Oliver Stone in Denver: Ten awesome quotes

RogerEbert.com editor Matt Zoller Seitz, Oliver Stone and Alamo Drafthouse General Manager Walter Chaw. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter
From left: RogerEbert.com editor Matt Zoller Seitz, film director Oliver Stone and Alamo Drafthouse Denver General Manager Walter Chaw. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone visited the Alamo Drafthouse in Littleton on Sunday to introduce perhaps his best- and least-known films: Natural Born Killers (1994) and the largely forgotten U-Turn (1997), the latter starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Jon Voight, Powers Boothe, Julie Hagerty (!), Claire Danes and Joaquin Phoenix. Based on a book and screenplay by John Ridley (Twelve Years a Slave), it’s about a man who is heading to Las Vegas to pay off a gambling debt until forced to stop at the broken-down desert town of Superior, Ariz.

Here are our 10 favorite things that came out of Stone’s mouth after the U-Turn screening, ranging from his thoughts on Will Ferrell as the epitome of all evil; to the shouting from Jennifer Lopez’s motel room while filming U-Turn; to the influence of the animated cat-and-mouse Tom and Jerry on his score; to the letter of recommendation he wrote for Claire Danes; to working with an insecure young actor named Donald Trump on Wall Street (“He doesn’t entertain failure”); to how our modern world has been driven to the brink of madness:

1 PerspectivesOn Sean Penn: Poor Sean. He put up with a lot. He was a replacement for Bill Paxton, who dropped out at the last second because he was freaked out by the role. Strange fellow. But Sean stepped in, and he helped us make the film – because it was really close to falling apart.

2 PerspectivesOn Jennifer Lopez: She was married at the time to a young Cuban, and the walls of that Arizona motel … man, talk about Latin temperament. There was a lot of banging and screaming. People would say, ‘I need sleep, so I can’t stay in the room next to Jennifer Lopez.’ Meanwhile, Sean Penn has got his eye on her, too, so there was this whole crazy jealousy thing going on. But Jennifer came to see me years later, after she had become “J.Lo.” She was another person completely now. It was after her third marriage or something. She said to me, ‘I want to go back. I want to make that kind of movie again. I just want to get real like that.’ Because she had been doing all that glittery stuff.

3 PerspectivesOn whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the subject of his upcoming film, Snowden: I am really not at liberty to say too much. Put it this way: He’s smart, he’s articulate, he cares very much, and it doesn’t matter that he’s in Russia. He could be anywhere in the world. He’s still connected by the Internet. This is a man who spends possibly 70 percent of his time on a computer. He keeps his contacts up. He participates in forums and discussions and lectures. And he is working very seriously on a constitution for the Internet, which we really need. Many, many people admire him. I find him in good spirits. I didn’t see any sign of depression. He has broadened his sense of humor. I showed him the film a couple of weeks ago (Snowden), and he responded very well.

4 PerspectivesOn the current presidential race: I am scared. But I don’t think the Republicans are the issue. Everyone wants to be stronger and stronger in terms of dealing with the world, but that’s not the right way to go about it. I believe in an international balance of power. I am concerned that Hillary Clinton is embraced by the neo-conservatives, or the liberal interventionists as I call them, because her policies, and Obama’s policies, and Bush’s policies have driven us to the edge of madness. We have created a mess in the Middle East with four interventions. Also Afghanistan and Libya. We are not effective as a military force abroad. We don’t need 800 military bases. We have to change our way of thinking. Sanders gets it, to some degree. And Trump, in his own way, actually gets it, too. He’s the only Republican who has come out and said outright: ‘Hey, that Iraq war was a stupid (bleeping) thing to do.’ And all these Republicans are shocked. The establishment is shocked. ‘How can you say that Mr. Bush screwed up?’ I mean, come on. It’s about time we wake up in this country. Let’s get real.

