An Interview with Anthony Minghella, director of “Breaking and Entering”
BY KEVIN CARR
Anthony Minghella is the Oscar-winning director of “Breaking and Entering.” Minghella’s latest film stars Jude Law, Juliette Binoche and Robin Wright Penn. It is a departure from his more recent films in that is the first original screenplay from Minghella since his debut, “Truly Madly Deeply.” It also is a relatively small, independent film rather than a sweeping period piece, making it a more intimate project for the award-winning director.
Excepts from the interview follow. To hear the entire interview, click here.
7M: WHAT IS THE THEME OF “BREAKING AND ENTERING”?
Let me tell you about how it came about, and maybe that will be a way of describing a theme. After the last original film I made, “Truly Madly Deeply,” I tried to write this movie called “Breaking and Entering.” The idea of it was to examine how a marriage was unraveled and repaired by a break-in. I had an idea about a couple coming home from a dinner party who found that their house had been burgled. And when they did an inventory, they discovered that things had been added. What had been added had been indicative of the problems in their marriage.
I could never quite write that film, and I put it to one side. And when I was making “Cold Mountain,” I was renovating an office in London at the same time, and that office was hostage to several burglaries, and it reminded me of this idea.
If it has any theme, it is that sometimes things need to be broken before they can be fixed. That some kind of damage is the antecedent of something healing, so that was where I began.
7M: THIS FILM SEEMS TO HAVE AN OPTOMISTIC VIEW OF HUMAN NATURE. ARE YOU AN OPTIMIST?
Oh, I’m enormously optimistic. And if you look at “Truly Madly Deeply,” I think that shares the same sensibility that I think people are capable of great good. And I’m also intrigued by some strange correlation that’s been made, that the movie is true when it is nihilistic or when it ends in despair, and false if it ends in affirmation. I always had in my mind the idea of repair in this film.
I remember talking to somebody some years ago, a doctor, who was saying that scar tissue is much stronger than ordinary tissue. And there’s part of that in this movie. We live in a disposable culture where we throw things away when they’re not working or when they seem to need repair. And there’s a bit of a tendency to think of our emotional life in that way too, that if it’s problematic, we move on. And I suppose that part of me is intrigued at least to look at the consequences of sticking with things.
7M: ARE YOU DRAWN TO THE THEMES OF FORBIDDEN LOVE OR LOVE WITH OBSTACLES?
Sydney Pollack was reading to me from Peter Schaffer’s discussion of Shakespeare, and he said there are only two things that interest people in life, and that’s love and murder. And those are the two fundamental themes of all literature and all culture. I think I’ve done a bit of both in my work. There’s no substitute for those two ideas.
I am very interested in the small details of people’s lives set against the big events of history. That’s always something that I’ve loved. You get the close-up and the wide shot as it were in storytelling. That’s what made me fall in love with the cinema, those movies which seem have real scale and sweep, and yet still retained an interest in human beings. I’ve been making very big films with some small story elements to them, and this is a small film with some big story elements to it as far as I can see. I had such a strong need to see if I had anything to say after being hostage to other people’s wonderful books.
7M: IS IT BETTER OR MORE CHALLENGING TO WRITE YOUR OWN ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY?
You might accuse me of having original films based on other people’s novels because sometimes people have said I’ve moved so far from the source material in my adaptations. I’ve tried to make personal films from those books, even though they’re books that I’ve absolutely loved.
My job is not to do books on tape or books on video, but to see whether there are ways of finding another creative expression from a novel, to try and find a completely separate and distinctive piece of work that sits alongside the novel but is no substitute for the novel. I’m conscious that there’s a safety net in those books, and also there’s an obligation to people who’ve loved those novels. I’ve felt here that there’s no obligation to anything other than the city and the time and the people I created.
7M: HOW IS IT DIFFERNT DEALING WITH ACTORS YOU HAVE WORKED WITH BEFORE VERSUS NEW ACTORS?
It’s different, and better. Juliette Binoche is someone I’ve always wanted to find an opportunity to work with again because we had such an extraordinary time working on “The English Patient.” There’s a sense of shorthand between us, and I find her so exemplary as an actor. She’s devoted and free and honest and extraordinary. When you have that experience once, you want to repeat it.
Directors and writers leech actors. They’re very parasitical in other people’s talents and greedy for other people’s talents. And when you find talent behind the camera, you want to hold onto it. And I’ve held onto my crew for a very long time. And when you find it in front of the camera, you want to cling to it too. That’s the case with Juliette and obviously the case with Jude, who now I’ve made three movies in a row with. I never felt he’s let me down for a second. He’s a great accomplice and ally and enormously intelligent.
As a filmmaker, when you go to work every day, you want people who are a pleasure to be with, but also welcome other people onto the set. Your leading actors are often the hosts of the party that you’re witnessing. They either make it easy for the other actors, or they make it hard, and Jude is the person you most want to be in front of the camera in terms of the way he interacts with other actors and the crew.