“I think we succeeded in keeping to the spirit of what the original was,” Steve Buscemi said during a recent Dallas interview about his English-language remake of Theo van Gogh’s “Interview.” The plot involves the interview of a superstar actress by a political reporter who considers the assignment an insult. Despite his initially condescending attitude, circumstances bring them to her loft apartment for a long conversation, during which they spar with one another and reveal—or at least pretend to reveal—their innermost secrets.
“And yet we have a film that we really made our own,” he added.
Van Gogh, of course, was the Dutch filmmaker killed by an Islamic extremist in 2004. He and his producer had planned on remaking three of his films, including “Interview,” in English, and after his death it was decided to go forward with the project, attracting new directors for each of them. Buscemi was one of those asked.
“The American producer, Bruce Weiss, called me and said that his Dutch partner and he were looking for directors to be involved,” Buscemi said. “Typically they were looking for actor-directors, because Theo really loved actors. I was one of the first ones that they approached, so I had my pick of the three. And ‘Interview’ was the one I really responded to. I just loved the performances and the story and what it was about. I had never seen any of his films. But I liked all three, and this one in particular. It was unpredictable—you didn’t know where it was going with these characters. Both of these characters have their unlikable traits, but I think they’re likable people—or else you can’t watch them for an hour and a half.
“I also felt while I was watching it that I was witnessing the breakup of a couple, and yet they were meeting for the first time and only spending a few hours together. So it was fascinating how they sort of make that connection even after it goes so horribly wrong to begin with. But they do find a way to connect. And then, for whatever reason in their personalities or their insecurities or whatever, they find a way to sabotage this budding relationship.”
Another aspect of the project that attracted Buscemi was that he’d get to use Van Gogh’s crew and try his unusual technique of shooting in long takes with three cameras capturing the action from different perspectives.
“That was part of the attraction,” he said. “To work with new people and to explore how another director worked. I didn’t have to do it exactly as he did it, but it was understood that I’d be using his three-camera method, and I was really interested to see how that worked. One of the interesting things that he did was that he would often shoot the close-ups first, and then do the medium shots and the wide shots, because he liked having the actors not be so comfortable doing their close-ups. Usually the way we make films here means by the time you get to the close-ups, the actors are so well rehearsed from doing the master shots and the medium shots that oftentimes they save the performance for the close-ups. If you do it the opposite way, in the close-ups you’re really get some spontaneity. And a great thing about the three-camera setup is that if somebody has an improv, you’re catching the other actors’ reaction to it as well. They’re always on camera.
“We shot very much in sequence,” Buscemi added. “And because it’s shot on video, you can do these eight, nine, ten minute takes. And in that way it really was like performing in a play. But I didn’t want it to feel like a filmed play. And I was pretty confident that it wouldn’t. That’s another thing that the three cameras really helped with.”
In addition to directing “Interview,” Buscemi also stars in it with Sienna Miller. “They weren’t really looking for me to act in it,” he admitted, “though they made clear that if I wanted to, I could. I thought about casting someone else for the role of Pierre, but I selfishly saw it as such a great role that I wanted to do it myself.”
As for his co-star, he immediately thought of Miller. “I just wanted the best actress I could find for that role,” Buscemi said. “She accepted the day we made the offer.”
Buscemi shot “Interview” very quickly—over nine nights after two weeks’ rehearsal—adding to the intensity of the final product. But one thing that didn’t add to the stress was a threat to the production.
“It was reported on the Internet that we had received death threats because of the way in which Theo was killed by an Islamic extremist,” Buscemi said. “But that was for a totally different film [the short ‘Submission: Part 1,’ about violence against women in the Muslim world]. I don’t know who started the rumor—they said we had high security because we’d received death threats. But none of that was true.”