Features

Interview: Rob Cohen for "xXx"

By Paul Fischer Monday August 5th 2002 01:22PM
Rob Cohen for "xXx"

Rob Cohen may be 53 but he has a youthful pulse on Hollywood. Following last year's unexpected hit The Fast and the Furious, Cohen is back on Hollywood's A-list as a formidable director who knows just how to reach today's young audiences. In this exclusive one-on-one chat with Paul Fischer, Cohen talks frankly about his run-ins with anti-Semitism as a child, and how his unconventional life paved the way for him to become one of Hollywood's powerful filmmakers. Question: I want to start off by talking about your ethnic background. You're Jewish. Yet you were raised by an African-American, correct?

Answer: Yeah.

Question: How did that influence your desire to become a filmmaker or did it, in fact, influence that?

Answer: I think that it's such a long series of evolutionary events to the point when you think you come to who you think you want to be. The tough love of who you call housekeeper and Godmother and her Baptist spirituality, I think being an outsider, the town I grew up in, it makes you retreat into your own world of fantasy. So, then you go to college and then you're going to study. Then you ask your friend/roommate, who was also an African-American, well, can you get me something to read while I was laid up sick for six weeks and he ended up getting me this book of cinematography. When I got out of the service, I wrote this short script. But there's not this one, defining moment, it's a long strand of events.

Question: Being Jewish, and having confronted anti-Semitism, did you ever rebel against your Jewishness or rediscover in some point in your life?

Answer: I'm totally in reaction to it. I've never been comfortable with the Jewish identity. It's been one of those crosses to bear that I had the surname 'Cohen' which is a label. You can't hide even if you wanted to, so I don't practice. It's not anything of interest to me. I don't want to rediscover it. I'm not interested. You know, I - I have taken up Buddhism, not because of the need for religion - ego, which is your biggest enemy. It helps me remember each day to keep my ego in check.

Question: Yours can be a very soulless profession. So where do you find your spirituality?

Answer: Well, I meditate and I basically go through a Buddhist practice.

Question: Do you avoid working with people whose first priority is ego?

Answer: No.

Question: How do you deal with stars who are full of ego?

Answer: I have a way of reminding them how frail and fragile their clink is that they've set themselves up. I would say to them: 'I once worked with a guy who was big, just like you, so now that you've said those things to me, most actors know intrinsically know that their position in the public eye is fleeting'.

Question: Now at 53, that's an interesting age to be in, in that you can tap in today's youth in cinema. How easy is it for you to do that? How easy is it to be hip at 53?

Answer: Well, since I don't try to be hip, that's the first thing. I don't go out each day. I got things that I'm interested in for now. There's a synchronicity between the stuff that I'm interested in, I don't calculate. I didn't believe that a film about illegal street racing was a hip idea. I didn't try to make a hip movie. I tried to make a genuine movie, true to the subject matter. The fact that the stylistic decisions the leaps of faith, the places nowhere went in that genre before became hip, is something I had nothing to do with other than stay true to the subject matter.

Question: Was there ever a need to change with time, to adapt to what audiences of varying periods are after?

Answer: Yes. Because it was very mysterious to me when I had success very early in Motown. Then I directed a Small Circle of Friends which was a film that I really loved. But it didn't do anything. The critics didn't go: Oh, here's a very good, new director, they trashed me. So to me, what I feel is, that I lived a long time learning how to do this. Even someone like Steven Spielberg, whose talents came instinctively, offered ideas that sounded completely insane, that then he would pull off, whether it was in television or in his early work and you'd go, oh, my God, not one of us. Now, a day like today, I really enjoy talking to you, these other people, having made a film in record time that I'm proud of having a cast around here that I love and people who are really fun. If I'd had this so early, I don't think I would have appreciated it. I will get the directors like Michael Bay, a wheel turns, and nobody calls. You're not that hot anymore. And all the things you thought were valuable are gone and I know because the wheel will turn another day and the wheel will turn again, but when it turns, I will be happy with ME.

Question: Did you want to do XXX because it instils in you a kind of childhood element? Is that really what it's all about?

Answer: Yeah, when I saw Dr. No and From Russia with Love, I thought those were the coolest, I mean so amazing, and the fact that my parents didn't let me see either one of them. I had to sneak in without a conscious. And Ursula Andress came out of the water you know, that was the beginning of puberty. And you say to yourself, God, the kids are going to see one of my films and for the rest of their lives you remember the summer of Fast and the Furious. Do you remember where you were when you saw XXX? Do you remember when Vin Diesel jumped that motorcycle on the tabletop? Yeah, the coolest. If I could do that for that audience today that would just make me the happiest guy.

Question: You've been quoted as saying that you're very dismissive of doing a sequel to Fast and the Furious. Originality is very important to you. If you are doing a sequel to XXX, how dangerous is that, and how concerned are you that that quote will come back to haunt you?

Answer: I'm not because if I do XXX, it'll be a story that will be as original as the first time around. I'm not doing a retread of this.

Question: What are you going to do now? Are you going to take a break or are you going to write the next XXX?

Answer: Well, I'm going to work with Rich on the sequel, but I'm looking for a film to do in between. I've been talking to Joe Roth about some things.

SHARE: