Adrien Brody & Tony Kaye Discuss Their New Film ‘Detachment’

Tony Kaye and Adrien Brody make a perfect coupling: an acclaimed Oscar-winner known for taking on difficult and harrowing roles and one of Hollywood’s most controversial directors who makes films that not only brutally inform but possess. With their new film, Detachment, they both prove their immense strength in their craft, creating a powerful film that challenges one’s emotional strength and enlightens. The film tells the story of Henry Barthes, a downtrodden substitute teacher who takes a temporary position at a high school in shambles. Barthes, a somber man plagued by flashbacks of his mother’s suicide, is an empathetic and gifted teacher, desperately trying to connect to his students while dealing with his dying grandfather and the teenage prostitute he’s taken in. Shot by Kaye himself, the film cuts between the narrative, interviews with Barthes, and morose animated blackboard drawings used to illustrate everyone’s darker urges. It’s a scathing portrayal of the public school system as well as one man’s story to find meaning in a vicious world. We caught up with Brody and Kaye to find out what drew them to this film, their shared desire for a deeper sense of entertainment, and the state of Hollywood today.

How did you come across the script and why did you decide to do it?
Tony Kaye: I was just attracted to the language of it. When I look at scripts, I’m quite visual in a sense, and I look at the pages and through all the speeches. I like that kind of thing. When I see great big chunks, I think, This is good! If I see loads of pages where there’s just one line here or one line there, I’m not very interested. Of course, that’s a stupid and idiotic thing to say, but when I read it, the poetics of the language of Carl [Lund]’s script really made me want to try and get this film made — and I spent five years trying to get the film made. It gave me the opportunity to tell a story about a character, one in particular which I like. I prefer those kinds of movies to ensemble casts, although we do have that here. It’s definitely a glossary about the character of Henry Barthes.
Adrien Brody: [I was attracted to] its intensity and its relevance to the importance of education. The importance of kindness and patience are things that are easy to forget with all of the other pressures that we have in life. My father was a public school teacher and a great one at that, so I partially did this as an homage to him and how valuable that is. Not only how much it shaped me and my life, but also what a contribution it is.

How did you know that you wanted Adrien for the role?
TK: Oh, that was a lucky break. I mean, there’s no such thing as something just happening or it being just “luck.” Our paths collided, and we got on tremendously as people, and we trusted each other and both appreciated each other’s style of working. The collaboration between the two of us is what set the tempo. He knew and he believed me that I was going to make the movie entirely about him. A director’s interpretation of a script can sometimes change the entire thing.

Was there something about your character that drew you to him?
AB: I was attracted to a number of things. First of all, I wanted to work with Tony. He had such an interesting, colorful past and is so unusual, so I knew it was going to be an interesting experience. He’s wonderful to work with — incredibly collaborative and creative. And the writing was so good. Carl Lund wrote a beautiful script, and unfortunately it’s hard to find meaningful stuff out there.

Did you see yourself in your character at all?
AB: Yeah, of course. I am fortunately less volatile than he is, but I can relate to anger and frustration and that simmering beneath the surface.

What I found interesting about him was that he was so damaged and he had so much pain, but he allowed himself to have those emotions.
AB: Well, he is closed off He’s so broken and fragile and teetering on collapse, yet, at the same time, he’s compelled to share and inspire. I’m sure he sees many parallels between himself and the broken children that he has to provide some guidance for. What I love about it is, although he reluctantly does all this, that’s what saves him; his generosity saves himself because if he just remained isolated and shut off from it all he’d wither away.

Tony, your films are always so socially conscious and mix entertainment with some greater meaning or enlightenment. I understand why it’s important to do films of this nature and give something that’s more than just entertainment, but what’s your perspective on it? 
TK: The purpose of living and the only way we can exist in any form is to try and bring light to help mankind in some way — to be proactive. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to, in a manner of speaking, live out this dream of being a communicator of sorts. I hope this is now given me a career — that I can regularly make movies one after the other now. Whatever they may be, I’m looking for the importance. Not to preach, but to try and engage and make somebody — in this case, some really bright kid — want to teach or help somebody.

