IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director/Actor Peter Bogdanovich Talks 'Pasadena,' 'Squirrel to the Nuts' and his Legendary Filmmaking Career

Sunday, 05 May 2013 19:39 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director/Actor Peter Bogdanovich Talks 'Pasadena,' 'Squirrel to the Nuts' and his Legendary Filmmaking Career

At iamROGUE, we take pride in the amount of iconic and award-winning directors that we have had a chance to interview over the years including Frances Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Danny Boyle, Ben Affleck, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro, and J.J. Abrams. We are now delighted to add the legendary Peter Bogdanovich to that illustrious list. 

Bogdanovich began his career as a film writer for Esquire Magazine and biographer of such legendary directors as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Ford, before becoming a filmmaker himself. His first major film, The Last Picture Show, was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, and went on to win two Oscars including Best Supporting Actor for Ben Johnson and Best Supporting Actress for Cloris Leachman. Bogdanovich would eventually make such beloved movies as What’s Up, Doc?, and Paper Moon, which also earned Tatum O’Neil an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (the youngest person to ever take home an Oscar), as well as Nickelodeon, They All Laughed, Mask, Noises Off, and The Last Picture Show sequel - Texasville

But Bogdanovich is also an accomplished actor having appeared in the Kill Bill series, Rated X, Infamous, and actor Robert Davi’s directorial debut The Dukes, as well as the TV series The Sopranos, The Simpsons, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. The director’s latest acting effort, Pasadena, recently screened at the Newport Film Festival and was written and directed by Will Slocombe. In addition to Bogdanovich, the film’s cast also includes Alicia Witt (Two Weeks Notice), Cheryl Hines (TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm), and Sonya Walger (TV’s Lost). But the acclaimed filmmaker-turned-actor will soon be making a return to the director’s chair for the first time in over ten years with a new film called Squirrel to the Nuts (previously entitled She's Funny That Way), which stars Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwatzman, Eugene Levy, and Cybill Shepherd, and will be produced by directors Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom) and Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale)

I recently had the immense pleasure of speaking with director/actor Peter Bogdanovich about his work on Pasadena, his upcoming film Squirrel to the Nuts, and his legendary filmmaking career. It was a particular thrill for me to speak with Mr. Bogdanovich because he unknowingly played a major role in my life … he was the commencement speaker at my graduation from Emerson College. The legendary filmmaker discussed Pasadena, why he wanted to appear in the film, how he separated the actor Peter Bogdanovich from the director Peter Bogdanovich on set, which he loves more – acting or directing, working with writer/director Will Slocombe, his next film - Squirrel to the Nuts, why that it the actual title of the film and NOT She's Funny That Way, his impressive cast, reuniting with his The Last Picture Show leading lady Cybill Shepherd, advances in filmmaking technology, the young filmmakers who’s work he enjoys watching today, what he learned from his friendships with legendary directors like Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Ford, which of his own films he is most proud of and the films he thinks did not get enough attention at the time of their releases, and of course … speaking at my college graduation. 


Here is what the legendary filmmaker had to say:

IAR: To begin with, I have to tell you that you have played a big role in my life. You actually spoke at my college graduation.

Peter Bogdanovich: Oh, you mean at Emerson?

Yes! It was about fifteen years ago, Class of 98'.

Bogdanovich: Wow, the class of 98'. That speech went over great.

It was an excellent speech and I've often thought about the things you said that day over the years and throughout my life since then. That day meant a lot to me so I'm very glad that you were able to share that moment in my life with me.

Bogdanovich: That's nice to hear, thank you. It was a nice moment. I remember I walked back to my seat and noticed everybody was standing and I thought, gee wiz, I didn't know it was that good. 


Well, it definitely was a great speech. Let me start by asking you about the character you play in Pasadena and why you wanted to be a part of this film?

