With all the controversy surrounding director Roman Polanski’s legal troubles, I was quite curious to see his most recent film, The Ghost Writer, which recently premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival and opened in limited release in the U.S. last weekend. I found it quite entertaining, a solid thriller with decent performances by leads Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, and Olivia Williams. Those looking for a political thriller with an all-star cast, a dash of humor, and some outlandish plot twists will probably find it a satisfying ride.
I had a chance to speak with Mr. Brosnan recently. We discussed his role in the film, the politics of The Ghost Writer, and Roman Polanski’s directing style. Hit the jump to read our interview. The Ghost Writer is already playing in NY and LA, and will expand wider beginning this Friday.
Mr. Brosnan, thanks so much for speaking with us today at slashfilm.com. Why don’t you start by telling us about your character in ‘The Ghost Writer.’ Who do you play and what’s his role in the story?
I play a man called Adam Lang who’s the ex-British prime minister, who finds himself, at this time in his life, being held accountable for war crimes. In fact, before that, he’s sequestered away on Cape Cod writing his memoirs. His ghost writer shows up dead on the beach and he employs another ghost writer, and at the same time they do that, the breaking news comes that he is being held accountable for war crimes in the Hague.
Can you tell us what it was that drew you to this project? Was it the screenplay, the director, or the story?
It was Polanski. Roman Polanski directs this movie, and it’s from a book by Robert Harris, which is a great page-turner. Roman Polanski, who is one of cinema’s finest directors and a director of great thrillers, but he’s never done a political thriller. It was the combination of Polanski, the political aspect of this story, the character that I play, this man who finds himself kind of emotionally, politically, spiritually adrift and hunted.
Let’s talk about some of the political elements of the film. A lot of the film seems very relevant, very current, and there are some political themes embedded within the film. I’m wondering if you have any opinion on what the film is trying to say specifically.
That our leaders should be accountable for their actions in life, and the pitfalls and the dangers of politics. Someone like my character, who’s very much a populist, is this man who you begin to feel is just a puppet of a prime minister. As sincere as he was when he started his career, he now finds himself to be maligned every which turn.
Robert Harris has presented this on the pages of his book and then in the hand of someone like Roman Polanski, who’s the grand master of claustrophobic drama and malevolence of characters, it makes for quite a good brew of drama.
In general do you see movies as an opportunity for actors to make political statements?
No. This is pure entertainment, this is no statement by me. I’m not a politician or political animal. This is just, as I said, one of these huge “what if” stories. I mean, it will certainly be viewed and talked about, I presume, in political terms. But it’s pure theatrical drama.
Some people including the author Richard Harris have pointed out that there are similarities between your character in the film and the person of Roman Polanski in real life. Can you talk about what it was like for Mr. Polanski to direct you and whether any of those similarities came across during your working process?
The life of Mr. Polanski has been a very turbulent one and one fraught with tragedy, and a life of looking over the shoulder. The book was written three years before any of what’s happening to the life of, say, Mr. Tony Blair right now who is in the spotlight for his term in office, and to the world of Mr. Polanski who is now under house arrest. I think it seems to be a wonderful time for Mr. Robert Harris. I think even he has been blindsided by the compliments of stories and history.
Working with Roman is a unique experience. He’s someone whose work I’ve been very enthralled by for many many years. His life is so well documented, and certainly he’s a figure on the cinematic landscape that I was very fascinated by. He creates a world that no other director that I know of, of intrigue and foreboding, claustrophobic characters on a landscape.
Specifically in terms of working with him, how would you compare him to other directors that you’ve worked with. What do you feel are some of his trademarks as a director of actors?
I think it’s an articulation of the camera, which is uniquely his. The composition of characters. The use of every specific element of cinema. He involves himself with the production design, all the way to having the courage to wait for the weather that he wants on a set. Within the confines of making a movie, which is time and budget, he has the grandiosity to say that we will wait, the cameras won’t roll, and in our particular case we wanted bad weather, and there was one week where we had good weather.
He had the balls to say “We’re just going to wait for trhe weather to be right for our filming.” He is so specific with his camera, and with the relationship of the actors before the camera, and he involves himself with the sets, and he involves himself with every aspect. When you’re on the set, you’re in the domain of roman Polanski. You are in the world of Roman Polanski.
As an actor, you’d better know your performance, you’d better know your performance, and why you’re there.
Let’s talk about some of your other projects. We’ve heard in the past couple weeks that ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ sequel might still be in motion. I’m wondering if you have any details on how that’s coming along.
We have a script, of which I think this is the third one or possibly the fourth one. But structurally it’s the soundest one we’ve had. This has been a work in progress for at least the last three years. We hope that we will have a script in its entirety, meaning characters and the relationships of these characters within this structure. It’s as close as we’ve come to having it up on its feet.
Other than that, can you tell our listeners what you’re working on next?
I’m going to do a movie called Salvation Road, directed by George Radcliffe. It’s Greg Kinnear and myself with Ed Harris. It’s about a mega-church preacher, and his disciple is Greg Kinnear. It’s a black comedy.
My last question is about ‘The Ghost Writer.’ I believe it premiered recently in Berlin. What’s it been like to see the reception for this film?
It was a magnificent night at the Berlinale Film Festival, and to present a film like this to an expectant house of Berliners and cinema aficionados at a festival that’s 60 years old. The only sad thing was the absence of Mr. Roman Polanski. The stage, there was an empty space there for him. It was a brilliant night, nevertheless, and it got very well received.