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
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.