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Steven Spielberg: The EW interview

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Picture a giant boulder rolling toward you. That’s how fast you have to run through Steven Spielberg’s movies if you want to hit even the high points: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler’s List… (The low points, like Hook, are also interesting.) This month, the Oscar-winning director, 64, debuts two new movies, The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. And he just started shooting his next film, Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Here, he reflects on his twoscore-and-three-year career.

Let’s start at the beginning. I just watched your first short film, Amblin’ (1968).
Good, I’m glad. You got spared the pain of my sort-of attempt at a Pepsi commercial.

A lot of people know Amblin as the name of your production company, but probably few of them have seen the short.
It was going to be a tone poem about a boy and a girl who meet in the desert, hitchhiking their way to the Pacific Ocean. Very simple story. I wrote it in a day.

At the end of the short, you find out the boy is not a hippie. Inside the guitar case is just a suit, a tie, a book…
He was me, basically. He was dressed as a hippie, but he was a secret square. It was no secret that I was a square. And I think, to my children today, it’s still no secret.

I read somewhere that you were nauseous every day while making Amblin’. True?
Yes. I’ve always had shpilkes [Yiddish for ”nerves”].

You didn’t have a career yet — what were you worried about?
It’s not even about the career. I have shpilkes now and I have a career. I think it’s my fuel, basically — my nervous stomach. That’s what keeps me honest, right? And a little bit humble, in the sense that when I make a movie, I never think I have all the answers. I think I’ve stayed collaborative my entire career because I don’t have all the answers. I come onto the set — whether it was my first movie, The Sugarland Express, or Lincoln — and it cuts me down to size. It’s a good feeling to have.

Your first features, the TV movie Duel (1971) and The Sugarland Express (1974), are both about life — or death — on the road.
I’ve always been interested in that. I grew up in Arizona, and we subscribed to a magazine called Arizona Highways. It was always shots of roads going to infinity, going off into the vanishing point. One of my favorite movies was a film called Vanishing Point. And I remember a wonderful poster for a movie called It Came From Outer Space that had this lonely road going to nowhere, which I tried to appropriate a little bit for Close Encounters. So the idea of a straight-line highway going to a vanishing point is compelling.

For years I’ve had this photo of you making friends with the shark from Jaws (1975). I kept it on my refrigerator, for some reason. I’ve always wondered — what was happening there?
Now, let me tell you about the picture — that’s a staged, fake picture. Meaning there was no reason to sit on the shark except the photographer said, ”Get on the shark.” I was not directing a shot, I wasn’t trying to make a point. [Laughs] I remember that very well. I would never do that today. That’s something else I’ve learned: Don’t let set photographers stage your shots.

You must have learned a lot on Jaws. You were in danger of being fired, right?
We had the hubris to shoot on the ocean, not in a tank. Had we shot in the tank, I don’t think Jaws would have been very successful because it would look really phony. So I insisted on open sea, but innumerable physical problems came along with that decision. What we had to do was find open sea where you couldn’t see land, and where there was a 30-foot flat sandy bottom so the shark sled would have some place to rest. It had to be 30 feet, because if it was 40 feet, the shark could never get out of the water. We had a shark arm that only went up so high. The problem with shooting in the shallows 10 to 12 miles out to sea is that the shallows pile on the waves. You don’t get breaking waves out there, but you get some swells. So we picked the worst place in the world to shoot.

When you started Jaws, did you feel confident or did you think, ”I fooled everybody”?
I was feeling completely confident for the first 35 days of shooting because I was on schedule. It was all the land stuff. Interior Brody’s house, exterior Brody’s house, interior the city selectman chamber… Even some of the stuff with Chrissie Watkins being killed at the opening of the story, that was all land-based stuff. It was only when we went out to sea for our, I guess, 25 or 30 days of photography that everything went pear-shaped.

Why weren’t you fired?
[Universal Studios exec and Spielberg mentor] Sid Sheinberg always blocked it. [Jaws producers] Dick Zanuck and David Brown always told me that the other shoe was about to drop. They didn’t warn me to threaten me or to intimidate me — they just said, ”Is there anything you can do with the script, with the schedule, to avert a shutdown?” And I didn’t have anything to do, because I couldn’t cut the script. I couldn’t cut the third act out of Jaws! I had to just keep moving forward, and the schedule was dictated by the mechanical shark and by the weather conditions. Every time there was an intention to replace me, Sid stepped in quietly behind the scenes and stopped it.

