More than a quick Q & A with Jonathan Demme

Jonathan Demme has 16 films to his credit including Beloved, the Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Married to the Mob, Something Wild and Melvin and Howard. Demme’s films have been nominated for 20 Academy Awards.

Jonathan Demme has 16 films to his credit including Beloved, the Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, Married to the Mob, Something Wild and Melvin and Howard.

Demme’s films have been nominated for 20 Academy Awards.

The Silence of the Lambs received five awards in 1991, nabbing Demme an Oscar for best director.

Besides being a critically acclaimed director, Demme is also a strong advocate of human rights.

He has produced and directed a number of documentaries about the Haitian plight for freedom.

Returning to the city that he used in two of his movies, Demme met with the press for a roundtable interview to discuss his latest work, The Truth about Charlie.

Q: Glad to be back in Philadelphia?
A: Absolutely. I love this city. I lived here for basically almost two years while making Philadelphia and Beloved. My children went to school here. I have friends here. This city is very special and has certain magic about it.

Q: Why did you choose to remake Charade?
A: I was looking for something that was light entertainment, a switching of gears from my last three pictures that were kind of heavy. I also thought [Charade] invited the opportunity to indulge in an aggressive and experimental movie style.

Q: This marks the second time you worked with Thandie Newton, you obviously enjoy working with her.
A: Thandie is an amazing actress with incredible depth, and I don’t think the world has seen that yet. I wanted to give her a more modern, 21st-century part. She hasn’t had a real contemporary role, well besides Mission Impossible 2, and in that she was little more then an action figure.

Q: It seems that French movies, actors and filmmakers really influenced the style of this movie, why?
A: Many of the French new-wave movies were what influenced me to become a filmmaker. I wanted to send little love letters to all the things I loved about French movies, but I didn’t want them to be intrusive to the movie, to disrupt the story for people who aren’t familiar with the French work.

Q: What elements of the original film did you feel where most important to retain?
A: The spirit of fun. Charade is a movie that’s basic premise is that it really invites the audience into a deal, that we are going to shift moods on you, play with you. From the very outset it announces that we are going to offer you a different kind of fun. Yes a thriller, but a thriller with a very active sense of humor. For example when the movie opens up, you find Thandie begging for her life, she falls out of frame, plunges into water, and then you discover that she was playing in a pool with a young boy. So from the very beginning this is a movie that is a mystery but still a great deal of fun.

Q: What was fun about making this movie?
A: I enjoyed creating a movie where there was a moment were several characters were unmasked. Like in the movie The Parent Trap, where everyone finds out who is really who.

Q: You admitted that your last several movies, Beloved, Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia were all a bit serious. Is it difficult to move from one genre or mood to another?
A: No, because we actually shot very different versions of the movie. During the editing process we discovered we had a much funnier movie and a much tougher movie. There were shots that were too silly or too strong. We actually scored the movie much darker, and that is when we started experimenting with the use of inappropriate music to lighten up the movie.

Q: What did you see in Mark Wahlberg that would make you cast him in a role played by Cary Grant in the original?
A: Nothing. I didn’t want to match Cary Grant’s magic. I wanted to go for a younger, more playful actor. I didn’t want to copycat the original. I also liked taking the idea of dropping Mark Wahlberg down into the middle of Paris and make him wear a beret and speak French.

Q: How much of this film is improvised?
A: The camera was constantly improvising. The actors were also always free to improvise lines. If the picture has a feel of improvisation, it is mostly because we were all so relaxed and having a lot of fun.

Q: This movie has an eclectic soundtrack. How involved are you in that and how do you go about it?
A: Very involved. Paris is the definitive musical crossroads of the world. Ancient classical music, popular American music, Middle Eastern music, Caribbean music, it is all there.

Q: In what ways can a soundtrack effect a film’s mood?
A: If the music is mysterious and energizing, exciting to hear, it is a way of getting edge into a sequence. With the right music you can get that edge and keep it fun without bringing in to much darkness. I didn’t want aggressive and dark music or anything melodramatic.

Q: Will you be returning to heavy drama as your next project, or staying in this light mode?
A: I can’t predict. I had an itch to scratch with this movie. I enjoy doing the light stuff, and I would love to do a hilarious side-splitting comedy. Something like Meet The Parents or Something About Mary.

Q: Many of your movies feature strong heroines surrounded by untrustworthy or downright-villainous men. Is that a conscious decision?
A: Well not a conscious decision. Although, I think I am very susceptible to a terrific woman in a real jam, surrounded by a bunch of guys who are not making her problem an easier. That can be said for Married to the Mob, Silence of the Lambs and certainly for The Truth About Charlie.

Matthew Ray can be reached at

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