Sweden’s idiosyncratic director Lasse Hallström has made films that are delicate and subtle, but with his take on the classic Casanova legend, the director has made a film that is far broader, which is precisely why he was reluctant to take it on. The director, who lives in New York with wife Lena Olin, talked to Garth Franklin in the Big Apple.
Question: WHEN YOU GET OFFERED A MOVIE, DO YOU LOOK FOR A ROLE FOR LENA BEFORE YOU ACCEPT? IF THERE’S NOTHING DO YOU SAY, I’M SORRY…
Hallstrom: It hasn’t gotten that far yet, but I do always want to do something with Lena where she has the lead. It’s just pathetic that we haven’t done it yet.
Question: DO AGENTS WANT YOUNG, 20-SOMETHING PEOPLE?
Hallstrom: I just haven’t had luck yet finding something. We were about two weeks away from shooting something a couple of years ago that fell apart because of financing, so we were ready to go on something, and I keep looking for good stories with a possible lead. And I have something now that’s actually been handed in based on a book called Daughter Of The Queen Of Sheba, and there’s a good part for Lena in that, so I may do that in the nature.
Question: VENICE IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO SET A MOVIE BUT I SUSPECT MAY CREATE SOME HEADACHES.
Hallstrom: For me it was just the most wonderful experience — to know the city through work like that. For the producers, all nine of them, it was hard work from beginning to end, and it took lots of lunches and dinners and meetings, a lot of bureaucracy. The Italian bureaucracy is quite tricky, and they wanted a locked script and a locked storyboard. I’d never had such a thing cause the script kept changing and we couldn’t really promise where we would shoot and how we would shoot it. So they wouldn’t give permission and we kept going like that for months, until the company threatened to move out of Venice. And then suddenly doors opened after enough negotiating. So it was complicated.
Question: WAS THERE EVER A TIME WHEN YOU DECIDED IT WAS NOT WORTH THE AGGRAVATION AND YOU LOOKED AT ALTERNATIVE LOCATIONS?
Hallstrom: I think it went pretty far. I didn’t go but the location scout went to Prague to see if we could dig canals there… it was quite an experience, also from the production standpoint, because as I’ve said, the script kept changing, and there were last minute rewrites, and I think you can see from the film that has a certain freshness that comes from improvisational things and ideas. So I think it built awareness of the fact that we were running with it and making changes along the way — you can see that in the film.
Question: WHAT KINDS OF CHANGES?
Hallstrom: All kinds. Dialogue within scenes. Juggling scenes around. Coming up with new scenes. Chaos we had (laughs).
Question: WHAT INTERESTS YOU ABOUT THE CASANOVA STORY?
Hallstrom: This great, well-plotted script that Geoffrey Hatcher handed in. not so much the Casanova story itself — it’s just the farcical light-hearted nature of that story. And the fact that the weave of the storylines were so cleverly put together. . It was a bit of a scare for me to leap off and do a thing like that, because I’m most comfortable with drama comedy and subtle comedy, and I’m always trying to have fun with observation of human behaviour on a soft-spoken level.
Question: WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT FINDING THE RIGHT TONE?
Hallstrom: Yeah. Definitely. It sounds strange but I usually have a hard time appreciating broad comedy, especially American broad comedy, because I find it just too pushed and unfunny. But this story had a certain wit and elegance in the middle of it all. I could live with it. I actually enjoyed it.
Question: DO YOU THINK YOU WERE ABLE TO FIND THAT TONE?
Hallstrom: You could never — to me, it’s sort of a clash between the more elegant and witty part of it and some really broad moments. Shakespeare… got away with it. I figure there must be a way to get away with it. I was certainly nervous about mixing it this way. I started out doing what you might call broad comedy — on television in Sweden — Swedish comedy if you can believe that contradiction in terms.
Question: WHY HEATH LEDGER?
Hallstrom: A very short list of actors that you can imagine having the charisma to do this. He was kind enough to come and audition for me. And he also proved to be a great collaborator. He had good ideas. And for this kind of shoot, when the script was in flux, it was a good thing to have another creative mind around to help out.
Question: HOW MUCH HISTORICAL REALITY IS PRESENT IN THIS MOVIE?
Hallstrom: The backdrop of Venice and the look of Venice and the costumes and the props. A lot of that had to be absolutely real. The story, the true part of the Casanova story, that’s still in there is the fact that he was dropped off on an island to be taken care of by a sort of Grandmother while his parents took off to tour Europe with theatre. That’s true. And that might be a key to his womanizing. He’s searching for love.
Question: SINCE YOU’RE NOT A DIRECTOR WHO DOES MAKE BROAD COMEDIES, WHY DO YOU THINK THE STUDIO WAS INTERESTED IN DOING THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE? WHAT DID THEY THINK YOU COULD BRING?
Hallstrom: I think they had seen Chocolat and had seen I could deal with the lighter moments. But I don’t think they knew about the fact that I don’t like broad comedy. It’s kind of weird… I don’t like broad comedy in general. I have my exceptions. I like Monty Python and I like John Cleese. I like Chaplin… whatever is funny. But some of the American comedies — I actually love Jim Carrey. So there are exceptions. As a general rule, I have a problem with pushed comedy.
Question: WHEN YOU DID LIFE AS A DOG, DID YOU ENVISION YOURSELF AS AN AMERICAN-BASED FILMMAKER?
Hallstrom: I had no aspiration, no conscious one at that point, of coming to America to make films. I do think I may have had thoughts about it when I read books on film history when I was a kid, when I was 10 or 11 or 12. I read about Hollywood and I read about the history of film and all that. Looking back at that I wonder whether I didn’t have a secret dream of becoming an international filmmaker at that point. But not that I did when I started. That was just too far back in my head, I think.
Question: DO YOU FEEL PARTICULARLY SWEDISH THESE DAYS?
Hallstrom: I feel entirely Swedish. I should be able to accommodate better, but I’m a full-blown Swede still, and I can’t shape this accent — it’s just hopeless. And I can’t shake my homesickness. We go back there every year for three months so I feel like a visitor still. I’m enjoying my visit for sure.
I like my lifestyle in Bedford, there in upstate New York. It’s very comfortable and close to work most of the time. We tried to move back to Stockholm for a while and we had changed, and Stockholm had changed, and it just didn’t work out. We had one child in school — she didn’t like the school. So we went back here and since that attempt… live in Sweden 2 or 3 months every year.
Question: WHAT EFFECT DID NEW YORK HAVE ON YOUR ARTISTIC SENSIBILITY?
Hallstrom: I could not tell me. My guess is that from spending so much time with American movies, I’ve acquired an American taste a bit more. I think it shows for example in the way I score a film. I look back at my Swedish films, and compare with my American ones, and they’re all different in the way they’re scored. My Life As A Dog — you heard the score but it was very gentle… The rest… I can’t define what it would be.
Question: WHAT’S NEXT?
Hallstrom: Next fall, I have to have something ready to go. I’m editing Hoax, a movie about the guy who wrote the fake biography on Howard Hughes during the seventies. And it’s Richard Gere and Alfred Molina, a drama-comedy, you could say — with a more realistic approach to it. No farce there. It’s an odd story… an amazing story. And I just finished shooting a couple of weeks ago. Then I hope to get on with something hopefully with Lena in the fall of next year.