So it was a learning experience, a very difficult and heartbreaking experience sometimes,
but also a very satisfying experience, artistically, a great opportunity. I think making that and then going back and making the Pusher
films, which is so opposite, has also been a great experience. Don't forget, filmmaking, you know, you never stop learning. People who do that miss the point. It is something you constantly have to evolve with and always challenge yourself. If doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger. I ended up going bankrupt because of that film.
You mean you put your own money into it?
Oh, yeah. And that's what propelled me to make Pusher II
It was the debts that you racked up from making Fear X that inspired you to turn back to the genre pool of Pusher?
Not inspired. It actually forced me, which is very different. I needed to make money. But at the same time, it was also a very frightening experience, and very hateful because I was afraid that if I went back, what if I couldn't make something better? That would be the biggest letdown. I would crash artistically and that's what I was most afraid of. So it really wasn't so much about the money, which of course was something I needed to fix, but I was probably more afraid of not being able to do it.
The first Pusher is a guy who is doing well, he's riding high and suddenly he's in debt and he's on a mad dash just to get this money. So when you make Pusher II and III, you're in the same position as your characters. Is it an irony that you approached with eyes open when you made the sequels with the same story about guys in debt?
It almost became an ironic statement in a way. There was really nothing to do except just laugh it off. But then, you know, everybody draws from real life. Inspiration always comes from real life.
So what is the fascination with that lower echelon of the criminal underworld?
I have no fascination with it. I don't write about it or read about it or know very much about. But I don't make crime films. I make films about people in a criminal environment, which is very different. Shakespeare
's greatest plays are about royal families because that was kind of a mirrored image of society set within in its own rules and standards, but also romanticized our caveman mentality. And dramatically it was always good, because you could always die. Crime has kind of taken over that approach, especially in America where you don't have a royal family, and in Europe the royal families are more like jokes. So the criminal environment has all those things that Shakespeare would write about with royal families back then.
In Pusher III
, you move off into a very different kind of thing where you have a very specifically Eastern European subculture, this immigrant environment, which is their own separate subculture of the criminal underworld.
is very much about the father/son stand off and Pusher III
is very much about the king losing his empire.
Your films are really the complete opposite of crime-chic, the Tarantino and his copycats' approach. You really focus on these kind of mundane qualities of the lives.
Which is what is really there. If you have hung out with a lot of these people, there's always, at the end, sadness. It never escapes.
Have you ever hung out with any of these people?
Oh yeah, when I made them. Pusher II
, some of supporting actors had criminal backgrounds.
So they brought some of their...
One thing all the films have in common is that they're basically about these people that live in world that is going to...
That's going to destroy them.
Exactly, it's either going to eat them up physically or it's going to kill them, like in the third film, emotionally and mentally.
The three ideas I kept on using in all three films were that they were about people in a criminal environment, not about crime. So it was the emotions that were the draw, what propelled the films forward. Second, each film was always told from one character's point of view. And third was that each film always had the same moral, which was that if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.
Are you working on anything now? Can you talk about it?
Oh, yeah. I'm doing a film next year. I was going to do it this year, but I had to push it because Mads Mikkelsen
was doing promotion for [Casino Royale
]. He's going to be the lead in it, which is an English-language film called Valhalla Rising
about the Vikings discovering America.
This is an original script?
And a period piece?
[Laughs] Yeah, and I'm not a big fan of period films, so I had to come up with a way I could crack it. It's important to challenge yourself. I mean, as always, to take one thing and completely turn it around or make something that the audience does not expect. That may not always be the most commercial, the best investment, but you know, you have to balance. Making a lot of money is great, but if you don't have artistic satisfaction, it takes a lot away from the experience. It's always about finding that combination.
After the first Pusher
, I never expected I was going to make those kind of films. I thought I was going to make more art house films. With Bleeder
and Fear X
, I experimented more and more in many different ways, there was something I needed to get out of me. Maybe on my next film, I'll go even further out.