Deserves props for: Along with being the current president of the Directors Guild of America, directing everything from the beloved Up series, which revisits the same group of people every seven years, to such fiction fare as Gorillas in the Mist and the Bond romp The World Is Not Enough. He's also directed episodes of HBO's Rome, and his latest Amazing Grace opens this week.
Do you consider yourself a documentarian who makes fiction films or a fiction filmmaker who makes documentaries?
"If I had to chose, I'd probably say I was a documentarian. I don't really have a style as a filmmaker. I go from material to material and try to make a style that's appropriate to each one. But I have a documentary spirit that informs everything. That's why I'm slightly drawn to biopics. And I love using nonactors. In my first American film Coal Miner's Daughter there were only three people who'd ever acted before. I love actors--Amazing Grace is filled with some of the greatest British actors of different generations. But there are certain things you just can't act."
Do you keep in touch with your Up subjects between installments, or do you try not to intrude on their lives?
"Some people you get on with better than others, some I see a bit of, some I see nothing of. There's a kind of bond there. We've been together for 40 years. It's much more unusual than a normal professional relationship."
How do they view you in terms of you being a director of some high-profile films, like the Bond film?
"I don't know. I think there's a certain amount of disbelief and disrespect. Very few of them seem to be in awe of me. They all give me a hard time. Every seven years I go around ask, 'Would you like to come back again?' And they always like to torture me. I know whatever I've done in the world of cinema doesn't hold much truck with them."
What do you hope an American audience will get out of Amazing Grace?
"I think what's great for an American audience--if I can get them in the cinema--is it's a fresh story. They don't know this story and it has something important to do with their own country, and it's an arm's length from the Emancipation Proclamation. A lot of Americans who've seen it in previews have come up and said, 'I didn't know any of that. It's so interesting to know that story.' In this day and age, to be able to find a fresh story that really has some substance to it is, you know, not bad."
A Short History of...
Ben Kingsley, You Kill Me
Oliver Dahan, La Vie en Rose
Chris Eigeman, The Treatment
Mark Fergus, First Snow
Lance Weiler, Head Trauma