Featuring a performance from Angelina Jolie that has already drawn praise as one of the best of her career, director Michael Winterbottom‘s "A Mighty Heart" is the latest from a director who has carved out a unique niche in the world of cinema.
Fidgeting constantly while answering questions in a quick, British monotone, Winterbottom resonates with the nervous energy of a young artist brimming with ideas but without enough time to share them all. Winterbottom‘s newest film, "A Mighty Heart," opens this Friday and is based on the book by Mariane Pearl about the frantic search for her husband, journalist Daniel Pearl, during his abduction by terrorists in 2002. Angelina Jolie plays Mariane in this harrowing real-life drama about the lengths that people will go to for the ones they love, and the labyrinthine, often life-threatening difficulties facing souls who pursue truth and compassion amidst an embattled world.
A prodigious filmmaker behind the recent "Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story" and "The Road to Guantanamo," Winterbottom has teamed up this time with Brad Pitt‘s Plan B Entertainment to craft Mariane Pearl’s story in his trademark minimalist, documentary style. Sitting down with Winterbottom for a roundtable Q&A in San Francisco, we discussed Angelina Jolie’s strong performance, terrorism, and the "Rashomon" Effect that comes with piecing together a complex story.
Q: You’ve been praised for your directorial finesse in downplaying Angelina Jolie’s celebrity status. Could you talk about how you affected that?
A: It wasn’t about me letting her do her thing. She did her thing. I suppose that’s true of all the actors. I think my part as a director is choices about people, and then you try and create the environment in which they can do their work. The starting point of the performance is that Angelina knows Mariane, she’s a friend of Mariane’s, she spent a lot of time talking to Mariane and she really wanted to be Mariane, to represent Mariane in the film. I think, then, within the film, Angelina was really trying to be Mariane on set as well, in a sense of being part of the group and being as generous and welcoming to the people, like the taxi driver from Karachi who got flown over to be the taxi driver in India, people who have no experience of acting, people in the catering crew. She was great on set. She was on set the whole time. I assume she consciously put the equivalent of Mariane on our set and made everyone feel they were all together as part of the group. She was great to work with.
Q: In writing the book, Mariane says that she wanted to continue Daniel Pearl’s goal of journalistic dialogue and mutual understanding between cultures. I wonder if with this film you have the same hopes?
A: Look, to be honest, when you’re making something, you’re engaged with just doing that story and the concrete problems of how to tell that story. I’m not a big fan personally of "the message." But I was impressed by Mariane’s book. I think it’s amazing that she’s willing to be that forgiving, to be that constructive after what’s happened. She refuses to be negative and to give in to hatred, and thinks more about what is possible to be positive about, and how maybe she can pass it on to Adam, her son, and how you can pass it on to the next generation, to be more positive about what’s going on. It’s incredibly impressive.
But I think also it’s incredibly impressive how well she tells the story, given that it’s her story, that it must be so emotional to her. that she manages to find a way of telling it incredibly clearly and interestingly. So for me, really, it was just a question of how to make this film accurate, simple, engaging, rather than what’s the message of the film. I’m not trying to think, "Well, if we make Angelina do this here then that will make this message in the end." It was more like, "Does this seem true, does this seem believable, does this seem interesting?"