RIDLEY SCOTT/RUSSELL CROWE
Gladiator (2000), Crowe’s first film with Ridley Scott was something special. It garnered Crowe a Best Actor Oscar, and started a five-picture collaboration between the actor and director. It reinvigorated a genre, the sword and sandals epic, and fused a fiercely intelligent actor with an equally fierce director. Crowe reflected, “He said he noticed me in one of my very first films I did, Romper Stomper (1992) and he also liked my acting in L.A Confidential”. At the premiere Scott praised his star, “I just thought Russell was fresh, a new generation – he’s a man definitely on his way up.”
Next up, the light fish out of water comedy A Good Year (2006) featured Crowe as the uptight English banker and bond trader, the press were unkind, Scott retorted "We had some fun on A Good Year, and even though we got beaten up for it, I still think it's a good movie and I think Russell was excellent in it.
“Let’s make this work,” the director said to Crowe on the set of A Good Year about the next project American Gangster (2007), a seventies inspired gritty crime thriller. Body of Lies (2008) followed, a political espionage thriller, Crowe on working with Scott again, “people make the assumption that we agree on everything. That’s ridiculous.”
Robin Hood (2010) opened the Cannes Film Festival but could not overcome a problematic script. Reports of tensions on set were dismissed, Crowe reflecting on his working relationship with Scott, “I like his artistic vision, his ability to create worlds and to give them uncommon authenticity”. Scott countered, “the great actors are never easy.”
STEVEN SODERBERGH & GEORGE CLOONEY (271WORDS)
Soderbergh and Clooney have made six films together paired as director and actor (three Ocean’s movies, Out of Sight, Solaris and The Good German), and many more as producing partners. Soderbergh’s initial training in film was as an editor while Clooney had spent his early career making pilots for TV shows that were rarely picked up by the network until ER hit.
Out of Sight (1998) arrived post Batman and Robin, Clooney recalled they were both “coming off really low points in our careers.” The classic scene in the trunk of a car took 44 takes to get right; it established Clooney and Lopez as bone fide stars. It ushered in a working relationship between the two that would last six years. They started a Production Company (Section Eight) together that combined mainstream Hollywood films with more personal cerebral works. This “one for the studio, one for us” strategy, as Clooney once described it to me, was a means of financing more 'difficult’ films such as Michael Clayton and Syriana. “We're friends, we're partners, we share the same aesthetic and we're trying to make the same kind of films” Soderbergh concluded.
The Ocean films which teamed them with legendary producer Jerry Weintraub, were for Clooney, Pitt, Roberts and Damon like a working holiday. However, for the Director it was hard work setting up complex shots, tight schedules and orchestrating the elaborate heist were not easy. On their more personal esoteric film Solaris (2002), Clooney advised “I think everyone should have a drink before they see it.” The Good German (2006) experiment co-starring Cate Blanchett was not a critical or financial success.
TIM BURTON & JOHNNY DEPP
“When we first met we were both connected on all these super absurd levels” Depp reflecting on his working relationship with Tim Burton.
After the blockbuster Batman, Burton was perceived as a “hot” director. His collaboration with the 21 Jump Street idol Johnny Depp was formed on Edward Scissorhands (1990), the story of an outsider who cannot touch what he loves for fear of destroying it. Depp felt saved, “Rescued from the world of mass product, by this odd, brilliant guy who had spent his youth drawing strange pictures.” Next Ed Wood (1994) a film about the extraordinary life of the director who made arguably the worst film in the history of cinema. “It was interesting to me, after working with Johnny before, to explore a more open kind of thing. He did a really great job and found a tone I liked.” Burton noted on their second collaboration.
When Burton’s version of Superman failed to get off the ground, he decided to make the Hammer influenced Sleepy Hollow (1999). The film displayed Depp in yet another idiosyncratic performance. “Tim is particularly amazing: he will give you suggestions and he’ll plant certain seeds. Then you take that and use that.” Depp observed.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) was a phenomenal success, garnering 475 million at the global box office. After the inventive Corpse Bride, the duo took on the challenge of bringing the musical Sweeney Todd (2007) to the big screen. The film proved the versatile Depp could sing. After the billion dollar success of Alice Wonderland (2010) there most recent collaboration has been the disappointingly retro Dark Shadows (2012).
