Last week I had to make a choice. I could stay in Los Angeles and be at a press conference with the amazing and wonderful and inspiring Woody Allen, or I could go up to San Francisco and get my first opportunity to talk to George Lucas. Since I had already interviewed Woody twice – in small roundtable situations, no less – I opted to finally ask George Lucas the question I had been dying to ask him for years.
In my stead John Humbert went to and recorded the press conference. My brother transcribed it. I thank them both immensely.
This would have likely been my last chance to interview Woody, as he never comes to the West Coast. He was in LA putting the finishing touches on an opera he directed (he talks about it in the interview) and talked for an hour about his career and his excellent new film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (my review forthcoming if I can dig out of all the junk I have to do today). The result is this fascinating, entertaining press conference. Hope you enjoy it.
I’m curious for you to talk about the inspiration you get from women. You have some pretty amazing female characters in this movie, can you talk about women and what they bring out in you in terms of making films?
The interesting thing is, and I’ve said this before, when I first started I could never write for women. When I wrote my first couple of films and did them, and when I used to write my cabaret act, and I would write sketches for television, I could never write for women. I always wrote the male point of view and this went on and on for quite a while. People even commented about it at the time. Then I got into ‘Play it Again, Sam’ with Diane Keaton on stage and Keaton and I started dating, we started living together, and became very close. Through some kind of Socratic osmosis or something I started writing for women. I started writing for Diane, and I found I could write for women. Then I sort of only wrote for women; I wrote more and more for women, and I wrote for them all the time. I like women, I enjoy their company. The person I edit with is a woman, my editing assistants are all women, and my press person is a woman. My producer is a woman. I just enjoy their company very much; I get a big kick out of them. For some reason I find them interesting to write about. Men occasionally, but really my heart is in it more when I’m writing for women, I don’t know why. I remember when that transformation took place from an inability to write a credible woman; anything but a one-dimensional woman to writing for women all the time. Over the years I’ve written many women’s roles that turned out to be some of my most interesting roles. A bonus is that there are so many wonderful actresses out there that it’s much easier to get a woman for a role than it is a man. If you write a role there are always a couple of women you can get for it, whereas with a guy, if you don’t get the one or two guys you want it’s not so easy. There is a scarcity of guys, really, on that level. There are so many gifted women out there that are just waiting for an opportunity to work.
Like Scarlett Johansson?
Yeah, Scarlett was an accident. I had Kate Winslet for ‘Match Point’ to the last week in pre-production, when she said she couldn’t do the picture, because she had worked continually and had spent no time with her child. She asked would I forgive her, and of course I understood that completely, but I didn’t know Scarlett from a hole in the wall. I thought she was too young to play the part, she was only 19 years old at the time. But I was in a hole, I had to get somebody fairly quickly, and I knew that Scarlett was a great actress and a beauty but I didn’t know if she was really what I had written. I hired her and became totally captivated by her. I thought she could simply do anything. She was not only beautiful but also bright, amusing, charming, and gifted. I’m very happy to work with her. Whenever there is a part that fits anything she could do I will always call her and hope that she would be available for it, as I did with Keaton for years. I did that with Mia; I did many roles with her, thought she was a wonderful actress, and she never let me down. I think that the same with be true with Scarlett.
As a writer what are the challenges for you to write about three different culturally distinctive characters, in terms of creating the characters from Barcelona and America? What was a particular challenge for you?
