I preface the following interview with the information and occasion that facilitated my interview. The English Department at the University of Texas at Austin hosted a screening of “Anonymous,” a new film by director Roland Emmerich. The screening took place in the Texas Union Theater on 27 September 2011 at 7:30 P.M. My interview followed a Q&A discussion panel between the audience, director, writer, and visiting Actors from the London Stage. It was a fortuitous event that I was privileged to work as a member of the Texas Union Hospitality staff. A link to the event website is provided here. https://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/english/events/20074
I am nervous. Sweaty-palmed, chain-gum-chewing, pacing around nervous. I also look ridiculous. I volunteered to work as security for the Union Building while they pre-screened a film about Shakespeare having not authored any of his plays. I am instructed to guard the two backstage doors through which the film’s director will arrive. He isn’t some independent filmmaker struggling to break into the Hollywood scene. This man has been around for more than a decade. He directed the likes of Mel Gibson, Will Smith, John Cussack, and Jake Gyllenhaal! He has an eye for explosions and is very German and also arriving through the door, my guard post, at any moment. I about jump out of my skin at the sound of distorted radio traffic emitting from the AV man’s back pocket. Shortly thereafter, a cough from an audience member almost causes me to swallow my gum. (I pop another piece nevertheless.) Roland Emmerich doesn’t know it yet, but I, the 100-pound security guard in a pink dress, will ambush him and interview him about his work as a director and his life as a celebrity. And there it is, a knock at the door!
Outwardly cool and inwardly alight, I swing the double doors open to find a group of well-dressed, overly chic men. Roland stands in the middle and it takes me a few seconds of face-searching before I home in on my target. He looks just as he does in his IMDB photo. His hair is stylishly combed and irresistibly silver. He has that “I’ve been around the blocks a few times and know a thing or two about a thing or two” appearance I would imagine James Dean having in his late fifties. He is cooler by far than Anderson Cooper…right there alongside George Clooney and Richard Gere. Yet, he doesn’t have that A-List “actor’s director” vibe. This is probably because he is all but dancing in place while his chaperone asks me how much more time they have before needing to go onstage. “Roland,” he informs me, “has to piss.”
There are only a few minutes before the end credits role and the audience will want to see the man responsible for the two hours of Elizabethan historical drama they have just witnessed. Roland’s film, Anonymous, postures an alternative author (or two) wrote the great plays heretofore credited to William Shakespeare’s brilliant quill. A discussion panel with the film’s writer, John Orloff, Actors from the London Stage, and professors from UT’s English Department is occurring to explain the film’s claims: a treat indeed for the die-hard Shakespearians ready to sink their teeth into Roland and his team. On any other occasion, I too would have been more than happy to passively observe the panel, but I had to plot my impromptu interview and make sure I had the opportunity to glean some knowledge from an accomplished director’s brain. Another tap at the door mere moments before the exit music sounds, and I invite Roland Emmerich backstage.
His bladder blew it! The men’s room trip cut into my guerrilla interview and he had but a few moments’ time before being introduced onstage. For one second he was beside me (giving me the one over—pink dress, walkie talkie, how very impressive a security guard I was indeed!) and the next he was onstage, leaving me to mentally struggle with how I would approach him once the commentary concluded.
An hour later he was signing autographs and taking pictures with those lined up, iphones out, and eager to take a picture with the rather prolific director. As the line waned, I timidly approached and stood right beside him, wielding my walkie-talkie and trying to look as important as possible. The following conversation, a very animated and engaging discussion, arose from my simply leaning against the stage as he sat over the edge of it, inches away from each other, and that much closer to me achieving my future filmmaking endeavors:
TW: I just wondered if I could ask you a few short questions. As a filmmaker, what do you love most about your job?
RE: The variety! I get to make many different films. I did this one…[Anonymous] Elizabethan, you know? My next movie is set a thousand years in the future. I have the best job in the world…it’s a fun job and they pay me well for doing it. I didn’t get paid much for this, but am for my current film. I just really like to be able to get involved in a variety of projects and choose what I want. Good pay or not, right? I also get to put my own experiences in my films. And actors! YES! Yes, yes, I just met up with them to screen this movie at a festival and we had a hard time staying serious. Getting to know them and using them. I can get great performances out of them.
TW: Exactly! Well, what would you say is the worst thing about directing or the film industry in general?
RE: Doing this kind of thing.
TW: Is it exhausting?
RE: Taxing, yes. The promotional commitments…they get confusing. I get emails from the creative department about current projects and I still have to be out doing this kind of thing. It’s taxing…confusing.
TW: Well, what do you think you would do if you could change anything about the industry?
*After I posed this question, he looked from my face toward the ceiling, cocking his head and squinting his eyes as if looking through the sheetrock for the answer. After a few frustrated sighs, for this was by far the hardest question for him to answer, he looked at me again and with conviction replied:
RE: Some movies get made that shouldn’t get made, right? I mean Jackass 3 makes more money than The Social Network.
TW: So you’d want to change the audience?
RE: [Laughs] Alien was the sequel to Alien. Terminator was great, but did we need a Terminator 3? Yeah, movies get made that shouldn’t get made…the audience…how do you change what people want? You create a better product…better movies.
TW: That being said, what advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?
RE: Do what you love. Believe in yourself. In Germany I wanted to be like Coppola, and that’s not what you did…
TW: They believe in more practical degrees over there.
RE: Yeah, what I wanted to be was considered a hobby. I made four movies in Germany and came here (USA) and made those same movies. They just liked them over here…I get to put my own experiences in my films. Do what you love and others will love it too. Not everyone! [Laughing] But some.
The theater is nearly empty now. Only the remaining staff and a few photo takers were left and Roland was beckoned by his ever-attentive chaperone back through the double doors in which he came. I asked for a hug and he willingly obliged. He went above and beyond my expectations. With his honesty and visible passion for filmmaking, I too can go forward into the industry with confidence, drive, and hopefully a little luck that rubbed off the dinner jacket of a great director and onto my pink frock during a memorable embrace that forever remains a highlight from a mere class assignment•
Roland Emmerich directed films including but not limited to Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998), The Patriot (2000), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) 10,000 B.C. (2008) 2012 (2009), Anonymous (2011).
Take a look at all of the lovely apartment furnishings on my page. I don’t have any of them. None are mine to covet. I only drool over them from my cubicle.
I just moved in to my very first non-student apartment. So far, the worst part of my adult life has been the unfurnished dwellings available in the Austin area. I HAVE NO FURNITURE!!!.
To be sure, this is merely a first-world problem that should really not constitute so much anxiety on my part, but when it comes to sleeping on an egg crate mattress topper and eating dinner whilst seated on my kitchen counter, there is nothing more aggravating.
Why not just pop over to IKEA you ask? I still work part time and have no money I sarcastically retort. Only those earning money enjoy the luxury of elevated repose.
So, I now close this with every intention to salivate over the Home Decor boards all over Pinterest, because there really is nothing quite like rubbing salt in the proverbial wound.