Adrien, as an actor, do you feel the need to tell these sort of stories — to do something socially relevant that’s not just entertaining?
AB: Yes. Not a responsibility in the sense that I have to because, you know, I don’t feel somebody else has to. If they’re an actor, they do whatever they want to do. If you’re a songwriter, you can sing whatever you want to sing about. What inspires me is something a bit more meaningful than entertainment. And I also really appreciate what I’ve learned from being asked to represent such meaningful and significant things that have affected us historically. It’s changed my whole level of awareness and outlook as a man, my appreciation for my own good fortune, and our blessed lives and the degree of freedom we have here as Americans. It’s an amazing thing, and you only gain that insight from deeply immersing yourself in other people’s struggles. Unless you’re studying abroad [and immersed in] those cultures, it’s very hard to gain that by just reading about it or picking up a magazine article. But if you’ve forced yourself into a place that is unpleasant, you can tell it more faithfully and can also come back to your life with a greater awareness and empathy.

Tony, do you try not to impose your own point-of-view and step away to give a broad overview of the subject that you’re covering, or do you think it’s important to put your own view in there as well?
TK: I believe in trying to be a cause and not an effect. My choice in being a cause is to often be upset. My point-ofview is not relevant; my point-of-view is only relevant in terms of the quality of acting — that’s my choice. I didn’t write it, I’m not the actor. With Lake of Fire, my second film, I made a movie about the abortion debate in the United States, and I have a massive feeling and choice about what I think is right in that zone, but it’s of no importance other than that I chose to spend 16 years working on it. My choice is to be something that light goes through, and then I channel it in the best and most graphic way that I possibly can.

Adrien, did you spend time in schools for the role?
AB: We were in a public school, and I went to public school so it brought back a lot of memories. It’s like a bad smell; you end up remembering so much from it. You shoot in a relatively drab school, sitting in a classroom as you wait and study your lines, and a few people from the administration are there and the janitor, and the series of urinals. It just brings it all back.

How long were you shooting for?
AB: Twenty days. It was hard. It’s a short amount of time, and it’s challenging to make great films in 20 days. There’s no room for error.

When you have that short amount of time you really have to become your character. When you go home at night, how do you not carry your character’s struggle with you? 
AB: I don’t intentionally try and stay in character, but if you have a great deal of material to absorb and specifics and style of writing that you have to be careful with, you have to study. You work very long hours and then come home, and there’s really no time to do much else. You’re basically immersed in it the whole time. I spent a lot of time alone with that and [being] silent. It’s intense it’s like a mediation or something, it’s very weird.

There were so many themes and issues and really hard-hitting, penetrating moments in the film. Were you worried at all, Tony, that it felt a little a heavy at times?
TK: It’s a real onslaught, but I tried to make it as poetic and as beautiful to make it palatable. I didn’t show anything; I just intuit.

Adrien, you and Sami Gayle have such a great chemistry together. Did you spend a lot of time together before you shot?
AB: No, no. She just possesses a wonderful fearlessness and enthusiasm and emotional intelligence that’s rare for a young girl. She’s so focused, and it was easy to collaborate with her.

There’s a hopefulness to it but there’s just so much pain in it also. Did you feel that way when you first read the script?
AB: Oh yeah, I cried when I first read the script. It’s very sad. There’s a slim little crack to get that light through all of that bleakness, but you need that. You need to show a relatively dark depiction of all this or you don’t awaken the understanding that you need to make some changes and do better.

Tony, why did you choose to include the interludes of animations?
TK: It’s a very disjointed, very dysfunctional, and very chaotic assemblage which is not too different from life — that was my choice. I thought that the blackboard should speak, that it should say something. I have a sort of massive apprenticeship; I’ve made eight billion TV commercials and hundreds of music videos, but I haven’t been making movies. I’ve been working with the techniques of motion picture and sound for 30 years, so I have a lot of tricks I can do so I wanted to use them. [With Detachment], I just needed to throw everything and the kitchen sink to the wall.