Robert Shaw looks like someone who wouldn’t be patient with a young guy struggling to finish his shark movie.
Robert was great with me. A brilliant actor, but a very colorful personality. He and [Richard] Dreyfuss had a real mano a mano relationship throughout the entire production. We started adding scenes based on how Robert and Richard were behind the scenes. Dreyfuss’ squeezing of the Styrofoam cup in answer to Shaw’s squeezing of the beer can was something that actually happened.

With Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), you’ve said that you wouldn’t shoot the same ending today. But are you glad you kept Dreyfuss’ character going off into space?
Oh, Neary going off with the aliens? I’ve always said I wouldn’t do it if I was making the movie from scratch today, because I have seven children. I had no hesitation writing that and directing that then, but I had no dependents in my life at that time.

After Close Encounters, you went to another easy one — the World War II comedy 1941 (1979). How do you feel about the film today?
Some people think that was an out-of-control production, but it wasn’t. What happened on the screen was pretty out of control, but the production was pretty much in control. I don’t dislike the movie at all. I’m not embarrassed by it — I just think that it wasn’t funny enough.

What are your memories of John Belushi?
John was a very sweet guy. He had manic energy, he was very rambunctious, and I did not feel he was self-destructive. I just think he was burning the candle at four ends, if that’s even possible. There would be days when at 2 o’clock in the morning, John would let himself into my house and he’d just sort of gently shake me awake. I’d look up, and there’s John. He’d say, ”Hi, Steve,” and I’d say, ”Hi, John.” He says, ”I’m going to crash here, okay?” I remember the next morning I’d wake up and John was on the floor under the TV set of my bedroom, sound asleep. Fully clothed and sound asleep. John crashed at the house several times. Dan Aykroyd was his minder. Dan was his best friend, and he gave me the handbook on how to handle John. Probably Dan’s responsible for keeping John alive as long as he did.

Is it true that John Wayne called you and said 1941 was unpatriotic?
I thought he would be great to play General Stilwell. He was really curious, and so I sent him the script. He called me the next day and said he felt it was a very un-American movie, and I shouldn’t waste my time making it. He said, ”You know, that was an important war, and you’re making fun of a war that cost thousands of lives at Pearl Harbor. Don’t joke about World War II.”

You keep glancing at the table and this picture of you riding the shark. Is this making you feel weird? I’m sorry…
Yeah, get rid of it! My eye keeps going to it.

Okay, it’s gone. [Puts it away]
[Laughs] It’s so weird!

Your next movie was set before the war — Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). What gave you shpilkes on that one?
The one thing in Raiders I was a little bit dubious about was what happens when they open the ark. What actually is going to come out of the ark? There were a lot of crazy things in the script that came out of the ark. I wasn’t sure how much we could actually get on the screen. We made a lot of it up when we were in postproduction.

How do you feel about the first follow-up, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)?
It doesn’t hold the same candle up to the first film; it goes into a different direction. It’s a darker movie. It’s about a cult. It’s about human sacrifice. It’s about pulling a living, beating heart out of somebody’s chest. It’s not a pretty sight. The prettiest thing that came out of that film was my future wife [Kate Capshaw, who played lounge singer Willie Scott]. And the PG-13 rating, which was invented because of it.

Of all your movies, did Temple of Doom change your life the most because of your wife?
I met Kate, my leading lady. My leading lady is still my leading lady.

E.T. (1982) became your biggest success yet. Is it true that it was originally titled Night Skies?
I wasn’t going to direct E.T. It was going to be called Night Skies, based on a piece of UFO mythology about the Kelly-Hopkinsville incident, where a farm family reported little spindly gray aliens attacking their farm, even riding cows in the farmyard, trying to get into the house. This farm family basically huddled together for survival, and then once the little grays went away, they made a mad dash to the sheriff’s office and brought the sheriff back to the house. The sheriff looked around, didn’t see any physical evidence, and left. After the sheriff left, they all came back and started to harass the family again. It’s a story that’s well-known in the world of ufology, and we based our script on that story, and [makeup and effects designer] Rick Baker actually started developing some of the grays.

So you devised an entirely new story for E.T. with screenwriter Melissa Mathison on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark?
Melissa didn’t want to write it. I needed Harrison [Ford, then her boyfriend, later her husband] and all of us to talk her into it.

