I seldom get nervous when faced with interviews, but being in the presence of Alex de la Iglesia is a different story. A movie maverick and personal idol, he ranks among the most interesting and unique filmmakers working today. Known for his razor sharp satire and gallows humor, Iglesia has given the cinematic world a healthy dose of wit, pessimism, and ultra violence.
From the splatstick antics of Accion Mutante to the apocalyptic frenzy of The Day of the Beast to the voodoo road fury of Perdita Durango, Iglesia’s early films have already cemented themselves as worldwide cult classics and have found a particular niche with horror fans in the United States. With recent films Dying of Laughter, Commonwealth, and 800 Bullets, he has risen to become one of Spain’s biggest filmmakers without compromising his offbeat style. At the world famous Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, Iglesia arrives to present his latest effort, the Hitchcockian black comedy The Ferpect Crime. It is here that the eccentric director sits down with The Horror Channel to talk about everything – from directing and his thoughts on current cinema to the art of violence and Walt Disney.
Andrew Kasch: The best advice I’ve ever heard about filmmaking came from you in a magazine interview.
Alex de la Iglesia: Which interview did you read?
AK: I think it was in an old issue of Fangoria. You basically said, “Directing is like sex. Nobody can teach it to you. You can only learn by doing it.”
ADLI: Yeah, that’s true. [thinks] Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I’m just stupid. Maybe some smart people can control the problems. But I suffer the pain of the problems. In the first movie I made, Accion Mutante, when we began to shoot, I didn’t know anything about rhythm. For example, if you see the film you’ll notice a lot of shots are very slow. It’s not bad, but it’s not good.
When you finally get into the editing bay, you suddenly turn into another person. You take the pieces of the puzzle and say, “Who’s the stupid guy who shot this thing?” because suddenly it doesn’t work. In the beginning, you always think, “I’m a smart guy. I know what I’m doing because I’m the best!” You think, “I’m a master and everybody else is wrong. I’m the only person who knows what to do with this movie.” And when you finally have the material in front of you, you say, “It’s not enough.” The first thing is, try to know the movie you want to make. Then shoot another movie. By that, I mean shoot what you want and then shoot more. My original crew said, “Shoot more,” and I said, “No. That’s enough.” But it wasn’t enough. I think now, I can control a bit more. I know more about the rhythm of the sequences.
But the most important thing is the script. In the script you control everything. From that point, it’s just work. As much as I love the technical stuff, it’s not the most important thing. [pause] I’m always pessimistic when making films. In the beginning you always think, “This movie is the best!” and you think, “I want to change the life of the audience” and it never happens. But if you’re happy and enjoy your work, then the movie’s good. If you lose that thing, the movie’s bad. You need to put real emotion behind your films.
AK: A while back, I saw a short film that you did. There were no subtitles, so I didn’t entirely understand it, but it involved “orange soda” and “mass murder.”
ADLI: Yeah, Killing Mirindas. It was in black-and-white.
AK: Did you do that one before Accion Mutante?
ADLI: Before, yeah. That was the reason I could make Accion Mutante. I took it to [producer/director] Pedro Almodóvar and said, “This is what I can do. I want to make a feature film.”
AK: Did you dabble in any other shorts before, or was that the first thing you ever made?
ADLI: No, that was the first.
AK: Is it true that Day of the Beast started out as a straight-up scary horror film?
ADLI: Yeah. Our first scriptwriter was terrible. Like a bad Tobe Hooper. We had to change it because I can’t think in a serious way. It’s a problem. Audiences usually don’t believe in anything, so when they go to serious horror movies, they say, “I’m going to see the monster and laugh at it.” I don’t like that. If you shoot something like this in a comedic way, you can show the monster and do whatever you want without fear of making something stupid.
AK: Was there any controversy over the religious content?
ADLI: No, the people didn’t say anything. They just laughed. If you make a comedy, people laugh and don’t think much about what you’re saying. That’s the reason I make comedies. You can talk about things with more freedom. In Spain the religious content doesn’t matter. It’s a very open country now, so it’s not a problem.