Adrien, what was your reaction the first time you saw the film completed? There’s all the animations and different things throughout it that shape it.
AB: I’m very impressed with Tony. I’m very moved by the film, and it was very brave and unusual filmmaking. That doesn’t really exist much today. I don’t know a film that’s like this. It’s great to be a part of that and I think he made a wonderful, honest, and proactive film.

Why do you think there’s not much room for this sort of film today?
AB: People produce movies because it’s a business, and you want a safe return on your investment. You can make things that are in-your-face and challenging and force the audience to think, and it’s unpredictable. It takes a certain degree of bravery to want to make movies like that. I think that’s the big issue, and that’s why there are so many very superficial movies out there. It’s easier to appeal to a mass audience and not require much thought and it’s a safer return on the investment. It’s a challenge to have art and commerce meet and find that balance and have a greater impact rather than just creating entertainment.

Tony, how do you find that things have changed greatly since you began filmmaking? 
TK: Things have definitely changed — there’s the internet, better special effects, and the ability now to make a life-like character on the screen without using a human being. But it was my passion and my choice to turn my back on all that. I’ve been left behind a little bit by some of my peers who have all become massively, incredibly well-known movie-makers. My choice was not to do any tricks, but to focus on the camera and the performances of people involved. That was my canvas I decided to work with many, many years ago. I’ve been overtaken by all these things, but with the success — however small — of Detachment, hopefully when other actors see the great performances from Adrien, Sami Gayle, Lucy Lu, and James Caan, to name a few, I’m praying they’ll think, Well I wouldn’t mind working with this guy.

There was so much controversy surrounded American History X and it’s become a film that everyone knows and appreciates–how do you feel about now that so much time has passed.
TK: I gave everything I had to that movie. I put in my own money and went bankrupt as a result of that film for my own crazy actions. But my biggest upset was that I fell out with the lead actor. And it was my fault. It was a desire for myself and myself alone. I just felt so embarrassed and ashamed by that, and I kind of went mad. I couldn’t understand it. In a way I’m very proud of what we did, and why shouldn’t I be? It’s lasted and it’s still current. If it came out this week, it would be good. In fact, if it came out this week it would be better than it was then because it would not seem like a big budget movie. It was a 10-million-dollar film. It was a big-budget movie but was still made and built in a very gritty and realistic way. Movies weren’t like that then when it came out. So I’m very proud of it and it made me even more determined not to make the same mistakes.

‘Detachment’ Pits Adrien Brody vs. the Education System

The public school system has always been a reliable reservoir of liberal angst, what with the low funding and the casually coded racism/classism and completely tangled burueaucracy. There’s a lot to get mad about! Detachment, starring Oscar winner Adrien Brody, will attempt to put a personal face on that frustration. Brody plays a substitute teacher trying to avoid connecting to his students, which becomes difficult when he’s placed at a school where everything is farkakte. Directed by American History X‘s Tony Kaye, it seems an easy bet to provoke something out of your ooey-gooey moviegoing heart.

You know what’s a good sign things aren’t going to turn out so nicely? The trailer opens with Isiah Whitlock Jr. (scuzzy politician Clay Davis on The Wire) giving a syrupy speech about how underappreciated teachers are. There’s not much else to say: the photography looks good, the actors look emotive, it swells and cuts in the right places and there’s a nice credit sequence where you can gawk at all the big names involved (James Caan!). Why not?

Most notably, it’ll try to reactivate Kaye’s dormant career, as he hasn’t had any big projects since American History X. Though this trailer shows some similar bursts of pretension ("A Tony Kaye Talkie, really?) it’ll be interesting to see what he’s got to say. You might remember this interview with The Telegraph from a few years ago in which he talked at length about how he fell out of favor with Hollywood following the success of AHX. "Listen," he told them. "I did a lot of very insane things. A lot of very, very, very insane things." Oh word?

Detachment comes out in theaters on March 16th, but it’ll be available via iTunes on February 24.