It was not, I had the idea about two women going away on a summer thing some place. Someone called from Barcelona and said ‘Would you like to make a picture here? We’ll finance it.’ That’s always the hardest part of making any picture, is getting the financing. Writing it, directing it, or anything else is easier than getting the financing for it, so I said sure, I would do it. I had no idea for anything for it, and then about a week or two later I got a call from Penelope Cruz, who I didn’t know but she wanted to meet, and she was in New York. I had only seen her in ‘Volver’ and nothing else ever. I thought she was great in it, and she said that she knew I was doing a picture in Barcelona, and she would like to participate. I started out with Barcelona, with Penelope, and in the back of mind I knew I was going to go to Scarlett. Then I heard Javier was interested, so gradually it took shape. I was writing for these people. I didn’t know Rebecca Hall at all. Juliet Taylor, my casting director, discovered her and said that she was great, I should read her, and look at some film on her. I did and she was right. I put the thing together for the people almost, as I did it, and did the best I could. I relied on whatever knowledge I had, I’ve been to Barcelona several times in my life, but I didn’t have a vast knowledge of it. When I got over there the art director took me to all these places. Everybody on the crew cooperates and says ‘They would never speak that way in Barcelona.’ Or ‘They would never go to that restaurant if they are 25 or 30 years old, they would go to this one.’ So gradually you do it and it looks like you know Barcelona or you know London, when in fact you are faking. Everybody helps you a great deal. That is exactly how it emerged.
You have been exploring relationships in all of your films. Have you found any answers?
I haven’t found any answers that you would want to hear. At the end of this movie, it’s a very pessimistic movie, because even the trappings, the cosmetics of the movie are up. Barcelona is beautiful, there is light, the music is pretty, and the actors and actresses are beautiful. In the end Javier and Penelope can’t live with each other, they can’t live without each other, and they’re, you know they’re dissatisfied, they can’t make it together. Scarlett is always suffering from chronic dissatisfaction, she wants something but has no idea what it is and she will always want something. Nothing will ever satisfy her, because it’s really in her and that’s the problem. Rebecca Hall is marrying this guy but she’ll have a fairly stable, acceptable life, with no big highs or lows, and it will be some version of what Patricia Clarkson has. Maybe less dramatic than that, or more maybe, but she’ll always feel, a couple of decades down the line, that there were missed things in life she didn’t have.
I have a pessimistic view of relationships. My view has always been that you talk about it with your friends, you scheme, you plot, and you see psychoanalysts. You see marriage counselors, get medicated, do everything they can, but in the end you have to luck out. It’s complete luck. Total luck. You have all these exquisite needs and some woman has all her exquisite needs, and the odds of all those wires going together are very, very slim. If one of those wires is not there then it gets annoying and she gets dissatisfied, you get dissatisfied. So, to get it all clicking in is a very happy accident and it does happen to people, because there are so many people in the world, that statistically a certain amount of them must luck out. They meet someone, fall in love, they are happy with that person, no real friction, but its luck. This is my observation of it, this can be argued, but if you ask me I would say that’s what I’ve learned. All the advice, planning, self help books, anything you do, dating services, you’ve got to get lucky. If you do it’s great. Some people do, but you can see by the divorce rate, the amount of relationships people go through, and the amount of people in unhappy relationships but stay together because of inertia, because of children, fear of loneliness, there are very few really wonderful ones. You have to get lucky. I hope I haven’t depressed you.
When you were shooting on location in Barcelona, you always had a crowd of fans. How complicated was it to shoot?
It was very easy to shoot in Barcelona. There’s a film community in Spain, some from Barcelona, and some came from Madrid where there is a more active film community, but it was a cinch. Yes, there were huge crowds hanging around, but it was no problem at all. They were the most polite, sweet people. They would hang around, they didn’t bother us, and before a take if I needed quite they would all get very quiet. They were totally cooperative and nice. We had an enormous amount of cooperation from the city in every way. If you look at the end of the picture you see all the credits of people that participated. People were giving us things for nothing left and right, they couldn’t have been sweeter. I was able to make the picture and because of all the freebies I could make it for the small budget that I had. I never had a lot of money to make pictures. I make my pictures for approximately 15 million dollars; some will be sixteen, some will be fourteen, but that’s the ballpark. We were able to make the picture for that, and the picture looks healthy, because we got so much cooperation and free things. The town was great to us. The museum would open up for us. The crowds in the street, which were enormous, it was not like shooting in New York where you get a couple of drifters that watch, and they are jaded, and don’t care. We really got hundreds and hundreds of people. They could not have been sweeter or more cooperative.
