The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Birdman.
How did you get involved initially with the film?
I got a call from my agent while I was in the middle of a different project, and he let me know that Alejandro wanted to meet me. And at first I was pretty disappointed, because we just couldn’t figure out how it’d work from a scheduling perspective. And I thought about it, gave it a day, and said to myself: Wait a minute. I’ve got to figure out a way to get out of here and fly out to meet him. These guys don’t come around very often; I need to have this meeting. I mean, anyone who has seen his films wants to work with him! We finally met for dinner, and we talked through our philosophies of how we work. He gave me the script that night, and I read it that night. And of course I knew right then that I wanted to do it, because it’s a brilliant script and I knew he had the ability to pull it off.
you’d better get it, and you’d better get it in every way imaginable.
Did you know from the start that you’d be shooting in New York, at the St. James Theatre, with a steadicam?
Well, he explained how he wanted to make it. I don’t know if at that time we quite had the St. James locked up. And you know the financing was really eleventh hour. I mean, I knew it was getting tight, but I didn’t know how tight. Alejandro told me a few days after we started how close it was to not happening! But his force of will is so great, it’s amazing anyone can ever say no to him. Even some of the cast came together at the last moment, which you’d never guess, since everyone works together so perfectly.
How did the emphasis on long takes challenge you?
Every way you can imagine. But you know, fear is – well, you shouldn’t live in fear, but a little bit of fear can be a great thing. It kind of wakes you up, gets you a little excited, and intensifies your senses. I kind of like it. With the long takes, it’s a little bit like an endurance test you know you can’t drop out of. You’ve got to go the distance, there isn’t going to be any edit to cover anything, you’ve got to capture the entire scene at once. You’ve got to pace yourself emotionally, since you don’t have the luxury of editing, or the ability to patch together fourteen takes to make one scene. So you’d better get it, and you’d better get it in every way imaginable. Not just accomplish not screwing up the scene, but accomplish the best-possible version of the scene. At every moment, you have to be truthful, because there just isn’t any other way to do it right.