In the Spring 2008 edition of the DGA Quarterly, Jim Sheridan, director of My Left Foot and, of course, Brothers, discussed his 'cinematic sense', his instinctive feel for filmmaking and his relationship with actors, as well as the differences between American and European cinema. Here, at last, we get to hear something about Brothers, and about the different acting styles of the three Brothers' leads - Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and one Jake Gyllenhaal.
'Sheridan’s mention of mythic Celtic fathers segues into talk of such mythic and afflicted brothers as Cain and Abel, a story that is crucial to his latest film, Brothers (due for release in late 2008), which is based on the 2004 Danish film written and directed by Susan Biers. He had been very moved by that film when he first saw it, intrigued by the themes of intense love and lethal jealousy between two polar opposite brothers—one a career military man, the other a lifelong screw-up who only comes into his own by caring for his brother’s family after his super-achieving sibling goes missing in Afghanistan and is declared dead.'
'Sheridan realized transposing a Danish drama for an American audience could be risky. “You can’t just microwave something,” he says emphatically. “You can’t just reheat it.” The challenge is to find what works best in the story about Americans, for Americans. “There are rules that apply to American cinema that don’t apply to other forms of cinema,” he explains. “In a Danish film, people can get drunk with impunity. They can leave their kids at home unattended while they go pick up their brother in the bar. In an American movie, you’re not allowed. Americans are different and the rules are different. So, all the time I’m consciously working within a framework of American storytelling.”'
'“I’m not even sure actors are directable. I think the more you know, the less you try to direct them. The more you just try to not impede.” The goal is to encourage spontaneous discovery in the act of making the film. Working with children on In America, he engaged them by letting them call “Action!” and “Cut!” With Daniel Day-Lewis (with whom he’s made three films), or Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman in Brothers, his method of rehearsal is less about running lines than engaging in a Socratic back-and-forth, exploring what’s on the page with an open mind, asking and being asked about character and story points. He is extremely comfortable at being challenged.'
'“I invite a certain dissonance with the actor,” says Sheridan. “Most times, you want the actor to push back. Daniel is so focused, so organized that he’s like a balance for my chaos. He will just do it exactly the way I imagined it when I was writing, without having to ‘direct’ him. Natalie is a very classical actress, very sure of where she’s going—her only difficulty was her tremendous young age, being 26 years old and playing a mother of two, but she made the stretch. Tobey’s very controlled, a thinking actor. Great actors on film, you always know what they’re thinking. Jake’s a thinker too, but more like me, questioning everything, improvising. But actors generally have got to be allowed to push back, otherwise you’re just trying to fit them into a pictorial composition.”'
With a big thanks to Xenia for the link. Pictures from IHJ.