Phillip, what makes a film about a political situation that ended more than a decade ago relevant in today's complicated and testy political landscape?
There are a lot of issues that a film like this inevitably brings up, but only inasmuch as any examination history is illuminating - because the mistakes of the past are repeated in the present and the future. We know that. If you're asking if there are any parallels to be drawn between wars that are fought today and the events of yesterday, the answer is absolutely not, because if anyone tries to compare the struggle for emancipation in South Africa with some of the acts of terror that are being committed today, they're crazy. There's no comparison whatsoever.
On the other hand, there are some cautionary tales that you can draw from this, for example, our need to be careful that our solutions don't make the problem worse, particularly in the way that we incarcerate and treat our enemies. Now that's a real issue that I think you can reflect back on these events and draw some conclusions, or at least food for thought, about today. But mainly, we made the film because it was a wonderful story, and an uplifting one.
Tim, did you get a sense of how a person like the one you play in the film contextualizes and makes sense of the role they played in fostering Apartheid?
Based on some of the people I met, I'd say there's bitterness and anger still there, a sense of betrayal. These guys were doing their jobs. They were made out to be the bad guys even though they were taking the moral weight on their shoulders for participating in this. I asked some of the guys why they hadn't left and they said they couldn't. They were at war. It would be like going AWOL, like abandoning your unit. You'd bring shame upon your family and could never go back if you left.
My character, I think, reflects that Afrikaner ex-special branch officer who was made out to be the bad guy while the people who set the policy wound up in mansions with very large pensions not shouldering the blame, not having to go before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
, not being blamed by history as being the bad guy. Not to justify or rationalize, but I had to find the humanity in these people.
PN: There seems to be a lot of self-hatred in that man, though, too.
Oh yeah, most of these guys wound up alone, wives leaving them after they found out what they had done. They had to keep it a secret all those years. One of the guys I talked to, his daughter is now in University, learning about what he did during Apartheid.
Tim, how has your ability to choose projects, and take on projects of this weight, changed since winning an Oscar?
Certainly helped us, I can tell you! When we said we had the Oscar-winner, they said, "It's a go picture." As quick as that.
[Laughs] I guess... I don't know how the issue works, really. I live in New York and stay away from the trades and all that.
It's all perception. That's how it works. When we managed to land you, you were up, man!
Tim, all of the films you've written and directed have had political underpinnings. Do you look for that in acting roles, too?
Certainly I'm interested in compelling stories. Going back to the Greeks, great drama is built on great struggles. At first when the theater had its conception, it was about the struggle between man and God and man's position in the universe and what happens if he messes with the order of things. Great stories have large canvasses, so I'm attracted to those.
Do you think you've paid a price for being socially conscious?
I don't think Altman
would have wanted to meet with me if I hadn't been vocal! [Laughs] I don't think there would be any need for any actor to be vocal if we had an opposition party in this country. The right has been effective intimidating thought and speech. I had a unique opportunity after coming out against the last Iraq war and being villainized in the press. Because when I went out in the street, the surprising thing was that I met with support. That told me there are a number of people out there who are against the war and for progressive politics. What the right has done is convince the majority that they are the minority.