reporting and you know, in a way kct was my film school. That's amazing. It was great. Because, you know, when you're in film school, you got a semester to do a project, I had to do things every single day, I had air dates, and I started to become a political reporter on air. I also at the same time, you know, is the great thing about this was understaffed the station. So as long as you didn't care about sleep, you could do a lot of stuff. And I would do reports during the day. And I would do cultural shows because I was a student of rock and roll. I started doing, you know, uninterrupted music on TV. And, and then at the same time, I started doing longer documentaries. And I ended up by making a film about Charles Bukowski who was, you know, a great, great la poet. And I got very close to him, and he loved me make this portrait and lo and behold, and so, you know, I would I would edit the film at night. I would do my news work during the day do my cultural shows, you know,
Alex Ferrari 12:58
and sleep and sleep. How long?
Taylor Hackford 13:01
Who needs sleep?
Alex Ferrari 13:02
At that age? You don't need much sleep
Taylor Hackford 13:04
now. No, no, it was it was an opportunity. Shannon, the because the film took him to me about, you know, nine months to make because I shot it. And then I edited it. And I edited the San Francisco Film Festival and it one good progress document. And it and you know, those are the kinds of things that you do you don't know you didn't set out? Although, you know, I grabbed the opportunity. I thought because it was important. here's here's a cultural affairs department that and I public television station in Los Angeles. They have no idea who Charles because. And I said, Well guess what? JOHN Janae and john Paul Sartre call it America's greatest poet. So, you know, they think he's important. I think he's important. Why don't we deal with it since this is called called, quote, cultural affairs. And it's that's poetry. But you know, but koski was not what they had this idea of a poet. And of course, you know, because he was brawling and trumpkin. And, you know, all he could do is talk about fighting with women and so on. So in the film got, you know, when the film was finished, they were kind of shocked, but they put it on. And people complained, and I love this, this, I take this as a great, great compliment. It was because there was the word fuck. And there was a lot of there was a lot of things with Rakowski that you know, you can't alter you know, so I put it on it was an hour documentary. And somebody complained to the FCC and said I that this this this film had violated FCC was amoral, and it violated FCC rules. And it was investigated by the FCC. And if in fact, they agreed the student is the station could lose his license, right? She's so you know, we're all waiting around and with a great deal of worry for the meantime You know, I'd won the San Francisco Film Festival. And then the word came back and it said, we reject this challenge. We find this film a work of art.
Alex Ferrari 15:13
Oh my god, that must have been amazing feeling with
Taylor Hackford 15:17
it was a really cool thing to have happened. And then and then you know, use one from there.
Alex Ferrari 15:23
So, so it took from from what I saw you from filmography you that came out around 73. And then you got another film called idol maker and seven years later took you to get to that point. But then you made another little film called officer in the gentlemen. Now how, because for people and I was I was young, I was a young man when that came out. But even I my age, heard of Officer and a Gentleman and even when I got older, it was just something with the in the sight guys remember that? It was everywhere. Everybody was talking about everyone's spoofing it and talking about it. What was it like being in the middle of that kind of cultural hurricane?
Taylor Hackford 16:04
It's, uh, you know, it's a big surprise. You know, my, my first feature was the automaker, if I told you, I did a lot of rock and roll, right? It was, you know, when you get your first opportunity, you would pay them for the opportunity. Oh, yeah. I mean, I had done other documentaries, and I'd done a lot of music shows and so on, I finally quit Casey T. And because because people would say you make documentaries, you can't work with real actors. Wait a minute, you know, when you can get real people to reveal themselves and their type, all the barriers of that takes a certain challenge when you work with actors who want to give themselves I mean, you know, well, I had to go out and I made a, I made a short, dramatic film that won an Academy Award for Best Dramatic short, that was my ticket. Because now I can say to them, hey, these are actors. I won the Academy Award. Yes, it's a half hour film. But uh, you know, I guess I can work with that.
Alex Ferrari 16:56
Not too shabby, not too shabby.
Taylor Hackford 16:58
And, and so to do the filmmaker, was was was a great gift. And it was an interesting process. Because I really identical, I wrote a couple of drafts of the script. I didn't get credit, because directors don't get credit. But regardless, I know I got that film made. And I directed it. And I got, you know, very nice reviews. But it came at a time it was made for a company called the United Artists. And then United Artists, when they made my film in my film was, you know, a $3 million film was small. They were also making the most expensive movie ever made. Heaven's Gate. Yes, Heaven's Gate. And I always remember for my film, we had a promotional screening at Radio City musical in New York, with 5000 teenagers, it was, you know, a huge space, they flip the movie, they loved it at the same time afterwards, and the producers are jumping around going, oh, wow, this is gonna be great. We got to hit. And I was looking around the corner, I looked at the human artists, people, they had these clowns on their faces. I mean, they looked miserable. And, and I went over it because I knew the Pr Pr says, what's what's going on? Because I mean, I expected them to be looking at my film. And hopefully, like the producers thinking well, and they had this look in their face. And they said, Well, we just screened heaven's gate in New York last night for the critics. And it was a disaster. The filmmaker and the actors were on a plane from New York to go to the Toronto Film Festival. And the head of the United Artists, the president united goddess was on the film unplaned with him, telling them that they pulled the film. And these people were like, this is how this is Hollywood, they were looking at Doomsday. And, and, you know, they invested so much money. And of course, you had an artist went out of business, again, bought by MGM, and so on. But my little film was just collateral damage. It never really know. I mean, I'm proud of film, but it was out there. But enough people saw it that you know, I was able to get a second film. That's what it's all about, you know, you get enough for the first film, you got to do well enough and make it a show that you know what you're doing to get your second film and that was often the gentleman. And that then became a big deal. And I made it Paramount a month and it was when Michael Eisner Jeffrey Katzenberg and Barry Diller were there. And, you know, that was a tough place. That was a really tough place. And, you know, I, I wasn't like the writer, I didn't have anything to do with developing it, although I work with him in very intensely. And, you know, they said to me, you know, you got to make this movie, our production guy said, it's gonna cost cost this much to take this long. We don't like the film, we don't want to do it. This is it, you're talking right. But if, but if you make the film for, you know, much less and, and a shorter schedule, we'll make an Of course, you know, you know, yes. Well, okay. I got to make the movie. And of course they were they were literally walking me on the plank. And you know, so the first two weeks I was day behind on both weeks and they were gonna fire me, of course and and it was also the spring after Mount St. Helens eruption. Yeah, I remember that day it rained every single day, every single day of that shoot, it rained.
