Q: Given Jim Carrey's association with madcap rôles, did you at any stage see the
possibility of a problem, or had he agreed early on to your vision of the rôle?
A: Of course, we had to have an accord, and that first meeting was critical. I wouldn't
have accepted the film without that having gone well; and I'm sure that was true on his
side. I had a very open mind about how he should be, because I was still thinking and
coming up with ideas about what it would have been like to be born and live under these
circumstances for 29 years.
One of the first things I thought was those around him are all actors. They would have
leaned in close to him, beaming away, because they would know they are on camera when they
are close to him. Plus, if he liked you, you would maybe get a long-running part. Then I
began to think about other aspects of what that life might be like.
At the end of the movie when he is told the full truth about his circumstances, there
needed to be a reaction from the character which was, "Oh, so that's what it
was." Unconsciously, all his life, it would have seemed that there was something, and
he never knew what it was. That something caused him to be a performer. It's as if there
was a will from those around him to be entertaining, to be funny, to be "on",
which is not dissimilar to Jim's own story in a way. He was the entertainer of the family.
That's true of many theatrical people.
Truman needed to be innocent of the lie.
He was also a really strange person. I think if he'd have stayed on in that town, if he
hadn't come across the truth, he would have gone completely crazy. He was kind of an
adolescent really. His development was arrested. That was part of his strangeness and also
part of his appeal to the audience. It was, in a curious way, a rites-of-passage movie.
Q: Many of the US reviewers tended to see the film less as a rites-of-passage journey
than as a cautionary tale of the global media. Does the film have that specific intent
about the media, or are the US critics reading into it what they will?
A: One of the appeals of the script was its many planes and levels, and that's one of
them. I don't think it's necessarily the most interesting, but it's there. It's true that
the American media concentrated on that, to the extent that sometimes I felt uncomfortable
because it seemed as if, in the view of many, I was a self-appointed critic of television
– headlines saying, "Weir against television". But they're very concerned
there, as are many people in the world, about the kinds of programmess. . . And it's not
just the content. It's the loss, for many, of a sense of reality and the fact of children
being exposed to so much television.
Q: Andrew Urban's
REVIEW of the film calls it a good parable of the Christian Church, with Christof as the
Christ figure. . .
A: The film picked up metaphors as it went along. I was surprised as we began to put it
together how it was relaying other meanings. I was rather more drawn to Greek legend.
Christof is Zeus, in the sense that he's trying to control the mortals. In my reading, as
I recall, the one thing Zeus could not do is interfere with fate. He could do other
God-like things, including controlling the weather, but he cannot, as Christof/Zeus does,
begin to interfere with the decisions his creature has taken, which is to leave. So
Christof/Zeus crosses a line at the end and is punished for it. There are all sorts of
other understandings. Somebody gave me a brilliant Buddhist one, with Christof as
Siddharta's father, the King, trying to stop him leaving the garden and discovering the
pain of life that lies outside the palace walls.
Q: Do you see the film as modern-day Brave New World?
A: I think you can look at it that way. World domination by giant corporations with
which the people are complicit. The walls of the prison are built by the very inmates.
Q: Brave New World ends with the protagonist expecting to be expelled for his
rebellion, but then finds himself dispatched to Utopia.
A: And in this case, it's a Utopia that the producer has constructed. I think that
Christof [Ed Harris] is such an interesting character, he is a kind of artist. He sees
himself as a great teacher, doing something very worthwhile. There was a decision early on
in talking to Ed that he would not be crazy, insane - in the legal definition. He is
certainly a fanatic, but, on the other hand, while making billions of dollars he was doing
something that he thought was beneficial to the world and was demonstrating a way to live.
That's what makes him truly sinister.
Q: Is Christof based on any actual producer or filmmaker?
A: Not specifically. In my research I was interested in the couturiers, who are kind of
quasi-artists: Armani, Karl Lagerfeld, Versace, who was alive when I was working on it.
They generally dress in black, they have enormous influence on the world, and a very
particular self-view, as if they were great artists and designers of more than just
clothing. And the way they're dealt with by the press. Their "vision" is implied
each time they come out with a new line.
Q: At what stage was Ed Harris cast in that rôle?
A: At the last minute. Somebody else was cast and it just didn't work out. I was deep
into the film, in fact I was days away from shooting those scenes which were at the end of
the schedule. Fortunately, he was available and came straight into the movie with about
two days' preparation.
Q: Christof is a far cry from the typical villain of the piece.