Most of our crew did not speak English, but a few did. I don’t speak Spanish. But they knew how to light; they knew how to do all the crew work beautifully. You can see that the picture looks good. The cameraman was a Spanish cameraman, and he did a beautiful job. He was as good as any cameraman in the world, wonderful cameraman, and he didn’t speak English. It didn’t matter. I’ve made a number of pictures with a Chinese cameraman who didn’t speak any English in the past. I worked for 10 years with Carlos DePalma who spoke a tiny bit of English but not much. Those things are the easy things. That stuff is easy, but what is hard is getting a good script. When a project fails, 90 percent of the time, it’s that the script is no good. The actors are generally quite good. It’s rare that something doesn’t work because the actors have torpedoed you in some way. It’s rare that you directed it so badly that it doesn’t work, I mean, directing is not rocket science; you do it and get it on the screen. But if you have a bad script, then no amount of being Fellini, or a great stylist or anything saves you. In the end you wind up with a flawed movie, or a boring movie, or illogical story, or un-engaging story.
Once I had the script, and it was decent, the fact that nobody could speak English didn’t matter. Penelope and Javier, I encouraged them to improvise all the time; they are great actors and they improvised all over the place. I have to tell you, I had no idea what they were saying. No idea. I could tell from the body language that clearly it was the scene I wrote in some way. It was not the words I wrote, but they were breaking up, or arguing over their emotional life, and I had no idea what they were saying until I got back to New York City and I was putting the titles in the picture. The person who did the titles was bilingual and told me what they were saying and it was fine. It was not always what I wrote by any means, often flamboyant flights of fancy that they took, but it was fine. You can do it if you have a story to tell. As long as it’s a decent story, then everybody has common sense about how to tell the story, then you can do it. If the script is not good, then no amount of great acting, or flashy direction, great camera work, it will never bail you out. This I know from many years of being on both ends of these things.
Rebecca Hall’s character seemed a like the roles you have played in the past. She is the voice of reason but also nervous about the future. When you were writing the character of Vicky was that something that you were thinking of as your voice?
It’s funny that you should ask me that, you are the third person that has asked me that question and to me, it seems so outlandish. Apparently it’s not though because you are the third person to ask me that question. Years ago when Pauline Kale saw ‘Interiors’ she insisted to me that I was the Mary Beth Hurt character, on the flimsy evidence that she was wearing a tweed sport jacket that I liked to wear. I was saying ‘No, it’s not true because Mary Beth’s problem in the movie is that she can’t express herself artistically. She’s full of feeling and can’t get it out.’ I’ve always been able to write a little bit, or make jokes, I’ve never had that problem. As the years went by people would say ‘John Cusack is you, Kenneth Branagh or this one is you…’ so when I did ‘Match Point’ someone said to me, “Jonathan Rhys Meyers was playing your role, right?” I’m thinking, how can someone possibly come to that? In my wildest incarnation I couldn’t play that role or be that character, or think that way. The same here; not for a second would I think of myself, in any relation to Vicky. I would have thought myself, and I don’t mean this because he’s so charming and charismatic, in Javier’s role. Because I could see a funny scene of me getting up in a restaurant and trying to pick up two attractive women, then not being successful at it, or getting in over my head. I could see Javier’s atheistic, existential point of view, as one I’ve expressed many times. But no one has said ‘Javier was kind of talking for you at times.’ They think that the girl is speaking for me, Rebecca Hall. I see it as absolutely not so, but it’s interesting that it keeps coming up, so I can only think I have a blind spot. It’s not like you’re the only crazy in the city. I have a blind spot and I don’t see it, but apparently it’s there for other people to see because now it’s come up again and again. I don’t see it in any way, but I can’t honestly say that my perspective on it is correct. I’m starting to lose confidence.
