As soon as I walked into the hotel room to Interview Marjane Satrapi, I instantly got that strong feeling we would get along like a house on fire. One of the first lines she said to me was do you mind if I smoke which lead to a long conversation about how we are all going to die anyway so why the hell not.
With the film, The Voices being such a dark comedy and from the conversation we just had I knew the following interview was going to be interesting. Like most independent, strong Middle Eastern women her laid back yet feisty and no-nonsense attitude spoke volumes to me and I couldn’t help but love her.
The Voices is an extremely surreal film, I came out the screening a bit dazed and confused if I’m honest. Where did the idea and concept originally come from?
They sent me the script which was from made by 4 different people, so it was 4 different films, first of all I couldn’t give it a definition of what is the genre of this movie. Then I had lots of empathy and sympathy for a guy who is a serial killer. I really like him. His life is no picnic. It said Jerry lives in this fantastic world but I didn’t know what this fantastic world was so I could create whatever I want from scratch and then I love this cat, he is just beyond belief so all of that was OK. Most of the time you read off the script and it’s a movie you have already seen, but this didn’t look like anything I had seen before. I couldn’t refer to anything I know so that becomes extremely exciting to start this film from scratch with my own creativity.
The film, to me, has a very British feel to it; I don’t know why it just felt British to me. Were there any British films that influenced you in any way?
It’s probably because I love British Humour; probably the thing that makes me laugh the most is British Jokes. It’s funny, as I am an Iranian Woman, who lives in France and I am almost French and they make me film in Germany with an American film and it feels British. So it’s time for me to come and work here yes! It’s about time, there is something about the humour here that there is no end to it you can just go on and laugh about everything and you there is all this prudeness that for example the Americans have, every time there is a bad word they gasp. It’s like its OK to go and kill people all around the world but you cannot say fuck! It’s like Oh My God and I hate that. I’m very happy you said that, I take it as a very huge compliment.
The Voices had a great reception from the Sundance Film Festival, Tell us a bit more about that.
Well you know when I make a film, I put myself into it, it’s not like I am going and selling vacuum cleaners, it’s me, it’s my thoughts, it’s what I think is beautiful, it’s what I think is funny, It’s all me. So when people don’t like it I take it extremely personal, if people don’t like it they don’t like me. So it’s like a rejection of me. So when it was well received I felt like everybody loved me. How cool is that. It does make me very happy.
How do you think the Americans are going to react the film?
Well Americans…. I saw it in Sundance in America and it was very funny because it was in this huge room and it was like 1300 people and they started laughing and laughing and laughing and then in the scary moments they started booing and being terrified, I turned to my producer and said it’s like we are in a room in the 1920’s. I mean they had seen Freddie Kruger before who was much scarier than Jerry why are they so scared? That is something very funny as soon as people hear there is A Cat and Dog in the film they bring their kids that are 5 years old they think it’s a movie for kids.
With that in mind did you try and adapt your film making with an American audience in mind?
Not really. My thing is not so much as to please people. If I want to tell you my story and you don’t get my story I would never say she’s dumb. I would i say I didn’t do a good job. You have to make the story in a one that people would understand. It’s more a question of understanding, and I say to myself if I get bored there is a lot of chance others will get bored too, if I’m not laughing at it than no one else will laugh at it. It’s more a question of the conviction and will people understand what I want to tell them. I cannot make a statement to say He’s a serial killer and you have to like him at the beginning of the film. I had to give all the clues so he becomes a likable man. If I don’t succeed in that it’s my fault no one else. This is what I think, I never think about a special audience as you never know. You have great films that don’t work, you have bad films that work you have all kinds of configurations so how would I know. The best thing is to just make something you love, do the best you can do and if you do your best you just might be able to convince some people (laughs)
How do you get into the mindset to create something that’s quite dark but extremely funny at the same time?
