Antoine Fuqua has come a long way since being forced off Entrapment following creative differences with Sean Connery in the late 90s. After genre pics The Replacement Killers and Bait, he provided Denzel Washington with an Oscar-winning role in the excellent LA cop drama Training Day. Creative tensions marred Bruce Willis anti-war movie Tears Of The Sun, but he takes up arms again in 5th century historical actioner King Arthur. He talks here about his film loves and hates...
Why did you become a director?
I became a director just for the love of movies, because of the power of cinema. Being a kid growing up with Kurosawa films and watching Sergio Leone movies just made me love what it could do to you, and how it could influence you - make you dream.
If you weren't a filmmaker, what what you be?
It's a really good question. The simple answer is I'd just be a guy trying to feed my family, like everybody else. The complicated answer is, I think I'd be in some sort of military or government world of some sort.
What other director would you like to see at work?
I've become friends with Michael Mann and Oliver Stone; I've seen those guys work and that was great to see. The directors I would have loved to have seen were Kurosawa or Leone - I would have loved being on their set to see how they worked. Today, Scorsese would be someone I'd love to hang out with, cos he's a lot of fun. He's got great energy and he still loves movies.
What was the last movie that you paid to see?
Spider-Man 2. I have an 11-year-old son and I took him to see it. I only pay to take my son to the movies, because most of the time I only watch European movies, independent movies, or screen them privately. But I like to go to movies with my son because it's still fun; it reminds me of why I make movies.
What was the last movie you walked out of?
Spider-Man 2. I didn't enjoy the film because there's so much CG [computer-generated images], I know how they've done it. It's like a magician going to a magic show and knowing how they did all the tricks. It takes away the fun for me.
What I enjoy is watching my son, and he thought it was OK. But you can see all of that on a videogame. I mean, where's the power of cinema? When I grew up I watched Shane, or The Good, The Bad And The Ugly - those films were real, they were organic, you could see the relationship between cinema and the human being, and how we reflect ourselves. As opposed to, you know, an, animation.
Do you believe in God?
Absolutely. I believe in God, absolutely.
Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?
The most famous person? Famous, famous, famous... on an international level? I have a lot of people in my book who are pretty famous - but there's the famous ones and then there's the powerful ones. [Pause] Bill Clinton?
What's your favourite movie quote?
"They keep sucking me back in!" Al Pacino (The actual line is: "Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in", from The Godfather Part III)
Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?
Bruce Willis. Pain in my ass, no problem about that. We just didn't get along. We got along off camera, but shooting [Tears Of The Sun] we just didn't get along. Some men don't gel when it comes to work - you have different work ethics, different opinions, different points of views, different methods of filmmaking - and we didn't gel. Off camera we were friends - Bruce is great - but we just don't get along when it comes to work, and that's pretty much it.
Do you believe in test screenings?
Hmmmm... I think they're helpful. I don't believe in them but I understand the studios' use of them. I don't believe in them - I think they hurt the director. If I had it my way I wouldn't do them, I would just make the movie and put it out there.
My experience of test screenings is that you don't know what kind of mood people are going to be in, and sometimes the studios accept what Joe Blo says - and this guy could just be a frustrated filmmaker, or not paying attention. Or the fact that they know they are there for their opinion: they'll go overboard with their opinion, and you find yourself editing out something that could have made a really big difference in your work based on that.
Also, the movies are never done when you screen them - it's like looking at a wet painting without all the colours in it. What are you judging it on? The sound isn't right, the dialogue is all over the place, the editing is still jarring, you're normally looking at a video or digital printout of the actual film texture, you can't hear everything, and the score's not done! So you're looking at an incomplete work and you're judging it. How is that helpful? It's not complete, so I don't believe in them.
Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?
The most underrated filmmaker? In the consciousness of the layman, it would be Kurosawa. I don't think people know who he is, except for those people who are making movies. They don't know what he did, or how he did it. The directors know, but if you talk about people in our business and who's underrated today... erm, not sure. Who's underrated? These are good questions man, I have to think about these things.
And which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?
[Names a well-known modern-day director, but subsequently requests for this answer to be omitted]
What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?
The dumbest question I've ever been asked always starts off like this: "As a black director...". I hate that! It's a dumb question, because I don't look at things as a black director, just as a director, so ask me as a director first and we can segue into the colour thing later. That's a dumbass question because you don't ask any other artist that - "As a Jewish director, Mr Spielberg..." No one ever said that, I don't think.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
I think the best piece of advice I was given was probably by Oliver Stone, which was: "Fight like hell for the film." That's it. Fight like hell for the film. "Follow the art," I think is what he also said. Follow the art.
And the worst?
"Wear comfortable shoes." And I won't tell you who said that, because he's a huge director. I was just there going, "That's not ******* advice, that's just some bull**** thing to say to some young filmmaker. Tell me something that I can use." I know to wear comfortable shoes!
How seriously do you take reviews?
I try not to read them. I take them seriously but I try not to read them. I take them personally, that's why I don't read them. I think people are lying when they say they don't care, that's not true. I take them personally.
Which performer would you love to work with?
Al Pacino, Robert De Niro... any of those guys, I can give you a list. There's a handful: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Gene Hackman, Daniel Day-Lewis. I got to work with Denzel [Washington on Training Day], I'm going to do it again with him and Benicio [Del Toro] on my next picture [Tru Blu], so I'm starting to get there!
There are five minutes left till the end of the world - what do you do?
Make sure all the children are safe. Make sure they're comfortable, the best way you can, try and comfort them. That's pretty much what I would do.
What film makes you want to spit?
Spit? Yes! Soul Plane, and these movies they keep making. I don't understand them, I don't understand why they keep making these movies.
They make money though, don't they?
I don't know man, I don't know. It's not worth it, it's not about money, especially when you're dealing with a culture. It should be about elevating the idea of what we are and who we are as people in the cinema, and that kind of stuff keeps dragging us back down.
What are your three favourite films and why?
Cinema Paradiso, because it reminds me of why I make movies, the magic of movies, the romance of movies. Seven Samurai, and probably any number of Sergio Leone films - pick any one. I love all of those spaghetti westerns with Clint Eastwood. I love those movies.
What do you think of Norman Wisdom?