Good afternoon, Mr. Friedkin.
Is it Entertainment Weakly or Strongly this week?
Somewhere in the middle.
Me too, me too.
The Friedkin Connection covers your whole career so far. Had you been wanting to write a memoir for a while?
Not at all. A little over three years ago, I got a call from an agent in New York and he said, ”Would you be interested in writing an autobiography?” And I said, ”No.” And he said, ”Why not?” “Because I wouldn’t be interested in reading it.”
What changed your mind?
I met with publishers and one of them said to me that the book shouldn’t be so much about the facts and details of my life but my attitude towards those facts and details. Then I kinda got it.
You achieved success early on, winning the Oscar for Best Director in 1972 for The French Connection.
I was shocked when we got all those Academy Awards. I had never really thought it was that good of a movie. And then in the other direction, I was shocked when The Exorcist did not win when it was nominated for 10.
You go into a lot of detail about making The Exorcist in the book.
In its genre, it’s considered to be one of the best, but I didn’t set out to do that. [Writer William Peter] Blatty and I never talked about a horror film. It was always more of a story that was actually recorded as happening. Blatty’s novel and my film were both based on a true case. I kept tabs on the progress of that young man. Of course, I can’t reveal his name, but he’s doing well.
You say the experience changed your system of belief. How?
Blatty and I did a lot of extracurricular research into the paranormal. There were all kinds of strange things that went on that we experienced that had no practical explanation. That movie opened the door to me of the possibility of the impossible.
James Franco made a film project imagining the 40 minutes cut from Cruising, your 1980 feature about an undercover cop in the gay S&M subculture. Have you seen it?
He sent it to me and I looked at it on my iPad. I didn’t get it and I don’t know why he did it. Good for him for doing it, though.
That Cruising footage was famously cut by the MPAA. You’ve had run-ins with them throughout your career, including last summer’s NC-17-rated Killer Joe.
They don’t send you a guide to what will get you this rating or that rating. There is no such thing — it’s arbitrary. [Virtually] no major studio will get an NC-17 because they own the ratings board. It’s all a bit silly. I remember meeting this fellow J.J. Abrams and he told me he saw The Exorcist when he was 8 years old and I asked, ”Did it ruin your life?” And he said, ”I guess not.” It’s not the stuff people watch that makes them good or bad. You can’t stop the darker side of nature from emerging in people. That’s kind of what I’ve been making movies about all these years.