That starts a period where you directed or produced a lot of movies about kids: E.T., The Goonies (1985), Gremlins (1984), Poltergeist (1982), Back to the Future (1985). It feels like you reconnected with childhood.
Goonies especially, and Young Sherlock Holmes [(1985)]. It was a very fertile period of cranking out stories about my generation.

Is that right before you were starting your own family? Kind of a last look back?
It was, because I started my family in 1985. It wasn’t even a last look back; it just was what I knew. Everybody says, ”Write what you know.”

When you watch those movies now, it’s like you’re on the cusp of becoming a grown-up.
Of course, when you’re on the cusp of becoming anything, you don’t know that until years later when you look back. At the time it was just business as usual. I’d write a story, come into the office, register it with the Writers Guild…either write the story myself or put a writer on it, and then eventually, get it made.

When you made The Color Purple (1985), did you want to prove you were more than the blockbuster guy? That you could do a movie that has resonance and drama?
You know, the decisions I’ve made about what film to direct are never based on any intellectual career decision. I’m completely reactive to the stuff that I read. The book was given to me, and I read it, and I was deeply touched. My next reaction wasn’t to question what touched me about the book, because I don’t approach film that way, by questioning my motives.

As with the director of this year’s The Help, you got criticism for directing a story about African-American characters.
Most of the criticism came from directors that felt that we had overlooked them, and that it should have been a black director telling a black story. That was the main criticism. The other criticism was that I had softened the book. I have always copped to that. I made the movie I wanted to make from Alice Walker’s book. Alice was on the set a lot of the time and could have always stepped forward to say, ”You know, this is too Disney. This is not the way I envisioned the scene going down.” She was very supportive during filmmaking, and so I felt that we were doing a good job adapting her novel. There were certain things in the [lesbian] relationship between Shug Avery and Celie that were finely detailed in Alice’s book, that I didn’t feel could get a [PG-13] rating. And I was shy about it. In that sense, perhaps I was the wrong director to acquit some of the more sexually honest encounters between Shug and Celie, because I did soften those. I basically took something that was extremely erotic and very intentional, and I reduced it to a simple kiss. I got a lot of criticism for that.

Would you change that now?
I wouldn’t, no. That kiss is consistent with the tonality, from beginning to end, of The Color Purple that I adapted.

In Empire of the Sun (1987), you worked with a very young Christian Bale. Even he would acknowledge he is a very headstrong actor. Was he the same way at that age?
No, Christian was easy. He listened more than he spoke, and he invested himself both spiritually and consciously into that character of Jim. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had directing a young person.

That brings us to Hook (1991), a movie my wife loves.
[Laughs] Bless her heart. I love your wife.

I get the sense you don’t love Hook so much.
There are parts of Hook I love. I’m really proud of my work right up through Peter being hauled off in the parachute out the window, heading for Neverland. I’m a little less proud of the Neverland sequences, because I’m uncomfortable with that highly stylized world that today, of course, I would probably have done with live-action character work inside a completely digital set. But we didn’t have the technology to do it then, and my imagination only went as far as building physical sets and trying to paint trees blue and red.

Is it true that Hook was going to star Michael Jackson at one point?
Michael had always wanted to play Peter Pan, but I called Michael and I said, ”This is about a lawyer that is brought back to save his kids and discovers that he was once, when he was younger, Peter Pan.” So Michael understood at that point it wasn’t the same Peter Pan he wanted to make.

It’s also shocking that at the end of the movie, as Wendy gets older, you realize, ”Oh my God, that’s Gwyneth Paltrow!”
Gwyneth is my goddaughter. Bruce [Paltrow], her dad, and Kate and I had taken Gwynnie to see The Silence of the Lambs when it first came out. We were driving back from the movie theater, and I was going back to work the next day. I was looking at her in the rearview mirror, and she was talking about the film and she had this really frightened look on her face, and it suddenly clicked, and I said, ”Hey, you could be the young Wendy! You could be the young Maggie Smith!” So I turned around and said, ”Do you want to make a movie?” She got a SAG card because of it.

That brings us to Jurassic Park (1993). You wanted Harrison to play Sam Neill’s role.
Sam does a phenomenal job, but my first choice was Harrison. I went to the art department, and I had them do a photorealistic painting of the T. rex chasing Harrison with two kids, and put Harrison’s face on the character of the archaeologist, and sent the script, the book, and the picture to Harrison. The next day I got a call, and he said, ”This is not for me, pal.” That was the end of the conversation.

