Filmmaker: Well, in my opinion the movie is very successful when it comes to showcasing Rodriguez in a kind of classic, iconic way; it’s something I’ve always responded to in your films, whether it’s Charles Bronson in Hard Times or Bruce Willis in Last Man Standing or Michael Pare in Streets of Fire…the list goes on and on. All of these actors take on a larger than life, slightly heightened quality in your movies that recalls the way classical directors like Ford and Raoul Walsh used to shoot their performers. Is that quality something that’s done in the writing of the characters, or is it how you frame and light the actors, or simply how you cast?
Hill: Oh, I think it’s all of the above. One of the most important things is to remember not to ask actors to do things they can’t do. Emphasize what they do well and show it off within the text or construct of your narrative. You want to show them in a way that will advertise their virtues.
Filmmaker: Something else you have in common with those old Hollywood guys like Ford and Walsh is a real sense of clarity and force in your action sequences. The viewer is always totally acclimated to the space, so that even when something is chaotic and kinetic it’s never confusing. What’s your overall philosophy when it comes to directing action?
Hill: Jim, I hate to fail you, but I don’t know that I have a philosophy. A lot of it is simple common sense and instinct. Some of it comes from having worked on sets long before I had a chance to be a director, and a great deal of it is seeing what’s possible via the wonderful efforts in other people’s films.
Filmmaker: Let me put it another way. Are you the kind of director who plans the action out very precisely,via storyboards like Hitchcock, or are you closer to someone like Blake Edwards, who used to just show up on set and look at what the actors were doing and then come up with a plan?
Hill: Well, I’d sure like to put myself up there with Blake Edwards! Of course, Hitchcock’s great too – there’s no one way to do it. But I remember years ago that Kurosawa said he didn’t understand a certain kind of preparation. He said, “Until I’m on the set and see the actors and rehearse it and get the scene right, it’s very difficult to say how I’m going to shoot it.” That’s more or less the way I feel. I always tell my assistant director, “Don’t ever ask me for a shot list. If you ask me for a shot list you’re fired, because you’re not gonna get one, you’ll just piss me off.” But I also always tell them, “You’ll never wait for me.” We rehearse, we get it where we like it, and then I can tell you what the shots are at that point. I will say this about action though – while the shooting is obviously important, an awful lot of it is editing.