AK: Were the “Clean up Madrid” bum killings a reaction to anything specific that was going on in Spain at the time?
ADLI: It wasn’t a specific reaction, but this kind of thing happens a lot in places like Madrid and New York. Gangs go around trying to kill the homeless. Kind of like in A Clockwork Orange.
AK: As someone pointed out in the Q&A last night, your films seem to give off a real hatred for Christmas.
ADLI: Yeah, it’s true. Because I love and hate Christmas at the same time. It’s the moment when the artificiality of life is most evident. Everyone tries to be kind and it’s such a lie. Everyone wants to be happy and it’s impossible. You have to go to lunch or dinner with your family and think, “Wait a minute. I have nothing to do with these people.” It’s very strange. And you’re not allowed to say anything about it. You can’t just shout, “Everyone’s a faker!”
AK: That’s sort of the feeling we have with mainstream movies. Hollywood pumps out optimism and constantly tries to make people happy. That’s all our entertainment exists for.
ADLI: Yeah. I think it’s a good thing … but it’s a little bit boring. It’s like saying, “Hey, let’s go to a fun party with Coke and Fanta and eat chips and cornflakes!” It’s good, but I want more. I want sex, violence, drugs, or something else that’s also really fun.
There are a lot of movies I’ve seen that would be impossible to release now. Can you imagine a movie from the 1970’s coming out now? All the movies now have happy endings and everybody says, “OK.” Why do you have to make the same thing all the time? I love these kinds of movie. I always go see the mainstream movies. But please, make something different.
AK: Perdita Durango is one of my personal favorites.
ADLI: Thank you. Mine too.
AK: Really? Is it the favorite out of all your films?
ADLI: Yeah, I think it’s the best film I’ve made.
AK: Here it was released as Dance With The Devil and basically gutted by distributors. It almost feels like a completely different movie.
AK: Did they give you any reason why they cut out so much?
ADLI: They asked me, “Do you want to cut the film for an American release?” and I said “yes” because I wanted it to be shown. If I had said “no,” it wouldn’t have made distribution in the USA. The problem was we lost a lot of scenes that were very important. One of the scenes I love involved Romeo, where he dreams of the crucifixion and Christ is a screaming old man. Because always, Christ is portrayed as a good guy who says, “Okay, I’m gonna die with a smile.” And I had him suffering . . .
[leaps into a crucifixion pose and screams]
This is a massacre! Christ was a guy we gave to the gods! We killed our gods! It was a ritual. Like when the Indians take a guy and cut his throat, y’know? [thinks] Actually, that’s a sequence I would love to shoot!
ADLI: That’s the problem with those times. We were violent. People are violent. And the people now try to hide this violence. They say, “No! I am good! I love Christmas and I am good!” But this violence exists inside. It’s like an illness, you know? And suddenly it becomes like a cancer. You need to take the violence and throw it out. But people keep it inside, and it tends to get bad in a very real way. Your character begins to change, like Gollum. In an unconscious way you start to inflict pain on others. And suddenly you are a wild person and you start doing drugs and going to parties and you start doing weird things. You have to know that this illness is inside. We need a way to escape so we can keep this violence out of our own lives.
And that’s the thing in Perdita Durango. Romeo is a person who lives in an old-fashioned way. He sacrifices people in rituals, but he has no problems inside. He’s clean inside.
AK: And that was kind of lost in the American cut when they took out the whole Western angle. Wasn’t it a John Ford movie?
ADLI: No, it was Vera Cruz. I think that’s Robert Aldrich. Yeah, at the end of the film when the James Gandolfini character becomes Gary Cooper and talks to Romeo? The reason that was cut was because we didn’t have the American rights to that footage.
AK: Is that the reason Accion Mutante isn’t available over here?
ADLI: Yeah, the reason is because we don’t have the rights to the Mission: Impossible theme. It’s my fault. [both laughing]
AK: Was Dying of Laughter inspired by The Three Stooges’ struggles?
