With awards season upon us, The Hollywood Reporter has once again gathered some of the best directors of the year for its annual Directors Roundtable.
Included in the roundtable conversation this year are directors Bradley Cooper (“A Star is Born”), Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”), Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”), Marielle Heller (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Roma”) and Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favourite”).
Speaking about his transition from actor to director, Cooper reveals he got encouragement to take that step years ago from none other than the legendary Robert De Niro.
“I tried to get him to do this movie, ‘Limitless’, and combine two characters. That was the first time I tried to cast a movie, even though I wasn’t the director, and I went to see him in his hotel room. I was pitching him the whole thing and then he wound up saying yes, which blew my mind because he was my hero,” Cooper recalls. “After that movie, he said he thought I should direct.”
Lee also opens up about the decision to use footage from the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 at the end of “BlacKkKlansman”, including a moment of disagreement with the studio over whether to include it at all.
“It lasted about half a second. You can’t have much of a debate in half a second,” he says. “That was the ending of the film. There were no ifs, ands, buts about it. There was only one thing. I had to ask Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer [a 32-year-old woman who was killed when a car plowed into the crowd]. I wasn’t just going to disrespect her and her daughter like that. So I called her up, and she gave me permission.”
Cuaron opens up about the difficulty of making a film about his own country and inspired by his own personal history.
“Doing a personal film… it’s just that more stuff starts to come out that you don’t necessarily feel comfortable dealing with — the recognition of your society, of Mexico, for instance, or even my own relationships, and this perverse relationship between race and class that I’ve been part of just by being part of a certain society, you know?” he says. “It’s not comfortable to recognize those things and be blunt and honest about them.”
Another difficult thing to do is tell stories based on real people, as Heller did with “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”.
“I’m in the process of making my third movie [an untitled Mr. Rogers biography starring Tom Hanks] about real people, and it’s always a tricky thing because you want to be true to the essence of the person entirely, but you also have to be truthful to the narrative. It’s always a real balancing act,” Heller says. “Lee Israel [played by McCarthy] was a really prickly, difficult person, and we wanted to get that right and didn’t want to soften her. And we felt she would almost be the most offended if we tried to make her really likeable.”
Working with the character of Black Panther, Coogler explains why the film couldn’t help but be political in nature.
“It’s about a politician, you know?” he says. “So there was no way for it to not be. It’s a character who is the political leader of a fictional country, but we put it on a real continent, we wanted to set it in the real world. So it’s definitely a political film.”
On building his skills for working with actors, Lanthimos talks about how directing theatre helped prepare him for films like “The Favourite”.
“I was fortunate enough, though I never intended to direct theatre, to do plays in Greece, so that enabled me to figure out how I could work with actors and get where I wanted to get,” he says. “That was a very useful school for me. And if we could exchange two words only and then be in sync, that would be ideal. That’s how I go about directing. I try to not speak to them a lot and let them do their thing.”