THE COEN BROS. & FRANCES McDORMAND (272 words)
Friends with Holly Hunter from Yale University, Frances McDormand was introduced to the Coens by Hunter who were casting their first film the low budget thriller, Blood Simple. The only professional role she had before Blood Simple was a small recurring role in Hill Street Blues. Released in 1984 the noir thriller was a watershed moment, the start of both a professional and personal relationship with Joel Coen. McDormand has said, “We were both doing, for the first time, what we wanted what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives.”
Ten years later after supporting roles in Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing the role of Marge Gunderson in Fargo arrived; here McDormand played a pregnant Minnesota police chief who is mild mannered chirpy and smarter than all the men around her. In describing Marge, Joel Coen noted, “She is banal, but in a good way, she wears a funny hat and she walks funny, she’s capable where other character’s aren’t.” “It’s the first time in 12 years of sleeping with the director that I got the job, no questions asked.” On winning the academy award for best actress, she praised the producers for allowing directors to make “autonomous casting decisions based on qualifications not just market value”.
Returning to the darker noir cinema their next collaboration was The Man Who Wasn’t There, co-starring Billy Bob Thornton and James Gandolfini. The last outing between the two involved the ensemble black comedy Burn After Reading which was made following the Oscar glory of No Country for Old Men. Underrated at the time of its release, its quality grows on repeat viewings.
JOHN CARPENTER & KURT RUSSELL
In 1978 after making Halloween, the prince of darkness Carpenter directed a miniseries documenting the life of Elvis. Disney teen idol Kurt Russell was cast as Elvis; this was the beginning of a collaboration that produced five films. Russell in talking about the director, “Great directors have a vision. They have a particular specific vision, that’s what I appreciate most out of John as a director”.
On Escape from New York (1981), the studio originally wanted Charles Bronson to play the outlaw Snake Plissken. On reflection Russell believes Snake is the most iconic character he’s ever played. In The Thing (1982), Russell comes up against a “shape-shifting” alien. At the time the critics brutally labelled Carpenter a pornographer of violence for the films gore. The industry turned against him, “I was in shock, I didn’t work for about eight or nine months.”
Kurt wanted to make Big Trouble in Little China (1986) disappointed critically and financially on release, this time the studio wanted to duplicate the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark however, Carpenter had other ideas. Russell “it’s all in the reflexes” John Wayne impression was a comic highlight.
Carpenter on Kurt as an actor: “His talent for just playing the scene, I had never worked with anybody like that before. And he was Disney-prepared. If you didn't say your line in a Disney movie exactly like it was in the script, they cut the camera, he was a consummate professional.”
In 1996, they made Escape from L.A, Carpenter commented, “I’ve never had as much fun on a film and we were both really pleased with the result.”
JOHN FORD & JOHN WAYNE (273words)
“My name’s John Ford. I make Westerns.” His partnership with the Duke John Wayne lasted over 50 years. Ford saved Wayne from the Z budget Westerns he had been making for ten years when he cast him as the Ringo Kid in his first sound Western Stagecoach (1939). “I just looked up to this man Ford; he was a big hero of mine. He was intelligent and quick thinking.” Wayne on Ford
The two made 24 films in 36 years and were great friends off screen. Wayne’s screen persona has come to stand as the embodiment of Ford’s ideal of the American rugged individualist. Arguably, their greatest collaboration together arrived with the brilliant and complex The Searchers, in which Wayne portrayed Ethan Edwards, an outsider intent on purging the Indians from this world.
Their cavalry trilogy included Fort Apache, Rio Grande and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in which Wayne was required to play an old man. The critics announced in advance that Wayne was incapable of playing an old man. Ford retorted, “they didn’t bother to judge for themselves. But he did it, and beautifully. It was a very moving performance.” Wayne on the film “I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Their final masterwork together was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) which was regarded as Ford’s last important film, with a shift away from the location work to a more studio-based project. It was an elegiac contemplation of the western hero, where instead of the Wayne hero getting the girl, in the end he fades off into obscurity. John Ford made 112 movies in a 60-year career.