‘Life Is The Ultimate Work Of Art’ is the poster tagline, how do you feel about it? How do you feel about the statue made in your honor in Oviedo? Also, an artistic choice you made in the film was a narrator who is off screen and never really identified. It’s a great literary thing to do. Do you see film as literature?
OK, you’ve got three questions there, so the first one was the copy line. First I have to disavow the copy line. Usually when the marketing people show you posters for your movie, usually your heart sinks. You think you have made a beautiful film or at least you’ve tried to make a beautiful film and they usually show you something that is aimed, in the most heavy handed way, at the lowest common denominator. Now on this picture, they showed me the ad, and I thought it was beautiful, I thought it was great. I was so shocked that I was not going to have to send it back and say ‘Please try again.’ It was a beautiful ad, better than anything I had imagined. I never feel a copy line is necessary, but marketing people always throw one in there. I wasn’t even aware of the copy line. It’s meaningless to me; it has no relation to the film, and no relation to anything. It’s something to get the suckers in off the street. I wish it wasn’t in there. The poster is beautiful and it’s one of the nicest I’ve ever had. That’s how I feel about copy lines. They are always terrible. They never mean anything, they never bring anybody in, and they satisfy the marketing people for some strange reason.
Now, my statue in Oviedo is one of the great mysteries of western civilization. Oviedo is a lovely town in Spain, I went there a couple of times, and it’s beautiful. I went once years ago for something. Without asking me, I never did anything there, I never saved anybody’s life, and they said ‘We’re putting a statue up of you in town.’ I thought it was a joke. Then in the town there is a statue of me, and it’s a good statue, completely undeserved, but a bronze statue of me. It looks good. I’ve got my sport jacket on, corduroy trousers, you know. First I thought it was one of those things where I leave town and they take it in, then when Brad Pitt comes to town they put his statue out. Why a statue of me? I’ve never done anything up there and it didn’t make any sense to me. I have a photograph of it at home with two feet of snow piled on my head. People keep stealing the glasses from it, and they are welded onto the statue. Guys come with blowtorches at night and they take the glasses off. I have been there where I’ve had half of my glasses off. They fixed it up this time when I was going there. It’s a completely inexplicable statue. I don’t know what the connection is, it’s like picking someone off the street; like the fools marriage in Hunchback of Notre Dame. I just don’t understand, but they are nice people, and I’m happy to go there. Though I don’t visit the statue much.
The third thing was the narrator. I primarily feel I’m a writer who only directs so my stuff is not mangled on the screen. I’m a writer. I always feel the narrative voice. I was a standup comic who always spoke to the audience. I write and very often in my films I either talk to the audience, have a character talk to the audience, have a narrator or something because I just feel the presence of the author all the time. I’m literary in that sense. When I thought of the story I thought of it in that way, instinctively. I never conceived it in any other way.
At least one of the actors in this show said they were nervous when they learned they were working with you because you are such an accomplished director. Do you have a technique for putting your actors at ease? Also, you said that Scarlett Johansson could do anything. It’s a high compliment and it’s rare for an actor. Is there a role you haven’t written for her that you want to see her do?
First question, the actors should not feel ill at ease, I am the one that feels ill at ease and I think it’s my ill at ease personality that makes them feel that way. Also, there is a lot of nonsense that circulates about me, that they come to believe, that I don’t like to speak to anybody. They say I’m reclusive. There was a think in the New York Times magazine section last week; they did a feature on Matthew Goode, who I worked with in ‘Match Point’. He said ‘I came into the audition and someone said ‘Don’t shake hands with Woody, he doesn’t like to be touched.’ So, where these things originate I can’t imagine. I’m not incredibly social, but I’m not forbidding. I’m nervous around them so I don’t really have a way of putting them at ease. I think what happens is that they are nervous before they come in, but after they meet me for one minute, and they see I’m no threat and not anything they’ve conceived, they see I’m a push over and they can handle me effortlessly, they become relaxed. It’s nothing I do to make that happen. They see it, but I think my nerves, my shyness, could read as something that it is not. As for Scarlett goes, I never think in terms of there is something I would like to write for someone. I will say that if I ever have a part that she could play I would always go to her for them. I hope that she would be available because I do think that she is capable of anything. If you need dramatic, she’s dramatic and if you need a laugh, she can get a laugh. She can sing a song if you need it, she’s sexy, she’s intelligent. She is a great ace in the hole to have, and there are a lot of things she can do. And that face on the screen, she is so photogenic it’s paralyzing. I would always try and use her if I could; there is no limit for her. I now think there is no limit for Penelope either. She’s learning English much more. She is getting very, very fluid with her English. When I started with her she spoke it pretty well but now she is really getting completely bilingual. They will be writing more and more parts for her in English speaking pictures. She will be able to score very heavily because she is a very charismatic actress.