Alex Ferrari 20:23
It looked it looks, it looks like
Taylor Hackford 20:26
it actually gave the picture great saturated look, right. Yeah. But But regardless, it was, it was a tough thing. They're gonna fire me and you know, Richard Gere Devo. And your Lou Gossett just basically said, Sorry, if he goes, we go. And that's, you know, I never forget things like that. Because in an instance, where, you know, the you got a bunch of executives who really don't know shit, but are but are mean son of a bitches. And they're difficult. And, and in the word came, you know, you finished this week, or you're out? Well, I finished and I went on, and I made the film. And then, you know, and I'd had a big fight with the producer, the producer on the film just didn't believe in the film. He was constantly calling Hollywood and undermining the film and talking about you know, it's you don't know, a lot of people don't know, when you make films. how tough it can be. You have a vision, you're trying to carry that vision out, and people are subverting that vision. But the crew wasn't and we made the film. And then I came back and they made seven, they made six other films at that time, they were trying to beat a preschool strike. And I just kept working. And nobody had any. And I finally made my cut. And we had our first screening. And audience loved audience really loved it. And the word studio and it turned out, that was the only movie out of the seven films they made, they made no money. But it made so much money that it made everybody a hero. And you know, nobody remembers, you know, the fact that they, you know, they were tougher, by the way, you know, was I tough? Yeah. And, and did I make a film that actually delivered something? I was pleased to be good. I was. But when you ask us is a long answer. Your question, I prepared for that kind of response. Meaning, you know, the film made over $100 million. It was a it was a little 82 and 82. Yeah. And, and it was, it was a kind of social phenomenon. And people love the film. And you know that obviously after that, it helps your career considerably. You know, when you go to Hollywood and something makes a lot of money. People stand up and take notice, and then things get easier. When you're making a film. It never gets easier. It's always a tough, it's always a battle. But I can't say that opsins gentlemen didn't pave the way for my career. Now and that end scene, that famous end scene with Richard and Deborah,
Alex Ferrari 23:13
I hear that that almost didn't happen that way. I think Richard didn't want to do it or something. And by the way, was Richard Richard Gere at that point. Yeah. Did he is that before or after American Gigolo?
Taylor Hackford 23:25
It was after? Okay. You know, Richard had he but you know, my sense with Richard. I love Richard. He really delivered for me big time. He's a great guy. He's a terrific actor. But up to that point, you know, Richard had been asked he Richard has this incredible look, right? He has this incredible look. And there's a kind of brittle veneer. You know, I mean, you see him in America glow. And he's, he's walking around looking fantastic. You know, in, in looking for Mr. goodbar. You know, he has this fantastic character will replace a guy with a knife. He looks at it has an attitude that doesn't allow you him. And with an officer and gentlemen. You know, I had a script in Vegas script by a guy named Douglas de Stewart. But it's about a guy who is had a really weird appearance and has a lot of armor. And in order to make this film work, I thought, I got to break through the armor and I got to get in there and make the audience feel for this guy. And so I told Richard, you know, this is a thing you meeting somebody that I work with? And I said, Listen, I, I think that you're fantastic. And I know how talented you are. But I think up till now there's been this veneer over. And I'm gonna break through that veneer and get inside. And his response was Have at it, you know? And, you know, so in order to, to really do that, you know, I put him through some really interesting things. He knew he was complicit in that scene in the bunker out there when he breaks and says, I got it. nowhere else to go. Yeah, that's a big moment. And I had physically just beat him down. You know, with all that all his money, his face and mud and that means sticking in the mud. He had to stick at it, you know, that's who was my surrogate? That's the drill. But, you know, there were things without about that film that I thought were really interesting. You get a really good script. Lou Gossett role has always been written. White, you know, Doug's days towards di and he'd been a naval officer was a little Bender, Bruce, that Bantam rooster Southern cracker. If I couldn't find the right act was well written. So I said, visited Pensacola where the real basic training is. and ethnic, you know, like, the eyes are black and Latino. And, and, and I said To hell with it, and I got new glasses put him in a position, Doug, Doug, you know, didn't want it. But I thought, you know, look, I said when the Academy Award was interesting, first time a black man having total control over a bunch of white cadets, you know, in this instance, and he was tough. And, and I knew that to be the case, because I've been down there. When basically he was a working man, he was an enlisted man. He was a guy that that had been in battle had been battle tested, and he's training people. And he was basically saying, you know what, at the end of this, I have to salute damned if I'm gonna pass somebody through here that doesn't deserve you know, it's gonna have that built into battle and maybe kill him. I'm not gonna, you know, so look, I'm on it is all possible. And he was, and it's a great role. It's a great character, and you understand what he's doing. He's really committed military guy, marine. And, you know, when they pay him at the end for that salute, they earned it. And I think the audience got it. But anyway, going to what he was saying at the at the very end, there's a sequence that was scripted, Doug's done a story, because there's this it's a love story, in addition to this bonding experience of men and women wanting to become officers in the Navy Air Corps. There's a story about, you know, working class girls, and then open your bytown this is very real, this happens. I visited Pensacola and in Mobile, Alabama, there was the paper factories, and they call them mobiel depths. And, you know, when we went to we shot it in Washington State and had to create that, but we call the Puget Debs up there at the Puget Sound.
But, you know, basically these is working class girls and the paper factories. A big catch for them was to catch an officer and Debra Winger and Lisa Blount play these two girls, by the grace of brisky played the mother, Deborah, they worked in this paper factory they'd had, you know, I make I'm working class. My mother was a waitress, I make films about working class people. That's what I do. And I like, and I wanted to make them real. And so anyway, it you know, Deborah's is a tough character in this. She's a real young, working class woman, you know, and, you know, there's, the film is about young people, and it's about sex. And it's about all of those things that young people were forming themselves. But, you know, they had he, she and Richard had their ups. Like, they're, they're finished, right. And Deborah makes a kind of heroic Deborah's character, Paula makes a kind of heroic gesture. And, and kind of gives up her wanton ways as it were, she, she, she is ready to give up retreat and still keep her integrity and assets dug in with the sequence where at the end, he graduates he has ever had a rocky road getting there, he pays for that salute from any you know, he's going to go ahead and do really well. But he goes to the factory and he walks in and he picks her up and carries her out. And it's a kind of fairy tale. Although, I would submit it's a working class story, and it's a working class, you know, nobody's wearing glass slippers.
Alex Ferrari 29:30
Not at all. I mean, the factory she's picking her up at
Taylor Hackford 29:33
is a real but you know, I didn't know it was gonna work but I you know, when you when you make a commitment, you know, when you make a film, you're involved with comrades, male and female and you're working your ass off in the film is a collaborative effort. If it works, it doesn't just work because the director has a vision. It works because everybody shares that vision and expands on it and improves. So Douglas de Stewart was the writer I had a good relationship with and I I committed to make his film. That sequence was always in the script. You know, I have a feeling studio went to hell with this. And the producers certainly want to make it. But you know, Doug believed in it. And he begged me and I said, Yeah, I'm gonna have to beg me. I quit. You created the script, I committed to make that script and I'll shoot it. Well, the studio didn't want to shoot it. The producer definitely didn't want to shoot it. Richard Gere thought it was the shoot it. But I said, Hey, word to Doug Stewart. So what they did, you know, this, this is a pretty complicated scene, you know, these girls are there, the paper bag, they're coming in, they're working, whole factories going. I mean, basically, they gave me I think, three hours to shoot that sequence. They effectively are saying, We don't need it, we don't want it. And second of all, it's not going to be in the movie. So it's a waste we're getting out of here. And I didn't as I told you, I had a real problem with the producers. So you know, I just said, fuck you, I'm going to shoot it. And, and, and I and I set everybody up was like Chinese flag jobs. I mean, the factory was working. And I didn't have control of it. I just had to get things ready. And I had Richard back here to walk in through the machines with his white uniform. And I Deborah and, and, and Lisa Brown with their machines. And I got one little brief rehearsal. And what we did is the women who were running the machines, the working class women, the women that actually were worked in this paper bag factory their entire lives, stepped back from the machines behind the camera. And they're standing there because they're not gonna be very long. Shoot, it's so fast. And Richard walks up, I got one little rehearsal, he walks up Deborah's working. And she doesn't know he's there. And he taps her, and she turns throughout, and there's the rehearsal, and then I had to rush them back to shooting. But when I was doing that, I heard this noise behind me that I turned around. And these women were clapping, and crying. And laughing, they were clapping and laughing, and crying at the same time. And these are hard, tough. Women who are factory workers who had tough lives. And they looked at this, see, and they were that one sheet, they were dead. And at that moment, I knew this he was going to work. I knew it. I didn't know what up to then I never noticed through the whole movie, but I'm shooting it. And now I have to I just boom, boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, my shooting it, getting it like, and I got out in time. And we made that we got that we got the sequence, you realize that? That's the sequences very, very famous. And it really works. And I had three hours to shoot. It was just a killer. But the interesting thing is, I knew right there, because if those women, those women, no, no, no, that's bullshit. That's Hollywood. Oh, give me a fucking break. Right? No, no. That was their lives. They identified they got it. And that's the way audiences responded in general.
