Ridley Scott: Discreet entertainer

More than anything, Ridley Scott is a master at creating sensational images. In the last few decades, the 68-year-old British director, who gave science fiction a dark edge through «Blade Runner,» created the first installment of «Alien» and offered the epic genre a comeback with «Gladiator,» has developed a number of cinema’s most visually exciting scenes. Though his work is often criticized – as in the case of «Black Hawk Down,» a dramatized version of the US invasion of Somalia – Scott does not hesitate to deal with controversial issues. In his new feature, «The Kingdom of Heaven,» which opens in local cinemas today, the director takes a look at 12th century Jerusalem and the Crusades, a highly controversial time in the history of Christianity. Sir Ridley, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003, maintains a strict stance toward religion. An agnostic, during our meeting in Los Angeles he stressed that his interest in the film was to present a story highlighting tolerance and understanding. Do you see any similarities between today and the time in which the action takes place in the film? Jerusalem is still a city where many people want to demonstrate their religious superiority. Of course. Films are allegories of small worlds. Would you like me to tell you how I see it? In this film I worked along with about one thousand Muslims: They were actors, technicians, carpenters… all mingling with Italians, Germans and Britons… We would all start our day together sharing breakfast and then go on by thinking how we could come up with a good film. Isn’t this a nice metaphor? I have made three films in Morocco already, and if I had to I would go back without a second thought. What’s the problem? Christ. Or perhaps, this is precisely what the problem is. Talking about Christ, your portrayal of clergymen is not very flattering… Perhaps, but the film’s most positive character is a priest, and his «positiveness» stems from the fact that he’s one of the very few characters who is not a cynic. He goes as far as to forgive the leper King Baldwin, who claims that his religion has surpassed him. You might think that such an act would not have made sense at the time. But why not? The world would never move forward if there was no one to think and speak outside the norm. What is your aim when making films and how do you go about achieving it? All of us working in cinema wish to entertain people. Nowadays, film directors are entertainers. As for achieving this, the only – and most difficult – way is through the script. Script, script, script. How easy was the script’s development in this case? Your lead actor, Orlando Bloom, faced at least 20 new lines per day. This is quite common in movies. I started shooting «Gladiator» without having a second or third act. I was constantly a week behind schedule. Perhaps you think we all have a much smoother life than we actually do. What kind of compromises do you have to make in terms of what you can actually show? If I showed the leper king’s true face the sight would be unbearable; the battle scenes would be more ferocious. It’s not necessary to show absolutely everything. You get the feeling without going to extremes. I would rather be discreet. Like in the love scene, for example, which is very short. As a producer and a director, I have to choose. I chose this way as I believe that it is more tasteful. If I make a film about sex, I will show sex. In this case, however, instead of showing the actual scene, I opted to show where it’s going and mixing it along with something else. It’s what I call dynamics. You admire your lead character’s honesty and quite often your films focus on the idea of honor. For me it’s not just an idea. I believe that honor and grace have just about disappeared from our vocabulary. Am I not right? Clearly you have an interest in history. How much does this interest influence your movies? A lot. I get excited about anything that has to do with historical events. One of my upcoming films will be a Western. The action takes place in 1843, when they invented the revolver and life became much harder for the natives. I’m interested in history, but not in terms of learning something new. Simply because we know nothing and we never learn anything. We wish we’d learn, but this never happens. Working on such large-scale productions with hundreds of people surrounding you, do you ever feel insecure, or not in control? No, it’s all absolutely clear in my mind. I’m exhaustingly organized by training. I was brought up this way along with my brother [director Tony Scott]. It was probably my mother’s fault. My father was in the military and he adored both the army and order. At home my mother imposed daily practices which later became habits. Of course when I tried to apply all this to my own children, I failed. I would say, «Clean your shoes,» and they would answer, «F**k you.» The interview was translated from the Greek text.