Almost a year ago, I ran an extended interview with William Monahan for his directorial debut London Boulevard. Starring Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Anna Friel, Jamie Bower, David Thewlis, Ray Winstone, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, and Ben Chaplin, the film is about a man just released from prison (Farrell) who falls in love with a reclusive young movie star (Knightley) and finds himself in a duel with a vicious gangster (Winstone). At the time, the movie was about to hit theaters in the United Kingdom, and our wide-ranging conversation covered the making of the film and all the other projects he was involved with. When I posted the interview, I said it was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had with any filmmaker.
However, with London Boulevard now available on VOD in the United States and hitting theaters November 11, I recently sat down with Monahan again and we have bested our last conversation. During our 45 minutes conversation we covered everything from his thoughts on VOD and what changes were made to the film, the digital revolution, the crime genre, writing dialogue, and working with actors. In addition, he gave me updates on The Departed sequel/prequel, Sin City 2, The Gambler, Tripoli, Becket, Mojave (which might be his next film), and revealed there is another version of Kingdom of Heaven that no one has seen. Hit the jump for more.
- Even though London Boulevard opened in the UK quite a while ago, he hasn’t made any changes to the film for its US release.
- During the editing process, he took out 20 minutes from the film. He would have liked to keep that footage in, but he says there will never be another cut of London Boulevard.
- He didn’t know that nearly an hour of footage had been cut from Kingdom of Heaven until he saw it in theaters, but says he didn’t care. He’s learned “to be a professional and not a precious author” in the business quickly.
- He recently learned that there’s an original cut of Kingdom of Heaven that no one has seen.
- The rights to his novel Light House were purchased by Warner Bros., but Monahan says if it ever becomes a movie it would be an indie comedy and not a big movie.
- On Oblivion/Horizons, he wrote one draft of the script and revised it a little bit after director Joe Kosinski went and talked to Disney. He hasn’t been involved with the project since then.
- A remake of The Gambler for director Martin Scorsese is his next job. He’s going to change the setting for the remake. He’s also dipping back into the Dostoevsky original for his take on the material.
- He’s currently finishing up Sin City 2 for Robert Rodriguez. He’s been working on the script for four weeks. He says his job on the project is “essentially to be Frank Miller.”
- Regarding The Departed sequel, his idea for the film is to set it before, during, and after the action of the first film, with all the actors coming back. The middle section of the sequel would be actions that take place during the original Departed, but aren’t onscreen in the original.
- He says Warner Bros. wanted to see a synopsis of The Departed sequel, but he doesn’t do synopses or pitches. If Warner Bros. can come up with the money for all the actors to come back, he says they could do the sequel at anytime. But he doesn’t know if the film will ever happen.
- Monahan is producing The Art of the Heist and The Chaser.
- He plans to be shooting his next film as a director in March. It will most likely either be Becket or an original thriller called Mojave. If Becket gets together before that time, that will be his next film, but if it doesn’t come together then he’ll move right into Mojave in Los Angeles.
- Tripoli never officially went into turnaround at Fox. Monahan owns the original script, but Fox owns the rights to further development drafts, so he says sooner or later it’s going to be an issue and they’re going to have to come to some arrangement.
And before getting to the full conversation, here’s the trailer for London Boulevard. It’s definitely worth seeing on the big screen.
Collider: So to start things off, how did IFC get involved in the film? Also, I noticed the film is on VOD right now and then it goes theatrical. You’re at the forefront of the Video On Demand revolution. Thoughts on VOD?
Monahan: Well, it’s the way everything’s going to come out in the future, and that’s a good thing. I’m in the film business and honestly I haven’t been in a cinema in a year. I were still in Manhattan, walking, I would be at the theater more regularly, because it’s a contextual part of life. In truth, the cinema as a delivery system obviously has its days numbered. And that’s not a bad thing. When you can buy any book in the world on your iPad, or off Amazon, you don’t go the public library. The public library becomes about homeless gentlemen sleeping in chairs. I didn’t have anything to do with selecting IFC. I don’t have anything to do with distribution, or business, or marketing, but think it’s a good choice by Graham, and perfect for London Boulevard. It gets the picture straight into a dialog with the public, and it doesn’t set the sights too high. They’re very hip at IFC, and they get the film. The cineplex hasn’t done film any favors as an art form.
