Brian De Palma is one of those filmmakers who you can comfortably describe as a living legend without feeling like a complete ass. The controversial director behind such immortal classics as "Blow Out," "Body Double," and "Carlito's Way," has been challenging Hollywood norms when it comes to sexuality and on-screen violence for decades. He's one of those filmmakers that feels both hugely influential (every modern rapper is indebted to his "Scarface" remake) and largely marginalized (often as a two-bit Hitchcock imitator). But then again, a director wholly nestled in the feathery nest of Hollywood wouldn't be able to produce the fearless, often confrontational works he's known for.
His latest, the psychosexual thriller, "Passion" (based on recent French movie "Love Crime"), opens this weekend (it's currently on demand). It stars Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams as colleagues at an influential European advertising firm. Since this is a Brian De Palma movie, their friendship first becomes sexual and then murderous. It's a streamlined little thriller, anchored by two actresses who seem to be relishing the fact that they've fallen down the rabbit hole and into De Palma's twisted world, full of masks, knives, and elaborate sex toys.
We got to speak to De Palma and quizzed him about why he keeps returning to these kinds of thrillers, why "Lone Ranger" has killed his chances of making a Western, and Hollywood's obsession with "Mission: Impossible" sequels (he directed the first one).
This interview has been edited and condensed
You've tried out a bunch of different genres but you keep returning to this kind of sexy thriller genre. What about it interests you?
Somebody sat me down and showed me a French film and said, "We would like you to remake it in English." And I said, "This is a very, very good idea."
Is there any genre that you haven't tried out that you'd like to do? Do you have any desire to do a Western?
Interesting that you say that... I think a Western is a very interesting genre. Unfortunately, I think "The Lone Ranger" has put it away for another couple of decades.
Do you have an idea for a Western that you'd want to do?
I just like the terrain. There was this terrific book called "The Searchers." It's fascinating. The terrain is what interests me. Of course "The Searchers" is all about Indians who kidnap white women and turn them into wives and what happens when they get re-rescued. It's a fascinating idea that John Ford did a couple of times but, yes, I think it's a great genre and has been neglected for quite a while. The problem with doing a Western now is that they don't have the stunt men and the people who ride horses like they used to. When I did "The Untouchables" we had the scene where everybody is on a horse; in the old days when they had one western after another, you had stunt men and actors who could ride. That's not the case anymore.
Did you see "The Lone Ranger?"
I was dying to see "The Lone Ranger." I thought it looked great. And it was gone from the theaters before I had a chance.
How did you come to cast Noomi and Rachel? You have a great history of finding these women for your films.
I wish I could ascribe it to a talent search like Scarlett O'Hara but that's not exactly how it happened. I went to another director who was talking to Noomi about another film he was making and he gave me a lot of her Swedish films that she made before the "Dragon" series. I was knocked out. So I sent her the script and she said she'd love to do it. Fortunately, she had been working with Rachel on "Sherlock Holmes 2" and she got Rachel interested and suddenly we had a cast.
Certainly they must fill a certain set of requirements to be in something like this.
You have two fantastic actresses who want to be in a movie together. I had seen Rachel in "Mean Girls." She really knows how to be manipulative and diabolical. I thought they would be an exciting duo and they proved to do so.
On your last movie, "Redacted," it had a fairly controversial roll out. What was that experience like?
Well, "Redacted" came about because somebody gave me $5 million to make a movie on digital and I said I couldn't do it unless I could think of an original, digital way. And I came up with this story that had happened in Iraq and I found all this digital material on the internet. So I said, "Oh I can tell it this way." It's of course very similar to "Causalities of War" and I was well aware that the film was not going to be well-liked in America because in America you can never criticize the troops. Of course that wasn't the case in the rest of the world. [Laughs]
Were you ultimately happy with the attention the film got?
Of course. That's why I made it. I felt that our involvement in Iraq was criminal and we had invaded this country and destroyed it and then left and now we wonder why it's a chaotic mess. It just reminded me of the whole Vietnam thing and I was extremely incensed and I tried to put it in a movie.
You helped create a long-running franchise in the "Mission: Impossible" series. Have you watched the subsequent films?
[Laughs] It always amazed me why somebody would want to make one thing over and over again. I think Tom has done a fantastic job in keeping this franchise going. It's just, aesthetically, it holds no interest in me. It's all about economics. Why would you want to keep making "Mission: Impossibles"?
I wanted to ask you about a movie you had wanted to make called "The Demolished Man." It was allegedly similar to a movie your friend Steven Spielberg made, "Minority Report."
I saw "Minority Report" and told him how good I thought it was.
Was it similar to what you were going to do with "Demolished Man?"
Well. Sort of. "The Demolished Man" is a great piece of material that's owned by Paramount, if I recall. There were many screenplays that were written that I'm sure are over there in a vault, just millions of dollars against the material. It would have been a very big movie to do and probably not going to be done by me.
How are things going with [the Al Pacino-led Joe Paterno film] "Happy Valley?"
We have a very good script and we're in the process of boarding and budgeting it now.
Do you want to return to bigger studio material afterwards?
I have a couple of projects I'm working on and people send me stuff all the time, like how this project came to me. Some of them I think are good ideas and some of them I don't. At my age, I'm trying to enjoy my life. Because what we don't have is a lot of time. [Laughs]
Do you ever think about retiring?
No I have no desire to retire. I just want to enjoy my time. Every day above ground is a good day.