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24 September 2014
FILMS - Interviews

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Gregor Jordan
Buffalo Soldiers
Written by Nev Pierce
updated 17th July 2003


Gregor Jordan
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Read our review of "Buffalo Soldiers"

Collective interview with Joaquin Phoenix

Aussie writer-director Gregor Jordan hits the satirical bullseye with "Buffalo Soldiers" - a caustic black comedy starring Joaquin Phoenix as a drug-dealing American soldier stationed in West Germany. He tells BBCi Films about reassuring Ed Harris, murder, and the day the "whole world turned to s***".

Has there been some hostility from Americans towards "Buffalo Soldiers"?
I guess there's been a certain amount. The overwhelming response I've had has been very positive. The feeling over there is that people are having to be so PC and so careful about what they say and that worries people, whereas "Buffalo Soldiers" doesn't pull its punches. A lot of the journalists over there are really appreciative that an edgy movie is coming out.

Did you ever fear that the movie wouldn't come out?
It was pretty precarious. After September 11 and the whole war in Afghanistan, then Iraq, it was looking very dodgy - like it wouldn't get released at all in America. Then when FilmFour closed down here, I just thought, "Jesus Christ! Things can't get any worse." Cos I just thought, "The film's going to die". So I'm feeling quite happy at the moment that it's actually coming out and the response seems pretty positive.

Miramax bought it on 10th September, 2001, didn't it?
Yeah, it was a strange time. We made the film independently, without an American distributor, knowing that we were going to have to try and sell it. Then it screened [at the film festival] in Toronto and did very, very well. The screening was just like a dream. There was a whole bidding war and Miramax came in and paid a fortune for it and we were all really euphoric. And then, of course, we woke up in the morning and the whole world turned to s***.

Why should BBCi Films' readers go and see "Buffalo Soldiers"?
Look, it's just something really different and even if it's not to your taste, it's not going to be like anything you've seen before. I guess there are similarities to other satires of the army, like "Catch-22" or "M*A*S*H" or "Doctor Strangelove", but it's set in this world of bored soldiers in West Germany that no one will have seen before.

Also it's a movie that I think will make people think and contemplate a few issues and ideas about the nature of warfare and why people want to keep fighting. It looks at the idea that war is something that a lot of people like and want, and if there's no war they go out and create their own. It's a different idea to what usually gets presented in military movies.

There are American military bases everywhere - it really is an Empire. How close to reality do you think Robert O'Connor's novel is?
I think it's actually surprisingly close. I started doing some research into it when I was writing the script and I've got documents which show things like murder rates on US Army bases - there were between 25 and 30 murders a year. And things like accidental deaths - there was between two and three a day. And suicide rates...

There's also statistics about how many weapons just went missing during the course of the Cold War. Billions of dollars worth of weapons just disappeared. And drug use - the army in the end had to introduce drug testing to try and stamp it out. If anything, what is depicted in the film is toned down from reality. What really happened was much, much worse.

Was Joaquin Phoenix always your choice for Elwood?
Joaquin was always first choice for the role. Although we did consider a lot of other actors, Joaquin was someone whose name just kept coming up as perfect for it. He's a very interesting actor, because he's got a vulnerability and a sensitivity about him, but he's also got this darkness. But also he's funny - really funny as a guy and he knows how to time a line and make it funny.

Getting Ed Harris must have been a coup, playing against type [as an incompetent colonel], too. Did you ever have doubts about that?
Not really. It was interesting because I guess Ed had doubts about it. He was actually offered the role of the sergeant first, but he said, "I like the role of the colonel better" and I was really happy about it, because I actually wanted Scott Glenn to play the sergeant and Ed to play the colonel, so it worked out perfectly for me. Ed kept on pulling me aside and saying, "Is it OK? Is it OK? Am I funny?" and I'm going, "Yeah, you're really funny." He said, "OK, cos I've never done comedy before and I just want to make sure I'm getting it right."

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