5 PerspectivesWorking with Donald Trump in Wall Street: He’s a smart dude. He’s funny. And yet, he’s an egomaniac and a narcissist, as you can see. I’ll never forget this: He jumped up after Take 1 of his scene with Michael Douglas and said, ‘How was I? I was great, wasn’t I?’ I said, ‘Donald, it was good, but I think you can do better.’ I got him to do nine or 10 takes, and he would jump up after every one and say the same thing. ‘How was I?’ He doesn’t entertain failure.            

6 PerspectivesOliver Stone and Alamo Drafthouse General Manager Walter Chaw. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenterOn U-Turn actors Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes: They really did a turn in this film. This was before they became really famous. They were both such fun. It was a delight. Sean Penn’s character says, “Is everybody in this town on drugs?” And that’s the overall feeling of the movie. You have to be free and you can’t care. Claire was not hot at that point. She had done Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio, and he took off from that movie. She … less so. So by the time U-Turn came along, she was happy to grab it. She was going back to Yale at that point, and she wanted me to write her a letter of recommendation. I had flunked out of Yale, but I wrote it anyway. She always thanked me for that. She is a wonderful actress.

7 PerspectivesOn who he looks up to: It would be easier for you to give me a list with everyone on it and I could tell you who to take off. Most of the people would stay on it. Stanley Kubrick was a big deal for me when I was young. So was Federico Fellini. So was Jean-Luc Godard and Luis Buñuel. In my generation: Francis Ford Coppola, of course. Martin Scorsese. William Friedkin. In this generation: Alejandro Iñárritu has done a tremendous job. Birdman is an interesting philosophical story. So is The Revenant. He’s got talent. A lot of other people do, too. I think this Adam McKay, who did The Big Short, is very smart. He’s very good with dialogue, too.

On8 Perspectives the Foley cartoon sounds in U-Turn: The music was by Ennio Morricone, and he has a beautiful history. He not only some wrote Sergio Leone classics but also 1900, which I think is one of the most beautiful scores ever written. He’s written for so many people. I wanted him to do two things for me: One was this love theme, which I thought was tremendous. But the rest of it – he didn’t do it right. And he is not the easiest guy to get along with, if you talk to most people. He knew the game: His contract said he would never come back to the United States. So there would be no rewrites. When he delivered the score, the love theme was there. But the rest was not what I wanted. So I had to bring him back, and he was really (bleeped) off. That was a rough three days. I was trying to make him understand what I wanted, because I can’t put it into musical terms. I can only express it. I wanted the music he had done for Leone, only modernized with those reverbs and those exaggerated sounds. I call it kind of a cartoon sound. That booinnnng sound. He just didn’t seem to get it. I was desperate, so I showed him a cartoon of Tom and Jerry. I said, ‘That’s sort of what I want.’ He was so upset. He said: “You want me to write cartoon music? You brought me back to America for this?” He gave me what I wanted on a second pass, thank God. He’s still a (bleep) but … I am glad to see he got an Oscar. Not for his best music (The Hateful Eight). Probably his worst score, in fact. But he I am glad to see he got an Oscar.

Oliver Stone Quote Will Ferrell Zoolander 2

9 PerspectivesOn Oliver Stone’s movie recommendations: You might boo me for this, but I was laughing my head off when I saw Zoolander 2. The critics all turned on it, They said it was dreck. But it’s very witty. Very well-written. And Will Ferrell has never been better as the incarnation of all evil. I say this seriously: You see evil in my movies, but when you see this movie, you will see evil. The way evil has become in the modern world.

10 PerspectivesAdvice to a first-time filmmaker: Get a good night’s sleep. That’s very important. Stay healthy. Eat well. It’s exhausting. I find directing is like being the host of a giant party. You are trying to put through your vision of a film, if you have one, and you are going to find there are a lot of impediments to that. It takes inner grit.    

Read Oliver Stone’s interview with The Denver Post

Denver Actors Fund Presents …
Ragtime, directed by Milos Forman
Benefit screening 6 p.m. Monday, March 14, at Alamo Drafthouse
With a live pre-screening performance by the Performance Now Theatre Company
7301 S Santa Fe Dr, Littleton, 80120

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