Taylor Hackford is one of those journeymen directors who's done it all -- from the exemplary Stephen King adaptation "Dolores Claiborne" to influential '80s dramas "Against All Odds" and "An Officer and a Gentlemen" to more contemporary fare like the horror movie "Devil's Advocate."
This weekend his career takes another left turn with "Parker." Based on the character by author Donald Westlake, the film is a colorful, occasionally violent caper about a titular criminal (played by Jason Statham) who is double-crossed by his gang and teams up with a Florida real estate agent (played by Jennifer Lopez) to get revenge.
We got to sit down and chat with the filmmaker about all things "Parker," whether or not he has any interest in returning to Stephen King territory, and if he really thinks his Director's Guild of America co-president Steven Soderbergh will retire.
What brought you to this material? Had you always been a fan of the Westlake novels?
Yeah, you know I am a fan of genre movies. I had read some of the "Parker" novels a while ago but I hadn't read "Flashfire," which this film is based on. I loved the character of Parker. I think Donald Westlake is a very overlooked talent in American literature. So I read the script and then I read the book, and I said, "I'm only interested if I can find an actor who can truly embody Parker." Because Parker is an iconic figure and he's attracted a lot of people in the past. You've got Lee Marvin, who first put him on the screen in "Point Blank" and you've got Mel Gibson. It's suicide for a director to go there unless you've got a really good actor to star as Parker. I had heard that Jason Statham had read the script and liked it. I thought: He's English and Parker's American but who cares about accents? The real issue was: does Jason embody a lot of the elements of Parker? And I thought he did. So we got together and met and formed a partnership and moved forward.
Were you worried about updating the character at all?
No! This is a literary character and with a literary character, when an author makes it work, it's timeless. Parker isn't tied to 1962 when the series started. It transcends. This is a totally contemporary piece and I believe that John McLaughlin and I were still true to what Westlake was writing for Parker. The thing about this is Parker is not a hero in any sense of the word. He's a professional criminal -- he intends to steal as much money as possible, and when he does he has no remorse about it. You can look at him and abhor what he does, but Westlake's genius was that he gave Parker a set of rules that he follows and believes in. And those rules are totally practical. He wants to get out of it, he wants to live to spend the money and he doesn't want to go to jail. It's not heroic but because he won't break those rules there's an interesting ethic to believe in. There's something admirable about a guy who keeps his word.
Did you borrow from any of the previous Parker adaptations?
No, not at all. Listen, I loved "Point Blank" when I saw it. It was John Boorman's first feature film and I thought Lee Marvin was really amazing as Parker. However this is my opportunity to do my version. I know I'm going to be judged by the millions of Parker fans and fans of the previous movies but so be it. I'm okay with that.
I'm assuming that this is an attempt at starting a franchise. Would you come back for further Parker adventures?
You know, I enjoyed it. I enjoy the genre, I enjoyed this experience, I think Jason is a terrific Parker. And these are characters that Westlake created. But let's be real here -- it's dependant on whether or not this film is a success. And you can't justify a sequel unless this is a success. I believe, now having seen the film play for various audiences, that it plays. It really works for an audience. But we'll see.
You directed one of the great Stephen King adaptations with "Dolores Claiborne." Have you ever been tempted to revisit his world?
I love Stephen King. He's a mensch. I have a very funny story. Most of the films I do I develop myself. "Parker" and "Dolores Claiborne" I didn't. I read a script Tony Gilroy adapted from Stephen King. I really liked it, I met Tony and I subsequently worked with him on three films. But we were working on a couple of drafts of "Dolores Claiborne" and I put some stuff in it and Castle Rock, who had the rights, called and said, "Well, we're getting ready to do the movie. We're going to send it to Stephen King to get his approval." I went, "You've got to be kidding me. Stephen King has approval?" "Yeah." "He can decide whether the film gets made or not?" "Yeah." I said: "Holy sh*t! Half of this screenplay isn't in the book. He's never going to approve this." So I sent him a draft of the script and he sent back a note that said, "Fantastic, I love it, I wish I had thought of that." I mean, what a class act. He later told me "Dolores Claiborne" was one of his favorite adaptations. I think he's a fabulous writer and if I ever found the right material, I'd do it.
How did you feel about seeing your "Ray" co-stars Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington reunite for "Django Unchained?"
Loved it. I did the first Q&A that Quentin [Tarantino] did. The first screening of the film was at the DGA. And I loved both Jamie and Kerry in the film. I thought it was a really amazing piece of work.
You work so closely with Steven Soderbergh at the DGA. Do you really think that he's going to retire?
No. I don't think he's capable of it! He's too prolific! But you know, Steven is an iconoclast. And he'll talk to you abut his own career, he'll make his own statements. I hope he doesn't quit filmmaking because it would be a loss to everybody. I think he's as passionate a filmmaker as there is. We've worked together really, really well. Anybody who's worked as hard and is so prolific probably needs to take a moment to reflect. How long that moment will be, we'll have to discover.