Alex Ferrari 33:22
Yeah. And I like I told you, I remember it being spoofed on television shows. And I mean, it was just one of those moments. The simple they did a whole episode. Yeah. Simpsons episode like that. It was remarkable. But now I know this the behind the scenes stories that and generally a lot of times when you see these, these iconic moments in film, most of the time you hear like, yeah, had an hour. Oh, that was a throwaway. Oh, that was it's never like I had four weeks to prep for that shot. And never happens. During the 80s you had a run of really Zeit Geist style films like white knights. I remember very good and against all odds, as well. These are films that at least in my household, maybe it maybe it was just my parents love these movies. I knew about them, but I do remember seeing them, but specifically with white knights. I remember in the 80s I mean, Baryshnikov was, and still is, I mean, he's, he is who he is. He is he is the Michael Jordan. He is the goat as they say the greatest of all time of what he does, how did you approach directing a non actor of his magnitude in his world? I mean, that must have been intimidating as a director, but then not only directing, arguably the greatest dancer of his generation, but then trying to pull up performance out of it, which was a fantastic one at that.
Taylor Hackford 34:42
Yeah. You know, the thing is interesting is that Nisha is a truly a great artist. I mean, he is a truly great artist. And at the time, the world's greatest ballet dancer. I mean, I had the world's greatest tap dancer, Gregory Hines. And and but great He had done films he done things. But you know, the problem with this film, it was a dance film. I wanted to be a dancer. It's a it's a weird film because it's a dramatic dansville it isn't all singing all dancing fan. It's, it's a specific story about, you know, people behind the Iron Curtain. And they are doesn't exist anymore, but it did them. And so with meesha, you know, you just need you need to meet the department, you meet the Cal Bruce to come. And you're impressed because he holds himself incredibly well. He is very smart. He is a fabulous artist dancer. But he's got a lot going on. And and you know, you can see that look in his eyes. You know, all movie stars, they've got a movie star is a movie star, because look they have in their eyes, if they can communicate without words, and tell you whatever. That's the one key that I think is an all great actors, you know that I don't mean great actors on the stage, great actors on the stage. Who's their voice? It's all about projection. And, and in saying your Shakespearean thing, you know, you on the stage, you can't see people's eyes, right? No, but but the camera, the eyes, or the or the or the, the opening to the soul, and you know, camera and close up and that that is people don't understand how important the eyes are, and and how important it is for at least for an activity still, still and let that power and that energy come out of their eyes. So number one beach is playing somebody who's playing himself. I mean, he's playing a defector who ends up by going back home. And you know, the truth of why Knights was that defecting is a crime in communist Russia. It was a crime. You know, and punishable by some pretty bad stuff. So to find himself back inside Russia, by accident because of plane crash is a moment that is very real to me. You know, something that can be terrifying to him. He still has never gone back to Russia. He's never got once he got out. There's everybody. Roman Polanski went back to Poland. People have gone. Rushkoff will never go back to Russia, at least. I don't think he will. He certainly hasn't gone yet. And that's because he loves Russia. He loves it with a passion without the Russians when they can't speak Russian, you know, basically, like they are. They are, they're being robbed of their soul. They know eat Russian food, they know. I mean, it's it's there's a sadness to meet you. That's amazing, however. And he carries himself. He is a star. He carries himself on stage when he's dancing like a star. And I thought that he carried himself in front of the camera as a star. So, you know, he committed I committed and Greg Hines who was one of the great people that ever lived and Greg Hines is a fantastic artists but it's amazing human being and a very good actor. You know, they made this commitment. Three of us made the commitment together and all the people around. You know, Mike, my wife was in the film. Isabella Rossellini was of the film. Jerzy Skolimowski was
Alex Ferrari 38:27
a decent cast decent cast.
Taylor Hackford 38:28
Yeah, it was a great it was a great group. But most importantly, it was Twyla Tharp was the choreographer. And she's, you know, believe me, there's, there's a woman that's got, she's, she forget about a reputation, she is tough as nails, and she's really tough to deal with. However, she's great. And and so we had a, we had a very terrific unit, and we shot in Europe, and we shot in, you know, interesting places. And I'm very proud of the film, you know, when the film came out, you know, people going, Oh, well, this is bullshit. And, you know, I said, you know, what, every Eastern European, every Russian, Czech poll, all those people that have been behind the Iron Curtain, see white knights, they get it, they immediately understand it. And they understand what was going on. And because, you know, we wanted to imbue on the Eastern Bloc, our own ideas, oh, everything's cool, and everything's melting and so forth. Only the people that have lived there and had lived under that system, as artists understood how difficult it was. So, you know, I have a lot of respect for Russia and for Russians. But I also know that a lot of the stuff in white knights, I think, struck a real chord, at least to the people who knew that experience.
Alex Ferrari 39:54
Now you I mean, you've been able to pull some of the most amazing performances out of actors over the years. Oh, Your career? How do you or what advice do you have for directors on directing actors? Because a lot of times, young directors specifically, they all think about the pretty shots and moving the camera, they'd never think about talking to the actor getting the book, because that's what people are looking at. They're not looking at the camera shots, they're looking at the performances, what advice do you have for pulling out those performance?
Taylor Hackford 40:19
Well, that's, you know, that's interesting, because I set out I mean, I'm, as I told you, I'm a real student of film, I love film I've studied, I've seen so many films, and I love you know, I was president, the Directors Guild of directors, but my style, and you know, everybody has a different style. And I'm not taking anything away from great directors who really know what they're doing. But I didn't want to call attention to myself, the, you know, the Howard Hawks versions of directing, you know, to me, and there are a lot of great directors, I don't want to just singling them out. The idea that you don't know that the camera is you, you go through the camera into the drama, and the nuances of the story you're telling is on your actress faces, I was going for it because I guess when I started making documentaries, I didn't want arch style. In terms of acting style, I wanted to naturalistic acting style. And those subtleties that are expressed, which we experience every day in our lives, are the things that I think an audience can see and go, Whoa, I'm buying this, I'm buying it I this person is, is is in trouble, or this person has inner feelings, or this person is frustrated. And I'm writing along now with him in this story, to see what happens to them. So, you know, I didn't really ever want to hang from my feet by the ceiling, when the camera in my hand, swing around. So the audience is going, Wow, look at that camera. I have a lot of camera movement in my films, but I try to cover it. So that you're not aware, but you're aware of are the actors and the story. And you asked that question, basically, I tell the actors what I'm going for. But it's a collaboration. It's a real collaboration. I'm not. You said what do you say to them? What do you talk? You know, you don't say, Oh, this is I'm I never give a library am?
