Gavin Schmitt Interviews Marjane Satrapi
Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-French author came to the world’s attention when she published her autobiographical graphic novel “Persepolis”. (affiliate link) Going far beyond the average “comic book”, Satrapi’s life story achieved critical acclaim and became a staple in college classrooms around the world.
A woman of many talents (and able to speak several languages), the options available to her seemed endless. She got involved in children’s books, and went on to become a film director. “Persepolis” (affiliate link) was adapted for the big screen, bringing in a whole new audience.
On February 2, 2015, Satrapi was kind enough to talk with me about her latest film, “The Voices”, (affiliate link) which features Ryan Reynolds as kind-hearted Jerry, who is told to do evil things by his cat (and told not to by his dog). Appearing as his romantic interest is the oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”). The movie hits theaters February 6.
GS: Obviously, you are best known for “Persepolis”. Has this association helped or hurt you in branching out to other things?
MS: Well, you know, “Persepolis” (affiliate link) is something I have done, so I cannot say that I haven’t done it. When the first book of “Persepolis” came out I was 29, I wasn’t even 30. My life can’t just stop there. I’ve had to go on with my life, so I do other things. And I’m happy to be able to do other things. Whether that association helps me or not, it is something that will always be done.
GS: Certainly it must have opened some doors.
MS: I think so, yes. People are selfish in focusing on what you have already done. I don’t know how many doors it has opened as compared with how many doors I want to open. There’s also a question of that. I’m supposed to make lots of things, I’ve been asked to make lots of things, but I cannot make something that I would not want to watch myself. There are things like movies with dwarves or vampires for adolescents and what have you, and these are very well paid. You can make millions and millions out of them. But I would never watch a film like that, so why should I spend three years of my life doing them? So I look for things I really like. And people like me more if they have heard of me, so it is good that I made “Persepolis”.
GS: During casting, was there ever the possibility that the two actresses would have their roles switched?
MS: Hmmm… you have to imagine what the roles are. Ryan falls in love immediately with one of them. So one of them should be the symbol of womanhood, like Sophia Loren. That is Gemma Atherton. She is a very enhanced version of a woman; beautiful, with curves… she’s a real, real woman. So obviously he will fall in love with her. The second one is cute, smaller… and there is the shrink. In the script, she’s 35. But I think she is better older, someone where there is no chance of relationship, of seducing. Like a mother. A woman of a certain age is also good to cast because we can show them doing more than baking cookies for their grandchildren. So who are the best people for the roles? You cast them, look at what they’ve done, and suddenly it becomes an obvious thing.
GS: With the key cast members being American, how did the film end up getting shot in Germany?
MS: Well, first of all, for independent films, it costs less to make them in Europe. That’s why there are so many independent American films made in Europe. But for me, I proposed Europe because I didn’t know how an American crew would be. I knew the German crew, I was comfortable with them and knew I could count on them. If you don’t necessarily know what direction you’re going, you have to have people you can count on and I knew I could count on the German crew.
GS: Whose idea was it to have Ryan Reynolds supply his own voices?
MS: At the beginning, Ryan was chosen because he is a big name actor and it would provide publicity for the movie. But then, you know, Ryan made the voices himself. And this makes complete sense, because it’s this guy who hears voices. Whose voices would he hear? His own. He came up with the idea, and recorded himself on his iPhone. He sent it to me. For the cat, I was picturing more of a Joe Pesci voice, something more high pitched and an Italian accent. Ryan went with a Scottish accent and I loved it, so we went with that. It’s one thing if an actor wants to do something, and another for him to actually do it. But Ryan is talented, so he can do anything.
GS: The story came from Michael Perry, so what did you change or modify to make it your own?
MS: Already, to start with, a script is literature and a film is image. So you have to turn words into pictures. And this takes some work to make it doable. The original script was much bigger, but you only have so many days of shooting. You can’t shoot it all and then choose what you like in editing. In the script, there are three murders, and you see them totally. I thought for reading that’s great, but for the film it’s too much and can be explained without showing it. There are things Ryan changed. The character of Jerry swore, but Ryan decided Jerry would never swear because he’s trying to be an upstanding member of the community. So, of course he wouldn’t swear. Just those little changes. I worked with Michael Perry, and he was very gracious, and anything we wanted to change he had 15 different ideas. It became better and better every time, but you have to work with it until it becomes filmable. You have to keep it in the budget, without the number of days… but the result was good, so I’m happy.
GS: Was Michael Perry on set working in the changes as you went?
MS: No no no. We did these things before. Michael was there a couple of days at the beginning, but anything we needed to change had to be changed before we began shooting. Shooting in a limited number of days is very tough, so you have to be very prepared. There’s no time for making changes, and there’s no studio behind me with millions of dollars. Making changes later is too late.
GS: Although off-topic, is there one thing that stands out to you as something the Western world, primarily America, misunderstands about Iran today?
MS: How about… almost everything?
GS: Yes, but can you narrow it down?
MS: I don’t know. In America, I think maybe they see Iran as a bunch of angry people who want the death of America. That is a complete mistake. Actually, the statistics show that the most pro-Western country in the whole region is Iran. But their understanding is quite wrong, and for a number of years we were part of the Axis of Evil. Understand that the dominant religious extreme happening now is Wahhabism, and Wahhabism comes from Saudi Arabia. But everybody… it’s not just America and Iran. Everyone has a misunderstanding about other countries. I remember for a while people were saying the Japanese were all crazy about Michael Jackson, so to be like him they wore masks on their faces. Everybody believed that. And then I went to Japan, and the thing about Japanese people is that they are extremely polite. So if they’re sick they wear a mask to prevent other people from getting sick. They don’t do it because they’re pyschos. They’re polite. But you have to go there to understand it, so we always have a very bad understanding of what is going on.
GS: I’m on your side, but I know it’s an uphill battle.
MS: (laughs) Oh, I know it.
GS: Thanks so much!
MS: Thank you, Gavin. Take care.