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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Abel Ferrara,2002


Abel Ferrara makes dark, horrifying, and often flawed movies about twisted sex, violence, Catholicism, and addiction. In person, he is monumental, emotional, deeply charismatic, perhaps tortured, and even lovable. His new movie, R-Xmas comes out this winter.

CORY: I'm so excited to meet you.
ABEL: You hear that? She's so excited to meet me. Jesus.

CORY: Do you dislike being interviewed?
ABEL: No, no, I enjoy it. The thing is, I was working last night. At 11:00 AM, I said to my production manager, Frank DeCurtis, "Call her up and see if she wants to do the interview now." Because at that hour, we were still wide awake. I knew if we went to sleep, we might not wake up for days.

CORY: I could have done it. I was up early, watching one of your movies on video.
ABEL: Which one?

CORY: Driller Killer.
ABEL: Uh-oh. I'm the driller killer.

CORY: I know. I loved you in that.
ABEL: Well, I love myself at twenty-seven too. But it's a long hard road. [laughs] So what was your favorite film?

CORY: Maybe Ms. .45. My husband and I saw it for the first time a few months ago, and afterwards he became sort of obsessed with Zoë Lund, who starred in it. What ever happened to her?
ABEL: What happened to Zoë? Too much champagne. No. She died of a broken heart. Actually, no. She had a bad drug habit. Well, not a bad drug habit. It was a good drug habit, a terrific habit. You should have a drug habit like that, you know what I'm saying? It was unbelievable. Zoë was one of these people who thought drugs were, like, the elixir of life. It's a long story, but I guess we can talk about her now that she's dead. In the end Zoë was from Westchester County.

CORY: How so?
ABEL: When I met her, she was a seventeen-year-old superstar. She was already going to college, she had guys following her around, she was running a revolutionary cell. She was a musical prodigy, a brilliant writer, the whole nine yards. She went to Europe and became a member of the Red Guard in Italy. You know what I mean? She kills her father, this poor accountant. Meanwhile, the whole time she's blackmailing her mother, saying, "You'll never see me again unless you send me $75,000." Makes her mother sell this gorgeous house in Scarsdale to buy three apartments in a neighborhood so scary - I mean it was beyond Rivington Street. You didn't know where you were. So the mother moves down there. Then Zoë dumps her husband, splits with some jerk, and goes off to France. Goes to Paris and dies and leaves her poor mother stuck down on the Lower East Side. Because Zoë's idea of a great neighborhood was how many dope dealers were down on the corner.

CORY: And yet, you and Zoë worked together again on Bad Lieutenant.
ABEL: Yeah, well, we exiled her after Ms. .45. After that, we had fifteen years of peace. And then I had this idea.

CORY: Many people think of that film as your masterpiece. Had you ever worked with Keitel before then?
ABEL: I didn't know him from Adam. Christopher Walken was supposed to play the part of the lieutenant. Then he says, "You know, I don't think I'm right for it." Which is, you know, a fine thing to say, unless it's three weeks from when you're supposed to start shooting. It definitely caught me by surprise. It put me in terminal shock, actually.

CORY: Are you saying that Keitel prepared for that role in three weeks?
ABEL: Actually, when we gave him the script the first time he read about five pages and threw it in the garbage. Luckily, Victor Argo, the actor, convinced him to give it a second chance. So in a way, Walken's leaving was good timing. Because right at that point in his life, Harvey really needed an opportunity to play a lead role. He needed to work on something he could relate to. And this film came around right as he was splitting up with his wife, Lorraine Bracco. She had just gotten nominated for an Academy Award for Goodfellas. And up till then, he'd basically dedicated his life to her career — he'd practically retired from acting to help her — and suddenly she takes off with the director! He was in total agony.

CORY: It certainly comes through.
ABEL: Let me tell you. When people break up with the love of their life, it's always traumatic. But with Harvey, everything is the most traumatic. So that was the most traumatic breakup in the history of the world. And you see it in the movie. Originally, Bad Lieutenant wasn't written to be quite as nightmarish and hellish – originally it had some humor in it.

CORY: Can you give me an example of how it changed with Keitel in the lead?
ABEL: Take the scene where he pulls over the two underage girls in their father's car. With Walken as the lead, the lieutenant was going to end up dancing in the streets with the girls as the sun came up. They'd be wearing his gun belt and hat, and they'd have the radio on, you know what I mean? But oh my god, Harvey, he turned it into this whole other thing.

