I put up this page because the original site where I found it at the Film Nation (http://homearts.com/depts/pl/movie/11ferrar.htm) was deleted.
If one of the copyright holders wants me not to publish the text, please contact me (use the email-form at the bottom of the page) and I´ll delete the interview immediately. Chris

An Interview With Abel Ferrara

By Lawrence Terenzi, Film Nation

Abel Ferrara does not like to be interviewed. Not that one of the most talented, controversial, and fiercely independent directors of our time is cantankerous or condescending. Quite the contrary: he's frank, engaging and humorous. Like many native New Yorkers, he just doesn't care to sit still. In his hands a 20-minute phone interview becomes a marathon event encompassing a dozen hang-ups and interruptions, most of the day and half the night.

A similar, whirling anarchy pervades many of his movies. He explores human nature with a raw intensity that skirts sleaze even as it approaches art. His most notorious film,Bad Lieutenant (1992), depicted the spiritual redemption of a corrupt cop and shocked viewers with a barrage of over-the-top depravity. His latest, The Funeral, deals with the effects of convenient morality and part-time faith as it tells the story of a family of hoods bent on vengeance. As Film Nation's Lawrence A. Terenzi found out recently, Ferrara's cinematic descent into hell reflects his own personal struggles with religion.


Abel Ferrara: Let's do this thing. Let's rock.

Lawrence Terenzi, Film Nation: Nicholas Cage was slated for the lead role in The Funeral, but he bailed. Did that make financing tougher?

Ferrara: Are you kidding? Wait, hold on . . . {Movement away from the phone} Cage was in, we were about to shoot the movie and he walked. Not very nice. When Cage pulls a stunt like that it's a nightmare, total nightmare. When an actor a week from photography just walks off the show . . .

Film Nation: Did that ever happen to you before?

Ferrara: No. [Christopher] Walken saved our lives. We offered that part to him before. The thing is he felt he wasn't right, he was too old, you know? So then we went to Cage. Cage seemed perfect. Neapolitan, the right age, the whole deal. Then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, you know, Cage walks. I don't know why. I'm not interested in the answers.
Walken knows we got our back to the wall, right, comes back and does the part and kicks ass. It don't matter: age, nationality, nothing.

Film Nation: Nicholas St. John wrote this script, as he writes most of your scripts. What's your creative relationship like?

Ferrara: We've been working together since we're 15 years old, know what I mean? We've worked every single way under the sun. But this particular time, he just wrote it, man. I just got a script–done–odd as that may seem.

Film Nation: Did you tinker with it?

Ferrara: I worked on it but it was so sweet, so beautiful that I didn't really find it necessary, you dig?

Film Nation: Do the two of you share the same vision then?

Ferrara: Well, you know, we're very different people. He lives in the country, he's a hard-core Catholic, goes to church, teaches catechism, the whole nine. And I don't exactly do it that way, so . . . .

Film Nation: Are you Catholic?

Ferrara: Yeah, and I'm at that point in my life where I'm really coming to terms with my beliefs, you know what I mean? Where I stand vis à vis Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, my upbringing, everything about that. It's hard. I'm going through some real deep changes.

Film Nation: You use a lot of Catholic images . . .

Ferrara: I went to Catholic school up until fourth grade, then I escaped. Yeah, it's rough. When you were in kindergarten you were in, like, the front row and there was this giant crucifix, about eight feet tall, blood dripping. You know you're a little boy looking at that . . . .
We went back into that church for Bad Lieutenant and they had this tiny gold beveled cross without even Christ's figure. I said, 'What happened to the crucifix? Where did you get that designer cross?' {Laughs.} What's behind those images?

Film Nation: It's a cliché, but the guilt . . .

Ferrara: But beyond all this quote unquote heavy guilt blah, blah, blah, there is the thing of, 'Do you believe in Christ, in the teachings of Christ?' Nicky [St. John] believes and it's . . . how do you say . . . for a cat that believes . . . I'm not saying it's easy . . . ahh, it all sounds oversimplified.

Film Nation: What's causing all the changes you refer to?

Ferrara: It's just growing up. Is it personally satisfying to sit here and not even conceive of these things? When you were a kid they said, 'Don't think of these things, it'll make you go nuts.' So you're not gonna think about it? Although, on the other hand, blind faith can be a beautiful thing.

Film Nation: But you don't have it. Is 'blind faith' what you're moving towards? I mean, compared to St. John you haven't always been . . .

Ferrara: . . . Quite so devout. {Laughs.} I better be. I mean, what am I moving towards? Some existential fucking, 'Oh, I have my own religion.' Everybody's got their own fucking religion. {Laughs.}
I'm fighting, you know. Not fighting, but trying to understand what Jesus means to me and what I want from it. Where my ego is in this and where I want to lose my ego. Everyone of us has to take that journey alone so I can't just jump on Nicky's bandwagon. His route is his route. I've gotta take my own route. But Nicky lays out a lot of hot shit in that fucking film. He lays out a lot of questions of where we're at, where we're going, what is the deal."

Film Nation: You don't necessarily agree with what's put forth in your films?

Ferrara: Obviously not. There's a lot of contradictions in this film.

