Tony Scott directs and produces The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, an intense action thriller, based on the novel by John Godey, about Ryder (John Travolta) who holds subway passengers hostage on a train and demands that the city of New York pay him $10 million within 1 hour. Walter Garber (Denzel Washington), a dispatcher, communicates with him to try to control the hostage situation. Tony Scott, brother of Alien director Ridley Scott, has previously directed Deja Vu, Domino, Man on Fire, Spy Game, Enemy of the State, Crimson Tide, True Romance, The Last Boy Scout, Days of Thunder, Top Gun and The Hunger. It was a real privilege to interview him.
Columbia Pictures releases The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 nationwide on June 12th, 2009.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Where does your excitement to direct come from?
TS: What always leads me in terms of my movies are characters, so I always I have a family, which I call my extended family. I send them out and say, ďHereís the script. Go into the real world, cast these people in the real world, find me a role model and some actors and my writers. I donít change the structure of the script, but I take my research and thatís always been my mantra. Thatís what gets me excited because I get to educate myself and entertain myself in terms of worlds that I could never normally touch. For me, a movie is an adventure and this was a real one. I had to shoot most of it at night, in the subway, there are 150 people down there and thereís a third rail. When I shoot a movie for 6 months, without exaggeration, Iím on 4 hours of sleep every night. The first week, I say to myself, ďMy god! I donít know how Iím going to survive another one!Ē But all I do is just acclimatize and get going. Itís the adrenaline that keeps you going. I get up and do my storyboarding at 3 or 4 AM and then get picked up at 6 AM. I enjoy what I do, but Iím scared of what I do at the same time, which is good because itís fear that gets me up every morning and drives me. My work ethic is infectious and thatís why I have a good time with the people that I work with.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How have you evolved as a filmmaker since you made The Hunger in the early 80ís?
TS: The Hunger was a very artsy movie, maybe a little bit too artsy, but that was my background then. I came out of a world of advertising and painting. Painting was my beginning, commercials the second and then rock videos, so I felt comfortable about style and felt difficult and awkward with actors. But, in the end, through my process [as a director], Iíve gotten more comfortable with actors. I spent 8 years in art school and my process is still the same--painting is about making how big your canvas is and where the red and grey and black [colors will go] and how you mix your colors in terms of your emotions.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think are the basic elements that turn an action thriller into a classic?
TS: Iím always criticized of style over content, unlike Ridley [Scottís] films like Alien or Blade Runner or Gladiator, which go right into the classic box right away. Mine always, sort of, hover. Maybe, with time, people would say they should be classics, but I think Iím always perceived as reaching too hard for difference and difference doesnít classify you into the classics category. Maybe I think that my movies are more different than they actually are, but, in my mind, my process with each movie is very different and I love what I do. Itís boring having to repeat yourself with how you work and how you shoot. Itís not just change that drives me---itís the worlds that I touch and the characters I touch that make me want to see the worlds in a different way. Iím motivated by characters and story.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What made you choose to remake the original Taking of Pelham 1,2,3?
TS: I donít regard it as a remake or as a reinvention. In the original, there was Walter Matthau with his laconic, New York sense of humor, his pants at half-mast. He was brilliant. The story was a very simplistic story. I could only watch 10 minutes of it and then I had to stop when I was working this because I had to leave that as a separate movie and not make this a reinvention or a remake.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What is like working with Denzel Washington, especially after casting him in four of your films?
TS: I respect his process and he respects mine. Weíre both insecure in that weíre always reaching to examine and making what we do better. My goal every day is to try to see the world and these characters in a different way. From Crimson Tide to Man on Fire to Dťjŗ vu to this, heís always given me different Denzel. Heís one of the few actors who can do nothing and communicate everything. That comes from doing your homework.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How much of the action did you shoot on location?
TS: We [shot] everything in New York. For the first time, they let me use real trains and to shoot in the real subway, so what we shot in the motormanís booth with [John] Travolta and [Michael Rispoli], that was on stage, but everything else was for real.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why do you move the camera so frenetically?
TS: Itís about energy and momentum. The true excitement comes from the actors and that gives you the true drama. Whatever I can do with my camera is icing on the cake. I use four cameras and do three takes, so the actors love it. I always felt that this movie needed movement with my cameras to create momentum.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was it like trying to find the right balance between comedy, action and suspense?
TS: With difficulty. I think you donít expect to have a sense of humor here. Thatís a combination of the writer, Brian Helgeland, and every guy we touched in terms of research who were charming, funny and edgy. It just comes out of the real world. All of those guys in the MTA had a blast down there.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you decide what kind of mood to create during the shots of New York City?
TS: I stole right from Koyaanisqatsi. Iím a plagiarist. I always look back at other movies, but I steal well and then reinvent.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What were you most worried about when filming the subway scenes?
TS: My fear is responsibility because somebody could get tired or step the wrong way or put a foot up the wrong direction.[By the way], I saw only 1 rat.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was it like trying to find the right balance between entertaining older generations and teenagers simultaneously?
TS: Iím 64 and trying to recapture my youth, so I think Iím a bit different from the norm. Iíd like my movies to be able to appeal to my generation as well as teenagers. The ultimate success of a movie is one that creatively satisfies you and it makes money.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you view fear as a motivating factor for you as well as the characters in your films?
TS: If you look at my body of work, thereís always a dark side to my characters. Thereís always got a skeleton in their closet. Theyíve always got a subtext, whether itís Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout or Denzel in The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 or in Man on Fire. I think fear, and there's two ways of looking at fear. The most frightening thing I do in my life is getting up and shooting movies. Commercials, movies, every morning I'm bolt upright on one hour two hours sleep, before the alarm clock goes off. That's a good thing. That fear motivates me, and I enjoy that fear. I'm perverse in that way. I do other things. I've rock climbed all my life. Whenever I finish a movie, I do multi-day ascents, I got hang on a wall in Yosemite. That fear is tangible [though]. That's black and white. I can make this hold or that hold. The other fear is intangible, it's very abstract, and that's more frightening.