CORY: In the movie, he forces the girls to talk dirty while he masturbates in the driver's window.
ABEL: Yeah, he just whipped it out. And that was his live-in babysitter in the car! I said, "You sure you want to do this with your babysitter?" He says, "Yeah, I want to try something." [laughs]

CORY: Did you consider that shocking at the time?
ABEL: I didn't even know it happened! One take. Bad Lieutenant was a low-budget movie - we didn't even have video assists.

CORY: So you were lucky to have the camera at the right angle.
ABEL: I know. God forbid he moved an inch. But that's what's great about guys like Harvey and Chris. Try taking the camera off them — they were born in frame.

CORY: On the other hand, you got a great performance out of Madonna in Dangerous Game, too. I don't think she's ever been that good in a movie, before or since.
ABEL: Did you hear that? Because she's playing an actress so bad the director commits suicide. No, I'm just kidding. She was a dream.

CORY: Since Dangerous Game is a movie about a director, played by Harvey Keitel, most people probably assume Keitel is playing you.
ABEL: You think Harvey's a stand-in for me? You think he's home working on, "Let's see how I'm going to play ABEL today?" He barely knows my name. [laughs]

CORY: Okay. Well, if you're making such low-budget movies, how do you get all these great actors to participate? Do they do it because working with you involves more experimental acting?
ABEL: They don't just do it for the experience. Bad Lieutenant was a great piece of material. So was King of New York. If there isn't the material, they're not going to be in my movies. Like, Harvey did Bad Lieutenant for nothing, basically.

CORY: You've given a number of character actors the chance to become real stars.
ABEL: Harvey did Reservoir Dogs, Bad Lieutenant, and The Piano, one after the other. He became the biggest star you can possibly imagine. But I can also name ten films he's done that you've never even heard of that are brilliant. The film he did with Johnny Rotten, Corrupt, forget it, it's a masterpiece. Harvey plays the lead in that one, too. So you see, these people have lives upon lives upon lives. Unfortunately, the general public is only aware of what's coming out this weekend that Hollywood's putting a zillion dollars behind.

CORY: How did you get into film?
ABEL: I started out in a rock band in upstate New York, but I was smart enough to know I wasn't going to make a living that way. So I got into film with a guy I grew up with. Because this was the late '60s, man, it was a certain time. Everybody was doing something, all my contemporaries. I mean Spielberg made a feature-length sci-fi movie when he was thirteen years old. He shot it on Super-8. Leave it to Spielberg, everybody else would be lucky to make a two-minute film. He's shooting a two-hour movie that he'll play in the local theater. You know what I'm saying? Of course, he's like, a prodigy, from day one. Either way, making movies wasn't any great shakes, it was just a thing to do. That was an era when people weren't thinking about getting a job. Woodstock, whatever.

CORY: We should probably talk about the new movie, R-Xmas.
ABEL: Talk about anything you want. Everybody wants to talk about whatever movie they like the best. People always say, you know, "When are you going to go back to doing stuff like King of New York?" But we already made that movie. It took us five years to get it done. It took us two more years to get it out. And in the end, nobody even saw it. Why do I want to go back to that?

CORY: Well, R-Xmas has gotten great reviews so far. I think one reviewer called it the most intimate depiction of the street heroin trade, ever.
ABEL: Yeah. Well. It took three years to make. Guys robbed money. We're suing the producers.

CORY: Oh. Well, are you working on other upcoming films, or do you stay with a movie all the way through the distribution phase?
ABEL: When you get to the point when you're finishing a film, you're always on to another. At this point, we have lots of ideas for things we want to do. But you've got to get funding. So we just go out to the marketplace and try to raise money for each of the different projects, and whichever ones attract the financing, those are the ones we do. You don't really force an issue. At least, I don't anymore.

CORY: Are you surprised when one of your films gets more exposure than others?
ABEL: You always think you've got a great film. It's funny, Driller Killer was the biggest hit we've ever had, going by pure numbers. Back in those days, there was a whole track of horror and drive-in theaters playing things like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With films like R-Xmas and Bad Lieutenant, you don't know what you're getting. But with a name like Driller Killer, you pretty much know what you're getting.

CORY: Where did you find all the guys who played winos and street guys in that film? They looked pretty convincing.
ABEL: We brought them in from the Royal Academy in London. [laughs] Shakespearean actors.