Alex Ferrari 42:30
Of course not.
Taylor Hackford 42:31
Well, there are people who do you know, people, they're great directors who give libraries? I don't, I don't because that's, you know, I'm not going to say to them, oh, say it this way. That's their choice. I'm, I'm working through the the my instrument is them. And so I want them to feel the character I work with each actor individually. I I'm, I will do a read through of the material. I go out and I find all the locations or if it's on a set, I still do that there. And I bring the actors to the location. It just once in advance and we don't you know, I I'll make them read through the scene there. But it's not because I'm you know, Sidney Lumet was very famous for rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing, chalked out things in the ground, and they rehearse to me, and by the way, great director, and I, there's not a better film than Dog Day Afternoon. I but but the point is, and, and. and john, you know, his partner in that was brilliant, brilliant performances. So it's just every director does it differently. But to me, I don't want to over rehearse a scene. I want the actors to know their lines, and I sit with them, and I work out their backstory, you know, when you meet them. On camera, you meant them at the beginning of the story. They've had this whole life, the characters has lived the life up to them. I worked that out with the actors. So when they walk in, they know who they are. But when the actors are meeting two actors in the scene for the first time, I want there to be some sort of, you know, if you rehearse it over and over again, oh, you know, I know Ferrari. And we work this thing out. And you know, so you come into it. And it's kind of like, well, there's no there's no spontaneity because we know it all. But if dopers together like that, they know the script, of course, but they don't know what's going to happen. And I believe the camera captures that
Alex Ferrari 44:35
Taylor Hackford 44:37
It is it is and that doesn't mean that there's not a you know, huge amount of technique. And there's not a lot of prep, but I work individually with the actors. So when they get together, there's something that because, you know, nobody, I
Alex Ferrari 44:50
won't say you don't work with them as a group.
Taylor Hackford 44:52
No, I don't. I mean, like I said, I do a read through the whole cast, and I take You know, people that are in a scene out to the location because, again, what you got to watch is that, you know, when you spring things on actors, and they walk into a strange place they've never seen before. It's kind of like daunting. And sometimes if you say, hey, I want you to walk over by the window, and I want you to stand over here. And then I want you to say these lines, and they go, well hold it. Who the fuck are you? No, no, I know, we got no time. But this is not doing a television series. Right. Right. And, and in that instance, by taking them there, and having them kind of feel the rule. And sometimes they even say, you know, just just improvise, just do something here, I see something they do, and I use in my corporate, so they feel like they've contributed to the scene. And by the way, it soon falls apart. So they asked me, they'd help. But the fact is, they've been there. And the reason you do that, is that the day you show up, there's an army that moves and the lighting is there, they run in, you do a walkthrough, and then they go to makeup. And when they come back, they got to be ready. If they are seeing it for the first time. And they kind of go, I'm just completely for mercy. I'm completely mixed up. I don't, I'm confused. I don't know, that's no way to start to sing. So by having them go to that location, that's something that I always try to do, if I can, doesn't have to be very long. But it's enough that when they come back again, they're ready. And they're not going well. I'm completely unsettled. I don't feel right. That's where you lose time when you shoot. Because now you got to stay with them until they get comfortable.
Alex Ferrari 46:39
Right. And I always I always find it that it's kind of like, my job as a director is always to try to catch the lightning. And, and if you rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, like you just said, it gets stale. Whereas you just got to take them just to the edge, and then let them play. And that's when those amazing things happen, that you just can't plan for.
Taylor Hackford 46:58
That's, that's kind of my philosophy. And, and if the actors know that you trust them, I guess the other thing, and then what you do, because, you know, I passively, you know, I started I sometimes made a lot did a lot of checks. I don't anymore, I really trust the actors, if the actors are good, you know, you get it, and you got to, you know, so that. And also you don't have the same schedule as you used to. So you try to get it as quickly as possible, however, adjustments once you start, if you're if you're deft at being able to jump in for the, the the accuracy or not, so that everybody else again, I don't want all the actors in the scene to hear the notes that I'm giving Helen Mirren you know, he's going to respond in a way that I can jump over, and I can deal with Al Pacino. And I can go over and deal with Dennis Quaid. Or I can go over and deal with Jessica Lange. You you deal with different people individually, and then they come back in the scene and they may change it. But again, that's a valuable thing. They're changing their delivery. And the response of the other actors in the scene aren't Whoa, that's not the way they did last time, which then gives a kind of right. reeling in an energy that I think is good. It's good for the drama.
Alex Ferrari 48:16
Yeah, no question. Now you made a milk film called Dolores Claiborne, which I absolutely adored when I saw it. years ago. And I've watched it many times since those flashback scenes, that was the first time in your work that I noticed that technique, because you were saying like you try to hide the camera. But I noticed that technique and it wasn't a camera move, but it was so it was very cinematic. What you did, how did you approach the flashback scenes? It was that in the script like that in the book like that, how does that work? Well,
Taylor Hackford 48:48
I'm gonna give Yeah, I want to give the credit to again, you know, you know, work alone. And my screenwriter. On that film is the first time we worked together his name Tony Gilroy. He's become a resident, okay,
Alex Ferrari 49:01
he's done. Okay. Yeah, he's
Taylor Hackford 49:01
done okay for himself. But that was, you know, that was our first film. We made three films after that. Tony did a brilliant job of adaptation. It was a Stephen King novel. And Stephen King is, you know, I mean, you know, it's my, my best selling author in the United States. You know, I came on that picture. And it was a wonderful script. Wonderful script. And it was it was it was two stories tall, 20 years apart. And they weren't, they weren't like you did a flashback. At the beginning of the end. All the way through the movie. There was your cutting back and forth from different time periods. Fine, I loved it. I worked with him on two drafts, we're getting ready to go. And then I also picked up the book. I mean, anybody who's gonna do an adaptation? I read the book and Stephen King it was in Doris was a fantastic Stephen King, such a great writer. Amazingly, kids characters so fantastic, but this was not this was This was a dotnet core story. But it was not a special effects movie. It was not a fantasy. were no monsters. No monsters coming up. It was the monster was in these people, right? So I read that book and I went, Whoa. Now I really have an appreciation for what Tony do because in the book, it's very straight procedural, a woman is caught maybe killing her employee plate and her employer. And she goes into the police station