You are in town to direct an opera? What is the difference in directing and will you work with Placido Domingo?
I didn’t want to direct anybody else’s material before. I never directed a significant thing in the theater live. The only live thing I directed were my own little one act plays. I certainly never directed on Opera. I’ve only been to about 15 of them in my life. Placido is a friend of mine and he’s been bothering me for a long time to direct an opera. I always dodged it or slipped out of it. They said ‘Look, this is a one act opera; Puccini wrote three one act operas and you just have to do the third one.’ It’s a small cast, it’s a one hour opera, and it’s only about 10 people. No big chorus. They said ‘You can do it, and we’ll help you.’
This was like three years ago and I figured “I’ll be dead in three years,” so I said ‘Okay.’ Then, I didn’t die so I get the call, ‘You have to come to LA and do the opera’. So tomorrow morning at 9:30 I start. I’ll do my best and I hope that the Puccini material is strong enough so that I won’t get hurt. Cause at the opera, it’s not like the movies, at the opera they boo and I don’t know if I can take that. I’ve been disliked, but always from a distance. For people to boo me in person would be new. It’s moving personally, but I’ve got to do it, and I’ll give it my best shot. I think its okay. It’s only 55 minutes actually. I timed it and it ran 55 minutes. I have to keep it tight for 55 minutes. I’m such a novice at it I asked people ‘When we rehearse do we sing?’ I’m still not sure how that works. So when I direct a scene am I going to have to stop and wait for the guy to sing his whole thing before I move on to the next one? I don’t know what to expect. We have a wonderful, wonderful set, and I’ll give it my best shot. I hope the material is so strong that they won’t see the flaws in me.
This is being called your sexiest movie yet. It seems like in your early movies you never had sex scenes. Can you talk about discovering sex at this point in your life?
It’s just by chance. Everybody thinks that there is an agenda that I have. Maybe they think its certain psychological turning points in my life. It’s not really so. It just so happens that this story requires a certain amount of sensuality. There’s very little if you think about it. There is a kissing scene, a scene between the two girls that is brief, and there isn’t really a lot of sex in the picture. It’s nothing really that I haven’t discovered before, its just whatever is required.
For instance, I just finished a picture with Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, and Patricia Clarkson. There’s no sex in the movie. It’s a comedy, a romantic comedy; but no sex at all in the movie. It’s just by chance that the next film I thought of could be a musical with no sex, or a very sexual picture, or if I have an idea for what I felt was a brilliant pornographic comedy idea. If I had an idea for a family comedy I would do that; it’s just whatever idea I come up with. Vicky and Match Point naturally had a little passion in it, but not much to speak of really.
Yesterday, when I was practicing my clarinet in the hotel, I turned on the television set and ‘Show Girls’ was on TV. Now that was clearly sexual. This one isn’t.
Were you comfortable directing Scarlett and Javier in that scene where they are making love in bed?
When they are kissing? You know, it was nothing. I mean, for me it was nothing, I didn’t get to do it. They started kissing, and I thought I would make the scene extra long, beyond what you would think would be long to make a statement. I wanted to have the camera in close so it would go in and out of focus. They just kissed, and kissed, and kissed. Then when it was over that was it. They went their own way and there was no real feeling because they are actors. They get paid. Kissing for a couple of minutes, I watch, and say ‘Okay, we’ll do it again.’ Then it’s over and we movie on to the next thing.