A: It was difficult. With the most recent James Bond movie [Tomorrow Never Dies, Roger
Spottiswoode, 1997], you have this manipulating character in the control room. How to
reinvigorate the cliché? Ed was wonderful to work with because his background is in
theatre. He tends to be cast along certain lines in the last decade - he's often the
policeman; the GI with a buzz-cut; he can be on one side of the law and the other - and
play these things very well. This part, I think, demonstrated how much more he can do. Ed
said he would normally not consider going into a film with a complex character like that
with only a few days, but sometimes there's a benefit in not having too much time to
think, reacting intuitively to a part. He had a lot to work with because I could show him
the programme ["The Truman Show", the TV serial Christof masterminds]. And I had
a very detailed backstory. I wrote up quite an involved piece about how the show was put
together, and that concentrated on Christof.
Q: Scott Murray [Editor, Cinema Papers] has suggested that he could be the X Files'
A: [Laughs.] I wonder what Chris Carter would think of that.
Q: What of the other characters and actors?
A: With the cast of those close around to Truman - Laura Linney as his wife, Meryl, and
Noah Emmerich as his best friend, Marlon - to keep the schizophrenia alive I would talk to
them off the set as if they were in their actor persona. I would call them by their names.
She was Hannah Gill, playing the part of Meryl Burbank, and Lewis Coltrane who was playing
Marlon, everyone being named after an actor. I would talk to them as if I were an aspiring
director on the show, who was on the afternoon shift, and asking them to put in a good
word for me to get me onto what was the most-prized shift, which were the weekend shifts
where the most experienced directors were. It was a way of passing the time, but it helped
keep their awareness that they were somebody else.
Then I suggested we shoot a documentary of that, and got a documentary crew in and shot
a lot of stuff with them. They were so warmed up in these characters that they began to
invent their own backgrounds. That became a little promotional film in the end. I made
sure the documentary was shot on 35mm. I had my eye on it. I thought there may be
something here I could use, so in the end part of that went into the opening titles.
Q: How did you work with Andrew Niccol on the script?
A: It was a long process. We started in November 1995 in LA and 10 drafts later we were
finished. I re-worked the tone of the film. Everything changed really, other than the
concept and the characters. We took it apart and rebuilt it.
Q:What shifts took place during the course of those 10 drafts?
A: His was more what I think you could call Kafkaesque. It was certainly darker. It was
a more psychological piece. He had it set in New York City and was going to shoot it
there. Truman was more of an everyman. I'd like to have seen his version of it, but,
unlike theatre, you can't get to see anyone else's take on [a film]. Andrew wanted to
direct the film; he just didn't have any track record and it was too expensive. When I
read it, I felt the first problem was New York. More than usual, I had to satisfy the
credibility of the idea. You had to believe it was possible. Being set in the near future,
you have to relax the area of logic for the audience to join in with the film, so they
would not be constantly thinking, "Could this happen?" I said no producer would
build New York!
Also, it wouldn't be an ideal community. Why would you create something that had all
the problems of our world? Why not build an idealized world? That led eventually to
Seaside, to a pristine community created in the style of the last century. Given that it
was set in the near future, this would be the way people would like to live, almost like a
holiday brochure really, an ideal island somewhere. And everything was for sale,
everything from clothing to furniture to the houses themselves could be purchased in the
mail order catalogue. That was the way we went.
There was an immense amount of detail. And we had a lot of fun. Andrew's a New
Zealander. I don't know if that helped; I'm sure it did in the sense of humour that we
shared. In the meantime, he wrote and directed Gattaca , his first feature. There
was a long period of preparation, which wasn't only spent working on the script with
Andrew. I was always writing about the show for my own use, collecting material about the
show. I even went so far as to make up swap cards that I thought could be in cereal packs
and so on. They were called Truman trivia and on the back were details about an extra
who'd been on the show, or the first person who'd died on the show and other arcane
knowledge. During all that time I was thinking this is going to be a difficult sell.
Directors today have to be involved in the marketing. It has become so critical,
unfortunately, and I began to think of marketing ideas and asked to meet the marketing
department of Paramount before pre-production had even begun. They were astonished, and in
a way interested, that I wanted to meet with them all. Some 30 people came to the meeting
- from television advertising, the
Internet department, the trailer people, the poster people - and I gave them Truman
trivia cards. I told them, "I think you should sell this whole thing as if the show
does exist." None of that really happened, and they didn't sell it that way, but I
think the fact that I was there that early, whereas [directors] don't normally come on
until the film is made, worked. They came to see me on location and one of them said I
know the guy who's got the only computer programme to make up a face out of a myriad of
other photographs, which became the poster. I think that involvement with the director did
get a lot of the key people thinking. The campaign was masterful and, in a country which
is very literal, fantasy, unless it's of the most obvious kind, is not common in their
movies. They like to have things very clear, and so this film was in jeopardy of being
nothing more than a curiosity piece in the midst of conventional summer fare."