Tony Kaye Returns (Again) with ‘Detachment’

Earlier this morning, I came across a press release for a new movie called Detachment. About to skip it—every morning I come across a press release for a new movie—I saw the name Tony Kaye and continued reading. Tony Kaye has been a fascination of mine since the release of his 1998 feature directorial debut, American History X, which devolved into a messy battle between Kaye, the film’s star, Edward Norton, and the film’s studio, New Line, over final cut. Specifically, Kaye was enraged to find that 15 minutes of footage had been tacked on to the end of the film when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Of the spectacle, a proud Kaye told me a few years ago, “I don’t know if it was the biggest, but it was certainly the most publicized Hollywood battle over a cut, ever.”

Things then got weird for Kaye: he was essentially blacklisted in Hollywood; he tried to change his name, unsuccessfully, to Humpty Dumpty after New Line refused to take his name off the film’s billing; he started an acting class with Marlon Brando, but they too fell out after Kaye showed up on the first day’s seminar dressed as Osama Bin Laden; at one point, he stopped talking on the phone altogether, soliciting strangers to make calls for him from public telephones.

He returned triumphant to the big screen with 2006’s Lake of Fire, a searing three-hour documentary about abortion. It was well received and perfectly constructed, but it didn’t put him back on the map as a major filmmaker. That might change with Detachment.

The film stars Oscar winner Adrien Brody as Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher and drifter who never stays at one school long enough to grow attached to its staff and students. It also stars Marcia Gay Harden (herself an Academy darling), Christina Hendricks (whose chops I’m curious to see in a full-on dramatic feature role), Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad), Lucy Liu, Blythe Danner, James Caan, Betty Kaye (Tony’s daughter!), and Tim Blake Nelson (who recently directed Kaye’s nemesis, Edward Norton, in Leaves of Grass). This is how you stage a comeback. The film is currently shooting in Queens and Long Island.

Until we have more on Detachment, I’ll leave you with something Kaye told me, perhaps the most interesting thing any film type has ever told me. When I asked him about falling to pieces in public, and about losing his credibility for a time, I suggested that perhaps it was all a game, something he himself was cultivating. Kaye replied, “That’s right. That’s 100% right! As a dramatist, not having the fortune to be an actor, I did it in real life. And that can be cataclysmic. But to be honest, it was tremendously good fun. I don’t drink, and I don’t take drugs, so it’s not as if I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew perfectly well what I was doing. Every step of the way, I knew what I was doing. What eventually happened though was, ‘Shit, I really want to be working. And shit, maybe I’m never going to be able to do that again.’ I was wrong. I sold my soul—wait, I didn’t sell my soul to the Devil. I had become the Devil.”

The New Comeback Kid: Tony Kaye

By Nick Haramis

Click here to read our full interview with Tony Kaye!

imageKaye, left, Mercer Hotel, New York City.

Tony Kaye was born in London in 1952, but people don’t talk about this history. No, his trajectory begins with a very public falling out with Edward Norton and New Line Cinema over the final cut of neo-Nazi drama American History X. Following its debut in Toronto in 1998, an enraged Kaye took out 35 pages of scathing ads in Hollywood trade papers, slamming the film and its major players. He considered changing his name to Humpty Dumpty, to mess with the film’s billing. He fell in (and then out) with Marlon Brando, in a strange series of events that involved classes for liars and an Osama Bin Laden costume. He stopped speaking on the telephone altogether. But, as they say, time seems to heal all wounds. With Lake of Fire—Kaye’s first feature since “the most publicized battle over final cut in Hollywood, ever”—he returned to his controversial roots with a two-and-a-half-hour documentary about abortion. Mixed in with esoteric ethics from thinkers like Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz, the film documents some of the most chilling images ever captured by a video recorder—frozen fetuses, religious rally fervor, and the entire procedure as it happens.

An older, decidedly wiser man sits in a Manhattan office, a Kabbalah red string bracelet on his left wrist, his guitar nearby. He looks poised as he describes his next feature, Black Water Transit, and his new documentary Humpty Dumpty; but jolts of nervous energy betray a calm exterior as he talks about his past and his hopes for the future. “Telling stories is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Kaye begins, as he readies himself to discuss his ride with the Devil. “It’s taken me a long time to prepare myself for the job, but I think I’m ready to go now.”