You said that you have a pessimistic view of love. For a writer and director who is so into human psychology and how people work, isn’t there a side to you that thinks people change and evolve?
There is always the possibility that they will change. Real change, I think, is more rare. You are who you are at a certain age and you are pretty much a variation of that your whole life. It’s conceivable that you will change but it’s not likely. Rebecca is never comfortable, she’s never going to have an affair, and cheat on her husband. She’s all nervous and full of anxiety. She changes her clothes a million times, she can’t decide if she should kiss him, go to bed with him, should she leave. Some people are not meant for adventure or adultery. Scarlett will always be that beautiful girl who all the guys run after and she will get involved with the next poet, or factory worker would be her next action. That won’t work out, so she’ll get involved with a swimmer, and the list will go on and on. I don’t hold high chances for people changing who they are, but again I’m a pessimistic person. I’m sure that someone who is brimming with optimism and they could be correct and I could be wrong.
Which was more challenging, writing for a different culture or characters from a different generation than yourself?
What happens is that you get a lot of help from people. I write the thing as best I can, for the generation, or gender. I just wrote it. They play it and when they play it they say ‘We would really never say this. We would never go to that nightclub. We don’t do this anymore.’ They would tell me and I would strike it from the script then ask ‘What would you do?’ Then I add it and let them do that thing instead. I never think in terms of writing for a culture or for a generation. I just write the story so that it works. When you are doing it you would be amazed how many people chime in with corrections; rveryone from the cameraman to the guy delivering coffee. It could be the actor or actress. All of that helps to focus the thing, so that it works by the time you finish, and it’s reasonably accurate.
I wanted to ask about the music in the movie. How much of a part does it play in directing?
The music to me is always the most pleasurable part of the movie. You are finished cutting it, you watch and there is no sound or music, its a little latent. Then suddenly you hear the recording and I have everything from Beethoven to Louis Armstrong to Charlie Parker; anything I want. I can drop it in and suddenly the movie gets a lift that is great. When I put Gershwin into Manhattan, Marshal Brickman called it far grandeur; the picture suddenly has great lift. I picked out Spanish pieces that were very, very beautiful.
The main song ‘Barcelona’ was a funny story. I get a million things in the mail every day. I don’t look at them, they are scripts, music, and things that I’m not supposed to look at them and I never do. But I was running out to shoot and just as I walked out my door this recording had been slipped under my door. I took it with me, even though is shouldn’t, I usually throw them in a pile, and my assistant returns them. I took it with me as something to play in the car. I put it in the car, put it on, and it was the opening song. I thought ‘My God, I’m half way through the picture, but this is the music I want for the picture.’ We contacted with people and they were thrilled because they were not established people or anything. They gave it to us for nothing, they just wanted exposure of the song. The song is very, very catchy. Everybody loves it, it’s a hit in Barcelona, and they are making a video of it there now. It was just by chance that it happened.
The companies that financed this picture have offered you three more pictures of financing. Can you address how that will guide you artistically?