MARTIN SCORSESE & ROBERT DE NIRO
For Mean Streets (1973) Scorsese offered De Niro four parts he took the part of the manic Johnny Boy, “We were both brought up in the same area and we see things the same way. I think we also had the sense of being outsiders.” Scorsese noted.
Taxi Driver (1976) followed this time with De Niro in the lead role as Travis Bickle described as “God’s lonely man.” Scorsese had been working on this film for three years with a script by Paul Schrader. De Niro was coming off the success of The Godfather Part 2 and was being labelled the new Brando. “Bob was so determined to get the character of Travis down, he drove a cab for a couple of weeks.” Scorsese noted.
After a critical and box office misfire with New York New York described by Scorsese as ”a heartbreak” Raging Bull(1980) arrived. The story of the boxer Jake La Motta was De Niro’s idea and initially the exhausted Marty did not want to do it. The final product is considered a masterpiece and garnered De Niro a best actor Oscar.
Next De Niro brought the Paul Zimmerman script The King of Comedy (1983) to Scorsese’s attention. At the time Scorsese reflected, “Bobby and I were close as Siamese twins emotionally; we were tied together for the good and the bad—for everything.”
Cape Fear (1991) Spielberg thought that De Niro “would be the ideal Max Cady for the nineties.” Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) completed the gangster trilogy. The upcoming project The Irishman promises to return the two to the gangster genre after a twenty-year absence.
DAVID CRONENBERG & VIGGO MORTENSEN
Mortensen’s creative relationship with Cronenberg has netted a Best Picture nomination for their first film A History of Violence (2005), a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Eastern Promises in 2007, and produced a unique take on Freud in A Dangerous Method (2011).
“One thing I like about Cronenberg is that he’s been doing this for 35 years and he seems to improve as he goes along. A lot of actors and actresses have done their best work with David — whether it’s Jeremy or William Hurt or Ed Harris or Christopher Walken. He knows how to communicate with actors. He makes actors comfortable, and he gets the most out of them. He’s the kind of person that you want to do an especially good job for.” Mortensen on Cronenberg.
Their first outing together the brilliant ‘History’ is set in a small town USA, Mortensen revealed that he initially hated the script he took the job due to a need for money. After speaking with Cronenberg, his mind and the vision for the film changed dramatically. Eastern Promises explored the Russian mob in London. Renowned for this extensive immersion into his characters, Mortenson as Cronenberg recalls “sent me this two-volume book, Russian Criminal Tattoos. And a friend of his, Alix Lambert, had done a documentary about Russian prison tattoos called The Mark of Cain.”
A Dangerous Method (2011) cast the actor against type, playing renowned psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, where as usual he arrived on set fully immersed in the character having watched old film reels, pored over photographs, and read as many of Freud’s writings and biographies as he could get his hands on.
WOODY ALLEN & DIANE KEATON
Play it Again Sam the play, marked the beginning of a love affair between the two, by the time the film version was made they were no longer in a romantic relationship yet remained firm friends. He remarked “Keaton was in a class by herself”. The seventies were a golden age for Allen and Keaton producing some of their best work.
From the hilarious slapstick of Banana’s (1971), to Love and Death (1975) culminating with Keaton’s Oscar winning performance in Annie Hall (1977). As Allen reflected “I’ll sacrifice some of the laughs for a story about human beings…it will be richer, a better experience”. Keaton described it as a “shock to read it and I just thought this is wonderful, filming Annie Hall was effortless. No one had any serious expectations.”
Interiors (1978) his Bergman film, coming off the success of Annie Hall Allen went for broke, yet the film misfired. Allen had nothing but admiration for the actress, “She’s intelligent, though; a lot of actresses, who are, say, 35, refuse to play mothers, for example. They want to be glamorous. Diane goes for the good roles. In the long run, that’s what pays off.” Allen on Keaton
Allen’s love letter to New York, Manhattan (1979) featured Keaton as Mary Wilkie the snobby intellectual, the films unforgettable moment shows Woody and Diane under the 59th Street Bridge watching the sunrise. It has become one of the most iconic moments in cinema history. Their last film together Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) had some commentators arguing that Allen and Keaton were playing Alvy Singer and Annie Hall in middle-age.