BLACKBOOK: The anger that arises from watching Lake of Fire is conflicted and complicated. How were you able to stay objective?

TONY KAYE: I don’t really have a point of view. I’ll tell my kids, “Don’t touch the boiling pot because you’re going to get burned,” but other than things like that, I really am an empty vessel that makes things go through it.

BB: Michael Moore and other American documentarians inspired you, but this seems quite removed from the bully and his camera.

TK: Michael Caine once said this amazing thing about acting. He was teaching a class and he said, “If you see an actor do something and you like it, steal it, because you can bet your life they’ve stolen it too.” So if I see something, I’ll take it.

BB: It must be difficult to piece together a narrative from 17 years of gathered material.

TK: It’s very difficult to make a film about anything, even more difficult to make a film about an issue like abortion-one that hasn’t been resolved and might never be resolved. With an incident, there’s something that incites it, it takes place, it dies down. That’s the beginning, middle, and end. With an issue, where do you go?

BB: What have you taken away from working on the film?

TK: When I was younger, it was all about proving myself. I couldn’t care less about that now. It’s about being involved in the process every day. I now have an amazing surge of energy, and I kind of need that, because when we’re out there [points to a window overlooking Times Square] in that perfectly organized, mathematical world that presents itself as a chaotic barrage of experience-well, I need a bit of a betterment pill at some point. I don’t necessarily feel like the film is finished. But I’ll keep my mouth shut. I’m no longer behaving like a baby-speaking of which, I’m working on another film called Humpty Dumpty and New Line is going to release it.

BB: It documents your falling out, no?

TK: Suddenly, I’m in the middle of this battle where I’ve fallen out with Edward Norton, which led me to fall out with the producers. American History X gets into the Toronto Film Festival, and the cut they’ve got was too long. It had 15 minutes added to what I’d done. That’s not supposed to be the case. So I was going to Toronto to rip this thing out, when I thought, “Wait a minute-I should be filming this.” We’ve all heard stories about creative people going a bit mad. We are all a bit mad, but when you narcissistically document it and gloat over it, it’s kind of wild.

BB: Have you since reached out to Edward Norton?

TK: His agent always takes my calls. He’s very pleasant, but I never hear back. Maybe if I get more successful, Edward will want to do an interview for me. But then he’ll probably want to see the film, probably want to re-cut it. [Laughs.]

BB: Has something good come from all of this bad blood?

TK: Yeah, it was good that I got beaten up-by myself. At the time, I thought, “I’ve got my own movie industry. What do I need that one for?” I’ve since been working on a story about the afterlife, and it’s shown me even more why I messed up with Ed Norton, why I messed up with New Line at the time, why I messed up with American History X.

BB: I can’t help wondering if you were deliberately cultivating some kind of persona, feeding into the public perception of Tony the tyrant.

TK: That’s right. That’s 100% right! If someone is a lunatic, then people think their work is great. I threw myself into the role in such a passionate way. It was insane. It was completely insane. I am an idiot, but I think it’s sort of okay to be an idiot if you learn from your idiocy. I’m hoping that I did.

BB: When did you realize that you had lost control of the situation?

TK: I don’t drink and I don’t take drugs, so it’s not as if I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew perfectly well what I was doing, every step of the way. I’ll have to be honest-it was tremendously good fun. What eventually happened though was, “Shit, I really want to be doing work. And shit, maybe I’m never going to be able to again.” I was wrong. I sold my soul-wait, I didn’t sell my soul to the Devil. I had become the Devil.

Photo by Moses Berkson.

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The New Comeback Kid: Tony Kaye

imageBLACKBOOK: You’ve directed commercials, music videos, feature films, and documentaries. Which is most satisfying?

TONY KAYE: Telling stories is what I’ve always wanted to do, and now it seems that’s what I do. I spent a long time making music videos and TV commercials. I’m a musician, so I’m very interested in working with other musicians as a filmmaker. With commercials, the product is not the filmmaking, but what the filmmaking serves. So making a narrative story—whether you have 30 minutes or 19 hours—is the most interesting. BB: The anger that arises from watching Lake of Fire is complicated. How were you able to stay objective?