and they are going to arrest her and they don't know. And she says I didn't kill her. I didn't want to kill her. I didn't kill her. Well, it certainly looked like it. And she said I didn't. But I did murder my husband 20 years ago. And at that moment, it's kind of like watch. And then you flashback to 20 years before, or 25 years before when she's a young woman. She's married. And she has a 12 year old daughter. And that's the story. The characters that the actors who were in my movie was starring Kathy Bates as the mother of two different ages. But Jennifer Jason Leigh playing the adult, Selena, the daughter, that adult Selena was not in the book, never in the book. So you understand what Tony did. This, the subject of Dolores Claiborne is the worst crime that I think there ever was the worst crime, which is an incest. You know, when a parent incest the child, their own chart, there ain't no worse priming. That's what this film is about. So what Tony did, which is brilliant, is that when a girl is interested in she's 12 years old, it doesn't him for her. He grows up, he becomes a woman, she becomes a mother, she becomes a grandmother. She's carrying that inside. She's caring that she's been scarred for life. But he was brilliant enough to say I'm going to bring this character back, Selena as an adult as a educated woman who believes that her mother killed her father. And she is blocked out why she's blocked in her mind because of the severity of the crime. He blocked out what and and because her mother is accused of a new murder. You know, 25 years later, she has to come back when she hates her mother. And they're they're fighting each other. And the whole mystery of the peace and this again, Stephen Stephen King, is the realization that that Selena have, because the mother realizes she never ever understood what went on ad. And so it's a great, it's a great story generated by Stephen King, and then a great screenplay by Tony Gilroy. That took what's the Stephen King was saying and expanded it. So, you know, I get this script. And what I've got to do is tell two separate stories with the same character 25 years apart, and I and I found a young, really wonderful young actress named Ellen Muth, who plays the young Selena David Strathairn, great, great actor who has to play the father Joe Oh, his daughter. And he's such a sweet guy. It's such a great father. But he understood what he had to play. And the great Christopher Plummer, you know, who is recovering who has come back on that movie, he really, he showed everybody and afterwards, he says to one great film after another after another, but you're working with those kinds of great actors. I then had my own idea about how to mix these. And you were you were saying, you know, sometimes the first flashback I wanted the audience to know I needed to make it clear,
Alex Ferrari 53:58
establish the language,
Taylor Hackford 54:00
you know, that establish the language and also give the audience a little zetz you know, a jolt and so you're, you know, you've got Selena coming to this terrible house in blue rock, seeing her mother and Kathy, this old old woman and you can feel it. And then I have a motion control shot which is for the audience. It's where you lock the camera in a particular way that can't move. And I Dolly across Cathy's back you see the place Selena sitting at the table and you and you bring it across and as you bring it across? You go from the past to the present to the past. And Selena goes from a you know, Jennifer Jason Leigh disappears. And this 13 year 12 year old girl runs into the room. And you know right there and the colors change. So what I what I did because I want that was the first one that no one could miss. You know from that moment on a wonderful the audience I kept wanting to have them you No think that they were in one place. And then they Oh, shit. I'm in a dip. Oh, no, they're there. And I think it works. But But what I did was that I, I and you, you do it psychologically my cinematographer is a wonderful artist named Gabrielle Bernstein is a Mexican. And he came from Mexico and he was working in the states and I'd worked with him on blood and blood out, which was another one of my movies. Anyway, Gabby and I worked it out. And what we what we did is say, listen, just look at the film stock. Let's look at folks like Kodak, which is the Eastman Kodak was the stock that everybody used at the time. It's sharp. It's got really strong blacks. It is in itself a kind of cold look. I mean, you can you can warm it up. But you know, it's it's sharp, it's and so it has a coldness to it anyway. And in Maine where we shot we shot this in Nova Scotia was supposed to be Maine. It's cold, it's bitter. It's winter. And so what we decided to do I both Gabby and I'd see the film that spin Nyquist had shot for in my bourbon called the passion of Anna. And the pack of Anna is almost black and white. It's colored, but it's almost back. It's so bleated out. You just felt that coast of Sweden just made you cold to the bone. That's what we did we d saturated codec, and turned up the blues, it was blue Mexico code. So the presence of Dolores Claiborne is shot on Kodak has been D saturated. And there's it every time we went to a flashback, we switched film stock to Fuji. And in anybody who shot Fuji, Fuji is pastel, right? It's kind of soft, and it has a more grain. And it's just a pastel look. And I kind of you know, thought it fit for the old doors whose life has been one hardship after another. And she's in such pain, that that cold look fit. But to go to 25 years before when she's a young woman, and she has hopes and dreams, she still hopes that things are gonna work out, you know, you want the film to have a different look. So pretty soon when you made these transitions, and I got better and better at finessing them, you know, you could just feel it, you felt you went from cold to warm, you went, you know, it's uh, you know, near the end, there's a wonderful like sequence where Kathy and Jennifer are having a conversation at the kitchen table. And they really don't mean Jennifer doesn't like her and is kind of sick. And just, she just is really upset. And Cathy demands that she sit down and listen to it because she's going to tell her the truth. And she has a bottle of whiskey. And she pours drink for saline for Jennifer. And she, I go into a close up, but she pushes it across the table. And it sits there and the hand comes out. And then a man's hand comes in and picks it up and you follow it up to his face and David's stress. So amazing. You've just gone in one shot. And this has no special effects or anything else. This is just the director kind of working on shots. But you've literally gone from an intense relationship between a mother and daughter to a man picking up the drink. And it's the father who insisted his daughter and the mother is confronting. So in that moment, you you know, I kind of did it subtly until at the end. The audience is like used to it, the audience does that they don't even there's no rise. They just go Okay, got it. Now I'm here now I'm there. I'm back and forth, and I'm in it. And that kind of storytelling is really fun to do.
Alex Ferrari 58:52
No, it was it was it was again, one of the first times I've ever seen that that technique, or at least for the first time was brought to my attention was absolutely wonderful. Now I have to ask you, the devil's advocate had been what a wonderful film. What was it like directing a force of nature? That is out the Chino as the devil note, lads.
Taylor Hackford 59:15
It's brilliant. When you haven't you know alpa Chino, and I can't. I've worked with some great actors. I've worked with narrow I work with Chino I worked with, you know, Joe pece. I work with great male actors, and I worked with some great female actors. I mean, I think my wife is the greatest actress there is.
Alex Ferrari 59:36
I mean, I'm not gonna argue with you at all.
