The man behind "Schizopolis" and "Ocean's Eleven" sees his popular and indie tendencies collide, in "Solaris" - an art house space romance starring George Clooney.
It's been said that you're not a fan of science fiction, so what attracted you to the novel and the Andrei Tarkovsky movie?
I had this initial, very casual conversation with a friend of mine in the fall of 1999. I was asked, "Would you be interested in ever making a science fiction film?" I said, "Well, I don't know, because I feel since "Star Wars" that they've tilted pretty far into the action genre and I'm not really interested in technology or gadgets." And she said, "Give me an example of the kind of science fiction film that you like." I said, "Solaris".
Three months later she called back and said, "Look, just out of curiosity I did a little rights search and Jim Cameron, after five years of negotiations, has just secured the right to remake "Solaris" - would you be interested in going and talking to him? When you said that was the kind of film that you like, did you want to actually do it, or were you just blowing smoke?" And I said, "No, I'll go talk to him." And luckily he had not started doing any serious work on the project, so I snuck in at the right time.
The tagline for the movie is "What is Solaris?" So, what is it?
Well, to be on the nose about it, I viewed it as a very convenient and wonderful metaphor for anything that you don't understand. Including that response.
How has your creative relationship with George Clooney developed over the years?
There's something wrong with you to get into this business. When you find somebody that you feel has similar ideas about what they want to accomplish, and how they want to accomplish it, you make sure that you work with him again.
When George and I met, we just got each other very quickly and fell into a very fluid way of working. When that happens, you think, "I hope this will continue", because there are a lot of forces in the business pulling you one way and another if you allow them. I feel lucky that I've been able to surround myself with people who are in it for the right reasons.
Do you believe in God and an afterlife?
Since this question's come up, I've been describing myself as an optimistic atheist. I would like to think that this isn't it. That what we're all experiencing isn't the beginning and the end of everything that we experience.
I wanted the film to be able to withstand a secular and a non-secular interpretation. The motto of the film for me was the line that Gibrarian says when he come to Kelvin in the dream, "There are no answers, only choices." At the end of the day, I guess, I don't know that it's even relevant what we believe or what is true. It really comes down to: what do you do right now? What choice do you make?
Why did you choose to remake "Solaris"?
Well, I'm a big fan of Tarkovsky. I think he's an actual poet, which is very rare in the cinema. The fact that he had such an impact with only seven features, I think is a testament to his genius. I really loved the film. I didn't feel his film could be improved upon. I really just had a very different interpretation of the Stanislaw Lem book, which has a lot of ideas in it, enough I think to generate a couple more films.
Do you think that science fiction doesn't get the respect it deserves?
There was a time when science fiction was viewed as a way to explore serious ideas and I have to say, as active as a film like "The Matrix" is, I think one of the things that made it most successful, and that has given it such a huge following, is that there are some actual ideas at play in it.
I hope that science fiction is viewed by filmmakers of my generation and the one on our heels, as a viable way of exploring characters and human issues. I think it'd be great if people stopped looking at science fiction films as westerns.
"Solaris" opens in UK cinemas on Friday 28th February 2003.