With Jurassic Park, were you nervous it would play out the way Hook did, with unsatisfying effects?
I thought it could be pulled off, and I was willing to do my best pulling it off with Phil Tippett’s basically go-motion Claymation characters. [Special-effects pioneer] Dennis Muren called me on the phone and said, ”Steven, I’d like to try to generate one of these dinosaurs on the computer. Will you let me do it?” He came back about two months later with the test. It just rocked my world, because it was the beginning of a future that we are all almost drowning in. [Laughs]

So you introduced a new digital toy-box to other directors, then went on to make Schindler’s List (1993). What was it like leaving the Jurassic world and diving into the tragedy of the Holocaust?
Well, it was a bit like when you get rear-ended, and you don’t have a headrest to prevent you from getting whiplash. I overlapped both productions. When I got to Poland and really became blind to anything other than the retelling of that dark, dark episode in history, I had to come home at night and see dinosaur shots — sent from ILM to a big satellite dish in my backyard in Poland. That’s where the whiplash came in. The basic culture shock between two genres, one that I was putting every single fiber of my existence into, which was Schindler’s List, and another that in my mind was already in the can, but wasn’t, which was approving dinosaur shots. It was a very painful transition, having to do both movies at the same time. I favored Schindler’s List way over Jurassic Park at that point, yet I wasn’t willing to defer the responsibility of approving effects shots to anybody other than my team and myself.

Billy Wilder almost directed Schindler’s instead of you, didn’t he?
No, what’s true is Billy, who was my friend for a long time, knew I was making Schindler’s List. Billy made a call very late in the process. We had a locked script and we were getting ready to go to Poland. He said, ”You’ve had this book for a long time. I know you’ve had it since it came out in the early ’80s, and I would love Schindler’s List to be my last film, because I know how to tell that story, because I lost family in the Holocaust, and I feel that my existence is inexorably tied to that period. As a Jew and as [an Austrian] Jew, I need to make this picture.” When I told Billy that I was going off to Poland in four months to shoot the picture, he was devastated. I was devastated that he didn’t know that I had been publicly preparing the film for almost a year. So it was a difficult meeting. But he understood, and one of the first phone calls that I got when Schindler’s List started to screen was from Billy Wilder. It was a great phone call.

By the way, did you ever read Roger Ebert’s essay on Raiders? He said he got the sense it was like a story told by a young Jewish boy taking revenge on the Nazis in his backyard.
Probably true. Probably totally true.

While Raiders may be a boyhood version of WWII, your later films like Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan (1998) feel like a man coming to terms with that history.
I don’t know. I don’t have that second sight, unfortunately. I’m a little too close to the subject.

I was very close to my grandfather, and he served and saw some pretty serious combat.
Did he talk to you about it?

He would tell the funny stories.
But he wouldn’t tell you combat stories.

No.
That’s very typical.

I asked him once, ”When were you most afraid?” and he said it was on the boat going over, because suddenly the ship started listing back and forth, and they found out afterward it wasn’t just high seas, there had been a U-boat in the area.
They were doing the S-turns.

Yes, and he said the scariest thing was that he might die in a ship with no way to protect himself. The powerlessness was the thing. He died and left me a shoebox, and in the shoebox were little pieces of junk — a Nazi button, a piece of shrapnel, and his diaries. The shrapnel was a bullet that hit where he was hiding while being strafed. Good thing he had just moved.
You wouldn’t have been here. Isn’t that amazing?

I wish he had lived to see Saving Private Ryan. It might have opened him up to talking about it more. I think the movie had that effect on a lot of veterans. It unlocked them.
I get that a lot. For a lot of the survivors who dared to see Schindler’s List, it unlocked a lot in them. They didn’t tell their children and grandchildren any more about what they had been hiding from, about what they went through in the Holocaust. But they did say, ”If you see Schindler’s List, it’s not as bad as what happened to me, but it will give you a very small idea what I went through.”

Did you just need to decompress after Schindler’s?
I needed to get away. I took a break, but I got two things started. I got started with the Shoah foundation, and that took a lot of my time. And I started DreamWorks, and that took even more of my time.

Stanley Kubrick intended to direct A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), but you made it after his death. It’s a movie that I really love, but I feel there’s divisiveness about it. There’s divisiveness with many of Kubrick’s films.
While there was divisiveness when A.I. came out, I felt that I had achieved Stanley’s wishes, or goals.

