LOS ANGELES—How does Kathryn Bigelow feel about Time magazine’s Richard Corliss proclaiming her as “Hollywood’s ballsiest director”?
“I don’t know how to answer that,” Kathryn Bigelow answered us with a laugh in our interview at Ritz Carlton Central Park. Wearing a black suit with a white blouse, the tall, long-haired filmmaker is winning acclaim for “Zero Dark Thirty,” her thrilling follow-up to “The Hurt Locker,” which won her Oscar Best Director and Best Picture trophies. “That’s a very interesting question. It’s extremely gratifying!”
Here’s what Corliss wrote: “It’s (‘Zero Dark Thirty’) a subject perfect for Bigelow. She has wrangled complex stories about cops (‘Blue Steel’), undercover FBI agents (‘Point Break’), and nuclear-submarine commanders (‘K19: The Widowmaker’) and, in the process, proved herself to be one of cinema’s most inventive visual strategists and field commanders—and, in a nice way, Hollywood’s ballsiest director. Perched between the serene classicism of old Hollywood and the jittery crazy-cam of the ‘Bourne’ era, Bigelow’s style is terse and assured…In this case, she is neither prosecutor nor judge—simply the sharpest, most attentive member of the jury.”
Kathryn explained her hesitance about commenting on Corliss’ proclamation: “It’s a difficult question for me, because it requires me to step outside myself and have an out-of-body experience. From my vantage point, that’s difficult to contextualize, so I’d probably ask you to do that (for me).” Breaking into a chuckle, the director added, “In other words, it would be difficult and embarrassing for me to comment on that.”
She tried to steer the conversation toward Jessica Chastain, a frontrunner in this award season’s Best Actress derby. Jessica plays Maya, a CIA analyst (based on a real-life operative who had a crucial role in finding Bin Laden), in a remarkable performance. “Let’s talk about Jessica, not myself,” Kathryn prodded. “She’s fearless, and so were all the actors (in the film). We were very fortunate to find actors who leaned into the material in a way that exceeded all of our expectations. There was a collective sense of purpose and responsibility that everybody shared.
“It’s a true story, and those were firsthand accounts. I can’t imagine doing it with a different cast. Jessica is absolutely at the top of her game. She’s certainly one of the strongest actors I’ve worked with. There’s truth, strength and power to her that informs the character and the movie.”
The former wife of James Cameron claimed that, as a female director, whether working in Jordan or India, she found everyone in a collaborative mode. “It’s the same thing with ‘The Hurt Locker.’ I’m speaking from having been inside the bubble. I am unable to get that vantage point and look at it contextually, but I never felt a moment that my authority was challenged. The environment in which we were working, in India and Jordan, was incredibly collaborative and productive. Having done one movie in Jordan (‘Hurt’), I went back to it because it’s a fairly filmmaker-friendly environment to work in.”
After our interview, controversy arose about a torture scene in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Three US senators described the movie in a letter to Sony Pictures as “grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Osama bin Laden.” Kathryn and screenwriter Mark Boal reacted with a statement that said (in part): “We depicted controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used to find Bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the movie dramatizes.”
Back to our interview, Kathryn was asked about what struck her the most about the CIA. She replied, “Working with the Special Forces and getting the sense of that psychology, dedication, and the sheer intelligence they have—it was truly impressive! I was extremely honored to spend time with them. The type of person who’s drawn to that, and one who succeeds in whatever the training process is, is a person you want in that position having to make life-and-death decisions in a split second and trying every time to make the right choice.”
Kathryn also commented on the sizable presence of women in the CIA: “I’ve read two accounts: One is by Peter Bergen in ‘Manhunt.’ Another is by Michael Scheuer in ‘Osama Bin Laden.’ In both cases, they mentioned the predominance of women in defense and the intelligence community. It surprised me, and it was very gratifying to tell that story!”
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