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SPIELBERG, STEVEN: A.I

THE STEVEN & STANLEY STORY
Making AI, Steven Spielberg had two stories to tell: his own and that of the late Stanley Kubrick, who conceived the project. The director tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo how he walked the line.

Can you talk about what this film means to you and some of the conversations you had with Stanley Kubrick regarding what this film meant to him?
In a sense, so as not to spoil it because I love it, I think Stanley intended and I certainly wanted this film to be able to be looked at from as many different angles as I used to shoot the picture with the cameras. And Stanley, of course, is one to always advise me never to give the definitive thematic statement or meaning of a film because that will become the only meaning that will go down in the record books, so I would defer to him on that one! But my relationship with Stanley was one of humour. Nobody really gave him enough credit for being one of the most humorous individuals around. He had such a dry sense of humour. He could really pull your leg and you donít even know itís being pulled until you get home and realize: "Oh God, he wasnít being serious that entire time!" I just loved being around him and I only met with him twelve times in the eighteen years I knew him. Only had twelve meetings, all of them in London and all of them at his home in St. Albans, England. But we were on the phone to each other sometimes once a day, sometimes once a weekóand I paid for it all because it was always collect calls [laughs]! We were just movie friends. He called me about other peoplesí movies. He wanted to know what I thought about them. When a film was a tremendous box-office success, Stanley actually came to me to ask why and I could never tell him. Iíd say, "Stanley I donít have the answer why a film succeeds and why other films didnít." We talked about films, we talked about our kids and we talked about our lives. But mostly we talked filmóand we talked about A.I. from 1984 when he first told me the story.

How did your friendship with Stanley Kubrick actually start?
I was about to make Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1979 and I was going to shoot at the studio where Stanley was building sets for The Shining so I needed to see the size of the stages with the art director and we asked if we could get on the soundstage which happened to be occupied by the Overlook Hotel that was in the final days of construction for The Shining. When I walked on to the set, there was a schlumpy little man with a thick beard and pants that didnít fit and a sweater that was at least two sizes too big for him scuffling around in house shoes. He had in his hands a little periscope viewfinder, something he had just invented and he just walked over to me and said, "hey you want to see what I just built?" and it was Stanley. He knew who I was because he had seen my movies but we didnít shake hands formally. He immediately got me into looking through the viewfinder and showing me how to discover his angles and he had little cut-out cardboard figures on the models and he said, "this is how I plan my shots." Then he invited me to dinner the next night at his house and thatís how we met.

How true did you stay to those visions and images that he wanted to incorporate into the film and when did it become Steven Spielbergís A.I.?
I wrote the screenplay so I sort of infused the whole story with my way of telling a story but Stanley had accomplished something remarkable. He had sat down and drawn with an illustrator almost 850 concept illustrations, like a production designer shows a director before a set is built, to see if the director wants to go in that direction. So many of the visual iconic moments in the film were based on ideas that Stanley hadólike the Flesh Fair, the moon with the gondola underneath it, the whole concept of Teddy, which was part of the original Brian Aldiss five-page short story that he wrote back in the late 1970s. But Stanley left behind boxes of his notes and I could read his handwriting because I had eighteen years of learning how to read his faxes mostly in longhand and it was just interesting little tidbits and not really philosophical but mainly ways that he wanted the picture to feel and look. I wanted to tell my story but I also wanted to embrace his and so to do that I had to kind of lose myself in his world, which I did between 1984 and 1994 when he first told me the story and asked me to direct it in 1994. And then after his death, I lost myself in my own world having assimilated all this information and then I had to tell my story.

How as a director do you balance your urge to pay homage to Stanley Kubrick and at the same time fulfil your own ideas?
There is a homage inside A.I. in some of the signage. If you look carefully there are some homages to a few of Stanleyís films but you have to really watch carefully. But itís as if Stanley was a great novelist and he wrote this amazing book except he illustrated the book and then wound up not adapting it but I got to adapt. Iíve adapted six, seven novels in my career and this was like adapting a very detailed illustrated novel and thatís why I feel that this is not a homage. Stanley doesnít need a homage in his life. He hated flattery. Whenever I flattered Stanley he changed the subject on me. He was the most famous brain drain of any man Iíve ever met in my entire life. Most of our relationship was Stanley asking me questions, sucking my mind dry and then when he figured that I had nothing left in my gas tank, heíd say "got to go, goodbye" and heíd hang up the phone! He was a tremendous asker of questions and he was very social, always on the phone and the fax machine and he was not a hermit and he was not the Howard Hughes of cinema at all.