Bogdanovich: Well, I like acting first of all and particularly a leading role. As you get older the variety of roles diminish. As Orson Welles used to say, “A young man can play an old man, but an old man can't play a young man.” He also said, “A thin man can play a fat man, but a fat man can't play a thin man.” So as I'm getting older I can play older men. It’s such a good part. It was a really good part, and it was very well written. It was literary. It's an actor's piece. It had very good dialogue generally speaking and it's informed with a real sense of truth because it's about his own family, the director Will Slocombe’s real family. You feel that it's truthful. That it's real, and that the characters are real. Somebody said that the situations are common. I don't think it's so fucking common. That is also the point of the picture. If you feel they're common, it's because everybody goes through this. All families go through it. I wouldn't say it's common, I would say it's universal, which makes quite a real difference. I think it's an extremely good picture. I've gotten some good reviews, but I wasn't reading the phone book. It was a good script, and you don't give a good performance with the phone book. The material was very good, and it was a very interesting character. Will had shot it in under the most difficult circumstances. I think he did it in twelve days and that’s very tough.

When you're just acting in a project, are you able to separate the filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich from the actor Peter Bogdanovich? Or do you find yourself looking around the set and in your own mind saying, “I wouldn't shoot this scene like that!”

Bogdanovich: Well that's a good question. As far as my policies are concerned when I'm acting, I'm trying very hard to forget about anything to do with directing. I’m just focused on the part, playing the scene, and giving the director what he is looking for and what he wants. However, everybody knows about the elephant in the room. So everybody is aware that I have a different profession besides acting. I have to be very careful of what I say or do. There were times on the picture where I broke my rule and said what the fuck are you shooting that for? But I really restrained myself most of the time. I gave Will a little bit of shit, but not as bad as some people. 


Did the director, Will Slocombe, appreciate it when you gave him a little help and what was he like to work with on this film?

Bogdanovich: First of all the good thing about Will is that he knows what he wants, which is important. You have to know what you want in order to get the actors to do what you want. The director can't say, go ahead and just do it. You can play a scene in a number of different ways. It could be played fast for comedy or it could be played straight. It’s what the director wants, and he always knew what he wanted. So again it was a question of what he wanted and he always knew when he had it. So I think he's a good writer. He had a little trouble sometimes with where to put the camera, but he is in early times and he had a good cameraman who helped him with that. But the speed with which they had to work was difficult and debilitating. You don't get everything you want to get. There are shots that I know he skipped because he didn't have time to shoot them and it was just unfortunate. 

At this point in your career, which do you prefer? Do you enjoy just acting or do you still like being behind the camera and making films?  

Bogdanovich: Oh there's no contest. I'd much rather direct a film than act, but I haven't directed a feature for about 10-years. I've done two documentaries and two films for television. One was a special, and I directed an episode of The Sopranos so I've been busy, but I haven't done a feature for a while. I much prefer directing. I didn’t do quite a bit of it in the 2000's. There is a picture that I've wanted to do for some time. The picture I've been preparing has been stalled for some time because of casting. But it's now finally coming together and I'm very excited about it. It’s something that Louise Stratten and I wrote and we're going to do it in July or August in New York. 


Is it "She's Funny That Way?" Is that the film you will be shooting next?

Bogdanovich: That is, but there's a complication about that title. It's that film, but the title in English speaking countries, which includes Australia, is going to be Squirrel to the Nuts, which makes no sense until you see the picture or read the script. It's a catch phrase within the picture. 

Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson are set to star in the movie, is that correct? 

Bogdanovich: Yea, that's some of the cast. We also have Cybill Shepherd and Eugene Levy too, as well as Austin Pendleton, Brie Larson and Jason Schwartzman

What is it going to be like for you to reunite with Cybill Shepherd all these years after The Last Picture Show and Texasville?

Bogdanovich: It's funny because I called her and asked her if she wanted to play a harridan, a New York harridan. I said, the opposite of what you are. She said, “Yea, that'd be fun.” I told her she would get to yell, say shut up, hit people, and kick them. She said, “I love it.” 


The film industry has changed a lot since you began making movies, how do you think the advances in technology will affect you on your next project? 