London Boulevard came out in the UK awhile back and it’s now just hitting the States. Did you make any changes to the movie since it’s UK release?
Monahan: No, there have been no changes at all. This is the print that’s been around the world. I’m most excited that it’s hitting America now, because it gets to be looked at by 300 million people who have no skin in the British class system. I’d like to put 20 minutes back in, but no film gets out these days that you can’t say that about. I started out as a writer with an hour removed from Kingdom of Heaven. You have to make one print for the entire world, and that’s something that influences the theatrical cuts of pictures to an enormous degree. It’s a reality. You can’t have one cut for the Sunni, and one for the Shia, and one each for Tories, Whigs, vegetarians, one cut for the Cineplex, and one for literary intellectuals. I cut London Boulevard pretty aggressively, but I liked the transitions and the elliptical feel that I got. It’s not an exceptionally easy film to follow. You have to know that the paparazzo looks like Mark David Chapman. He hasn’t got an expositional sign on him.
Monahan: Refreshing honesty has been getting me in trouble since I was five, but it’s probably had some positive effects—like not being a liar.
You mentioned that you took out 20 minutes. Is there a chance that footage could see the light of day on its home video release. Are you a fan of “directors cuts” or “extended cuts” or do you believe the removed footage should be placed in a separate section for deleted scenes. Also, is the 20 minutes of footage a lot of little cuts or are there a lot of whole scenes? And did you remove any storyline that you felt didn’t work in the editing room?
Monahan: There’s not going to be another cut of London Boulevard. I’m done. This is it. I’m a huge fan of director’s cuts or reassemblies if they’re good, but I remember being really excited about the restored version of Apocalypse Now, and then I preferred the original film. Kingdom of Heaven as a director’s cut is the real picture, but in fact someone recently told me that there was another cut, the original first cut, which he said was just extraordinary. I’ve never seen it—and of course now I want to, if it exists, and so would everybody else. I don’t want to talk about alternate cuts of London Boulevard. Maybe we’ll see it and maybe we won’t. It’s only recently in history that doing another version of a film became even an option and it’s not real to me as an artist. I already did London Boulevard. The record’s cut, and it’s out in America.
You bring up the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven. As you know, I absolutely love Kingdom of Heaven and think it’s one of those films from the past decade that’s really been overlooked by critics and film fans. I have to ask…when did you first find out the film would be released without some critical plot points and almost 45 minutes of footage? And what did you learn from the process of making that film and it’s release?
Monahan: I didn’t know anything about the cut of Kingdom of Heaven until I went in to see it in Manhattan at a screening. And I didn’t give a damn if there were a hundred minutes out of it. What got through was a marvel, and it still is. When the 20th Century Fox fanfare came up I nearly passed out, and when I saw “Written by William Monahan” directly after “Directed by Ridley Scott” I nearly had an aneurysm. What I learned on Kingdom of Heaven, because it was cut, is that people who have not read a script, look at a finished film and assume that what they are looking at is the realized script. In The Departed this was true, and I was glad of it, but it was not true in the case of the theatrical Kingdom of Heaven, and it has not been true on any produced film except The Departed. You learn to be a professional and not a precious author rather quickly. You learn to take your lumps, and appreciate what’s on the screen, not what isn’t, for whatever reason. It’s not losing a child. It’s business. You can have great victories or lesser victories but nothing’s a loss. Someone very wise said to me recently “I’ve got final cut, mate, but if I don’t make changes they don’t put in the P&A.”
