Let’s talk a little about Taking Woodstock. I haven’t seen the movie yet. It’s based on the memoirs of a gay man. Did you keep in much of his childhood?
No, I didn’t use much about how he grew up. That’s too long a story to tell. I started with his encounter with Woodstock. Honestly, I didn’t find a lot of his gay issues to be that fresh. My main interest was in seeing how he connected to Woodstock, the event, from his angle. We don’t get to see the stage. That’s sort of besides the point. I followed the lead of the book. If you take Woodstock to heart, that’s what happened to most of the people who attended, and to the world at large. Woodstock’s sort of an abstract idea that’s very inspiring. The film is a small family drama focusing on his experience just on the outskirts of the stage and the event. It’s probably a very good way to have a slice and taste of Woodstock. He’s gay and everything, and we deal with that, but only in so far as it pertains to Woodstock.
Since winning your Academy Award for Best Director, do you feel pressure from either people at home or from the media that, from this point on, every single movie you make has got to be Oscar-worthy?
I don’t think anybody’s saying that I have to win an Oscar or have to shoot for it. But I just came back from the Cannes Film Festival, and they certainly talk about it. So, that’s a kind of pressure, but only my personal feelings. If I can put that aside, I don’t think anybody really gets upset. (laughs) It’s not like the sort of pressure the Lakers feel playing for the City of Los Angeles. With a movie, people sometimes speculate about whether an actor or actress who did a good job might get nominated. It’s a plus for the project, but you don’t always aim for the awards.
You directed the late Heath Ledger to his first Academy Award-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain. How did you feel when he died and what did you think of his Oscar-winning outing as The Joker in The Dark Knight?
That’s a hard question for me to answer. I was eager to see the movie, but I delayed, because I wanted to avoid it, too. Finally, about two or three weeks after it was released, I went to see it. It was quite disturbing, especially with him playing that character. I didn’t have a good time. It disturbed me to watch him.
When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?
That’s a tricky question to try to answer, because I actually had to make some effort to be happy. Shooting Taking Woodstock, I had some good laughs. But if you had asked me that same question after I finished making the movie before this one, I would be hard pressed to say when I last had a heartfelt laugh. I am so heavy, and that’s why I need to do a comedy when I feel this inner exhaustion. So, Taking Woodstock was a project that came at the right time because it helped dig me out of that heaviness.
There was something I was looking for in search of the subconscious, something I don’t understand about myself, to get deeper. And then I needed to be healthier, happier, and more in love with everybody around me and making the movie with me. That’s why I chose a project dealing with happiness and innocence. I miss that as much as people miss the ‘60s. So, when this project came along it was pretty handy.
But still, I had to make the decision to be happy, and I had to make sure that everybody around me was happy, which takes a certain sophistication. And it did happen, and I did have some good laughs. I feel that all the time in the excitement of making a movie, but I won’t admit. Speaking of fear, you think something terrible will happen if you admit you’re excited and happy while in the middle of making a movie. (laughs) I sort of felt that I had earned that right, to just enjoy making a movie. So, this was that project for me.
Taking Woodstock is in theaters this weekend.