Robert Altman Gosford Park

Robert Altman Gosford Park

EXCLUSIVE Robert Altman/Gosford Park Interview by Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.

For three decades Robert Altman has remained on the periphery of mainstream Hollywood, yet his films have continued to shake the boundaries of cinematic convention, while at the same time remain engaging, exciting, human and comic. All of those adjectives best describe his "Gosford Park", part murder mystery, part social satire on British class. Altman just received a Golden Globe nomination and it's quite possible it could be the director's most honoured film to date. Paul Fischer spoke to Altman about the film, M*A*S*H and his love of actors.

Robert Altman, at a youthful 77, has lost none of his acerbic wit. The venerable director of some of American cinema's modernist classics, from M*A*S*H and Nashville in the seventies, to more recent successes such as "The Player" and "Short Cuts". His latest film, "Gosford Park", is another ensemble piece, part murder mystery, part social satire on the British class system, whose tone is uniquely British. "The writer's wife is a lady in waiting for Princess Michael of Kent, so we wanted to be sure that we got all the protocols right cause I didn't want to be the ugly American coming over and making a film about England," the crusty filmmaker elucidates.

Altman points out that while "Gosford Park" may indeed be quintessentially British, this Kansas native insists that "it always takes someone from the outside to come in and give you a really kind of balanced look at what's happening in culture. I would venture to say that if you took at all the films that were made in Britain about this kind of period stuff, that we were probably more correct and detailed then any of the others. We were very, very careful that this was set properly and that all that stuff is done because I didn't want to suffer that thing:' What's an American doing in a British film?' "

In over three decades of filmmaking Altman has rarely made the same film twice, and he adds that part of the appeal for "Gosford Park" was the notion of getting his teeth into a classic whodunit. "This was a genre I had never done before and that's all I look for every time. I'm not a very creative person coming up with ideas; I don't care much about stories in films. I look at films more like paintings and I look for a genre that the audience knows and will be kind of comfortable with: Oh I know what this kind of thing is' and then I just like to give it a little turn."
Altman's style has often been defined by his multi-character format, one that has attracted large and impressive casts; "Gosford Park" is no exception, and the director says that he is just very comfortable with it "and also I find it is very effective in that if something doesn't work you can just slowly cut away to something else that DOES work."

Making these ensemble films enables Altman to work with a large variety of actors. He is one of the few directors who has a genuine love and admiration for those with whom he works in front of the cameras. "They do all my work for me. I love actors because I don't understand how they can do what they do, I don't understand their process, I don't know how they can do that, and I'm always in awe; I think they are remarkable creatures."

Altman does admit that shooting these multi-character storylines means keeping certain plot lines to the fore and strands of stories can often dissipate. "You lose pieces of stories", but the actors don't, Altman adds. "You could look at a person and think: Oh, this sort of thing is happening, but you don't have to know what happened to him and you don't know what happens until the end credit comes up and says 'the end'. They kiss, walk into the bungalow and they say happy ending, and yet three months later he has murdered her; I mean all kinds of things happen in people's lives." For Altman, the only ending he knows about is death. "The rest of it is stopping places, and there's the honeymoon: Oh I had a great honeymoon, then you know, then there is another 40 years of absolute agony and pain." That is precisely how Altman views his own life as one of America's foremost artists and perhaps the veteran director is still in his honeymoon phase? "I keep changing partners all the time. Each film is a whole new experience, a whole new child; I'm making a new baby. And you tend to love your least successful children the most." Not that he will reveal favourites. "You tell me which of my films you like the least and I'll probably tell you THAT'S the film that I like the most."

30 years on and Robert Altman continues to make films that are challenging and provocative, and he shows no signs of slowing down. He is next ready to shoot a new film to be written by former protégé Alan Rudolph. "He has helped me and I have helped him; we are together a lot and we came up with this thing and I'm going to direct it. It's going to be fun."


Copyright © 2001 -, a Company - All rights reserved.