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April 07, 2010

Celeb Interviewer Chats About Johnny Depp, "Avatar" and "Jerk" James Cameron: An Interview with Author Christopher Heard - Part 2

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Yesterday, if you're a smart and loyal reader--and all of my readers are--you read Part 1 of my interview with Christopher Heard, whose new book, "Kiefer Sutherland, Living Dangerously" is a bio of "24's" Kiefer Sutherland.

Christopher Heard's been a film reviewer on TV and radio and   he's written celeb bios on Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, director John Woo, and "Titanic" and "Avatar" director James Cameron.

So read on to find out why Heard thinks James Cameron's "a jerk," why he was pulling for Kathryn Bigelow to win the Best Director Oscar, how Johnny Depp took him to get his first tattoo, and why seeing "Avatar" was one of his worst movie experiences.

We started off talking about Mickey Rourke and playing the Hollywood game.


MS:  Mickey Rourke had this small role in “Body Heat” and I remember people saying, “Oh he’s the next thing!”  And I think he had one more big splash of a role and then he, as you said, burned those bridges.

CH:  There are five thousand guys out there waiting to be "the next thing."  It’s a pampered existence when you are "the next thing" and you gotta play the game and that’s what Depp is great at.  He plays the game.

MS:  I think what works for him is he knows who he is and he doesn’t kowtow to whatever everybody says he’s supposed to be.  And he also lives outside of Hollywood, in France.

CH:  It’s completely by design.  I spent a lot of time with him when I was working on the book.  I’ve sort of gotten to these guys before they got the big boost into their own separate stratosphere.

The first book I wrote was on James Cameron and I was writing it as he was making “Titanic.”  The publisher, Doubleday said, let’s keep the “Titanic” stuff to a bare minimum, ‘cause it looks like it’s gonna be a bomb.

It was my first book so I didn’t have much leverage with Doubleday, but I said, even if it’s a bomb, it’s gonna be the biggest bomb in history and that’s a story too! 

I didn’t have the authority to argue with them too much so I just went along with them and then when the book comes out as “Titanic” is coming out, Doubleday calls me and says, how would you feel about doing a revised edition?

I said, what a great idea, let’s try that.

MS:  Now it would be nice to do a revised edition on Cameron and “Avatar.”

CH:  It would, but the funny thing is, he’s still the same jerk now that he was during “Titanic.”  Of all the people I’ve written about and spent time with--and I’ve circled the world interviewing movie stars for 15 years--he’s the one guy I did not like. 

I admired him.  He’s a fellow Canadian and he went from a standing start in nowhere-land, a little place called Kapuskasing Ontario, to the top of the A-list on sheer will power alone.  But in spending time with him I found myself thinking, you are a class A jerk!  You treat people badly for no reason!

The next experience I had after Cameron was spending time with John Woo, who was the exact opposite.  Gentle, fascinating, wonderful guy!

MS:  How did it happen that you wrote the book about Johnny Depp?

CH:  I was interviewing him in Los Angeles for a television show I was doing and I quite liked him. I had never met him before.  Then I interviewed him subsequently and he ended up dragging me to a West Hollywood tattoo parlor to get a tattoo.

MS:  What tattoo did you get?

CH:  It was bizarre.  Do you know the great book store, Book Soup?

MS:  I’ve heard of it.

CH:  That’s my favorite bookstore in the world.  LA’s known for a lot of things, bookstores isn’t one of them but it has one of the best.  Every time I’m in Los Angeles, I check into the hotel and then head straight to Book Soup. 

This particular morning I was there to interview Depp, and I go into Book Soup and something caught my eye as I was going in.  And there was a display of my book on James Cameron in the window.  I was so excited that the breath caught in my throat. 

Later on I was with Depp in his suite and we’re talking about the nature of success and how everyone is allowed to define it in their own way.  And then I told him the story about the book, the breath catching in my throat and he said, “You ought to do something to mark that occasion, man.” 

I said, "Well I did, I went in and actually bought the book so I have the cash register receipt and everything and I wrote it in my journal."

And he said, “Oh fuck journal, you could lose your journal. You gotta do something."

I said, "So what do you have in mind?"

So later on, after the Viper Room closed--we ended up at a West Hollywood tattoo parlor.  I never got a tattoo before and I didn’t want any skulls or knives or any of the things I was seeing on the wall.  And I happened to have a copy of the Cameron book with me so I showed the tattoo woman and I said, "Could you do this?"

It was the Doubleday logo, which is an anchor with a smiling dolphin wrapped around it.  So she said, "Perfect."  So that’s what I ended up with on my left shoulder.


MS:  In case you forgot where the paychecks were coming from.

CH:  The book came much later.  I sent him a note saying I was working on the book on him and he sent me back a note, he didn’t care what I wrote, just if I didn’t want him to stand in the way I had to promise no pictures of his kids would be in the book. 

I said, "Over my dead body."  But little did I know I didn’t actually have the contractual authority to make that assertion, but it was fine.

MS:  Let me switch gears for a little bit.  What originally got you into movies as a kid?  What movie did you love?