I’d imagine you do research when you’re writing a script. What’s the typical way you make sure the dialogue you’re writing sounds accurate and the scenes feel real?
Monahan: On historical you take the known facts, dramatize them, and then stitch them together by invention. It’s a projective thing. Tripoli is based on nothing more than the bare bones facts that William Eaton was the United States consul at Tunis, and after the capture of the Philadelphia frigate, he was given gold by Commodore Preble to collect Hamet Bashaw, the “right Bashaw” of Tripoli, marched on Tripoli to effect a military coup, and his expedition was betrayed at Derna. The rest is me. The dialog situation is simply a matter of working in the English of the time, and at the time I wrote Tripoli I was or had been deep into Byron’s letters, and the letters of other Regency writers, and the correspondence of their American contemporaries, but that’s not research, per se. If one didn’t know that English already, one might not have formed an interest in the period at all. Tripoli is set in a time when America was brand new, and an underdog. If you don’t know, or hope, that American envoys at one time never bowed to any monarch, you wouldn’t be writing Tripoli. No one wants a reporter writing their historical drama. You want a dramatist doing it. It helps to know a shitload of details, but you’re doing imaginative work. Shakespeare wasn’t doing history, he was doing Shakespeare. And none of us is Shakespeare, especially the Earl of Oxford, but that’s how you work. It’s worth pointing out with Anonymous going up on screens now that dramatic writing is magical, not material. The anti-Stratfordian argument has no basis except in people’s confusion and even anger about the nature and distribution of talent.
Monahan: You have conversations. I’m usually the first guy to propose a change because I’m continuing my process. We’re in a context, in this business, a context in which most screenplays work on a very modest level of achievement, in that a lot of them aren’t really written by what you would call writers. They’re done by guys who have talked a good game and then have scrambled together the simulacrum of a drama, so actors are habituated to sometimes having to save a picture on the floor because it’s usually part of their job, but they’d rather have a writer doing his job, so that they can do theirs. But I like nothing better than working with actors.
A lot of your credits have a criminal element viewed from both sides of the process. What is it about crime that you like as a cinematic device?
Monahan: A criminal has a kind of freedom by definition that the ordinary citizen doesn’t have. The criminal’s able to realize himself in ways not available to the general population, if you want to put it that way. They’re interesting and unpredictable. Characters always have to break some sort of bound or other to be interesting. It also helps if they’re paradoxical. One of the things that was absolutely true about Colin’s character in London Boulevard is that he was paradoxical; very violent, very sensitive, very much not this standard issue B-movie character trying to stay out of trouble after getting out of prison. He wants to get out of London entirely. That’s why, in the film, he’s dressed as an American, with his blue shirt and his desert boots, blues and browns, sort of the colors of Los Angeles, where the film ends up. And of the desert, which is where I’m going to shoot next. Doing crime films…maybe it’s to some extent a matter of taste. Certainly my first novel had a criminal element and was about the similarity of criminals and artists. Pretextually, it was sort of a money bag thriller. But it was aggressively not what it seemed to be. It was kind of Duchamps.
I believe Warner Bros. optioned your book.
Monahan: Yeah, they did. That was Gore Verbinski. Gore Verbinski optioned Light House when it was in galleys at Penguin-Putnam. There was a very funny thing that happened, which may have had an effect on steering me towards movies. If I can give a young author any advice, whatsoever, never let anyone announce the film sale of your first novel. Film rights are sold to almost every novel, but it shouldn’t be the lead story in your first engagement with the press. Then you end up getting reviews like “a novel made for the screen” and things like that. The novel ceases to be looked at as a novel. Such is the overwhelming power of motion pictures. Gore Vidal pointed out that the movies are the only thing anybody’s really interested in. The association with movies and movie money can, and certainly did in my case, occlude a novel as a novel. Certainly some guy eating cardboard in Cincinnati has lost any ordinary impetus to review your novel decently if he’s just read you just got six figures out of Warner Bros—which incidentally was not true.