Taylor Hackford 59:40
But, you know, in that instance, where you have al and again, it was not a foregone conclusion, you know, yeah, Tony Gilroy was with me. He wrote the screenplay. He wrote a, we took a screenplay that existed and completely changed. My concept of this was I wanted a Dramatic satire on the millennium, I wanted to know I wanted to make a statement about again, it was in the original source material, but not like we did it. I wanted to do something that really confronted the ego, the whole process of, of where we were at a certain point in our life, and lawyers, who, as we say, in their head, become the new priesthood. You know, everybody, everybody deserves a good lawyer as long as you can pay for it. And you know, the ones that that don't kind of pay for it are probably going to lose, because the better ones are going to come in and the people with a lot of money hired. So it was a lot of statement that was going to go on here and I convinced Tony I had to convince Tony do it. He goes, it's a devil movie. I'm not doing it. And I haven't convinced them alpa Chino goes, Yeah, it's the devil who cares? I said, out, you're just a complete Shakespeare night. You know, you you think those are great roles. Come on, that this is the devil. Come on. It's the greatest role you can have. And and, and we call the character john Milton, by the way, who wrote Paradise Lost? Of course, of course. But But you know, we had to write some new scene throughout. Because the fact is, it was Canada's movie. And, and, and although the devil is cool, you know, Allison Ellis got a big appetite. And he wanted it. But you know what? I went back, Tony rewrote some scenes, and Al did the role, but you have him in the film. And you just have, you know, just it's such a pleasure. You know, every single time he tackles something, you don't know what's going to come out? Yeah, he's got the words. Yes, he knows the words. Yes, he's going to deliver them, but how he's going to deliver it and also his abilities, probably the greatest at the end of that film. There is the final scene that you know that Canada who kind of comes in, he comes to Milton's apartment. And there's Connie Nielsen, it's just the three of them in the scene. And in the devil is basically you know, he's heard from his mother, you know, who's Judy, IBM is fantastic in the movie, that she is a young girl had been seduced by john Milton, and that that and he's, you know, he's, he's actually john Milton, son. It's like all this craziness is going to happen. So we shot the whole movie in New York, but we shot that big sequence back here in LA. And we went down to to Vernon, City of industry, where the big warehouse it was, it was incredibly high. We Bruna Rubio, who is my production designer, and five films, great, great collaborator of mine, built this fantastic interior set, and we shot it. But I went in the weekend before because I wanted to again, remember I told you what the act is to feel the space. And I and I took Connie and Kiana and Alan and I said listen, forget the text. All right. I want you to feel this space. I want you to use it. I want you to forget the text. I want you to improvise something, whatever you care, whatever you want to do. And I think you know Kiana and Connie were like, improvise what it was like Chino went okay, and pre Chino starts parading read this. I mean he's doing he owns it. He's just creating is probably the most brilliant, the most brilliant improvisations I've ever seen. Unbelievable. And he didn't use the text. So at one point, he's all excited and he started singing. It happened in Monterey. A long time ago, it happened in Monterey. You know, Mexico, stars and Steel Guitars, like singing this Frank Sinatra song. It's where the hell did that come from? No one knows. I put it in the seat. You know, I put, you know, put, you know the devil at a certain point where he's feeling his oats. He starts singing with Frank Sinatra's voice, but of course the devil could could be but that was all LPG. No. And I you know, I mean, the rest of it was Tony Gilmore. And I and I and he did a brilliant job of text in that piece. But you throw something like that in an alpha Chino can bring it off.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:28
And that many actors Could I mean, it is something very special. Yeah, I just remember that. You know, like he's an absentee landlord and all those wonderful lines but the way he did that's amazing dialogue but also that you really like out like you love john melt like you really are. You can he's seducing the audience. I mean, in his place, also
Taylor Hackford 1:04:51
seducing he's really seducing Kevin, right here. I love it. You know, and when, you know there's a sequence and let me tell you, you know, Tough sequence, I and there's a sequence where he's walking through Chinatown. With with Kevin, and they're playing through Chinatown. And, you know, he goes to this Chinese vendor, he says, where's the chicken that you can predict the future? You know? And, and he's tells Kevin about this. And Kevin is this, like, Who is this guy? He's the, he's the. And I had all the way through, it was my idea to basically have him speak all these different languages. Every time you see Alex speaking in a different language speaking in Chinese, he's speaking in Spanish in the subway, he's speaking this and that, and so forth. But anyway, he's in. He's in Chinatown. And he speaks to the vendor in Chinese. And I remember that's it. And, and it was, let me tell you try, we stole that sequence. We had to go in and shoot it without any control, because you can't control chinato. It was wild. I mean, talk about there's a there was a guy named Burt Harris, who was my ad is very famous. He used to shoot a lot with labette in New York. And he, he said, You know, there's no way to do it, just go steal it. But anyway, there at the end of that sequence, you know, he's taken Kevin as part of a seduction, where he's, you know, he's king of the world. He's had this huge international corporate law firm, all those things. And at the end, he goes across the street. He's like, Where's your limousine? He says, Kevin, it's New York. Take the subway, take the train, learn it, at any step that token and he's going down into the subway. So you're going this guy who run who the Master of the Universe still takes the subway in New York, you got to love him.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:44
You got to let it's it's amazing. Now, one of one of the films in your in your career that you that really I know, meant a lot to you. And obviously meant a lot to a lot of people was Ray. And and you bring in Ray Charles story to the big screen. I know that took you a while to get going. How did you? Yeah, yeah, I know. That was like a real big passion project for years. And then finally, Jamie showed up and he was right. I mean, he there's no doubt about it. How, how was it bringing that to life? How did you how did that performance? Because obviously he won the Oscar with that performance. And it is uncanny. I mean, you watch, it is uncanny. Not only his performance, but he could like his voice can sing, like way sounds like right. How did you how did that work?
Taylor Hackford 1:07:33
Well, two things. You know, I, it took me 15 years to get that for me. It's kind of fortuitous, because I wouldn't have had Jamie Foxx if I don't, you know, at the very beginning. And, you know, partnering with an actor, I talked a lot here about partnering with actors. I think that a great partnership was Jamie and myself. You know, I cast him. I didn't know him. And he was an irreverent comedian. booty call. So I found out when I talked to him that he'd gone to university on a piano scholarship. And I said, Oh, we'll funk and jazz, no, no, classical. When you hear the Jamie Foxx, the Reverend comedian, you know, played classical music and went to university on the basis of the fact that he played it brilliantly. You now realize, who's this guy is, and you realize he's got depth. He's got incredible soul. And he's really smart. And I just cast him on the spot. I just cast him. And that that dedication, that sense that Jamie and I were together, you know, went all the way through the film, because my sense was for him. And Jamie lives in the, you know, he lives in the back of it. And he's, you know, he's very much a black man in the black community. And I said, Listen, we're dealing with firing, Ray Charles is the greatest, you know, Ray, Charles, is it and everyone knows him. And if we fuck up, you're going to spend the rest of your life apologizing, and going around to your uncle and cousins like me, you just couldn't do it, you know? And I'm gonna look at every black friend, I have to say, How dare you, you know. And so it was kind of bonding there. But you know, the other part of it is, you know, if you if you didn't notice, I'm not black. I
Alex Ferrari 1:09:28
didn't notice that.
Taylor Hackford 1:09:29
But you know, what you do in that instance, because I'm making most of the cast is black. And I'm telling you a story about a black man. Now, Ray Charles, never had a problem. Ray Charles and again, I knew him for 15 years, one of the most brilliant people I've ever known, but he trusted me. And he wanted me to make the film and he never took the rights away. You know, many times I had to go back and apologize. Nobody would make it. He never did. Right. So can you and you kept asking for the rights but
Alex Ferrari 1:09:53
it just a couple more years. Just a couple more years. Yeah,
Taylor Hackford 1:09:56
exactly. But but in reality I Listen, you know, I've got one the screenwriter was, you know, I wrote this the story. And then the screenwriter came in, he was black. And he had, you know, it was from the south. And he had voice and he knew so you know, you you, you've got to listen. Because what you didn't experience what you don't know. And with Jamie, and all the other actors, and I mean, you know, Regina King is going through a huge thing. Yes, but he's my pastor is Margie Hendricks is she's as good and Ray as she's been anything else. I mean, she is so great. She a body, that woman. And you know, she and Jamie just created and Kerry Washington, a huge star. You know, they're in this movie. And they're both playing incredible roles, like the one of the great pains I had with Ray, and ingenue Ellis, who played Marianne. And Sharon Ward, who played Ray's mother was brilliant. And she's never, she was not a professional actress when I met him. But, you know, I had four women that I think all deserve to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress. They weren't the center of the movie, but they were big roles. And they all kicked ass. When you when your director and these actors have given you so much, and they're really they were on board was incredible collaboration. I love them all. I couldn't, what I should have said is say, carry. You're brilliant. You know, as D, you know, you know be you know, Ray's wife. But I'm going to go with Regina, or Regina, you're fantastic. And I'm going to go with Sharon Ward, or ingenue, you're terrific. But I'm going with Kerry Washington. I didn't. And you know what, not one of them got nominated. And they should have been, they really should have been. All of them should have been nominated, although that's kind of much one film. But what happened is they split the vote. And that's sometimes you got to be pragmatic, but I still couldn't say to him, you're out and this person's in
Alex Ferrari 1:12:09
there, we're all just too good.