Bogdanovich: Well, we're shooting my next movie digitally. Everybody is going to be shooting digital pretty soon no matter what they say because you can do so much more with it. It's much more flexible than film in a way. You can do so many things afterwards to it that are just extraordinary. It's very flexible. I saw a film that Noah Baumbach made, a new film called Frances Ha. Turns out you can't shoot black and white in digital. It has to be color. So he shot this entire movie in color and then changed it to black and white, that which is a complicated process. The colorist who did it, they call him the Rembrandt of colorists, and he's brilliant. It looks like really good almost film noir black and white. It's very good black and white. You know it's all done digitally. It's amazing. I don't stick to the way of doing something just because it used to work. To tell you the truth, film looked better in the silent era because they used real silver. So the image was degraded in the early 50's when they put plastic in film instead of silver.

Do you think the advent of digital technology has also made the post-production process easier in many ways as well?

Bogdanovich: Much easier and the shooting is easier because you don't need as much light. You need to light it properly but you don't need as much light and you can work without having the light in day exterior scenes. With day and night scenes you don't have to light them at all because in post you can fix everything that doesn't look right. You could do it in film too, but it would take forever. It'd have to be a trick shot, and trick shots loose generations so you'd always see a change in the texture of the film. Digitally you don't have any of that. The best version I've ever seen of The Last Picture Show was in HD5 or whatever the fuck they call it. It was great. It was the best screening I’d ever seen. The picture was fucking perfect. There were no scratches, no jump cuts, no tape marks, no shit, nothing! It was great. I didn't mind not seeing those changeover marks up at the top either.


You mentioned Noah Baumbach, are there other current filmmakers that you really like? Who are some of the young directors now that you admire and who’s movies you really enjoy watching?  

Bogdanovich: Well Jami, I don't go to the movies as much as I used to. I just don’t. But the ones that jump out at me, two of them, are Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson. Now I'm very friendly with both of them so they call me “Pop” and I call them son Wes and son Noah

When you spoke at my college graduation, you talked about your earlier days as a film writer for Esquire and the biographies that you wrote about legendary directors like Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Ford. You spoke about how you ended up forming relationships with those iconic men and what they taught you about filmmaking. Can you talk about how that knowledge informed you as a director and throughout your long and impressive career?

Bogdanovich: Oh sure, I learned a lot of things. So many, it's an incalculable amount from everybody. I can't even begin to tell you. It's like I was a little bit of a pro by the time I started because I learned so much talking to those people. So I knew a lot of things before I ever directed a movie. I knew a lot of things about directing a movie because I talked to all those guys that it sort of invented the medium. Almost all of them started in the “silent era” or were brought up in the “silent era.” 


Finally, when you look back on your illustrious filmmaking career, and all the great movies you made including The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon, is there a film that stands out that you are particularly proud of? Perhaps a film that didn’t get as much attention as you felt it deserved at the time it was released?

Bogdanovich: Yea, there are a few that didn't get the attention they deserved because I made some good pictures. Noises Off, which was based on a brilliant play by Michael Frayn, and had brilliant performances by Carol Burnett, John Ritter, Christopher Reeve, Denholm Elliott and Michael Caine, a really great cast. Disney just pissed it away. In my career nobody even saw the picture, until later and now it's a kind of cult picture. But my favorite picture is one that also didn't get that much attention except later. People like Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach and Quentin Tarantino, and I forgot to mention Quentin Tarantino before. I like his pictures too. I don't like the subject matter all the time, but I like his pictures. They all like this film called They All Laughed. It was a picture I made with Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara, John Ritter, Dorothy Stratten, Colleen Camp, Patti Hansen and George Morfogen in the spring and summer of 1980-1981. I think that's my best picture so far. 

Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to me today Mr. Bogdanovich. It was a pleasure to finally speak with you, and I look forward to your next film and hopefully many, many more. 

Bogdanovich: Thank you Jami. I’m glad to hear that I had an impact on you. I never got any feedback from Emerson on the speech other than everyone stood up so it must have been good. 

Pasadena is currently playing in various film festivals and was released on April 13th. 


Squirrel to the Nuts is currently in pre-production.

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