OLIVER STONE ON THE SET OF NBK

Oliver Stone (On the set of Natural Born Killers)
[ Will you be portraying violence in Natural Born Killers differently than you have in your other films, say Platoon, because of the intimacy inherent to serial killing? ] ^ Not really, Platoon began with small action scenes, ambushes, firefights – it grew as the film went on, intensifying to a vastly different level, to full-scale battles. Natural Born Killers is the same thing, with the final prison scenes breaking into to a riot, a full-scale battle against the forces of anarchy, Micky and Mallory. So the two films do have a similar dramatic structure, but I’m confused David, your question doesn’t make any sense.
[ Most serial killer films revolve around the mystery of the crimes, from the investigator’s point of view, yet NBK is hardly a mystery in that we know Micky and Mallory from the very opening. ] ^ That’s not true. The movies of filmmakers I’ve been interested in, Badlands, In Cold Blood, The Honeymoon Killers – that’s a good one… You’re right, there have been a lot of movies about cops, but that doesn’t interest me very much either. We have a cop in this movie, Jack Scagnetti, played by Tom Sizemore, who is an interesting character because he’s a counterpoint to Micky Knox in the sense that he’s also in love with the heroine, Mallory Knox, and tries to abduct her. But as an authority figure, he’s questionable in that the movie suggests, rightly and satirically, that the media and the justice system are co-equivalent victims of our society – that is Micky Knox. I don’t want to give it away, but Scagnetti does some heavy shit in this movie. Some bad things because he is Micky’s alter ego and wants to live Micky’s life – but he wants to live it on the side of the law.
[ Does that rely on the Freudian beliefs that work through most films in the genre, such as Psycho? ] ^ No. The psychology of this film is Jungian – with a hint of Nitsche. It’s really about the idea of a superman and the need all life and attain true wisdom. At the same time though, while Micky and Mallory are pursuing this, they are cursed by a demon from the very beginning and they inherit the demon at the end. So it’s definitely closer to Nitsche than Jung, but it doesn’t have anything to do with Freud. He can’t answer the problems here. It has to an unconscious meditation of violence, it can’t be conscious or explained violence, but so deeply ingrained in the psyche that the Jungian is the best approach to the material. Pointing to the mother and the father isn’t enough, you have to point to the cultural factors too. So what we’re trying to do in the movie is reflect many of the things that have happened in the 20th Century; the Nazi death camps, Stalin, the concept of violence in America which is so random. Violence is everywhere. You could tie that to TV, but I find that simplistic. All these loony tunes out there and church groups writing to advertisers to protest what’s on TV – they’re a little late in the race. It’s not even about that. TV and movies only reflect the violence that’s in the air, so how can you ignore that? What’s going on now, this PG-rating business? Everyone in trying to run for the hills, the gold hills, by providing “family entertainment” and preaching that violence is bad. That’s bullshit. Violence has been so much fun in the American epic, going back to Hemingway and Jack London and James Fennemore Cooper. Shakespeare was about blood and revenge and guts – that’s the stuff of drama.
[ Most serial killers, in both real-life and the movies, are typified by ritualized, structured behavior, but Micky and Mallory don’t have that, do they? ] ^ They rediscover their behavior as they go. They’re totally spontaneous animals, reinventing human existence on a murder by murder basis. {Laughs)
[ An assistant enters the room, saying “Bob (Richardson, the cinematographer) would like to see you in a second.”
“When I have a second,” Stone replies. “He can come in here and see me if he wants to see me. I’m being psychoanalyzed here in the couch.”
Would you say that NBK’s story tends to lean more toward allegory than straight thesis? That it is more specifically about something completely aside from the plot about two serial killers on the run? About the media? ] ^ Every film is its own opposite, every film should have subtext and no film should be about only what it’s “about.” I approaching this film from the direction of satire and humor and I’m pushing into areas I haven’t been to before. I touched on them in Salvador and perhaps in Wall Street and Scarface – I had fun – but I’m having more fun on this. But I suppose I don’t take all of it, violence included, that seriously. I’ve experienced so much violence in my life, starting with Vietnam. I suppose…it’s my Jungian reaction to the world. How about that?
