Oliver Stone talks to Tim Nasson
Editor’s note: The feature below was put together from a number of independent, one-on-one interviews Wild About Movies publisher Tim Nasson conducted with each of the talent (Nicolas Cage, Oliver Stone, Michael Pena, Will Jimeno, Alison Jimeno and Maggie Gyllenhaal) representing “World Trade Center,” during the past year, in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle.
Los Angeles, NYC and Seattle – The subject of September 11, 2001 undoubtedly elicits a variety of emotions from people around the world, the most prominent one, anger, for the majority.
But September 11, 2001 – what with its horrifying images played out on televisions everywhere, people jumping to their deaths from the towering infernos, The World Trade Center – also brought forth a number of stories of survival.
And leave it to none other than two-time Academy Award winning director Oliver Stone to bring two of those stories to us in one of this year’s best and most heart wrenching films.
“World Trade Center” tells the story of the two PAPD (Port Authority Police Department) cops who were buried alive, when one of the towers collapsed on top of them, and who were dug out and rescued a day later – all while enduring a gun that went off was shooting at them, accidentally, from one of the other PAPD cop’s guns, also buried (dead) with them. (Yes, that really happened. When you see the movie, you’ll know what I am talking about.)
“A lot of people, most people,” says Stone, sitting in a suite at Hotel 1000 in downtown Seattle, a hop skip and a jump from The Space Needle, one of the possible American landmarks targeted by terrorists on September 11, 2001, “think I am this left wing nutcase. And when they hear that I chose to direct this picture [“World Trade Center”] all the bells and whistles start sounding. ‘What agenda is he going to bring to this picture?’ they ask. And what I say is ‘This is America. Every citizen, of which I am one, has the right to speak up, whenever he wants to. The fact is, in between my pictures, my political comments may be picked up and played out in the media. But my comments have nothing at all to do the way I direct any movie. I dare anyone to watch ‘JFK’ and find anything in it that would remotely paint that picture as an agenda picture. I took no sides. It just so happens that a lot of the stories I am attracted to, most, in fact, are based on true events and real people.”
And Stone is not kidding.
The first major motion picture that he wrote and directed, twenty years ago, “Salvador,” told the story of a journalist, down on his luck in the U.S., who drives to El Salvador to chronicle the events of the 1980 military dictatorship. That movie earned James Woods his first and only Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
That same year, Stone walked away with the Best Director Academy Award for “Platoon,” based partly on his life during and in the Vietnam War. (The movie also won Best Picture.)
For all you Oscar trivia nuts, Stone was nominated twice that year for the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, as well – for “Platoon” and “Salvador.” He lost to Woody Allen, of all people, who won for writing “Hannah And Her Sisters.”
While “Salvador” was the first major film that Stone stepped behind the camera to direct it was hardly his foray into Hollywood.
Nearly ten years earlier Stone won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “Midnight Express.”
And three years after winning his first Best Director Oscar, Stone marched back on stage to collect his second statuette, for “Born on the Fourth Of July,” another Vietnam War story, this one based on survivor Ron Kovic, played by Tom Cruise. The role earned Cruise his first Best Actor nomination. (Cruise lost out to Daniel Day Lewis, who played another cripple, in “My Left Foot.”)
“World Trade Center,” while not the first, nor presumably the last film to portray events detailing the fateful day of September 11, 2001, is unlike “United 93,” which was released theatrically earlier this year.
“United 93″ focused on the flight that allegedly was brought down by its passengers in a vacant field in Pennsylvania, after they talked, en masse, to friends and relatives on their cell phones, who had explained in detail that three other planes had plowed into both The World Trade Center and Pentagon, killing all aboard and countless others.
“World Trade Center” is not a speculative movie. It’s a true story, written by Massachusetts native Andrea Berloff. There are no embellishments in the screenplay. Berloff sat with both Jimeno and McLoughlin and got their accounts of the many hours they spent beneath the rubble in writing.
Not only did I sit with Oliver Stone, but also with Will Jimeno and his wife Allison, as well as Michael Pena and Maggie Gyllenhaal who play the Jimenos on the big screen.
Will Jimeno is a rotund but muscular Columbian, who moved to American at the age of two. “I always wanted to be a cop,” he says. “But I took a detour, going into the Navy, first.”
Jimeno was on the PAPD for only nine months before he was forced to give up his life’s dream. “It was only nine months,” he says, beaming, “but I wouldn’t give those nine months up for anything.” Jimeno and McLoughlin, (the only two officers pulled alive from the World Trade Center wreckage), are both out of the police force on permanent disability, after months and years, actually, of ongoing rehabilitation.
Their stories, however, the recounting of the day they were trapped beneath the rubble of one of the Twin Towers, not knowing, until well after they were rescued, that an act of terrorism had occurred, are a monument erected with the help of craftsman Oliver Stone, for all to pay tribute to.
“This movie is not just about America,” says Stone. “It is about America in many ways, but ultimately it is a larger story about the human heart and survival that everyone should be able to relate to. There is not one word or mention of terrorism in the movie because no one knew that that fateful day’s events were brought upon by terrorists.”
What made making “World Trade Center” a challenge, were the nine scenes, each about four minutes, showing the two PAPD officers pinned beneath the rubble, scenes in which only Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena appeared, and moreover, just their faces – their bodies were buried.
“I had to make the picture as realistic as possible,” says Stone. “And without the help of cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who did such a fantastic job on ‘The Hours’ – I mean he took three different stories, three time periods, in ‘The Hours’ and the color palates in each of the three were unique – does an amazing job. In ‘World Trade Center’ we have the difference between light and dark. And it is where the style plays into the movie. It had to be about the light and darkness. And it is.”
“When the husband [McLoughlin] says to his wife, ‘You kept me alive,’ it could have been a cliché. But when you see the movie, you see that it is not cliché.”
I sat with Nicolas Cage the day before he began shooting “World Trade Center.” He was pretty much in character. Mustache. Skinny.
“I took this role,” says Cage, “Because I got goose bumps reading the screenplay. These policemen went to work, every day, knowing that they could end up in a body bag, and that their families could end up husband or fatherless. And during 9/11, hundreds of police and firemen died, leaving their families devoid of one parent, husband, wife, brother, son, boyfriend or girlfriend.”
Where was Oliver Stone on September 11, 2001? Maggie Gyllenhaal, Nicolas Cage?
“I was in bed,” says Stone. “My wife woke me up. I was in Los Angeles. It was about 9:00 AM. I was shell-shocked.”
“I was in Paris,” says Gyllenhaal. “I was there on vacation but did everything I could to get home to my parent’s house as fast as I could. But it was more than a week before I could get out.”
“I was home,” says Cage. “But I was as traumatized as every other person in the world.”
While Stone has earned his wings, with his three Academy Awards, he says, “‘Nixon’ was painful. ‘Heaven and Earth’ was painful. “Alexander” was the biggest disappointment for me. I had the attitude of ‘fuck it.’ I am doing the third version of “Alexander” for DVD, a 3 ¾ hour version. The Cecille B. DeMille version. I shot a million, two hundred thousand feet on ‘Alexander.’ But that was the most I have ever shot on a film. I recently heard of a director, of a one and a half hour comedy, that shot one million feet! I can’t waist film. I am going to put every inch of ‘Alexander’ to good use.”
I really don’t know what my next project is. My next goal is August 9th (the day “World Trade Center” is released in theaters.)