ADLI: No, not really. Because when [co-writer] Jorge [Guerricaechevarría] and I were children, we didn’t see The Three Stooges movies. But there were a group of humorists in Spain who made this kind of stupid humor, slapping each other around. We wrote the script and then spoke with them. And the things that happened in real life were even worse than in the script. [pause] I am very interested in the relationship between humor and violence. And sex. I think they all have something in common.
AK: And that’s something that’s pretty rare, at least in America, because those are taboos and people don’t like them when they’re explored by themselves, let alone all intermingled.
ADLI: Yeah. One of these taboos is violence. It’s to recognize we are animals. It’s very difficult to say, “I am an animal.” But it’s true. We are all animals, like the bear or the monkey, y’know? We have minds, but in a way, there’s still a mind inside that’s like that of animal.
AK: One of the things I’ve noticed from your films is that you’re a big Star Wars fan.
ADLI: Yeah, of course. The first one and the second one. I hate the Richard Marquand movie. I don’t like the Ewoks.
AK: [laughs] What did you think of Revenge of the Sith?
ADLI: Well, it’s the best of the second trilogy. I think it’s the best because Darth Vader appears and the plot is better. But my co-writer Jorge told me one thing, and he’s right: The problem is, in the second half, we have no normal people. We have only heroes. We only have Jedis, and Yoda, and all these big important people. We have no Han Solo. The problem is, to enjoy the heroes, you also need normal people to see the contrast. But if all you have are heroes, you don’t have the kind of connection you did with Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back.
AK: Did you run into any problems with Lucasfilm over the content in Commonwealth? Like when the character masturbates in the Darth Vader outfit?
ADLI: It wasn’t a problem. The things I love are usually not very similar to the things I hate. I am not laughing at George Lucas, I’m laughing at myself. I’m like that character in my film: I am sort of a stupid guy, and I try to hide my problems and live with a mask like Darth Vader. It’s a way to escape. I like to make movies so I don’t have to think about these things in reality. And suddenly life is better for me. The moments in life I enjoy more are watching movies in the cinema. So when I show Darth Vader as a poor freak, he’s like me. I am the stupid guy who thinks in the Star Wars universe and tries to forget his life.
AK: How would you describe The Ferpect Crime?
ADLI: It’s a black comedy about a murder and the impossibility to be perfect. I think it’s impossible to be perfect and to make your dreams come true. [thinks] What’s the word for that? When you make your dreams become truth?
AK: I think that pretty much sums it up.
ADLI: [laughs] Because everyone wants to be perfect. Everyone wants to be handsome. Everyone wants to be beautiful. Everyone wants to have the beautiful girl in their house. I want to have a perfect family with a perfect life. I want sex, and I want to live in a beautiful house and make all the movies I want. But that’s not possible. You always have problems with your wife or your kids. You always have problems with your movies. Something always goes wrong. You think, “This movie is great” and nobody goes to see it. Or suddenly you say, “This movie isn’t very good” and everybody goes. The people laugh with things you think aren’t so funny, and they don’t laugh at the thing you think is the best moment in the movie. So the only way to survive in life is to assume the problems. To say, “OK. I am an idiot. I tried to be happy, but maybe it’s not possible.” I have no solution. Maybe someone else has the solution, but I don’t. What is the solution in the movie? The solution is to escape into the madness. To be mad is the only way. To be a clown. A stupid guy.
AK: It seems very relevant that you’re unveiling it here in Los Angeles because, more than any place in the world, this is the place where everyone strives for perfection.
ADLI: You’re right! You’re right!
AK: Everyone comes out here to live that kind of life.
ADLI: And in Europe people suffer a lot. All the Europeans who read this interview will say, “Alex is an idiot!”
