x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Steven Spielberg: a modest master

We talk to the Hollywood director ahead of his film War Horse opening in UAE cinemas on Thursday.

Ben Kingsley, left, and Liam Neeson in Schindler's List.
Ben Kingsley, left, and Liam Neeson in Schindler's List.

Regal titles tend to be bestowed with far too much haste in the glitzy bubble that envelops Hollywood, yet Steven Spielberg is among the few worthy of the exalted acclaim that comes his way.

If the ranks of movie royalty comprise varying tiers of seniority, then Spielberg could claim his place among the kings of the big screen in an era when he has become a directing superstar.

It would be natural for the enthusiasm of this 65-year-old to wane when you have your iconic fingerprints etched on to more than 100 movies in a career spanning six decades, yet it quickly becomes evident that Spielberg is not the type to sit back and feel content as he faces a day of media interviews in London to promote his latest epic, the First World War tear-jerker War Horse.

While he could be content with credits that include ET, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg's arrival in the room quickly confirms that the director whose work has touched every movie lover on earth is still as big a movie buff now as when he started his movie-making with the 1964 film Firelight, produced with a budget of just US$500 (Dh1,800).

"From the day I started in this business to right now, I remind myself how lucky I am to be making movies," begins Spielberg, who acted as chaperone to genuine royalty in the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (or Kate and Wills to give them their less formal title) at the London premiere of War Horse.

"Ask my wife and my kids what I am like when I don't have a big project on the horizon. I mope and I groan if I have too much time on my hands, which is why retirement is not a concept that will work for me.

"I have been good friends with Clint Eastwood for many years now and making movies is what we both love to do. Until someone tells us we cannot do it any more, we will continue. So if Clint hangs up his spurs, I will follow him. We both know that will never happen."

It is as Spielberg begins to take us on a journey through his career that you are reminded of the scale of his triumphs, with the starting gun of the shark thriller Jaws in 1975 paving the way for a filmography that is certain to leave an enduring legacy.

"In terms of the movie that had the greatest legacy, I always turn to Schindler's List," he says of the 1993 classic that earned him his first Best Director Oscar. "To this day, people talk about the movie and take inspiration from it, so I can be very proud about that project.

"As for saying which is my favourite movie, it's not something I will ever do. I have seven kids and I cannot say I love any one of them more than the other. It's not possible. Every movie and every child is special in its own way and that is the way I view everything I work with.

"At this moment in time, my passion is for the present project War Horse and my focus is always on the future and what it may hold. The past is nice to look back on, especially if it has brought some success, but the future is what excites me."

Spielberg's infectious enthusiasm shines through in his each and every utterance, with his passion for movie making rather than a desire to add to his already mountainous fortune his chief motivation.

"I take on jobs that excite me and the idea of making a movie that is certain to be a big hit is not always the most attractive option for me," he stresses. "I worked on the first Harry Potter movie for a few months and ended up walking away from it even though I knew it was certain to be a phenomenon. It wasn't something that excited me at the time.

"I've always been attracted to stories featuring extraordinary people coming from difficult circumstances and emerging in triumph or being forced to deal with tragedy. Ordinary people doing amazing things to overcome the obstacles placed before them and that has been the case since back in the day when we made ET.

"ET was originally going to be about how the Elliott character came to terms with the divorce of his parents, just as I had done in my past. The alien was only added as a late extra and changed the whole dynamic, but the original idea behind that movie was to make a film about divorce. Strange how things can change, isn't it."

Spielberg confirmed a fourth Jurrasic Park movie is in the pipeline and his eagerness to team up with his old pal, the Star Wars inventor George Lucas, to add another chapter to the Indiana Jones franchise, yet it was his latest production War Horse that dominated much of his attention on this trip to London.

An enchanting tale of a young man's devotion to an adorable horse named Joey amid the bombs and bullets of the First World War is certain to attract plenty of attention at this year's Oscars, with Spielberg visibly thrilled by the latest movie benefiting from his unique brand of brilliance.

"My father will be 95 in late January and he fought in the First World War, so this subject was part of my heritage as I grew up," he adds. "The first movies I made on an 8mm camera were all based around stories I had been told about that war and I guess I'm now just making those same movies to this day, just with a slightly bigger budget and a little better equipment.

"I'm very proud of this movie and hopefully we have done Michael Morpurgo's fantastic War Horse book justice. I cried so much when I saw the play of the War Horse story and I just had to turn it into a motion picture. It was great fun to make and I'm delighted with the final outcome."

 

artslife@thenational.ae

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