Sony Pictures Classics releases Third Person at in select theaters on June 20th, 2014.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important do you think it is to trust the audience's intelligence?
Paul Haggis: I've banked the last 5 years of my life on that in making this movie, so it's pretty important to me. In the beginning, when I tried to figure out what this film was---it took some time---I decided that I wanted to make one of those kinds of films that really influenced me. When I was young, I ate up all of the old films from Hitchcock to Bu˝uel to Preston Sturges. I loved them all. [While I was watching old films for a film society that I started], I was like, "Oh my god! You can tell a story in that way?!?" I was stunned that you could trust the audience so much to leave them with more questions than answers, but know that the answers are there if they really dug for them. That's the kind of film I wanted to make here. It's an homage to them. You have a certain emotional reaction after the film, but you don't necessarily know why. It's not a film for the literal-minded
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you set Third Person in 3 cities?
PH: I set this in 3 cities for a couple of reasons. I wanted to make it impossible for these characters ever to meet. I did one draft where I tried very hard to do the stories in one city, but it just made too much sense. I needed it to make no sense. When you saw things happen that could not happen, I wanted you to say, "Ok, so then if that can't happen, what's happening and why?"
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you believe in perfection?
PH: There's no perfection. This is a flawed movie. I think all of my movies are flawed. All the movies I admire the most are flawed. We're human. It's a flawed attempt at telling a story with flawed characters. What I did wrong was exactly what I needed to do. I'm a structuralist. I know how to make an outline first and make your characters follow that. I decided to let my characters go wild and follow them. They took me to so many different places---some were blind alleys, right off a cliff or into a desert. That was important to me not only because I was writing those love stories, I was really investigating the creative process---and that's a story that I really wanted to tell.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel about the way that modern technology is affecting the quality of human relationships? Were in the spectrum of pessimism vs optimism do you find yourself?
PH: That's a very interesting thing. How many times did you have an argument with someone you love over text? It's a devastating tool right now in which it's very much easier to say something cruel when you're not across from the person. We have to learn to live with that, and I have to learn to wait before I press that "send" button. It's also great, [though], because of how flirtatious we can be and we can meet people that way. A relationship can be formed just based on ideas and thoughts. That's kind of cool. I'm a cynical-optimistic, so I guess I'm both cynical and optimistic about this.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What would make a great double feature with Third Person? Are there any Golden Age actors you imagine in the film's roles?
PH: Blow-Up or 22 Jump Street. Once I finish a movie, it's really hard for me to picture anyone else in them. I don't picture actors as I'm writing because that's a disservice. It's hard because they do keep popping into your head. If you picture the characters' faces in your head, that's better. Most of these actors are the kind of actors who I had no idea what they would do with their role. That thrilled me. Have you ever seen Olivia Wilde do anything like this? I cast her 4 years ago after she did Tron and Cowboys and Aliens. She's really good. That's what you want to do. I can't think of anyone else in those roles, but there are so many actors I would love to work with. I've always been wanting to work with Dustin Hoffman, for example, and some day hopefully I will, but there are so many actors I've worked with that I'd love to work with again, like Charlize Theron and Sandra Bullock.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them intellectually as well as emotionally?
PH: I took an early print to the Toronto Film Festival which had a simpler ending than this one. I took the advise of friends that told me to make it simpler and more understandable. I wasn't happy. It didn't have the emotional resonance that we wanted, so I asked Michael Barker and Tom Bernard [of Sony Pictures Classics] if they'd support to have it edited, so I added in scenes. Everyone said it's too confusing. I thought A) People are smart, so they'll figure it out and B) it has a bigger emotional punch. So, they supported me in doing that. The Tribeca Film Festival was the first time you saw the finished film.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think it would take to reach a new Golden Age of cinema?
PH: It would take trusting writers and directors like in the 60's and 70's. There's a Golden Age in television now because people are taking risks, but there's no Golden Age in cinema now because people are just not taking enough risks because it's so expensive to take those risks.