The company who did this picture is a very nice group of people who backed the film. I was putting together my next film and we spoke to them. They said they would love to back another film of mine. We had been talking to somebody else about doing three films. We said to them ‘We’re on the verge of making a deal with these people for three films.’ They said ‘We’ll make three films with you.’ I said ‘That’s fine, but I can’t do three more films in Barcelona.’ So they said ‘You can make them anywhere in the world you want to make them. We just want to be the producers, we want to finance the films.’ They were lovely people, we all had a very nice experience, and so I said sure. In Europe, they don’t have a studio system. In the United States they would be saying to me ‘We’ll give you the money to make the film, but we’re not just bankers.’ They are in fact just bankers, but they think they are not just bankers. They want to participate, cast, read the script. ‘This is a great script, but you have no second act.’ This is stuff that they are utterly unqualified to judge, because even people that do this for a living have a hard time making those calls, they make them wrong all the time. The money people in the United States want to participate and I can get money in the United States if I want to let them read my script, or sit in with me on casting, and I didn’t want to do that. In Europe there is not studio system, they’re just bankers. ‘We don’t know about that stuff. You make the film. You cast it, we don’t read the script. We just want to put up the money and make some money on it.’ There are tax things and whatever mischief they get involved with, so it’s a pleasure. Now, will it be fine if I make two embarrassing pictures for them and they lose their shirt? Will they be so nice to me? Maybe they will, I don’t know, but maybe not. Lots of times they start off with a lot of hugs and kisses and then you make a picture that tanks and you can’t get them on the phone and the lawyers start talking. I don’t know. My experience with these people has been very positive so far and they seem like lovely people. I have great faith in them.
From working with two Spanish actors in Spain was there anything that you learned from that culture?
Allen: They take themselves very seriously; Javier and Penelope are very serious actors. I always found that amusing, they are so great, and like most serious actors, like Robert De Niro, they think they are great because they do all that work on the part, but they are born great. They are great when they wake up in the morning. They don’t have to do all that work and they would still be great. I never rehearsed with any of the actors. I never talked to them about the plot or anything. I just show up and do it and I get a lot of great performances simply by hiring great people. Javier and Penelope were constantly talking about the plots but not with me, with each other. They were rehearsing all the time, their lines in make-up, they rehearsed by themselves. I found that amusing. They think that’s what is making them great. What is making them great is that they just are great. Javier could walk into this room, never having seen anything before, and act the part out. He would be charismatic and mesmerizing, it’s just built into him. It’s the same with Robert DeNiro, or Jack Nicholson. It’s just there for a lot of actors. I found that the Spanish actors took it very seriously. They were very formal and serious about the work. I found that amusing myself. In the end it I don’t say anything and I stay quiet as long as they don’t bother me.
What life lessons did you learn as a little boy that still serve as a strong source of inspiration for you even now?
I think that the biggest life lesson I learned as a boy that has helped me and is still with me is that you really have to discipline yourself to do the work. If you want to accomplish something you can’t spend a lot of time hemming and hawing, putting it off, making excuses for yourself, and figuring ways out of it. You have to actually do it. I have to go home every single day, know where I am, what I’m doing, and including 45 minutes of practice on my Clarinet because I want to play. I have to do it, I want to write, so I get up in the morning, go in and close the door and write. You can’t, you know, string paper clips, and get your pad ready, and turn your phone off, and get this, get coffee made. You have to do the stuff. Everything in life turns out to be a distraction from the real thing you want to do.
There are a million distractions and when I was a kid I was very disciplined. I knew that the other kids weren’t. I was the one able to do the thing, not because I had more talent, maybe less, but because they simply weren’t applying themselves. As a kid I wanted to do magic tricks and I could sit endlessly in front of mirror, practicing and practicing, because I knew if you wanted to do the tricks you’ve got to do the thing. I did that with the Clarinet, I did that with writing. This is the most important thing in my life because I see people striking out all the time. It’s not because they don’t have talent, or because they don’t want to, but because they don’t put the work in to do it. They don’t have the discipline to do it. This was something I learned myself. I also had a very strict mother who was no nonsense about that stuff. She said ‘If you don’t do it, then you aren’t going to be able to do the thing.’ It’s as simple as that.
I said this to my daughter, if you don’t practice the guitar, when you get older you won’t be able to play it. It’s that simple. If you want to play the guitar, you put a half hour in everyday, but you have to do it. This has been the biggest guiding principle in my life when I was younger and it stuck. I made the statement that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen. All the other people struck out without ever getting that even that far. Once you do it, you write your script, or novel, you are more than halfway towards something good happening. What I am saying is the one life lesson that has worked for me, all others have failed.