In your previous movies there was a huge degree of hopefulness about the future and the aliens were irresistible. In this case there is a certain pessimism. Is this the shift between Spielberg the kid and now Spielberg the middle-aged man?
What do you mean middle-aged? Iím still a kid! (laughs). No, I really believe that as I grow up I have more of a responsibility to tell stories that are a little more authentic in its own view of the world. I know that since Schindlerís List and Amistad and Saving Private Ryan, I have shifted my own point of view. I havenít changed my mind about things but I purposely didnít make Harry Potter because for me that was like shooting ducks in a barrel. Thatís a slum-dunk and that didnít have a challenge for me. Thatís just like going to the bank and withdrawing a billion dollars and putting it in your personal account. There was more involved in going maybe to a place that was a little darker than I had been before and in adapting Stanley Kubrick who was taking the story to a place without such easy answers. And in honour of Stanley and also to be true to myself at the age Iím at and the way I see the world today as a very protective father, I would rather flash a warning than be a Pollyanna piece of cotton candy saying Ďgo to the future.í Itís not that Iím cynical but just a little more realistic about the world and it doesnít preclude me from making a Mark Twain movie someday of Huckleberry Finn, because I have that in me. But in this particular instance, this story that Stanley hatched and I took over was in sync with how I was feeling. It was more in sync in 1994 when he asked me to direct it than it was in 1984 when he told me it because I had just finished E.T. and I had a whole different mindset then. But as I grew older, the story began to settle in a good place in my heart much the same way that I couldnít have directed Schindlerís List when I bought the book in 1982. I had to wait eleven years to really be of a mind that I wouldnít sugarcoat that and make the Holocaust a terrible thing that happened but have tons of justifications and happy endings. I think as I get older Iím hoping to be able to go back and forth and in this particular case, this had much more challenge for me to go forward not backwards.

Did you make a conscious decision to show the aliens looking all alike at the end of the movie?
Well, No. 1, they are not aliens for one thing so let me clear that up right now. This is like the confusion in Private Ryan when people thought that the person who killed Adam Goldbergís character was the same individual, the same German, that they let go earlier when in fact it wasnít so, so there is a little confusion here. They are not aliens but state of the art artificial intelligence, robots at the point of perfection. They have created themselves and continue to procreate without mankind on the face of the planet. Now had Stanley directed it, would you still have thought they were aliens?

Probably not.
See, this is a liability with my name on this picture right there! I am so identified with aliens!

How important was it to find the right actor to play David before agreeing to make this film?
Had Haley not been alive, I wouldnít have made A.I. I would have just waited with a bunch of other projects as you know sit on my shelf waiting to be made until the right David came along. Stanley, interestingly enough, at one point wanted to create David as a machine and used his own nephew as a prototype. He took a lot of pictures and actually developed a robotic David, that he would tell you if he was alive was a complete disaster. Also when we were talking about this in 1994 and he was so impressed with what Iíd done with the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, he abandoned his idea to create a digital David because it would look too much like a piece of digital art that would never really interact with the human characters surrounding it. So he came to the conclusion long before me that an actor would have to be found to play David and I was really lucky Haley had done The Sixth Sense.

The movie also shows the power of fairytales. What influence did they have on you as a child?
Some of the darkness in A.I. stems from the Grimm fairytales and the early Walt Disney fairytales. Pinocchio, Snow White, one of the most frightening sequences in film history is not the shower scene in Psycho but the huntsman coming to get Snow White and her retreat into the woods which come alive and try to kill her. Iím of the era where you are brought up on fairytales that scare the heck out of you but at the same time fed our imagination and made us want to see it again and drew us into it. Disney wasnít afraid of scaring children in those days because he knew at the end of that rainbow there would be a reward and there would be redemption so all the Disney films have redemption and I also hope that A.I. has redemption.

Do you know what youíre going to direct next?
I donít know. I have a couple of things. Iím still thinking about Memoirs of a Geisha, which I love that book so much and we got a really nice rewrite that Iím excited about. Iím thinking about this beautiful Mark Twain-type story called Big Fish based on the Randall Wallace novel and Iím working on Lincoln, a story of the Civil War told through Lincolnís eyes. Itís a book being written right now by Doris Kearns Goodwin the historian. Sheís writing a wonderful book on Lincoln from 1861 until his death and Iím adapting that right now into a motion picture.

What can you say about your next movie, Minority Report, which is also futuristic?
Itís a science fiction film based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the author of the original Bladerunner short story which I think was called Electric Sheep. Itís a very compelling story and stars Tom Cruise, Max Von Sydow and Colin Farrell. Iíve had such a great time making it and Tom Cruise has become one of my best friends because of this movie. Weíve been inseparable ever since we started working on this picture together.

Published September 6, 2001

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