CORY: Actually, when I was watching New Rose Hotel, some of the dialogues between Willem Dafoe and Christopher Walken reminded me of Shakespeare.
ABEL: This chick is wacko. No, but that's an adaptation of a story by William Gibson, so ... And incidentally, Gibson loved the film. I once saw a whole list of films that he was unhappy with, that were produced from his writing. And New Rose Hotel was the only one that he was happy with. In fact, he went up to the Toronto Film Festival and represented it for us. He was so funny, because he was looking at the movie for the first time, and since it somewhat resembled what the fuck he wrote, he was pretty happy. Because writers at this point, if they even think, "Oh, I didn't walk into the wrong theater," they're thrilled. But then come the questions: "Who made that?" "What's that piece of shit?" "Are they going to use the same footage over and over?" "Jesus Christ, couldn't you give them some money to finish the film?"

CORY: Because you used a lot of the same footage twice in New Rose Hotel?
ABEL: Yeah. Haven't these people ever seen Rashomon? I mean, do you know what it's like to really get trashed by the press? It's not pretty.

CORY: I wonder what those same people would say about the movie now. I think it's a film that takes a while to sink in.
ABEL: Yeah?

CORY: Another thing that's impressive about New Rose Hotel is that you cast Asia Argento across from Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe. She was virtually unknown in America at that time. But you seem to have a knack for that.
ABEL: The fact is, we needed a young girl for New Rose Hotel, someone who could come across as too pure to pull a Mata Hari double-cross. Otherwise, it's the oldest cliché in the world. And there aren't that many young girls who could play with Walken. We were looking at Milla Jovovich and the French chick who was in The Beach with DiCaprio. Chloe, we talked to. And meanwhile Dafoe, every girl we met, he'd say, "Yeah, she could do it. That's great. Let me go over to the hotel and tell her she got the role." You know what I mean? Because he has a very deep knowledge and interest and patience with young girls. So anyway.

CORY: But Asia seemed the freshest?
ABEL: They all were. The difference was, when these other girls would come over for an interview, their agents would say, "How many people are you going to fly over? How much are they going to get, where are they going to stay?" But with Asia, I spoke right to her. I said, "Will you come over?" She says, "Yeah." I say, "Call my production office. Have your people make arrangements." A couple days later she calls again. I say, "Yeah, call my office." She says, "I'm on 50th Street, man." You know what I mean? She didn't wait for anything. She didn't call anybody. She didn't ask what the per diem was. She just got on the plane, came down, and got the crew drunk. There was no way you could not cast the girl. Then she did to us what her character did in New Rose Hotel. She was basically playing the same game in real life.

CORY: You're saying Asia Argento double-crossed you?
ABEL: She moved in with me immediately. That's the cardinal sin - sleeping with the lead actress.
CORY: Did you ever find it amazing that you were living with the daughter of Dario Argento? I mean, I assume you were familiar with his films.
ABEL: [picks up the tape recorder] Dario, I love you. I didn't mean to hit her. She just broke my nose, and I put my hand up.

CORY: What?
ABEL: At the start of the movie, she was making seventeen hundred dollars cash a week in per diem, and we were broke. And we gave her a beautiful apartment in Greenwich Village that she totally trashed. Towards the end there, we were having these big fights. She'd be throwing wads of money at me, yelling, "I hate youuuuu. Take your fucking money." I'm down on the floor, saying, "I'm trying to." Anyway, this is what she's been talking about in the media lately because she directed a movie that just opened, and supposedly one of the characters is based on me. She also did a documentary on me called Asia Loves Abel.

CORY: Do many younger filmmakers seek you out?
ABEL: Seek me out and do what?

CORY: Well, for one thing, they might ask you to do a cameo in their movies, the way Harmony Korine cast Werner Herzog in Julien Donkey-Boy.
ABEL: But Herzog is an actor. Tarantino is an actor - he started off that way. I only acted in Driller Killer because who else was going to play the driller killer? I mean, at that point, you can't risk your career and your whole life on somebody maybe getting tired of the project after five years. Because these movies take a long time. It's not like, "We got a three-week shoot." In many cases, we're planning on a nice, casual three- or four-year schedule. On the other hand, if an actor says, "Hey listen, I'm going to commit suicide if I make one more Hollywood movie that I'm not so sure I want to make ... I think I'll take a walk on the wild side and make what I think is a real movie," well, hey. But you got to have the material.

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Abel Ferrara by Terry Richardson, 2002



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