Jonathan Lynn [Interview]
February 26, 2014 2 Comments
A good laugh can make you feel the best you ever could. Comedy, especially in the world of film, can be such a delightful escape from the horribly dramatized visions of life and horror that we encounter each day, at times. But of course, as one genius filmmaker might say (Spoiler Alert, it’s this guy we are speaking with today), “Comedy is merely an ironic view of tragedy”. Which I find to be absolutely true. And when a brilliant filmmaker is garnered with the task of visually stimulating the world with some wonderful laughs and a heartwarming look at the world around us, only wonderful things can come.
And Jonathan Lynn is not only an example, he is a master of his craft. His films have been making us laugh for decades. And they have proven to be the catalyst for some of our favorite comedic actors performing their finest roles in their careers. Folks like Joe Pesci, Eddie Murphy, Jeff Daniels, Steve Martin, Matthew Perry, Bruce Willis, (just to name a few) have shown their brightest under the direction of this wonderful filmmaker, the illustrious Mr. Lynn. But, there is so much more to this wonderful creator of comedy for him to be proud of. And we wanted to talk to him about it! Therefore we are eternally grateful that Jonathan agreed to share a few words with us here at Trainwreck’d Society. So, like a couple of nuns on the run (all pun intended) here we go!
You work primarily in the world of comedy. What initially drew you to the world of comedy? What keeps you motivated to work in the comedy world?
I see the funny side of things. Comedy is merely an ironic view of tragedy. I work primarily in comedy because producers are unimaginative and I have become type-cast. No one ever offers me a drama. In the past I directed plays by Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill, not to mention Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, plays that would not be categorized as comedies.
I wish those days would return. Comedy is so much harder. What keeps me motivated to work in the world of comedy is that I can get employment there.
Besides your directing and writing, you are also an accomplished actor. Tell us if you would, of all the crafts you have mastered, which do you prefer the most? If you were only able to choose one to work in, what would it be?
I like them all. They are all different aspects of the same craft: storytelling. If I had to choose one I think it would be writing because it is the only truly originally creative thing I do. Acting and directing are interpretative arts. This is not true if the director is the writer of the film or play, of course, and the writer/director combination would be my first choice. Billy Wilder always thought of himself as a writer first, and he directed and produced in order to protect his scripts.
What is set life like when shooting comedies? Is the atmosphere usually as fun as your films seem to come out to be?
No, not necessarily. Shooting comedy is a serious and precise business. The more time you have, the more the set can be relaxed, but nowadays indie films have to be shot on such tight schedules that I am totally focused on the work. I love it, though, when others having fun and I hope they do.
When we delivered the film to Fox it scored sensationally well in its first test screening but it wasn’t until that moment that Fox realized it could be a real hit if they could only figure out how to sell it. They had no idea how to go about it. Apparently, they had given it no prior thought. Joe Pesci was well-known but not a star. Marisa Tomei was virtually unknown. It was hard to make a good trailer because the humor didn’t depend on gag lines but on the cumulative situation. Even the one-sheet was a problem. They tried to change the title but the film-makers fought them on that. There were months of discussion about everything: the one-sheet, the log-line, you name it, while the release was delayed. The head of marketing was replaced. Finally, they concluded that the only way to sell the film was to show the film, so about 900 free screenings were set up, all over the country. Audiences were persuaded to come see it and the plan worked: the word of mouth was excellent and a buzz started, good enough to get us a reasonable opening weekend.
I have come to learn that you were worked with Brian Cox on the stage direction of Macbeth….and then did a special performance for Indira Ghandi, which sounds incredible. How did this performance come about, and how was this experience for you?
I was the Artistic Director of the Cambridge Theatre Company. It was a touring company that played all over the UK although it was based at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge. The production was invited to tour India by the British Council, which is funded by the Foreign Office to take British arts all over the world. It was a great honour.
When you are looking at projects to work on, what is the most important factor you are looking for before even considering the project?
Does it make me laugh or cry when I read it? Is there something truly original about the story or characters? Is the story unpredictable? Can I cast it well enough? Will anyone ever finance it? The answers to these questions need to be Yes.
What do you find to be most difficult about directing films based on other people’s scripts?
That depends on the script and the writer.
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming project you wrote, The Pre-Nup?
No. Not until it starts up.
When you look back on your career spanning over 6 decades, what are you most proud of? And is there anything you have yet to accomplish that you hope to in the future?
I’m proud that some of my films remain really popular, many years after they were made. I’m proud that my series Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister changed the way that the British public view government, and that the character Sir Humphrey has entered the language as short-hand for senior civil servant.
There is a lot more that I hope to accomplish. I have several screenplays ready to make. I have a new play to stage. I have never directed an opera and I would love to do that. I have new two books, one fiction, one non-fiction, that I look forward to publishing. I am very busy.
There are just too many to list. There’s a book to be written about that.
What was the last thing that made you smile?
The Republican Party.