Did you and he only talk about work, or other things as well?
We’d just talk shop, and we would talk shop for days. Days and days. I had one seven-hour marathon phone conversation with Stanley. It’s when he told me about A.I. for the first time, asking me who he should get to write the screenplay. He was a brain picker. I was a fanboy when it came to anything Kubrickian, and so whatever Stanley wanted, I would get for him.

Did you pick his brain, too?
I would, but Stanley was a little less forthcoming with his secrets than I was with mine.

You were never someone who automatically cast movie stars. Then you started working with a lot of them: Tom Cruise in Minority Report (2002) and War of the Worlds (2005), Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, The Terminal (2004), and Catch Me if You Can (2002). What’s it like directing a person who also brings their own big machinery to a film?
Tom [Cruise] and I were friends. David Geffen introduced us when he made Risky Business, when he was a kid. So Tom and I had been friends for many, many years…personal friends. We had considered working together. Benjamin Button, we had talked about maybe doing together, long before Minority Report. But nothing quite jelled for either of us. So when Minority Report came along, it wasn’t unusual for me to send him the screenplay. But this is the one he said, ”Let’s do this together.”

When did you click with Hanks?
Remember, I had produced three Tom Hanks projects before directing him for the first time. So we also started out professionally, became friends, our families became close. So it wasn’t that I needed a movie star to be in Private Ryan, I wanted the right actor to play Captain Miller. The only actor in the world who could play Captain Miller in 1997 was Tom Hanks.

In 2005, you had just finished War of the Worlds when you left to make Munich (2005). You gave yourself three months to make that movie. Was there any political consideration to the urgency? That’s a movie that says something about fighting terrorism post-9/11, even though it was set in an earlier time.
I thought it was the right time to begin a conversation again that had been dormant, at least publicly, about the Palestinian-Israeli two-nation-state solution issue. The movie doesn’t advocate that. The movie just simply talks about how Israel responded to the murder of their athletes in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. It’s also a story, which a lot of people misunderstood, about soldiers in the field. Not supermen-type soldiers, but more like Private Ryan soldiers. When they started questioning, ”Is the person we’re assassinating even indirectly responsible for what happened at the Summer Games?” — those are questions that soldiers often ask themselves in any war. That’s where the film ran into controversy. Had this movie simply been about Mossad carrying out Golda Meir’s directives, it would have been an action movie and there would have been no controversy. I wasn’t going to tell that story, or make that movie. I wanted this to begin a conversation.

Were you happy with the conversation?
There were just so many questions that came out and ruffled feathers. It even resonated down to Judd Apatow and that scene in Knocked Up. All the guys were talking about Munich, about how they never make movies where Jews get to kick people’s asses. [Laughs] It went from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Over the last several years you’ve really gotten into the kid-friendly stuff, especially as a producer: Transformers (2007), Super 8 (2011), Cowboys & Aliens (2011)…
It’s all about escapism, you know?

With my grandfather, I noticed a boyish side come out around kids. You have grandkids now. Did that happen with you?
It did! When I started having grandkids — and I have two now — I started wanting to make movies that I could take them to someday. Yeah, it’s a little bit of a resurgence of the [E.T./Goonies] years. You hit it right on the head. I think my grandkids are causing me to go back a bit to the themes and to the tone of those Amblin years.

I remember asking you once what interested you about Transformers.
I used to buy my kids Transformers toys, and I’d wind up on the floor playing with them. I called up the head of Hasbro and I said, ”Will you sell me the rights to Transformers? I think I have a way of turning this into a motion picture.”

At a 30th-anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, you mentioned Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and told the audience you felt like you burned bridges with that.
I’m really proud of the movie. I loved bringing Marion back, I love the fact that Indy now has a son. It’s a family action film, and I love that whole conceit. It’s public that George [Lucas] and I and Harrison all had a clash about genre and concept. But I’ve always told George’s stories. George wrote all four stories for all four movies. My biggest contribution was adding the father to the third movie. That was my idea, to cast Sean Connery as Harrison’s father. I am best friends with George, and I’m very obedient to the stories that he writes. I’ll fight things I don’t believe in, but ultimately, if George wants to bring interdimensional beings into Crystal Skull, I will do the best job I possibly can to acquit George’s idea and make him proud.

Were you upset when Shia LaBeouf publicly criticized the movie?
I’m not going to go there.

