Ridley Scott has come to be regarded as one of the most visionary directors of his generation, following films such as Alien (1979), Gladiator (2000) and Black Hawk Down (2001). But his original visions haven't always been appreciated at the time of release, as the director's cut of Blade Runner (1982) has since proved. His most recent historical epic, Kingdom Of Heaven (2005), has also been given a director's cut on DVD that improves on the theatrical version in many ways.
Here he talks about the problems with test screenings and why mainstream cinema has become so ordinary...
Why did you become a director?
It's hard for me to say because it's the best job in the world. The much longer question is how did I become a director? Why is because I was fascinated by the title on the screen when I was a child. I was an avid filmgoer and I always used to look at this credit saying "directed by..." and thought that somehow he's the author. Because I loved cinema so much I wanted to be that author.
If you weren't a filmmaker, what would you be?
Knowing what I know now I'd like to be in banking, or business. Business fascinates me. It's very creative.
Which other directors would you like to see at work?
I'd like to watch Akira Kurosawa and David Lean.
What was the last movie that you paid to see?
Oh God, it was years ago. I used to go the cinema as an exercise because I felt that I ought to and see it with the audience. I live in Bel Air, so nearby is Westwood Village which is a pretty good place for mainstream cinema. But I think that mainstream cinema has become so ordinary that I now tend to watch mainly indie movies and low-budget ones. The last thing I paid to see was The Proposition and I liked that. Before that, it was the German film Nowhere In Africa, which is about Jewish exiles in Africa pre-Second World War who've had to run from the Holocaust.
What was the last movie you walked out of?
You mean switched off... Almost everything. I think there's no originality. I think everyone is stealing from everyone else and going back to the originals. I usually go in for 20 minutes and then get up and leave. I can't remember - but that's how long it's been since I've been really engaged by something.
Do you believe in God?
I'm not sure. I think there's all kinds of questions raised... that's such an exotic question. If we looked at the whole thing practically speaking, the big bang occurred and then we go through this evolution of millions, billions of years where, by coincidence, all the right biological accidents came out the right way. To an extent, that doesn't make sense unless there was a controlling decider or mediator in all of that. So who was that? Or what was that? Are we one big grand experiment in the basic overall blink of the universe, or the galaxy? In which case, who is behind it? Maybe we're an experiment which can last a billion years, but which is a blink in their terms and they can then say: "Right that didn't work, let's blow them up!" [Laughs]
Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?
Oh God, I have a lot. You name him. Even The King of Morocco and the King of Jordan. A lot of actors - almost everyone actually. That's why it would be horrible if I ever lost my book.
Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?
Me and my brother, Tony!
And which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?
I can't answer that one, there's plenty! The list is too long. [Laughs]
Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?
He'll forgive me because now I get on with him - but it's got to be Harrison [Ford]. Now he's become charming. But he knows a lot, that's the problem. When we worked together it was my first film up and I was the new kid on the block. But we made a good movie.
Do you believe in test screenings?
Not really. The whole process of making movies and writing screenplays is visceral and intuitive. When you actually go to a preview you're asking 600 people, who come from different demographics, to become Siskel and Ebert by the end of the evening. It's absolutely rubbish. Normally people will come and say at the end of the film: "I liked that, or I disliked it or I kind of thought it was okay." That's it. But at the end of a preview 600 very detailed questionnaires go out to these 600 people and their answers are computerised. So the following morning I'm looking at demographics and I'm fighting demographics of women under 22 or over 27, and guys under 18. As you sit there, the fatal thing is to become infected. By going to a preview, a director becomes insidiously infected by the process, so by the end of it you're thinking, "it may be a bit too long". That's how Kingdom Of Heaven originally arrived at two hours and 23 minutes. It was my fault. The studio isn't to be blamed at all for this, they weren't bullies. I could have said three hours and 8 minutes and that's it and they'd have backed off and said so be it. So in this instance, the enemy was the preview which has grown and grown and grown over the years and is becoming like a science. It's ridiculous.
How seriously do you take reviews?
Nearly not at all. I don't even read them. The best advice is don't read them - good or bad.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
[Laughs] Don't read your own reviews!
What are your three favourite films and why?
Oh God, that's a very difficult question because I think you'd have to say what are your 20 great ones? So within the 20 great ones, or 30 ones... by the way, not many would come from the past five or ten years. I'd probably go back and say certainly one of Lean's - probably Lawrence. One of Orson Welles and that would probably have to be Citizen Kane. And Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. I think Ingmar Bergman has been prolific and just for sheer invention and freshness, The Seventh Seal. I remember seeing the first of his films, which was Summer With Monika, at the National Film Theatre and thinking "My God, how fresh and how real all the characters were". There's something very nice about all of those Scandinavian performances.
Kingdom Of Heaven Director's Cut is released on DVD on Monday 25th September 2006.