David Fincher Chats Up '20,000 Leagues' & More in Playboy Interview
There are many great filmmakers that are captivating subjects to speak with, to learn what inspires them, what makes so gifted at telling stories. One such filmmaker is David Fincher, who I've had the honor of interviewing once before. This time for Gone Girl promotion, Fincher was interviewed by Playboy and the results are incredible. Despite the magazine's otherwise dirty content, Playboy actually conducts some of the best interviews around and they always go into depth on life and love and career. That's the case with Fincher, and this is one great interview worth highlighting. Especially because he talks about Hollywood and projects like Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which he was attached to (and came close to filming).
The entire interview is worth reading, as Fincher talks about everything from his early life and teenage years, to what got him into filmmaking and his drive for success. He's a very smart guy, probably smarter than most of us even realize, one of the many reasons he makes such great films. One of his very interesting answers are thoughts on superhero movies, which he sort of explains in an offhand response to a question when following up on his response to the feelings about his own track record and "typecasting" as a director.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever feel trapped by your own track record as a director?
FINCHER: I know that if a script has a serial killer—or any kind of killer—in it, I have to be sent it; I don’t have any choice. [laughs] My responsibility to myself is always, Am I going to be the commodity that people want me to be, or am I going to do the shit that interests me? I have a lot of trouble with material. I don’t like most comedies because I don’t like characters who try to win me over. I don’t like being ingratiated. I don’t like obsequiousness. I also have issues with movies where two people fall in love just because they’re the stars and their names are above the title. I could maybe do some gigantic mythological Hero With a Thousand Faces–type movie, but so many other people are doing that.
PLAYBOY: Superhero stuff?
FINCHER: I find it dull. I like to anticipate the energy of a movie audience that’s waiting for the curtain to come up and thinking, Well, one thing we don’t know about this guy is that we don’t know how bad it can get.
The interview also spends time asking Fincher questions like "what creeps you out?" and "do you watch a lot of crime shows on TV?" One of his fun quips comes when discussing his early film Se7en (released in 1995) and the violence contained within. "It was offensive to me on a certain level that when Saw and those other movies came out, people said, 'Well, torture porn really started with Seven'. Fuck you. There’s enough pervy shit going on in Seven that I don’t have to get on my high horse to defend its artistic sensibilities." Ouch. It sounds like Fincher isn't the kind of guy you want to get into an argument with about his own films. He knows them better than anyone, knows every interpretation, and knows before you that you're wrong or right even when you think you may be on to something. But he's still a fun guy and fascinating to talk with.
Speaking of Se7en, he mentions the film again when discussing a question about investors and casting major movie stars and getting money to make a movie. Fincher is notoriously known as one of the few directors who can get final cut (the ability to have final say on what makes it into a movie and how it turns out) at the Hollywood studios, meaning he has a lot of power. How did he get to that position? Early on he reveals:
FINCHER: Yeah. With my first movie, Alien 3, I had to get permission for everything, but my second movie, Seven, was my movie, Andy Walker’s movie, Brad Pitt’s, Morgan Freeman’s and Kevin Spacey’s movie. I didn’t look to anyone for permission. I made a pact with [studio boss] Michael De Luca and just said, “Dude, the audience wants a revelation. I’m going deep. It’s $34 million and fuck it.” He was a thousand percent there, even when push came to shove and we went $3 million over budget. We gave the audience a revelation with Brad and Morgan and by throwing in Gwyneth Paltrow, whom people had seen a bit of. It was the alchemy of those faces, those careers and the ascendance of different talents in that period. I’d direct Seven in a different way today. I would have a lot more fun. It was only by the time I did Zodiac or Benjamin Button that I knew what I was doing.
So what about 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Even though Fincher is now known for making "adult" movies, Disney had him working on a brand new take on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for a few years. He was attached as director, went location scouting around the world, things were getting close and filming was actually about to happen. But they pulled back and it was never made. Fincher moved on, there's a few other directors developing it, but from the sounds of it we won't see this one for a while. So what happened? What would Fincher's version of this story be like? He explains why he was involved and what was cool about it:
FINCHER: Dude, it was fucking cool. It was smart and crazy entertaining, with the Nautilus crew fighting every kind of gigantic Ray Harryhausen thing. But it also had this riptide to it. We were doing Osama bin Nemo, a Middle Eastern prince from a wealthy family who has decided that white imperialism is evil and should be resisted. The notion was to put kids in a place where they’d say, “I agree with everything he espouses. I take issue with his means—or his ends.” I really wanted to do it, but in the end I didn’t have the stomach lining for it. A lot of people flourish at Hollywood studios because they’re fear-based. I have a hard time relating to that, because I feel our biggest responsibility is to give the audience something they haven’t seen. For example, Gillian Flynn and I are doing Utopia [about fans of a cult graphic novel] for HBO, and that’s all I’m focusing on next year.
What a way to end the interview - by dissing Hollywood and the very system that supports and releases the movies he makes. But that's David Fincher, he loves doing that and loves being honest. I'm actually grateful that we get to hear from him, and that he opens up in this way. "Studios treat audiences like lemmings, like cattle in a stockyard. I don’t want to ask actors or anyone else on a movie to work so hard with me if the studios treat us as though we’re making Big Macs. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is not a Big Mac. Gone Girl is not a Big Mac." Indeed. I don't eat Big Macs any more anyway, so that's fine with me, I'm ready for my helping of Fincher Deluxe with all the fixings. Please just read the Playboy interview, buy your Gone Girl ticket in advance, and get ready for something that only the mind of Fincher could whip up. I'm hungry.