BritFlick interview: Michael Caton-Jones

Movies can be peculiar, beguiling beasts – no other form of entertainment seems able to crawl under the skin quite like a controversial slice of cinema. So imagine the mental state of the director who stoops under the burden of two such frenzy-inducing flicks emerging into theatres on the same day… That helmer is Michael Caton-Jones and frankly, he doesn’t seem in the least bit bothered.

“I have two films opening on the same day, yeah sure,” the burly lenser says. “Shooting Dogs and Basic Instinct 2, about as different as two films can be because I don’t want to make the same things again and again.”

The 47 year-old Scotsman’s diverse career took off after 1989’s Brit thesp showcase Scandal and continued to climb with winged-war tale Memphis Belle and hitman remake The Jackal.

He’s dabbled with change in the past - taking the chair for Michael J Fox’s quack-in-the-country rom-com Doc Hollywood and following it up with the dark domestic abuse thriller This Boy’s Life, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

“I’m a professional director. I go where the work is,” he tells TF. Is that why he leapt from a tense political pot-boiler about the Rwandan genocide to directing Sharon Stone bumping uglies?

“No, that was for the money,” he says, ejecting a loud laugh as he makes sure TF doesn’t take him too seriously. “I wanted to jump to something else, a change of pace. Someone asked me if it was a busman’s holiday doing this movie after Shooting Dogs and I wish it bloody was – you could come in, make your money and get out quickly but this business can be miserable sometimes.”

Rumours of onset tension between the take-no-prisoners helmer and his equally immovable star are met with a frank response but also a non-committal one.

“For me, it’s very simple – she’s got a part to play and I can help her be good in it but if she screws around with me, I can help her be bad in it.” With Basic Instinct 2 comes an understanding that the occasional patch of flesh might have to be bared, so how does a new director go about earning his stars’ trust? “Just by being honest, being straight and making them realise that what you’re doing is making them look good. You always have to encourage an actor to be better.”

Having bossed sets boasting some of the biggest names in cinema, Caton-Jones will still pick and choose his projects carefully. He’s only lensed twelve movies in almost twenty years as a director.

His Shooting Dogs star John Hurt recently told TF that MCJ may not be a household name but that’s not something he strives for. He does, however, have a great reputation within the industry. “He’s got great respect, certainly,” Hurt said of the helmer he’s worked with no less than three times. “He’s a tremendous craftsman, he’s got films that have been terribly underrated.”

“That’s kind, very kind,” Caton-Jones responds with humility. “The size of the stardom has never really interested me. I’m left completely cold by it - the same goes for actors. It’s all about whether they’re right for the part and the discipline of the movie; they’re all moveable furniture to me,” he grins. And Sharon? “She’s terrific in this, she was right for it without a doubt.”

How about those whispers of the tenacious Miss Stone asking producers to up the ante on the sex scenes? “That’s between her and them,” he says with a smile. “There are sex scenes, I can confirm that. But you have to approach them as just another scene and you have to make sense of them, otherwise it would just be porn. In fact, it would be easier to shoot porn!”

So, porn aside, what’s next on the agenda for the prudent Brit? “I really don’t know. I’ve got two movies coming out on the same day, which I guess is God’s way of illustrating my genius but I’m available for weddings and bar mitzvahs after that.”

TF asks if life as a highly respected lenser is really that hard and Caton-Jones replies with a wry smile, “Put it this way - the older I get, it becomes more like pain and misery on a daily basis, with a couple of slivers of enjoyment and then you’re done.”

We don’t believe a word of it.

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