TK: I don’t really have a point of view. I mean I have a point of view where I’ll tell my kids, “Look, don’t touch the boiling pot because you’re going to get burnt,” but other than things like that, I really am an empty vessel that allows things to go through it, or makes things go through it.

And then something or other comes out the other end. I decided to make a film about the issue of abortion, and I didn’t want it to be too much like propaganda. I was a much younger man when I started the film, and I thought, “I do have a point of view, but I’m going to make an unbiased film.” Little did I know: “Look, you don’t really know anything about anything. All you know about are the circumstances of your own life, and a little bit about sound, picture, rhythm, speech, and text.”

BB: I can’t imagine that you were able to emotionally disassociate yourself from the people and the hate that surrounded you.

TK: I was emotionally affected, but only in the sense of, “What am I going to do now? What bit do I need to get now? Where do I go next?” That, more than anything, kept me focused on this thing for as long as I was.

BB: Michael Moore and other American documentarians inspired you, but this seems quite removed from the bully and his camera.

TK: To me, American films are the best films. When I saw Roger and Me, I thought, “That’s an amazing film.” When I saw The Thin Blue Line, I thought, “Now, that is an amazing film.” I love Leni Riefenstahl’s film about the Nazi party. I love Olympia. I’ve taken a little bit from everywhere. I have no worry about stealing things. Michael Caine once said this amazing thing about acting. He was teaching a class and he said, “If you see an actor do something and you like it, steal it, because you can bet your life they’ve stolen it too.” So if I see something, I’ll take it. I’ll use it. It won’t come out the same way, because I’ll forget a little bit about it. I’ll mess it up.

BB: Was it difficult to convince people to discuss abortion on camera?

TK: No one was difficult once I was there. When I interview, I just mumble the odd word based on what the person says. I don’t push the person into saying what I want them to say. I don’t have an agenda.

BB: It must challenging to piece together a narrative from 17 years of gathered material

TK: It’s very difficult to make a film about anything, even more difficult to make a film about an issue like abortion. It’s like an infinite sea. If you want to make a movie about a person, okay, at least I know I’m going to tell a specific part of their life. Or there’s an incident, there’s something that incites it, it takes place, it dies down. That’s the beginning, middle, and end—Act 1, Act 2, and Act 3.

With an issue, where do you go? Particularly when the issue hasn’t been resolved, and may never be resolved. It became obvious that I needed a journey about one woman who leaves home, gets in a car, and has the procedure. BB: That section of the film was more disturbing than all the fetus shots put together.

TK: It just played out and I got the whole thing on camera. That to me was the end. That was the end of the film. BB: What have you taken away from working on the film?

TK: When I was younger, it was all about getting it out there and proving it, but I could care less about that now. It’s about being involved in the process every day. I now have an amazing surge of energy, and I kind of need that, because when we’re out there [point to a window overlooking Times Square] in that perfectly organized, mathematical world that presents itself as a chaotic barrage of experience—well, I need a bit of a betterment pill at some point. I don’t necessarily feel like the film is finished. But I’ll keep my mouth shut. I’m no longer behaving like a baby—speaking of which, I’m working on another film called Humpty Dumpty and New Line is going to release it. BB: It documents your falling out, no?

TK: Suddenly, I’m in the middle of this battle where I’ve fallen out with Edward Norton, which led me to a fall out with the producers. The writer of the film [David McKenna] came to me, begging, “What the hell’s going on? What are you doing?” It gets into the Toronto Film Festival, and the cut they’ve got was too long. It had 15 minutes added to what I’d done. That’s not supposed to be the case. So I was going to Toronto to rip this thing out, when I thought, “Wait a minute—I should be filming this.” So that’s what I did. And, in a way, I forgot about American History X.

I don’t know if it was the biggest, but it was certainly the most publicized Hollywood battle over a cut, ever. We’ve all heard stories about creative people going a bit mad. We are all are a bit mad, but when you narcissistically document it and gloat over it, it’s kind of wild.