I copy life. Life is like that. Do you wake up in the morning and for a whole year you are sad or happy? Look at your life, today you’re upset, you’re angry, you’re happy, you’re this you’re that. Life is made of suspended moments. I think that if you look for life you can find a style, but if you look for stylish you will find death because you are concentrating on the wrong thing and the result will be nothing. Most of my films don’t look real but they are based on reality, life is never black and white. You have all the other shades… you never have a complete asshole, you could get an asshole who is extremely good to his kids and in that moment he’s a good man, or you can have a very nice man, say a holy man who is nasty… this is what human beings are. So if we take a model of that we can create something not so bad.
I absolutely loved Mr. Whiskers, I’m not a lover of Cats myself and always thought they were evil creatures and this just proved me right. Why was the Cat given such great lines over the Bosco the Dog?
The dog is extremely similar to a person; he’s a very big dog. You have police dogs; you have dogs for the blind. You don’t have Police cats, Cats are very independent, they are very feisty, they do exactly what they want, whenever they want and the dog can be your slave no matter what you do they love you. The Cat at the best, if they want, they most they will want to be is your friend. So it comes out the mouth of the Cat more naturally. I have a cat and every time she walks by me and I look into her eyes I get this feeling, if she had the capacity of talking to me, the first thing she would say is “Go Fuck Yourself” (laughs) I know it.
How did you know Ryan Reynolds was the right actor for this role?
Believe me you would never think Serial Killer…Ryan Reynolds. He was interested in making the film and once he heard I was the Director he really wanted to do it. So they called me and said to me Ryan has to make the part. So I saw him… It’s very important in a film that the Director and the cast they must have the same vision of the film. If he wants to make one kind of Jerry and I wanted to make another kind of Jerry then it wouldn’t work. We have to have the same vision. He has this face, he has such a juvenile, innocent face that he can do any bad thing, he gives you the smile and you’re like OK and he gets away with it. Physically and mentally he had it all.
I think it’s probably going to be a defining role for him, changing him as an Actor and how people perceive him.
I hope so. Of course people will suddenly realise he’s not just a beautiful guy, he’s actually a great actor. More than being a beautiful guy he is a great actor. You have to drive him like a Ferrari, if you ride him like a bicycle it’s a shame (laughs)
How easy was it to work with Ryan to get that character of Jerry right?
I really hate to repeat with actors, everything becomes mechanical. We had a long conversation where he told me his ideas; we did readings to make sure who is going to do what and what is the idea behind the character. Ryan is someone who you just have to trust him. He has like 5 billion propositions per second, you have to let him express all of them and then say ok we have to go in this direction. Then he goes in the direction and has another 5 billion for that direction. So if you trust him he is a very easy person to work with. At the same time, If I want to say to the actor you need to do this you need to do that I may as well do animation, You need real people and to use their talent not put them in jail and make them become your puppets then it’s not interesting.
I have to ask about the end scene, The Dance scene. It completely threw me but had me in stitches, I loved it. Why was it put it in there and what was the idea behind it.
The idea was you cannot say you understand this guy, It’s not his fault, and then like all other serial killer films he has to die. He has to pay for what he has done. He has to finish good as he doesn’t do it on purpose. I wanted them all to go to paradise and they were going to meet with Jesus… The Gay Jesus (laughs) and I thought to myself what does paradise look like. Since no one has described to me what paradise looks like I just imagine it to be a very white place. I drew the costumes and the costume designer made them exactly how I draw them. I even did the choreography for the dance myself I have to say. We had this choreographer and we only had 3 days for rehearsing and they wanted people to spread their legs like the splits, we just didn’t have the time to teach the actors how to professionally dance. I had to fire him myself and do it myself.
Finally, as well as being a Director you’re a graphic novelist and Children’s author, what’s next on the cards for you?
I think I’ve finished with being a graphic novelist and children’s books; Two years ago I did my first print exhibition. But I think I want to carry on directing films first, I need a moment to have some solitary time, but if I like most directors if you don’t do anything between films you become wild and mad (laughs). The painting is a very solitary work, it nourishes me a lot. Even with the colours that I like etc it’s a work of research. But I love to make movies there is nothing I think is more fun than making cinema so I’m going to continue with that.
Fantastic, I look forward to seeing your work and thank you for taking the time to talk to Flavourmag.
The Voices starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick is out in Cinemas on the 20th of March.