Monday, September 06, 2010

Interview with Thomas McCarthy (writer-director of The Visitor) - June 21st, 2008

Promoting: The Visitor
Venue: The Delegate Centre, Edinburgh Film Festival
Interview type: One-on-one

Q: I love the film, first of all. Tell me how the idea came about.

Thomas McCarthy (TM): The real jumping-off point was Richard's character. Having a guy like this who might have some kind of arbitrary but life-changing adventure in New York. And then thinking about that a lot and about stories where people sort of drop in and out of their lives and how that affects them. And I'm always looking for new characters so I started to come up with the character of Tarek based on some travels and spending some time in Beirut. And I thought wow, what if I show this Arab guy who's like an artist and he's got enthusiasm for life, I haven't seen this representation before, it would be fun to bring him into contact with this Walter Vale guy I'm thinking of. And then it was like, what baggage do they bring, what reality do they bring and Tarek's reality turned out to be the immigration angle.

Q: So you wrote the script for Richard? Was that based on anything in particular?

TM: Generally, but then, as fate would have it, a friend of mine – Bobby Carnevale from The Station Agent – was in this bad remake of this movie Shall We Dance. I went and saw it with Bobby and Richard had a scene near the end of the movie with Susan Sarandon, in the bar, where he's basically saying they're not up to anything and you've got to let it go. But there was such heat between them. And I called [our agent] afterwards and said “I just saw Richard in that movie and he was so good, it's like a seduction scene” and she said, “It's so funny that you say that, because I just had Richard on the phone and he said, 'I think I've just got to go for it and play that scene like I'm in love with her, because there's nothing else there in the script, it's just a boring expositional scene'”. And I was like, “Wow, that guy could be a leading man, he's got the voice and the soulful eyes, he's like Gene Hackman in a way, kind of ugly, kind of handsome...” and I like that.

Q: Richard said that he thought you'd never get the financing if he was involved, so how did you sort that out?

TM: I felt like I had enough Station Agent capital saved to get someone to bite. I sat down with my agent, my lawyer and my producer and we put together a short list of three companies that we thought were right. And two of them right away were like, okay.

Q: And finally, you're in the fifth season of The Wire? What can you tell us about that?

TM: I play Scott Templeton, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. This season examines the influence of the press, specifically newspapers and specifically The Baltimore Sun where David Simon worked for something like 15 years as a reporter, so it's a storyline that's very near and dear to his heart. And it is a really interesting examination of what's happening in the industry, about how the press creates its own press sometimes and it's a fun little journey.

Q: So how did you get involved?

TM: David Simon just called me. I think I read for a part early early on, when they were putting the show together. I don't remember what part or what happened to it, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Bunk and I'm pretty sure it wasn't Snoop. Or maybe it was and maybe that's why I didn't get it! He called me when we were editing The Visitor and he said 'I have a part for you' and I was like, “Oh God, the worst timing ever, it's such a consuming process” but I couldn't pass it up and I grabbed it and I'm super-happy I did.

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