George famously tinkers with his movies after the fact. But you’ve said that you regret changing E.T. for the 2002 rerelease and would never change another of your movies.
George goes by his playbook, and I go by mine. I did alter E.T., and I do regret making those alterations. When the movie comes out on Blu-ray, either we will package both versions for the same price — nobody has to pay any more money for the rejiggered version — or we will just bite the bullet and come out with the 1982 version.

Now your philosophy is to not change even the rough edges?
My philosophy now is that every single movie is a signpost of its time, and it should stand for that. We shouldn’t go back and change the parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments just because with digital tools we now can make that even more spectacular than it was.

What’s the future hold for Indiana Jones?
It’s up to George. We already have agreed on the genre of the fifth movie, we already have a concept in mind. I don’t know where George is with the story. There is no Indy 5 until George says there is.

Will there be another Michael Bay Transformers?
I hope so, because I think he made the best of the three with this last one. I certainly can’t imagine anybody other than Michael being equipped to make another Transformers. He’s invented a genre, and he’s got the secret formula.

He told GQ that when Megan Fox compared him to Hitler in an interview, you said that he should fire her.
[Shakes head] That’s not true. That didn’t happen.

Aside from Transformers: Dark of the Moon, 3-D films have had a rough year. Is it overkill?
Audiences just know whether the extra money they have to pay to see a movie in 3-D is going to be worth it. They just know that Avatar should only be seen in 3-D, and that The Lion King would be an amazing reunion through the medium of 3-D, but not necessarily Cars 2. They saw Cars 2, but they didn’t see it as much in 3-D. You’ve got to give credit to the audience. They know what they want to see, and what format they want to see it in.

There have been a number of comparisons made between The Adventures of Tintin and Raiders. Did one influence the other?
I’m flattered when Tintin is compared to Raiders, but I took no special measures to enhance these comparisons. [Tintin creator] Hergé simply knew the adventure genre — and he knew it before we did.

I was impressed by the many tracking shots in Tintin, particularly the exploding-dam sequence. There’s something exhilarating about not cutting, right?
Tracking action without cutting is the least jarring method of placing the audience into a real-time experience where they are the ones making the subtle choices of where and when to look.

Over to War Horse. Was there anything in the Tony-winning play you felt could not be replicated on screen?
There’s no way cinema can ever replicate that sudden transition from yearling to adult that Joey [the main horse] undergoes in the theater. That moment made me cry when I first saw War Horse in London.

War Horse is PG-13, which meant withholding some of the stark violence you’ve depicted before. I thought this resulted in some beautiful, abstract depictions of loss — like the riderless horses running past the German machine gunners who’ve just killed the British soldiers who rode them.
For me it was a more creative alternative to simply depicting the horrors of combat, as I’ve done on so many previous films.

You’ve started Lincoln. Will the movie have a political message?
It has a lot of relevance to our time, especially with our divided House. It is about a divided House in 1865. But I’m not willing to allow the film to be part of the gristmill of the 2012 election cycle. So I’m going to make the movie, which of course would be ready for release before the election, but it won’t come out until December of ’12.

Why is that? After all, you wanted Munich to start a conversation.
I don’t mind starting a conversation, but a film like Lincoln could be used by both sides, and the only casualty will be the film.

Where do you see yourself going in the future?
I’ve always kept myself open for surprises. So I don’t plot and plan. And that’s what’s exciting, having something like War Horse blindside me. It came when I least expected to be suddenly launching into a story about World War I and a relationship between a horse and every human being this horse touches and changes.

Thank you for taking the time to talk about your career in such detail. It’s funny hearing these old stories: For every movie you talk about, I can remember my own story seeing it.
Give me an example.

I remember walking out of the Oaks Theater near Pittsburgh after seeing Raiders with my father. I must have been about 5, and when the faces melted, I was like, ”What happened to those people?!” For all I knew at that age, it was a documentary. I remember walking back to the car and him explaining, ”No, it’s okay. Those are wax heads. That’s a trick, it’s a movie.”
Oh, he took care of you. He kept you safe.

You must hear these things a lot.
I hear amazing stories. The most amazing thing for me is that every single person who sees a movie, not necessarily one of my movies, brings a whole set of unique experiences. Now, through careful manipulation and good storytelling, you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to hopefully laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time. But you can’t get everybody to interpret the result in the same way. And that’s thrilling to know — that everybody will see it differently.