The Director's Chair Interviews

Paul Schrader
by Jason Kaufman

Click here for Paul Schrader films, books, and soundtracks

Critic turned writer-director Paul Schrader has a brilliant if somewhat checkered resume that includes Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, among some other, less stellar achievements. (Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett as sibling local rock stars in Light of Day, anyone?) His latest project, Affliction, finds Schrader adapting and directing Russell Banks' chilly tale of small-town dysfunction, and has earned some highly positive reviews. Schrader talked to Sidewalk about casting star Nick Nolte, why Paul Newman needs to get to the gym and the high cost of shooting deer.

Sidewalk: Did you always have Nick Nolte in mind for Affliction?
Paul Schrader: I got the script to Nolte, and he wanted to do it, but at that time he was doing some expensive Hollywood films and his salary was quite high. He felt he should be paid at that level, and it took a number of years until he realized that the movie would not get made unless he accommodated the budget.

SW: How'd you come to cast James Coburn as Nolte's bastard of a father?
PS: I wanted somebody who was large physically and represented another generation of Hollywood manhood. That pool of actors is really quite small at this point. James and Paul Newman were at the top of the list. But Paul didn't want to play a bad guy, so that left James. Although Paul is actually getting quite frail now. I think you would have gotten frightened for Newman if Nick started banging him around, whereas you can bang Coburn and it doesn't bother you at all. You're frightened for Nolte!

SW: Did you get any aspects of Banks' book wrong?
PS: We didn't get the deer hunting right. There's a shot of a deer in the movie. Hunters or anyone with acute eyesight will notice for a split frame or two that it's a doe, but it's referred to as a buck. The difference is that the doe came from a Canadian stock-film library at the cost of $75 and a real buck would have cost $40,000.

SW: Do you often think about the fact that you've written two of the most acclaimed screenplays of the last quarter century?
PS: I don't think much about it. Let's put it this way. Somebody once said it must have been such a hard act to follow with my first script being Taxi Driver. I said it's just the opposite, because such a burden falls off your shoulders. You know early on in your career that you have accomplished something and you have an enormous validation right from the start. I know people my age who have been working 25 years who are still seeking that validation.

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