Taylor Hackford 1:12:11
They weren't they were, let me tell you. I know, of course, I'm prejudiced because I've directed the movie. But you know, the thing of collaborating with people who know what they're talking about, who were raised black, they're raised in a community that and Jimmy White, who had written the dialogue knew what he was doing. They knew that fit. I mean, it was country as his country. And so it's great, Charles country, you know, but the fact is, we all collaborated beautifully together. And they gave me everything I asked the poor, it was a fantastic experience. And I still Jamie nerds still very, very close. And
Alex Ferrari 1:12:51
I have to ask you, there was a movie that you did not direct, but you were the editor and producer on which is arguably still one of my favorite documentaries of all time when we were kings. They know that we have a story because it took them like you shot with the juice. You didn't shoot it, but the director shot it. And then like, what, 20 years later or something like that you made the movie or something along those lines.
Taylor Hackford 1:13:14
Yeah, maybe basically they went they were shooting a concert film in Africa. That's a sore point for me because I was stupid. Partly, you know, they came to me with a film they couldn't. They didn't work that they couldn't ever do anything with. And and asked me to come in and I you know, I was president, the Directors Guild. I'm a bit so I didn't want to take the directors credit. But the fact is, I made that film. I did. I mean, I came in. I did all the interviews with maler. Plimpton, my leak is biographer Spike Lee called spike up because he'd gone to Africa and never interviewed one African. He never talked, you know, here's this story. But it's, it's about Li going to Africa and capturing that spirit. So I did all the interviews, I had final cut of the film. I went back and bought the they didn't they weren't there for the flight, that whole last act, I confected and made that like, like, they were there, because I bought the footage from the fight. And, and, but in any event, I'm very proud of it. And the reason I made the film is it Ollie To me, it was the greatest movie star of my generation. You know, what a great person an incredible, incredible presence. And I wanted my son's it because at the end of his life when he got Parkinson's and he was all shaking, you know it and that you know, the producer and did lean on what let's get let's go shooting now. It'll be a good tear at the end. I said, No fucking way. I'm not going to I don't want the world to see that. I want the world to see this man who was the champ who was in charge, you know, in complete control of everything. And I want them to go out realizing what I realized was there was nobody you Nobody alive like Muhammad Ali. And that's I was celebrating him, actually. So my two sons could could see that.
Alex Ferrari 1:15:07
Yeah, and I just remember watching it. And you see, you set that story up so beautifully as you know, as foreman as this absolute monolith. And, and honestly, physically, Ali was not the same as his form of form, it was a monster. But I
Taylor Hackford 1:15:24
understand that the way the film was came to me, you know, there was a, you know, what happened to fight fires, of course, the first in the first press conference, Ollie kind of predicts it all. And, and there was no film that was just like, what are we gonna, we'll look at the software. So what I had to do was build up, as you were just saying, George formance invincibility. And you know, when you get those old, that old footage where you see him, literally, knock Joe Frazier off his feet, take Ken Norton and destroy him, you know, everybody in his path, he was destroyed. And now, you know, I get mailer and Plimpton to talk about the fact that Ollie in that press conference where he's talking about this or that he's terrified, he's terrified. He thinks he's gonna lose, but he has no option. He has to come back from the drug, the draft dodging thing and so forth. And, you know, so I kind of structured that whole movie, to be able to get to the conclusion that it was so obvious. But the other part The other reason I wanted to do the film, is that I made the film for women. You know, I happen to love boxing, and I love the sweet sport, the sweet science, but most women go, Oh, it's terrible. It's just such a terrible thing. And it's brutal. And yes, it is brutal, but it's brutal. And they're stupid, as I say. The people who really understand boxing, understand that it's hard. You know, it's skill. Its brains, and it's hard. And the great, great, great fighters have it. They're not just lugs they have it probably was so smart. You know, Muhammad Ali couldn't be George. Come on. He's in his, you know, 30s George form is 24. He's invincible. Ali won that fight here. That fight Bye, bye. Absolutely out, maneuvering, mentally George Foreman, and all of that stuff that went on. And so you kind of see it. Plus, I had, you know, Norman Mailer who incredible voice George Plimpton incredible voice, Spike Lee, who, you know, can talk about, you know, in rightfully, as, and also, you know, he can talk about black people in America. He's focused his career, but he also understood it, nobody has any history, people have forgotten who he was. So you could have him put that in context. And then I had a friend who had been part of Peter Brooks international theatre company named Molly Baba JoJo, he was from Mali. And he actually was the voice of Africa in that film. And he could talk about as an African, what they thought of Bali, how they look, because Foreman's darker form is much darker, he should be the guy they, instead they say, No, no, it has nothing to do with the color of his skin. He embodied what Africa was about, we loved and we, you know, and anyway, in that film, you, you see that evolution. And you also realize how great a champion he was. Because when women see the film, if I succeeded, they come out, they go, Oh, he won that. By being smarter. He psychologically psyched him out completely. They get it. And then and that's, that's what I was setting out to do.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:55
What drives you to continue to make movies, I mean, you've made some some of the greatest movies in in Hollywood history, arguably speaking. What makes you making wanting to keep making stories, but making movies?
Taylor Hackford 1:19:08
You know, that's the I told you when I was in the Peace Corps, and I started with my super a camera, and I eat, it excites you, you'll get the opportunity to tell I'm a storyteller. As I said, I'm more interested in using the nuances of an actor's face and telling the process on camera than I am in, in creating some big cameras, that everybody goes, wow. Because when we're honest, what you say, those big camera moves take you out of the movie. What they're saying is, oh, wow, this filmmaker really is showing me something. And until I'm back here, looking at it, instead of in there with the actors doing the story, right? That isn't again, that's not sad to put anybody down. I love directors with great time. I am a fan of it, I just don't choose to tell my stories that way. And I think that the, the excitement of having a story, like I said, I just developed six projects, I want to make all of them. And in the last few years, it's tough. I mean, I would never be able to make rain today. I want a Blackberry. It's just, I can't do it. So I was lucky to be able to have that experience. You know, I knew Ray Charles and I felt I did injustice. And he told me I did. But you know, today's world is different. But I still have a passion to tell, you know, stories that excite me, and, and the fact that I can, until I know, hopefully, it's hard getting money harder now than it ever was. If I get the opportunity, you can bet I'm going to jump out there and be the first one out of the blocks at the starting gate. And that you know, and and be able to be there when I come around with the finish line. Because it's it's a, it's a, it's a great gift, it's a great opportunity. And, you know, if you have to hunger to tell the story, and you work with collaborators, that the other thing is the realization that you need, you're not a novelist, alone at your typewriter or theater. So you need really talented people, you've got to seduce a whole group of people, whether they're actors or crew members to come along with you. And then you've got to give, you've got to listen to them, because they're all contributing, so that when you finish it, you've been through war together. But you also realize God, we we put something together, we put something together together, all of this collaboration, and then it's better than anybody could have done alone. And that process if that's what you like doing that, you know, again, I like all the processes of filmmaking. I love the editing room, I love, you know, pre production getting set. But it's when you're shooting, that's what you're dancing. That's the case you got to come up, there's always going to be things that come out of Nope. It's all these things that are never expected and can destroy you. And how bad things on your feet and solve them and and shoot your way out of a corner. It's what it's exhilarating. It really is.