If I’m not mistaken, you own the rights to the novel?
Monahan: I own the novel Light House. I bought it back. As a film project, I think there’s a minuscule amount of money against it at Warner Bros.
Obviously this is an important work to you. Is it something that you’d want to circle back? Is it a movie or is it something that you’re happy exists just as a novel?
Monahan: It would make a decent movie. But by no means would it ever be a big movie. It’s definitely an indie comedy, which I think is the determination that was made at Warner Bros. [laughs]
There’s a digital revolution going on in Hollywood. Things are changing: the business model is changing, video on demand, films being made on micro-budgets. There’s so much out there. You just directed your first feature. What is bubbling up for you to possibly do? Is the novel something you’d want to circle back to down the road?
Monahan: Novels are something I just walked away from when I went to work for Ridley [Scott] ten years ago. Maybe more than ten years ago. The novel may be dead as a commercial form. When art forms things die as commercial forms, something happens to the practice of those arts that isn’t very pleasant. It used to be that a poet like Tennyson could keep his house and his coach-and-four and his staff of six servants on the income from poetry. That doesn’t happen anymore. Poetry died as a commercial form and then it died as a serious art form. No one serious touches it. It used to be that somebody like F. Scott Fitzgerald could make a high middle-class income from working as a short story writer for the Saturday Evening Post and other outlets. That doesn’t happen anymore. It used to be that a legitimate playwright could make a living on Broadway from writing decent plays. [Eugene] O’Neill made a living, certainly, at least. But each of these forms have sort of died the death in turn, and it’s a simple fact of that universe that talent then migrates away from these forms, and then the amateurs get in, like lunatics in the ruins, sort of pretending to be artists. If you’re ambitious enough to want to be a writer to begin with, you want to be a writer in some circumstances where there are rewards, where there’s notice, where you don’t have to be a teacher, and where you’re frankly not nuts for wasting your time. For me, film has been good because I’m able to work at top crack, working at something I love to do, in the only literary form in which you can still make money. There are no famous novelists, not as novelists used to be famous. I’ve got things I have to do in fiction to sort of register my existence, before I kick the bucket, but it will never be my living and I know it. Plus it never moved fast enough for me and lacked cut and thrust. I need to be in the real show.
Also, there are a lot of people now writing books in their spare time who are now publishing e-versions of their books for 99 cents, being sold for Amazon or iBooks. The digital revolution is affecting all aspects of the writing process.
Monahan: That’s absolutely true, but one problem with the digital revolution, which may tie into what I said earlier, is that there can be a collapse of quality. You may not have liked the decisions made by publishers in the past, you may not have liked the decisions made by magazine editors or newspaper editors in the past. At least there was some quality control. There are frankly times when your poem about the fucking springtime should not be in print. It’s just not good enough. We both know that there are websites out there doing news which are absolutely out of fucking control. They aren’t doing news, they don’t have an editor who came out of J-school, they don’t have a lawyer…
I’m really nervous that you’re talking about Collider. [laughs]
Monahan: I’m not. I’m talking about the web as a sort of graffiti universe where they throw up incendiary shit, hope it sticks and gets picked up and then hope it’s really hard for the lawyers to find them. Ebooks are very handy, and it’s invaluable to be able to go online and grab any work you like the minute you think of it. But the web is to some degree a broth of psychopaths seeing what they can get away with in circumstances of anonymity. Look, we live in a world where one is unsafe in various ways because of the Internet. Anything can be said. Someone can look at your house from space.
You directed London Boulevard. I spoke to you a year ago and you talked about Becket. I’m imagining that directing is now in the blood. What are you thinking about for your next picture? Are there multiple things that are there?