[ But there are certain elements in the film that are real, and you try to build in as much realism as possible to make the fantasy play. People actually reload their guns, unlike in most other films. So how do your fantasy violence compare to say, John Woo’s? ] ^ Well, his films are highly stylized and I like them a lot, but were not shooting that kind of movie. Our film and it’s style is more varied from deliberately natural to awkwardly stylized and unnatural. So what characterizes the film is a complete lack on consistency to the point of being deliberately, totally illogical – which is fun. Don’t ask me to explain it, but it’s a style that comes out of making a lot of films – coming down to deciding what formats to shoot when and how and changing perspectives. There’s nothing, nothing fixed about this film’s universe. It’s a sort of wacky place like the real world is now.
[ Stone calls out, “Hey, tell Bob to come here.” Richardson enters, saying, “You can check the shot.” “I’m here talking to Dave,” Stone says. “What, are you ready for me? I’ve checked the shot. Oh, they’re holding it up… Okay, one more answer.” ]
[ Is that the reason why Micky and Mallory kill? ] ^ Well, killing for Micky Knox is a very philosophical statement. He never kills out of sheer randomness, all his killings are ultimately motivated by philosophy. Mallory is a different question because she comes from a whole different space, and we clarify their different motives. The victims are random, but the killings are not. Micky is a total predator, and he understands the universe only from that standpoint and he justifies what he does that way. Basically, within our satire, we’ve surrounded Micky and Mallory with such scumbags that predation seems like the natural, Darwinian thing for them to do in that world. But it’s also Jungian because it’s also the concept of what he called The Shadow. That we have to embrace The Shadow. Micky is dying every second that he’s alive, he’s a destructive creature, but the concept of destruction is allowed within his always redefining philosophy. He’s very much the wolf metaphorically, or the bear, or the panther. But Mallory, she’s a killer. She’s an animale, a cunning creature. Of course Juliette (Lewis) is slight in stature, but she’s very convincing as to us as that killer.
[ We break so Stone can do more shooting in the rotunda. After several hours, we break for lunch. Nauseous, I sit at my food until Stone approaches and asks if I want to give the interview another try. “Yeah, that would be great,” I reply. ]

[ I know the production schedule on this film is short, but why was it important and necessary to shoot Killers so quickly? Is it just a budgetary question? ] ^ In some ways, this is the most expensive low-budget film ever made. But to be honest, it’s very hard, considering that I work with all the top people in their fields, to make anything but a big-budget film. But when you look at the overall picture, this film is being shot in 53 days. It’s a tight film that way. I never indulge time-wise. Most of my films are 65-day shoots, JFK was 78 – but that was like shooting two movies. So this is more like Salvador. We wanted to shoot quickly, as tight as possible, although we’re also doing a lot of experimental work. Process plates, a lot of stock footage – I don’t want to elaborate too much – but it really chews up money. We’re doing an animated sequence, and that costs a fucking fortune. So before you know it, bam, you’ve got a $30 million dollar picture. And this is to achieve a very roughshod look. We took the ILM-perfect approach on The Doors and that took a lot of dough and we went over budget. So we’re trying new techniques now – but I don’t want to go into it in detail yet, I want to keep that in the closet for a while. But it will be quite radical and experimental. This is a fiction movie, so the filmmaking reflects that. On another level, I’m really against this Hollywood system that wastes time and energy. For instance, today is a wasted day. This is our first day in Chicago, it’s a light day, we’ll finish by two or three o’clock. But usually we are on 15-hour days. In Albuquerque, when we were shooting in the Southwest, we were going for eighteen hours.
[ What were some things that shooting out there added to the film? ] ^ The desert. The sense of the parchment of the soul. The quest through the desert. Micky coming to terms with the past and the future. There are lot of moral choices in the desert – on the road. The original Tarentino screenplay was a different kind of story. We added a whole new first act about the road and what the Micky and Mallory characters are really like. What are these characters about? They’re not just victims, there’s something going on there. Deep in the second act, we see though flashbacks, where they’re from. It’s clear that they’re different. In Tarentino’s original script he just mentions a mother and father briefly, but now we see how Micky met Mallory, what happened, what their backgrounds are, their marriage. Things are changing, evolving as we shoot, but not the script that much. We are adding to it, but I love the script, its got a nice structure right now. It’s the product of four minds and it reads really well – I love the patterns between the five characters. There were a lot of changes, additions. The Jack Scagnetti character also evolved, into what I’d rather not say.