But it’s true: Inside everybody wants to be American. They love the genes and they love the American way. And they say, “No.” They laugh and they say, “Hey! Forget Americans! We are the real thing!” No, it’s not true. People love the American way of life and try to be like you. Out here, the people suffer in the same way because this American way of life doesn’t exist. Only in the commercials. Have you ever seen the perfect family with the perfect wife dressed in white who prepares the cornflakes for the children, and the children go happily to school while the husband takes the big BMW to work with a grin? Does it exist? I don’t think so. Everybody has problems. You have to take the old car and park it on the street. Your wife is not beautiful like in the commercials. Your wife is an old woman who’s exhausted to work with the kids. And the kids are always monsters. They don’t eat the cornflakes at the table like saints. They take the cornflakes and throw it in your face!
AK: It’s almost become a vicious cycle here. The more people strive for it, the more miserable they are. And we know it. But as a culture we continue to bombard ourselves with these images.
ADLI: It’s because there is no real religion right now. If we believed in anything in a real way, maybe we wouldn’t have so many problems. But the new religion is the commercials. The TV. You have to make your life in this way! You need these girls! If your wife doesn’t have this kind of hair and this kind of breasts, she’s no good. And you say, “Bah! This is not real!” But suddenly you feel inside, “The people look at me with this girl, and she’s not the girl I want to have.” We have to meet some plan made by others. And it’s impossible to assume this thing. And I don’t know what to do, because I have this chip in my head like everyone. It’s impossible to say, “No! I’m going into the mountains to live alone with my things.” No. Everyone wants to have this kind of paradise on Earth, and it’s impossible.
AK: Have you ever been approached to make a movie in Hollywood?
ADLI: Of course, because I still believe in paradise. But the problem is that I may not be able to control the movie. I would like to write the script and go to the studios and say, “I want to do this.” I write it and the studio says, “It is very funny and I like your work, but this isn’t the kind of movie we want.” I would like to do it because I’m getting exhausted working with the same budgets. I would love to work with more toys, y’know? I would love to make a big special effects movie. Did you see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?
ADLI: What did you think?
AK: I thought it was . . .
ADLI: British? It’s like a Monty Python movie, no?
AK: Yeah. Exactly.
ADLI: I think it’s good. I love the production design in it and the strangeness of it all. I would love to make a movie like that. I also love Terry Gilliam. I think Gilliam is the closest thing to me in the USA. I love his work; I think he’s the best. And he talks about things that are very close to me: Madness and the quest for paradise in a broken world. Brazil is one of the movies that are most important to me. And Time Bandits is marvelous! I love the mixture of theatre, the big special effects, the monsters, the freaks, the giants . . .
AK: Are you looking forward to The Brothers Grimm?
AK: The Brothers Grimm.
ADLI: I haven’t seen it yet.
AK: I haven’t seen it either. But it comes out in a few days. I think they’re holding the premiere tonight.
ADLI: [wide eyes] Here?
AK: No, down the street.
ADLI: We’ll have to go together! [both laughing]
AK: One of the big trends in Hollywood is buying up international films and remaking them.
AK: They’re even doing it with the least mainstream films.
ADLI: We’re talking about a remake of The Ferpect Crime right now.
ADLI: Yeah, but it’s so complex, you know? Because you need a lot of meetings; you need to talk with a lot of people, and it’s so complex because some filmmaker wants to do it and some actor wants to do it too. And this actor hates this filmmaker. It’s impossible. It’s more difficult to remake one of my movies than it is for me to make my own movie in America! [both laughing]
AK: Do you have any future projects? Any ideas kicking around right now?
ADLI: Yeah, I’m making another movie. The title is Think About Disney. But people say that talking about Disney is a problem here. Everyone keeps telling me to forget about it. It’s a horror film about demons and Hell. It’s complex. All my movies surround Hell, but this one is set directly in it.
AK: [laughs uncontrollably] I can’t wait to see it!
ADLI: I am very excited about this idea, because it’s very strange. And very funny. It’s going to be like life in a Bosch painting.
Special thanks to Alex de la Iglesia for taking time out to chat with us. Extra special thanks to Margot Gerber and all the nice people at the American Cinematheque for making this interview possible.