Film Nation: Did you have an exact view of where you wanted the characters to go before shooting?

Ferrara: No, I didn't. Because this script was so wonderful, we were sticking pretty much to it. The actors were pretty much in agreement. But then they've got to make those words their own. They've got to come to terms with what's there and understand it and sometimes they might have to improv to get back to the lines. You dig what I'm saying?

Film Nation: Do you try to understand where the actors are spiritually?

Ferrara: Sure. We're talking nonstop. It's conversation upon conversation upon conversation. With some of them; with others they kinda know where we're at.

Film Nation: Why do you focus on the underside of New York? Does that come from personal experience, or is it voyeurism?

Ferrara: I think the whole thing is very, very personal. We've made our kingdom New York so we've made our quote unquote larger than life gangster flicks. We're dealing with characters that are about that.
Still, it's art, drama, metaphor, and these are actors. Although sometimes you get close to that line and some of these people aren't actors. There's some real McCoys in there, you know what I mean?

Film Nation: You make heavy, thought-provoking films. You could be making E.T. instead.

Ferrara: I'm not out there entertaining. I hope some people are entertained but my main gig ain't entertaining. I don't want to sit here and say, 'Oh, I'm in search of the Holy Grail.' But I'm not just fucking making movies and I'm not working with people who go home at five o'clock. These guys carry it with them. The style and intensity of the performances, people feel that. Some dig it and some don't. They're not looking for that and sometimes I don't blame them.

I remember that [John] Cassavetes film . . . ahh shit, where [Peter] Falk had that party for Gena [Rowlands] when she came out of the mental hospital. It was a Cassavetes film . . . ahh goddamn it what the hell. Falk, whatever, it was intense, brilliant. Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk and Cassavetes. There's five people in this theater in Rockland County [New York]. This guy who brought his wife, it hits so close to home and he says, 'What am I watching this for? I can stay home and see this.' I think for Cassavetes that was a great compliment, but at the same time the guy was putting the film [A Woman Under the Influence (1974)] down.

Film Nation: "Who are your influences?"

Ferrara: That's a good question . . . Wait, hold on one second. I'm gonna give you an answer . . . Let me think. Other directors? I guess they say the same thing, [Pier Paolo] Pasolini, [Roman] Polanski . . . I don't know. . . . [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder . . . I don't know. [Blues artist] Robert Johnson, Keith Richards [of the Rolling Stones], how can you say? Sam Fuller.

Film Nation: Did you go to film school?

Ferrara: Not exactly. This was during Vietnam so we were going to go somewhere. We were avoiding the draft, so to speak.

Film Nation: How come you didn't go over to Hollywood?

Ferrara: What do you mean: 'Hollywood?'

Film Nation: Why make independent pictures?

Ferrara: Well, we did Body Snatchers [1994] with Warner Brothers. Fear City, [aka Ripper (1984)]–that was kind of Hollywood. We raise the money in Hollywood. I mean, Bad Lieutenant . . . the money was raised in Hollywood. Dangerous Game [aka Snake Eyes (1993)] was shot in Hollywood.

Film Nation: Doesn't working with a big studio take away your control?

Ferrara: Everybody likes to have total control over what they're doing. I mean, who doesn't? You work with a studio, you give up a certain amount of control and you get a ton of money. It's a trade-off. You do a little here and there. It's not the end of the world to do a studio gig, you know what I mean?

Film Nation: Have you done TV before?

Ferrara: Yeah, I dig TV. I'd love to do it again but I haven't been able to find the right thing.

Film Nation: You're not worried about being censored?

Ferrara: What? Well, if you do TV you know what you're going to shoot. You're coming into peoples' houses so you're a little bit more . . . {Laughs} . . . you keep your clothes on.

Film Nation: Did the NC-17 rating for The Bad Lieutenant bug you?"

Ferrara: No. I mean, what'd you expect to get, a PG? The guy's walking around with his dick out!

Film Nation: A lot of directors wouldn't take that risk, wouldn't show that.

Ferrara: Hey, it was the actor's choice. I love Harvey [Keitel].

Film Nation: What actors do you like to work with?

Ferrara: I like the cats I've been working with. Keitel, Walken, Benicio Del Toro. I love Annabella [Sciorra], I like Lili [Taylor], Beatrice [Dalle]. I'm starting to like Claudia Schiffer. [Schiffer will appear in Ferrara's next film, The Blackout.]

Film Nation: What's up next?

Ferrara: We just finished The Blackout. [Matthew] Modine plays an actor who has a drinking and drug problem {chuckles} and accidentally murders a 17-year old waitress he thinks is his girlfriend {laughs}, Beatrice Dalle, who he's madly in love with. So he kills her and he suffers blackouts, know what I mean, so he doesn't quite remember it, all right, so, you dig what I'm saying? . . . Let me get back to these guys. I'm gonna be up for a while so if you come up with any more questions call me. {Click}

I put up this page because the original site where I found it at the Film Nation (http://homearts.com/depts/pl/movie/11ferrar.htm) was deleted.
If one of the copyright holders wants me not to publish the text, please contact me and I´ll delete the interview immediately. Chris.