Monahan: Yeah, it’s very much in the blood. It’s been very much in the blood since I started imagining films or shooting with 8mm when I was a kid. I made some films and thought about films, but then I went into writing. Becket is something that’s definitely on the cards. We have to see where that fits in the schedule, because it’s a big picture and I have a lot of writing obligations at the moment. I’m wary of anything with a budget over a certain amount. I have no reason as a director to have films go up in versions that I don’t like. My only experience of film after ten years is honestly that if a picture doesn’t get second-guessed you’re looking at four Oscars, and if a picture does get second-guessed, you’re not. I’ve got an advanced degree in that lesson.
No matter what you’re thinking about doing next, is it going to be something you want to write and direct?
Monahan: Yeah, well I can’t see a situation where I wouldn’t at least re-write as a director something I was going to direct. At the moment, I wouldn’t direct anything that I hadn’t written. I can now say, as everybody else says, that it all depends on the script.
Monahan: There’s stuff coming in. Nobody at the moment really knows me as a director because nobody in this country has seen London Boulevard. Nobody in Los Angeles has seen London Boulevard yet. The visual style has led to some commercials offers, oddly enough, but I can’t do that. Stuff comes in, “Would Bill consider this, would Bill consider that?” Directing one’s second film is nothing one’s representatives want to move to the front, let me say. If I direct London Boulevard, for example, I’m off the map for a year and a half, if not longer than that, between shooting and post. I make far less money as a director than I do as a screenwriter. So when I finally say, “This is my second picture,” let’s just say you can’t get agents to light up when you announce that you’re going to burn two years of your prime as an artist for a fraction of your usual income. And let’s face it: I got badly hurt in Britain. But come what may I’ll be shooting in the spring of 2012, even if I take a big job that I’m talking about now.
There was a week or a few weeks when your name was attached to a lot of different things. How are you balancing all of this stuff? Was everything that was reported accurate or was it all a little too far in advance?
Monahan: Well, you’ll have to tell me what’s being reported. As far as executing work is concerned, you do it all in order. You do it in contractual order. There’s no overlap, it’s just continuation of your ordinary work. You move from one project into another.
Monahan: Well, I think we talked about that before. I told you the way that I work in Massachusetts. I have a library room with four desks in it. On one of them is a spec, on one of them is a present work, on one of them is reading for a future work, on another desk is a novel I’m not doing until I’m a hundred and fifty, and things like that. But, contractually speaking, you just do one at a time when it’s on and paid and live. You do your real day on one project and the rest is just literary life. Or intrusions.
You worked on Oblivion/Horizons. What was that experience like?
Monahan: I wrote the first script for Joe after we went and talked to Disney. I had a one-step deal. I wrote the script and then I revised it a little bit, but one draft is all they had me for. So I moved on to other work after that. I don’t have any idea what the script looks like now. I’ll be interested to see the picture.
I read in Variety or the Reporter that possibly The Gambler is something you guys are working on?
Monahan: Yeah, that’s my next job.
So you haven’t started writing it yet?
Monahan: No, I’m finishing up Sin City now and I’ll move directly into The Gambler.
What is it about The Gambler that speaks to you and excites you?
Monahan: Dostoyevsky. I’m going to reset it in a place I’m not going to mention.
It wouldn’t be Boston by any chance?
Monahan: No, no, certainly not Boston. I’m going to reset it in a place that’s very interesting to me at present and dip a little bit back into the Dostoevsky original.
It’s obviously already been made, The Gambler. Is there anything from the other version that’s going to seep its way in or is this a complete reimagining?
Monahan: It has a good structure. I’ll see how it goes. There are things like the Nazi-hunting angle which are obviously outdated by now. I like the structure. I don’t think the picture is the Passion of St. Theresa, but I think it’s pretty good. If it was unsurpassable I wouldn’t touch it. It’s very 70s. There’s always a great hue and cry when you sign onto a “remake,” and that’s always been sort of annoying me and freaking me out. This profession that we’re in is drama. What drama has been since the beginning is, you restage plays with new casts, or a writer will take a new run at an old story…I don’t have an aversion to quote unquote remakes, because I understand what dramatic writing is, what the dramatic profession has always been about, which is talent, not the pretext for its exhibition. When someone bitches about remakes you know you’re not talking to an English major. There’s a particular mentality, usually male, where men need to insist on the supremacy of one thing, whether it’s a film or a band or a sports team or a motorcycle. It’s like, dude, no one gives a shit, all motorcycles are good, find another way to define yourself.
