"I was fiery, a hole-in-the-wall puncher. Insecurity makes you change; [you realize] you're not going to win by kicking doors down… but it does make you feel better," reflected Sir Ridley Scott in an interview with Peter Travers for ABC News Now's "Popcorn with Peter Travers." The British-born filmmaker, with over 30 years experience and three Oscar nominations under his belt, was in New York promoting his new film, "Body of Lies," starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Based on Washington Post columnist David Ignatius' 2007 novel and adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter William Monahan, the movie reflects both Ignatius' and Scott's "fascination by Arab states and Muslim culture" and is Scott's fifth movie about the Middle East. "It's not about who the enemy is, it's how do you get to him in today's world," explains Scott, quickly adding it's also about "seduction, betrayal, abandonment and a lot of lies."
Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the CIA's elite field agent tied to his boss, CIA veteran Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe). Scott describes the duo as "a box within the CIA – a privileged few who don't have to discuss what and why they do." Ferris, involved in a complicated plan to lure a major terrorist leader out in the open, ends up as bait while Hoffman brutally uses and discards people by cell phone from suburban Washington, DC.
In response to DiCaprio's description of working with Scott as "trial by fire," he insists he is "very user-friendly." DiCaprio and Crowe are "two talents who go right into it," according to Scott. Both are true "thespians" who like to "put on weird clothes and funny accents." Crowe reportedly gained nearly 50 pounds for his role to show a man "who eats at every opportunity and is on the phone constantly even when he's dropping his kids off to school."
Scott has done three other films with Crowe: "Gladiator" (2000), "A Good Year" (2006) and "American Gangster" (2007). When asked by Travers about his relationship with Crowe, Scott muses, "I'm a little bit like him and he's a little bit like me. We're perceived to be grumpy -- we're not … and we have a dry British sense of humor … We speak plainly." He adds, "Russell is great. People don't give him credit for his intellect. He's unusually well read and well informed." Crowe will star in Scott's upcoming film "Nottingham," where he will play not only Robin Hood but also the Sheriff of Nottingham. "It's thought through," Scott assures Travers.
Speaking of his 1979 sci-fi hit "Alien," it was "fresh blood. One of the ushers fainted. People got angry, which I found very interesting." Scott's favorite scene remains the one where the creature burst out of John Hurt's stomach (and John Hurt complaining). "It was one shot," he recalls. "The first time we used five cameras. That gave me my first sense of responsibility as a filmmaker."
Scott – a self-avowed businessman – began his career in advertising. He directed "1984," the first TV commercial of the Macintosh personal computer. Although now hailed as a "masterpiece," he concedes "Jobs didn't like it. He didn't get it and the agency had to run it" -- at the Super Bowl no less. Scott's reputation as a commercial director earned him the sobriquet of "decorator not filmmaker" after "Alien" and "Blade Runner" came out. To which Scott cheekily responds, "I don't give a ****."
He reminds Travers that when "Alien" was "brutal – a huge success," and "Blade Runner" followed, he was still being treated in Hollywood as the "new kid on the block." He protests, "I'm not a kid. I'm a businessman. So I see things in a certain way. I was naturally met with 'you can't do this and do that and oh by the way you can't operate your camera.'" Scott believes his success as a director is because he has "always worked like a photographer, that being a cameraman is "where the magic happens."
Throughout his long career, Scott has withstood Hollywood pressure. When asked to change the now iconic ending of "Thelma and Louise," he calmly suggested they "call me on Monday with a better suggestion." When Travers expressed surprise at his atypical calm response, he smiled and said, "I never draw the line in the sand. You get more by defusing the bomb."