BILLY WILDER & JACK LEMMON
In the spring of 1958, Billy ran into Jack Lemmon at a restaurant in Hollywood. “I have an idea for a picture I’d like you to play in,” said Billy. “It is about two men on the lam from gangsters, running for their lives, and they dress up in girls clothes and join an all-girl orchestra.” The film Some Like it Hot (1959) opened to tepid reviews but great box-office and now is considered a comedy classic. Lemmon claims he literally fell off the couch laughing when he first read the script.
The next picture The Apartment (1960) was offered to Lemmon on the way to a screening of Some Like it Hot. Biographer Ed Sikov noted, In Jack Lemmon Billy saw new potential-the endearing comedy of an American loser.” The film swept the academy awards winning Wilder three including writing and directing.
Working with Wilder Lemmon commented, “He is certainly one of the most fascinating and intelligent people I have ever known. His body of work is unequalled by any other filmmaker.” Shirley MacLaine and Lemmon reteamed for Irma la Douce. As Nestor Lemmon honed his skill at playing a jittery, nervous everyman, Wilder was rapturous in his praise, “He has the greatest rapport with an audience of anyone since Chaplin.”
The Matthau Lemmon period was highlighted with the remake of The Front Page. A perfect piece for Wilder and co. As Lemmon recalled “Billy and Walter and I were going to be partners in this thing and split it three ways.” The lowlight was Wilders last film Buddy Buddy (1981) a lifeless morbid comedy that fails on every level.
JOHN CASSAVETES & GENA ROWLANDS
“What John did when he gave you a script that was yours, from the time he gave you the script he never said another word about your character unlike almost any writer or director in the world.” Rowlands on Cassavettes.
Shooting his first film Shadows left him 30,000 in debt. An attempt at directing a studio film A Child is Waiting with Gena in a supporting role was an unmitigated disaster. Their next collaboration Faces (1968) defined his gritty mature style, though it took four years to edit. A Woman Under the Influence (1974), widely regarded as Cassavetes' finest film, won an Oscar nomination for him as best director and for Rowlands for her haunting portrayal of a woman on the very edge. “John has this great knack for writing language that people actually spoke,” Rowlands reflected in a 2011 interview.
Of their partnership Cassavettes noted “We’re totally, diametrically opposed on everything. I admire the hell out of her, because this has led me into at least an understanding of the way a person with a totally different background, a totally different cultural understanding of life, feels and thinks. The beauty of working with her is that I think she’s a great actress.”
Gloria (1980) $4m budget; a large, professional crew; and no final cut. Columbia sat on the film for almost a year, convinced it wouldn’t prove profitable enough to market. Despite winning Gena the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival, the film was moderately successful. Their last film together was Love Streams in 1984. John knew he was dying when he started shooting the film, though he would live six more years.
JOHN WOO & CHOW YUN FAT
The master of Hong Kong action films that focused on romantic soulful heroes represented largely through his leading man Chow Yun-fat. “I think Chow Yun Fat is a great actor. He looks great too, just like a dream hero, tall, elegant, romantic, Chow reminds me of my idols Ken Takakura, Steve McQueen, Cary Grant. I see those idols in him.” Growing up Woo found inspiration in the films of Lean, Peckinpah, Hitchcock and Kurosawa. Woo’s narratives follow a familiar structure, two men on opposite sides of the law find a kinship in their battle to overcome a greater evil. The choreography takes centre stage and distinguishes these films from the standard action fare.
Their first breakout film A Better Tomorrow (1986) became a hit in Asia spurning three sequels. Woo and Fat gained international recognition with the release of The Killers (1989); described as a poetic work, it became the most successful Hong Kong Film in American release since Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. A long-time admirer of Scorsese Woo dedicated his Criterion laserdisc edition of The Killer to him. After Bullet in the Head (1990) and Hard Boiled (1992), Hollywood came knocking for both of them.
Yun-Fat regarded as Asia’s greatest actor, reflected on working with Woo in a 1995 interview, “John wants to show the audience that the world is in need of discipline-even if you’re a thief a killer, you have your own discipline. He wants to say that men must have loyalty, purity, responsibility.” The two have not worked together since 1992, except on the video game Stranglehold (2007) which was promoted as a sequel to Hard Boiled.