I’m excited to see your name attached to Sin City 2. To be honest with you, I was very shocked and very happy. How did you first get attached to that?
Monahan: I don’t know, I guess Robert (Rodriguez) went to my agents and asked if I was available. I had a conversation with him and it just went on for two week periods with a reading period in between them. It’s terrific stuff, I love being in that Sin City world and being able to do that hard-boiled kind of thing.
They’ve talked about doing Sin City 2 for years. Is this one of those projects where they’re gunning to get started at a certain point and is there pressure to get the script done?
Monahan: I wouldn’t know anything about that. It’s not the sort of conversation I’d have. I just had a creative conversation.
Monahan: I should qualify my previous response about making things your own when you write them. In this case, my job is essentially to be Frank Miller. I have to, as an improvisational actor, be Frank Miller while simultaneously being Monahan. It’s pretty cool because as a screenwriter, as a dramatist, what you’re doing all the time is inhabiting characters and improvising. In writing drama, there’s a great component of being an improvisational actor and there’s also a component of being an improvisational writer who can inhabit another personality and deliver something in the correct tone. Frank Miller is emphatically Frank Miller. That’s what I wanted to see in Sin City and that’s what I want to see in Sin City 2.
How long have you been actually working on the script?
Monahan: Monday will be the end of my fourth week.
Were you able to create any “Monahan” characters from scratch to add into this script?
Monahan: No, they are the Frank Miller characters.
I’m assuming that you’re writing this knowing that it’s going to be an R-rated picture.
Monahan: Was the first one R-rated? Oh God, it must have been, yeah. I wasn’t even thinking about that. There’s a whole class of shit I never think about. I was just about ready to let my twelve year old watch something the other day and my wife said, “You can’t do that. It’s too bloody.” And I said, “What do you mean ‘it’s bloody?’” Then I watched it and went, “Oh yeah, it is”. But the kids are never frightened by movies because they know especially well that movies are made up. It’s interesting to think that my children know more about the process than many mature critics.
Any teasers for the fans? Something they should be excited about or something that you’re really happy with?
Monahan: I think they should be excited that there’s a second Frank Miller movie coming out with Robert doing it, because Robert’s excited and I’m certainly excited to be able to work on this material. It’s going like a rocket.
Monahan: No. I think Warner Bros. would have liked to see a synopsis of it. I don’t do synopses and I don’t pitch. Personally, I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen. I know the film, I’ve got the film in my head. Even if everybody didn’t come back, which they could in the film as I’ve configured it, it would be a hell of a paycheck for somebody to write. The film would have to be absolutely superb.
Would you be in the future but go back to the past to tie it all together?
Monahan: My idea actually is to set the film before, during and after the action of the first film, which I think would be extraordinary. If those guys want to cough up the dough, we can do it any time.
Is it one of these films that’s dependent on you seeing the original Departed or can it exist on its own?
Monahan: Essentially, in the middle section of the thing I’ve intended, you’d see actions that take place during the original Departed, but aren’t on screen in the original Departed. There would be off-screen things that occur at that point in the story. But it would work seamlessly as a movie of its own.
Titles like Confessions of Pain, The Essex, The Associate, The Art of the Heist, The Chaser…have you worked on any of these?