[ Do you have a favorite prison picture? ] ^ Several. Midnight Express I love. (Laughs) Cool Hand Luke…Brute Force, that’s a great film but I saw it recently and it’s a little dated.
[ I saw Hume Cronin’s character in Brute Force as being very similar to Scagnetti in Tarentino’s original script in that he too was a lawman who abused his power. ] ^ No, not really. But we have a new character, a prison warden, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who goes over the top that way – he’s nuts. Scagnetti is a cop. Wayne Gale, played by Robert Downey, is the media. And the warden is the institutional authority, so there are three fixed points of society in this universe portrayed by those three actors. Oh, I also liked Papillion. The Great Escape, I loved that movie. Natural Born Killers is about an escape and these characters break out in the strangest way – which I won’t give away. So it’s a chance to do a down and dirty prison film, which I’ve always wanted to do, and at the same time a road picture. One film meets the other, so it’s great.
[ After all the attention you received from the media before and after JFK, do you expect to be attacked by the press over the way they are satirized in Killers? ] ^ I think intelligent reporters will enjoy the spirit of the movie, but there are always those who have it in for…anything. They are very sensitive to criticism. That’s one lesson I learned on JFK. The press of the 1960s was a major problem in getting the truth out, and for that statement, I got lambasted by many, many people – which continues today. They’re quite willing to dish it out, but they certainly can’t take it.
[ Of course Killers is also dealing with a particular kind of press, the tabloid press. ] ^ In my mind, the top level of the press, much of it, is tabloid. It’s consensus journalism. They accept lies, they don’t do research – it’s a very shallow business. And I said stuff like that and it’s like “you’ll pay for that.” But it’s too late to go back. You have to be honest with yourself, you have to live you own life. You can’t live the life the false press wants you to lead. I never set out to be controversial. Ever. That was never a fantasy of mine. I set out to make a picture because I cared about Jack Kennedy and what happened to this country. But if they can’t get me for lying and arrogance, then they’ll say I’m just self-promoting – so you never win. You’re always guilty unless you do innocuous pictures or films that they don’t feel are threatening to the American system. It’s not fun. I hate to be a target. I mean, I am truly a filmmaker. You’ll appreciate that each one of my pictures is different. The Doors is as different from JFK as it was from Born on the Fourth of July – over seven years and three films each one was a twist on another. I don’t feel I’ve repeated things, but now I’m categorized and condemned as a “conspiracy” director. As if conspiracy thinking is some kind of joke or a farce. So now I’m not a filmmaker, but a conspiricist. I think that’s what Morrison was talking about in the later phase of The Doors, that he couldn’t stand the categorization of himself as a bad-boy rock star, so he was looking for new identities. But it can also be for the good – changing, searching, looking for a different style. Heaven & Earth is a whole different ball game for me. Compared to JFK, it has a whole different feeling and texture, resonance to the film, it’s cut differently, scored differently. It’s a very pure and classical film, while I felt JFK was post-modern in its narrative – more of a dream-state. Natural Born Killers is not JFK, but in it’s style it’s definitely post-modern.
[ How worried do you have to be that Warner Bros. likes it? ] ^ I would like them to be happy, but they’re a little nervous about the film because it’s heavy, dark subject matter. But I think we’ve shown them that dark can also be light, it doesn’t necessary have to be murky to be dark. It can be understood. Sort of clear dark, you know what I mean?
[ But because you have a reputation, and give them successful dark films such as JFK, they’re willing to take the risk. ] ^ That’s part of it. But (executive producer) Arnon Milchan and Warner Bros. have been big supporters of mine and have helped me do movies that are not easy to get made. No matter what horror stories you may have heard, to go out to Thailand and do a picture like Heaven & Earth, a film that costs money to make it an epic, starring an unknown 20-year old Vietnamese actress – that’s pretty strong support. Tommy Lee Jones and Joan Chen, who are also in the picture, have grown in stature as stars, they can anchor a film, but for Warner Bros. to do that was quite generous. On top of that, I haven’t even finished Heaven & Earth. I’m still editing it, but I wanted to do this little quickie film called Natural Born Killers – which is about a subject they’re a little scared of. So for them to back me on these two films is a sign of great support.
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Posted on March 28, 1994 in Interviews by
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