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Continued: June 4, 2006: Q&A with Robert Altman

  • Article by: DEBORAH RYBAK and JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 21, 2006 - 4:20 PM

Q So why did you decide to go public now?

A For one thing, people had found out. It no longer was secret. Right after the operation, I did lie about it to some of my friends and family. But over the years, I'd confessed. There was no reason to pretend anymore.

Q That would explain the requirement that you have a stand-by director, who turned out to be Paul Thomas Anderson.

A Paul was very, very generous to do this. It's amazing, I was really surprised. I never would have asked him to do it. He was at my side every moment I was shooting and he was a fantastic help. He never intruded, he never overrode me. I couldn't even say goodbye to him, I would have broken down in tears.

Q Certainly you aware of the homage he's paid to you with films such as "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia."

A He told me he was a big fan of mine. I saw him after "Boogie Nights" and he said, "I just ripped you off." [chuckles].

Q Was he the first stand-by director you'd ever had?

A I had to have someone on "Gosford Park" too, Stephen Frears ["The Grifters,"Dirty Pretty Things"]. Stephen never came to the set, he just agreed in case I croaked or something that he would come and take it over. Stephen said, "For God's sake, get rid of Maggie [Smith]. Finish working with her before you croak. I couldn't possibly work with her, I'd be terrified."

Q On the whole, then, did the movie come out the way you initially envisioned?

A I wouldn't know. Making a movie is like chipping away at a stone. You take a piece off here, you take a piece off there and when you're finished, you have a sculpture. You know that there's something in there, but you're not sure exactly what it is until you find it.

Q You've been described as a maverick for most of your career. Now you've been anointed with an Academy Award by Hollywood's mainstream. Is that a strange transition?

A I don't know how much of it sinks in for me because the road I've taken has, for me, been the easiest road. I followed my nose and I don't see those kinds of things that other people say they see.

My ambitions are basically the same as everybody else's ambitions. I want to make a lot of money, I want a lot of success, I want a lot of admiration. But basically, you go back to your own sensibilities and what interests me.

Q That was particularly true after "M*A*S*H" put you on the map in 1970.

A After that, I had my choice of hundreds of projects-they offered me millions to do a "M*A*S*H" sequel. Instead, I did this picture called "Brewster McLeod." My agent said, "What are you doing? Listen, we can get this and this," but it never entered my mind not to do that picture.

Q "M*A*S*H" remains a sore spot with you.

A Well, I had a big falling out with [distributor 20th Century Fox]. I got zip for directing. My son who wrote [the movie's hit song] "Suicide Is Painless" when he was 14 years old, he made 10 times as much money off that picture as I did.

Q What about the TV series?

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