BB: Have you since reached out to Edward Norton or any of the people who were involved in making the film?

TK: Beverly D’Angelo is actually in my new film, Black Water Transit. I need to get Edward to do an interview. I’ve spoken with his agent—I haven’t spoken to Ed since—and he always takes my calls. He’s very pleasant, but I never hear back. Maybe if I get more successful, Edward will want to do an interview for me. But then he’ll probably want to see the film, probably want to re-cut it. [Laughs.] BB: Has something good come from all this bad blood?

TK: Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t really ready at the time to benefit from any of the contribution I made to American History X. In all honesty, I wasn’t really ready for the success, on my own terms. It was good that I got beaten up—by myself. I threw myself into the wilderness, to my roots.

I continued making my own films. At the time, I thought, “I’ve got my own movie industry. What do I need that one for?” I had to be thrown into the wilderness like that, make loads of music videos and TV commercials, learn different things, and get the money to make my other films. Now I’m really ready.

One of the projects that I’ve been working on, with about 1000 hours of film—it’s a seven-hour cut with 300 pages of writing—is a story about the afterlife. I went to the Kabbalah Centre in L.A., and I thought it would be good to research it. I was blown away. I bumped into Kabbalah years ago when I was making American History X. Elliott Gould took me to the center once. I went back and bought all these books, and it kind of helped me. It’s been incredibly helpful to me, and it’s shown me even more why I messed up with Ed Norton, why I messed up with New Line at the time, why I messed up with American History X. BB: I can’t help wondering if you were deliberately cultivating some kind of persona, feeding into the public perception of Tony the tyrant.

TK: That’s right. That’s 100% right! As a dramatist, not having the fortune to be an actor, I did it in real life. And that can be cataclysmic. If someone is a lunatic, then people think they’re work is great. I’m not really a lunatic. Mind you, lunatics don’t think they are.

I saw a film years ago about this chap who thought he’d figured out the perfect murder. He would pretend he was mad. Then, when he was in the mental institution, he would suddenly recover. And he did. He did the whole thing. And after a period of time, he “recovers” and it’s time for him to get out, but they say, “You can’t, because you’re completely mad.” Because he was mad. No sane person would do such a thing. That sort of thing appealed to me, creating that kind of lunatic. Also, my heroes have always been arrogant, egotistical human beings.

I threw myself into the role in such a passionate way that I did all these crazy things. On my first film, I thought, “I can create a massive spectacle, you know, as a director arguing with an actor and the studio.” It was insane. It was completely insane. I am an idiot, but I think it’s sort of okay to be an idiot if you learn from your idiocy. I’m hoping that I did.

BB: When did you realize that you had lost control of the situation?

TK: Well, to be honest, it was tremendously good fun. I don’t drink, and I don’t take drugs, so it’s not as if I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew perfectly well what I was doing. Every step of the way, I knew what I was doing. What eventually happened though was, “Shit, I really want to be working. And shit, maybe I’m never going to be able to do that again.” I was wrong. I sold my soul—wait, I didn’t sell my soul to the Devil. I had become the Devil. You know, the sort of vital desire for only myself.

And however much I fooled myself with the illusion that I really was having fun, it really wasn’t fun. It was awful. Maybe. You know, when I was younger, people would say to me, “Have you ever suffered from any mental issues?” And I used to think it was very, very funny. I’m sort of losing the plot now. I’m losing the plot. You really kicked me off there when you started talking about the persona, and the fabrication.

After American History X, Marlon Brando would lecture me, “You mustn’t do that and you mustn’t do this.” So maybe that madness was worth it to bump into him at that point, to learn all that stuff from him.

BB: Back to the film for one final question. It’s so exhausting and intense. Have reactions to it mirrored that sort of intensity?

TK: It is a physically brutal film to watch. Last night, I had an amazing experience when I showed it at Tisch at NYU. There were about 150 film students who came to watch. Some of these students came up to me at the end, and said, “That’s why I really want to be a filmmaker, to make a film like that.” And, yeah, that was very intense—I could see their faces. It was really real. Not one person left.

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