Alex Ferrari 1:22:27
And I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Taylor Hackford 1:22:34
Grab a camera and tell a story. I mean, you know, it's easier today than it ever was. But you know, I, I got my break, to be able to make dramatic film. Because I I shot a dramatic short. And they won an Academy Award. And that was taken for me. But without it, you know, people would still said, Yeah, you did documentaries. But can you work with actors? Can you tell a story proven, and you don't need to do half hour, you can do 15 minutes, you know, it's hard to tell a short story and make it make sense. But you can do it. And now that you've got an iPhone, you can you know, you can you can shoot whatever you want. I didn't have that option. You know, I had to make things look, you know, cool and get a cinematography. I mean, sooner or later, you want to have people and I would just also the idea of even though you're using an iPhone, get it, get somebody to shoot it. Because you need to talk to the actress. You know, you want a great editor, you know people can do in a Steven Soderbergh is a friend of mine, and he's a great director. But you know, he shoots, he edits, he does it all himself everything. And, you know, that's great, I could never do that. And I, I want I feed off of the energy of all those collaborators, because they got great ideas you got, you just have to know. You can't take their word for everything. You know, yes, they're talented, but it's you making the film. So you say I want to know what you think I want to get these ideas. And then you finally have to say, those are all interesting things. But I'm doing it this way. My Way, as you can't sit in the movie theater at the end, as people are walking out telling, well, that wasn't my idea. No, it's got your name on it. So, you know, what I would say is make or choose a group of people keep a team small planes. You think of that, and make a small short film that you can show as your calling card.
Alex Ferrari 1:24:37
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Taylor Hackford 1:24:44
It's interesting. I'm going to tell you a story of this brilliant, brilliant man, but I do Ray Charles and I was recording was using him to record some early lol Folsom elements. He played piano for local some of the road boltholes was a great blues map. Every every day, I have the blues, some. And Ray was going to, you know, I asked him what about an arranger that puts us there and says how I rank those things. I'll do it for you. So I was in raised studio and Ray had always been really cool, really cool. You know, Taylor, you got the eyes, you got the passion, I'm supporting you. But he was doing he was sitting in the chair that he knew a lot about, which is music. And he was going to be putting together these, these the band, I had a wonderful blues, young blues guy from Louisiana, came named Chris Thomas came. And he's really good. But he was going to say you play the guitar, but the bandulus but before we did that, I had a sequence in the film where I wanted ready to be playing and kind of contemplative groups. And, you know, he's, he's hurting, he has never been on the road before. He's a blind man. He's out with a bunch of musicians. There's, he's, they've finished the gig, guys are at the bar, and they've got some girls, and they're going to go out and re wants to go with him. We're sitting there alone with him and says, Hey, fellas, where you going? And they, and they hear this guy say, We don't need no cripple with us. Let's get out of here, you know. And, you know, he's, he's left. And this is all leading up to his his pain and his sadness. And when he started taking heroin, so it was these things, you need these scenes to build up to show how, how completely bereft is of any kind of joy in his life. So after those people leave, he starts playing this little melody, little kind of contemplative blues of the piano. And it becomes the intro to the next night when they're performing. Everyday I have the blues loaf or something. So I had a very specific, it's my creation of the scene where I wanted a piano intro, that then becomes the next night. And then afterwards, he goes and shoots heroin. Because he's so you know, low. So I asked me, like, describe how I want it. He's there. We were alone in the studio, because the engineer myself and Ray, and I described what he wanted, he sits down and starts playing. And it's real showing, it's just not at all what I want. And he finishes his How's that? And I said, well, to tell you the truth, man. It wasn't what I wanted. It's way too showy. It's way too busy. And it just didn't work. And Ray Charles, we've been so nice to meet, you know, now turns and says, Listen, mother fucker. I'm doing this as a favor to you. You know, I played that son of a bitch Exactly. Like you described it. Now you better get your shit together. I'm getting them a walking out of here right now. And the man who had been so cool to me, was in testing. Right? And what he said was right, I thought about it. And now I said, you know, because you can hear I, I know how to talk. And, you know, directors can talk and talk and talk. Well, the lesson that I learned, I stopped. You know, I mean, my heart was beating. I look, I look behind the glass at the booth. The engineer kind of slid down in his chair below, you can see, you know, they're all alone. You're all alone. Cobra when the rattlesnake came out of Ray Charles, let me tell you, he was frightened. And so I thought I had to think really quickly. And now I came back and I described what I wanted. In 25% of the words that I originally used. And race it. Okay, great turnaround, played it perfectly played exactly what I wanted. And he finished he said, how's that? And I said, was perfectly was just right. He said, okay, just say what you mean.
Alex Ferrari 1:29:21
So when you say 25% less, do you mean that you would just No, no 75% less? 75%? Right. 25%
Taylor Hackford 1:29:29
of the words i'd originally used in other ways the lesson learned for filmmakers. Don't talk so much that you're there your community know and rate. You know, sometimes people use their hands. They're trying to explain all these goes into what you're saying. Right. couldn't see any of them. He heard what I said. And he played it the way I described it. And I know Ray Charles, he played it the way I described it, I fucked up. I used to Too many words, mixed up things. And now he forced me to take 75% of the bullshit out. And I thought 25% of the words, and he knew exactly what it was, and he delivered what I asked. And so I think the best advice is what Rachel said. Just say what you mean. And don't dress it up with all that bullshit.
Alex Ferrari 1:30:24
And last question, three of your favorite films of all time.
Taylor Hackford 1:30:28
Oh, God. You know, that's really hard because I told you how much I love them. Sure. Treasure Sierra Madre moderate is perfect. It's a perfect. I think that the Wild Bunch pretty amazing film. Yeah, that really means a comb about age and about America. And, you know, the rest of you know. I mean, I'll just give you you know, I can't, you know, I can't give you you know, by giving you a third that I've got, I believe those two, and then I didn't realize that, you know, karasawa should be in there. Sure. No, Fellini's should be in there. Andre Vita, who is one of my favorite directors is check director. You know, there are too many young guys, any, any move is a great director. You seen films that stop your breath. And you realize that there are there are filmmakers out there who can truly tell the story and make you feel something that nothing else like it's film that will change your your perspective on life. So I don't have to give you a third,
Alex Ferrari 1:31:45
Taylor Hackford 1:31:46
It would be one of those filmmakers.
Alex Ferrari 1:31:49
Taylor, thank you so much for your time and your stories and your advice. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. So thank you so much and keep doing what you do. We need more films from you, sir.
Taylor Hackford 1:32:00
Right. I really appreciate it.
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- Taylor Hackford – IMDB
- Watch: Ray – Amazon
- Watch: The Comedian – Amazon
- Watch: White Nights – Amazon
- Watch: Proof of Life – Amazon
- Watch: Dolores Claiborne – Amazon
- Watch: Against All Odds – Amazon
- Watch: Parker – Amazon