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  Director Interview

DOWSE Guide to the Movies
by Tony Lee editor of Pigasus Press

The Whole Nine Yards:
syndicated interview with Jonathan Lynn

What exactly does 'The Whole Nine Yards' mean?

"It didn't occur to me that people here wouldn't know that phrase. It's an American idiom rather like 'The Full Monty'. It means the whole thing."

This is not a project you developed yourself - how did you come to be involved?

"I liked the script, I thought it was full of surprises. Films are so often predictable in various ways, and the fact that there were a couple of things that genuinely surprised me in the story was good. I thought there was some very funny stuff in it, I went to meet Bruce and we got along. That's how it got set up. I'd been about to make another film, but the studio pulled the plug eight weeks before shooting, and this came up at the right time, so I was delighted to jump straight into it."

Was there some trepidation meeting your star, Bruce Willis, knowing he was involved in the project before you?

"Meeting Bruce Willis is not something you approach with trepidation, because if it doesn't work in a meeting then you know that the movie won't work either. It's better to discover you don't get along beforehand. If you desperately want the gig then I suppose you will approach it with some trepidation. But I've worked with lots of stars, and they all have the same concerns, they all want the film to be good, they all have the same issues about how they'll look, does the part suit them and am I the person who can make it happen in a way that works for them. Actors all have the same concerns, whether they're stars or not. I think I'm at my best when directing actors, so that doesn't hold much terror for me."

Having begun your career over here, was there a culture shock involved in you making movies in the United States?

"The culture shock is really that here everyone believes that films are art which have to be commercial in order to keep making the art. But in Hollywood they are understood as primarily commerce - and if there is artistry in them so much the better. It's a different emphasis."

Did you have final say in the casting of The Whole Nine Yards?

"I did. But obviously if you have a big star like Bruce Willis you obviously consult on certain decisions. When we were ready to cast Amanda Peet, for example. Bruce came in and read with her. We wanted to make sure that he was comfortable with her. That's just comrnon sense. And Michael Clarke Duncan had worked with Bruce on Armageddon, so he suggested him. But if I'd said I didn't want him then we wouldn't have cast him. As it turned out he was terrific, and I was happy with the suggestion. Bruce knows the difference between good and bad acting, and when he made suggestions they were pretty good."

How is it you manage to capture a spontaneity in the performances of your actors?

"Some of it has to do with out-takes, if they're funny I put them into the film. Like Bruce catching the fly, that wasn't in the script, he just tried to do it. He didn't in reality suck it in and spit it out, that was something he pretended to do to make Amanda laugh - but it was so funny, why throw it away? He was amazed when he saw it in the film, he wasn't expecting it."

Was Matthew Perry influential in the physical comedy that he contributed?

"It all came from Matthew. He loves that kind of thing, and he came away with some bruises, but he really knows what he's doing. When he crashes into that glass door, that was the sixth take, he kept trying to get it a iittle funnier and a little better. He didn't hurt himself. he's a real professional, he knows how to do it. There's one fall where he sees Bruce in the hotel room, crashes into Michael Clarke Duncan and then into the lamp and behind the sofa. I'd suggested doing something slightly different there, and he said he felt he'd hurt himself if he did that, so he did what you see. He's very much in command of that sort of thing, it's not random."

They are both stars in their own right - was there any sense of competition between Matthew and Bruce?

"They weren't competitive with each other, I think because they both had very different roles to play. Bruce couldn't do the frenzied thing that Matthew does, it wouldn't have worked for his character. And Matthew couldn't have played it cool like Bruce does, partly because he's not Bruce and partly because it wouldn't have suited his character. Everything they did together was complementary. They liked to make each other laugh and come up with new stuff. But unusually with two funny people it wasn't competitive."

Did you find they both rose to the occasion of working together?

"They did. We shot this very fast, it was a relatively low budget film, and there were two or three big dialogue scenes where we had to do six pages in a day which is two to three times what normally happens in a feature film. I said to Bruce that he would have to learn all this beforehand, and not on the set. He was slightly insulted, saying he did Moonlighting for years on television, telling me he could learn ten pages in a day easily. And so it proved to be. We enjoyed going fast, and I think we enjoyed the pressure."

Who helped who the most?

"I would say they helped each other, and that's the way it should be. When you rehearse a scene contributions come from both actors, and hopefully from me, but you do find that you get it to a place where you want it to be. We rehearsed it in advance, we couldn't have shot at that speed otherwise. We plotted everything out. So by the first day of the film I knew essentially every shot, everything was pre-planned. We only made minor adjustments for things that came up during shooting."

And yet Bruce has said that he is bored of being in films which has him running around, waving a gun, hasn't he?

"The gun scenes in this film were the ones that interested him least. I'd give him an idea of what the scene was, coming out and firing at the hit man. He'd say 'yeah, I've done that. Where's the camera?'. He could do that stuff with his eyes shut. He's very gun conscious, having had it in so many films. When it came to choosing Jimmy The Tulip's gun I said to the prop master 'get every possible gun here and let Bruce choose what he wants because I don't care'. And Bruce chose them."

How did you come to cast Amanda Peet in the film?

"She's wonderful isn't she? Lots of people came in to read for the role, she was just one of them but we found her entrancing and very funny."

Do you suppose Bruce knew you from your career at home - was he a Yes, Minister fan perhaps?

"I have no idea if he knew me from my work here in Britain. I think he rang Eddie Murphy - who I worked with on The Distinguished Gentleman - and asked what I was like. Fortunately, Eddie liked me."

The Whole Nine Yards is released on rental video, and DVD retail, by Warner Home Video on 20 November 2000

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