CH:  The first movie I recall being shown was my father showed me “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”  I was a very small child and he probably wasn’t supposed to, but what I clearly remember from the experience is there’s a scene where the creature lifts up this woman over his head and is very menacing and it’s got that crazy music that blows you out of your seat.

My father said, look here, and he pointed to the screen and you can see the zipper clearly running down the inside of the costume of the creature.  He explained to me what it was.  So I went away thinking what a cool job that is! 

You get to dress up like a monster and that is fun!  So I had that sense of movie history.  It wasn’t just watching something for the thrill of entertainment.  I would watch something and if it moved me I would be compelled to find out more about it.  

That just sort of grew into a profession.  While other kids were going to see disaster movies, I was sneaking in to see retrospectives of “The Godfather.”  

MS:  As a reviewer, I’m going to put you on the spot, what’s your worst movie experience and your best movie experience?

  I’ve had many bests.  And honestly one of the worst that I can remember because it’s so recent is “Avatar.”

MS:  Really, why?

CH:  I don’t like the tone that was taken.  In movie history, big movies would come out and a studio would say, "This is spectacular!"  This one, it came out and they said, "This is going to change the way movies are made!  This is the greatest thing ever!"  It’s almost like they were telling you that you would be an idiot not to love this. 

There’s something that really bothered me about that.  And I went through this with Cameron on “Titanic”  Because “Titanic” had gone north of 200 million--whatever they say “Titanic” cost, it cost a 100 million more.  I had this argument with Cameron. 

He said, “What the hell difference does it matter how much it cost?  If it costs you ten bucks to see it whether it was made for a $200 thousand budget or a $200 million budget, it doesn’t mean anything to you, because you don’t have to pay any more to see it.”

Then all of a sudden “Avatar” comes along and the studio is saying, this is a special movie.  You have to pay more to see this.   Now you’ve got something to say about it.  Saying that this movie is going to change the way movies are made forever is horrifying to me.

MS:  Why?

CH:  Because it’s a $400 million—okay, that’s what they’re copping to, $400 million, it’s more like 600 million.  Who has access to that kind of scratch to make movies!?

MS:  As a movie though, what did you think?

CH:  I thought it was juvenile.  It was dazzling, visually dazzling.

I thought it was as juvenile as are most of Cameron’s movies.  “Titanic” won every single Oscar it was nominated for but it wasn’t even nominated for screenplay.  The same with “Avatar.”  That’s not an accident.  The stories are stupid. 

Cameron’s very open about the fact that that’s not what interests him.  It’s the razzle dazzle, it’s pushing the cinematic technology a little further each time.  And that’s fine, but don’t say because I’ve done this, that everything’s changed

As far as best experiences, recently they had a festival in Toronto at one of our big cinemas where they pulled out all these older films and showed them on the big screen and one of them was “Amadeus.”  So I ran down the street and saw “Amadeus” and I loved it just as much as I did when I was a kid. 

I thought, here’s a movie that doesn’t have anything that classic Hollywood now puts in movies. 

It had brains, it had classical music, it had great writing, great acting, great visuals and it was a big hit.  Despite itself.  So I’ve had many, many, many of those where I’ll go into a movie and it’ll just blow me away because I didn’t hear much about it.  And the Toronto Film Festival is good for that. 

Many movies come out of nowhere.  One year I remember a movie coming out of the festival, no one was showing any interest in it and would I like to have a look at it, I went and it was “Rushmore.”  And I thought that was one of the freshest, most fascinating movies I’d seen in years.  Out of nowhere. 

“Memento” same thing.  For every Michael Bay and every “Transformer” movie, something like “Sexy Beast” can come out and you’re like, okay there’s still people who are thinking along those lines.  That  films can be art. 

MS:  “Memento’s” one of my favorites.

Again that came here to the Toronto Film Festival with no distributor, no anything.  And I’m watching and I think, who has the guts to make a movie like this and in walks Christopher Nolan looking like a college professor and I thought, wow this guy’s gonna do big things. 

I didn’t have any idea he’d do “The Dark Knight.”  He can do comic book movies and still give us sophistication and intelligence, so there is hope.

MS:  Let me ask you an Oscar question.  Now that Kathryn Bigelow's been nominated for a Best Director Oscar, do you think that’s going to start opening some doors for more women directors?

CH:  It should.  I never understood why those doors were closed anyway except that Hollywood’s a big boy’s club.  I’ve met Kathryn Bigelow and she’s delightful to speak to and the most unlikeliest person—and there it is, see, I almost walked into my own stereotype.  You walk in and you meet Kathryn Bigelow and you’re like, wow this is the most unlikely person doing an action movie I’ve ever seen, why? Because she’s a tall, beautiful woman?

That’s what happens in Hollywood all the time.  It’s that thinking that she’s a woman director that she’s more inclined to make “Time Traveler’s Wife.” 

I think what Kathryn Bigelow has been able to do, and not just with "Hurt Locker," even as far back as “Point Break,” is show that women can do any kind of genre. 

And I hope that is what comes of this.  And I sincerely hope that this Sunday when they say, "The winner for Best Director is..." it’s going to be her name they call and not her ex-husband’s.


Christopher Heard's next book, due out at the end of April is a bio of Britney Spears.



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