Monahan: The Chaser I’m just a producer on. Confessions of Pain, I believe has gone away, though it’s a good script. The Essex is a very big one that dates from about the time of Tripoli. It’s a huge movie set in roughly the same period. The Art of the Heist is a book that was optioned. I didn’t write a script for it, I was a producer on it. I think somebody said I was going to direct it but that was never actually the case. It’s set in Boston and I’d rather do a picture set in Albania than go back to Boston. I did Boston. I wanted nothing to do with The Town, but perhaps I was wrong because Ben had a success with it. The Chaser is with Roy Lee and Dan Lin, who’s a producer at Warner Bros. They have a very good script and that may be heading quickly towards production, but I’d let them give you the details about it. I didn’t work on the script. I’m a producer on the film.
Being a producer, what excites you and what challenges are there in the industry?
Monahan: I expect that as my company (Henceforth) evolves, as it’s doing, that I’ll start doing a lot more producing, both in film and television. I’m merely a creative. I don’t fool with raising money. But I can identify a project and a writer and put them together and that’s what producing is. I’m doing several things in Britain. I really think you have to have a UK presence and an American presence, so I’ve moved in that direction. Producing’s never going to take over my life, because I write. I’m not always available for conversations.
Is The Gambler something you envision taking many months? Have you envisioned what’s down the road?
Monahan: I’m going to write The Gambler, which I don’t think will take very long. There’s a possibility of another picture which I’m in talks about right now. I think, one way or another, I’m going to be shooting a film come March, whatever work stands between now and then. I definitely will be directing something at that time, I just don’t know what it is. What I have right now is an original thriller called Mojave. If Becket gets together before March, then I’ll do Becket. If it doesn’t get together before March then I’m going to go immediately into Mojave here in Los Angeles.
What did you lean in the London Boulevard process that you take away to apply toward future films and future projects?
Monahan: I went into directing having observed and learned from the best. There was a certain standard of procedure. I found that I was equal to it. I thoroughly enjoyed directing, I liked it a lot. It’s very satisfactory to see that you can do it. The art takes care of itself. The real issue is can you keep 200 people moving and happy. Everybody sits around waiting for you to make the mistakes of a first time director, whether it’s indecision or freezing on the cliff face or not knowing what to fucking do, or something like that, and I never did. I learned from Ridley how to come out of the trailer at a fast walk and make your decisions and keep it going. We were very much on time and under budget, as they say. That was a very important thing for me and very satisfactory.
What do you think the quintessential “Boston” movie is?
Monahan: The Departed [laughs]. Good Will Hunting, also, except for Robin Williams’ accent. Some of the things in it are just great: “Cause fuck it.” “Cause fuck it’s” a very Boston line. I loved Good Will Hunting. A friend of mine called up baked, watching Good Will Hunting, and he said, “Hey, man. They made a movie about us.”
If you could make a period piece in any period that’s not the 12th century, when would you choose?
Monahan: The era I love most is the Federal period, just after the Revolution and the formation of the United States. The birth of America as a nation coincided with the Romantic era and I’ve always been thoroughly into the Romantics and I’ve always been thoroughly into America, particularly at the time when it was a brand new idea, when it was something brand new in the world. It was a very exciting time in the world because of the birth of America. It’s also an interesting period in which to look at the United States because it’s a period in which the United States was an underdog. An underdog nation with no Navy, and of course that’s what Tripoli is about. Tripoli is set in 1804. The Essex, which would be a mammoth production, is set in the War of 1812. Tripoli isn’t really an epic. Tripoli is a tragic drama enacted in the open air on the coast of North Africa. I don’t think there’s ever more than 100 people on screen at one time throughout the entire picture. It’s not quite the titanic picture one thinks. It could be done for 30. You can get epic effects without epic expenses. I think in Tripoli, the only possible CG thing would be the Constitution opening fire on Tripoli.
Who owns the rights right now?
Monahan: For one reason or another, Tripoli never officially went into turn-around at Fox because of some paperwork snafu. So we’re in a situation where the underlying rights, which means the original script, reverted to me. Fox owns what are referred to as “sterile drafts,” which means they own these further development drafts but they’re not able to do anything with them. Sooner or later, it’s going to be an issue and we have to come to some sort of arrangement.