I consider my films first and foremost to be dramas about individuals in personal struggles and I consider myself to be a dramatist before I am a political filmmaker. I'm interested in alternative points of view. I think ultimately the problems of the planet are universal and that nationalism is a very destructive force. I also like anarchy in films. My heroes were Luis Buñuel and Jean-Luc Godard. "Breathless" was one of the first pictures I really remember being marked by, because of the speed and energy. They say I'm unsubtle. But we need above all, a theatre that wakes us up: nerves and heart.
Nationalism and patriotism are the two most evil forces that I know of in this century or in any century and cause more wars and more death and more destruction to the soul and to human life than anything else.
[on legacies] Alexander's lasted 2,300 years. Why? He's remembered because of his vision, because of his compassion, because of his generosity, because of his spirit, because he was different. He was a general, a man who was able to weep over his [dead] soldiers on the battlefield. Never before had that happened. So this is a special man who has been remembered. There is a reason this film ["Alexander"] was made. It is bigger than us, bigger than me, bigger than Colin [Colin Farrell] and all our team.
[on "Alexander"] But I always liked the Greek outfits. They were sexier than the Romans', you've got to admit. And they didn't wear sandals. They wore boots. So don't call it a sword-and-sandal [movie], for Christ's sake! It's sword-and-boot, okay?
[on Alexander the Great] This was the golden boy of all history. I've been trying to make "Alexander" for a long time. In 1991 with Val Kilmer, in 1996 with Tom Cruise. Then Colin Farrell came along, and he was perfect. He was a tough, Tyrone Power, barstool-looking boy from Dublin. We made him a blond, which was perfect for him, and he became Alexander.
He went for the head. Kill the king, and your enemy folds. Alexander would have gone after Osama bin Laden. I'm sorry, but [John Kerry] was right.
I don't believe in this business of chopping up a film and then releasing a "director's cut" on DVD. What you see should be the director's cut. This is the director's cut. If you can spend four hours killing Bill, "Alexander" deserves some space.
If we had to do things the American PG way, then we were screwed. "Alexander" had to be an R picture. If you work in Hollywood, you have to get past the studio development committees. The thousands of demands. The previews where they dumb it down for the audience. The system wears you down. It's a monster - demanding, uncompromising. [Martin Scorsese] and [Spike Lee] have been through hell...
If I could talk to Alexander, I'd ask him why he married Roxane. But the Greeks did have a regard for women: Six of the 12 gods are women, after all. Marrying her pissed off all of his men, but he didn't care, he was making a point.
The Cold War has been the most irritating thing to me personally. Throughout my life we've been in the grip of militarism and military budgets and a mindset that dictates a war on Communism, and that's a drain on the national energy. The real enemy is nationalism and patriotism.
[on "JFK"] I thought it was a helluva thriller. JFK's [John F. Kennedy's] murder marked the end of a dream, the end of a concept of idealism that I associate with my youth. Race war, Vietnam, Watergate. If JFK had lived, the combat situation in Vietnam would never have occurred.
I love intelligent films that come at you fast. I don't have attention deficit disorder, my mind moves fast. There's a lot to deal with in my films. We had so many facts to go through, so the governing style was flash, cut, flash, repeat.
If I were [George W. Bush], I would shoot myself. I think he lives in fear of drinking again. There's nothing more dangerous for America than an ex-alcoholic President who tells you to believe in Jesus.
I wasn't prophetic. It was there all around us. Money was the sex of the 1980s.
Alexander to me is a perfect blend of male-female, masculine-feminine, yin-yang. He could communicate with both sides of his nature.
The Indians once told me that stones are the most revered and ancient of recording devices. And that perhaps I am here on this Earth to write of these mute histories - just another stone, an 'Oliver' stone.
[on the September 11 terrorist attack on New York City] This attack was pure chaos, and chaos is energy. All great changes have come from people or events that were initially misunderstood, and seemed frightening, like madmen.
I believed in the John Wayne image of America. My father was a Republican, and he taught me that it was a good war because the Communists were the bad guys and we had to fight them. And then there was the romanticism of the Second World War as it appeared in the films we mentioned. Obviously, the reality was very different.
They make prostitutes of us all.
When I go to the movies, and I have to sit through ten previews of films that look [alike] and tell the whole story, you know that we've reached an age of consensus. And consensus is the worst thing for us. We all agree to agree. That's where we lose it as a culture. We have to move away from that.
[on "Platoon"] I wrote the "Platoon" script in 1976 in New York City. Primarily because I'd reached a point in my life that if I didn't write about it, I would forget what had happened in the war.
The film business? I love film, but the film business is shit.
Josh [Josh Brolin] is actually better looking than George W. Bush] but has the same drive and charisma that Americans identify with Bush, who has some of that old-time movie-star swagger. I want a fair, true portrait of the man [for my film].
I should be making movies about the Dulles brothers [John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles], I should be making movies about Dwight D. Eisenhower, I should be making movies about the fifties and the forties. We should be free. I'm hamstrung, I mean, they're always... preordaining, proclaiming... They always make a brouhaha, a controversy, out of nothing. It's like they're trying to keep me away from these areas.
The reaction to "JFK" was just stunning. I've never spent so much time defending a film after its release.
[on President John F. Kennedy] He was the first man who stood up as a world leader and said, "We are one people, one planet. We must survive together or we will not survive at all." And it's a shame, because he was almost 30 years ahead of his time because 30 years later they're saying that.
[on his Vietnam War experience] You get to a point where you can smell them [the enemy]... I got to a place where I was using all my senses.
[on his childhood] It was a harsh upbringing in the sense that my parents divorced quickly. I was in a boarding school, so it was all boys in those days... And there was no femininity in my life either. My mother was often in Europe, I didn't see her very much.
[on casting Charlton Heston in "Any Given Sunday"] I wanted to show him he was still loved for all he gave to the movies. I remember his strength while in substantial pain from arthritis, during long shooting hours. He was a gentleman on the 14th hour, as he was on the first.
If [George W. Bush] had spent some time in Vietnam, he would have a very different view on war.
I'm tired of defending the accuracy of my movies. "JFK" was a case to be proven, "Nixon" was a penetrating biography of a complex and dark man. But I'm not bound by those strictures any more. [George W. Bush] is not a complex and dark man, so it's different. This movie can be funnier because Bush is funny. He's awkward and goofy and makes faces all the time. He's not your average president. So, let's have some fun with it. What are they going to do? Discredit me again?
The film business has always been full of strange characters. Who the hell gets into this business but gamblers and buccaneers and pirates? You don't get Henry Paulson as a producer in this business, that's for sure.
I'll welcome any sorts of investors in my films, as long as I can keep my freedom and my content free of interference. If you're asking if I would do a movie with a known drug dealer, no, I wouldn't. You don't want to corrupt a movie, though the nature of the film business lends itself to criminal enterprises.
[on Stanley Kubrick] The most interesting aspect of a scene is "controlled uncertainty". That's what Kubrick got. Everybody else would shoot pretty conventionally, but when I saw [Jean-Luc Godard] or Kubrick, in that period when I was studying film with more intensity, there was an unpredictability about Stanley Kubrick. Even as a kid, I didn't know what he would do next. It's the way Kubrick looks at reality. His reality is supercharged.
No man dies in vain. You die because you believe for something. You hope that the cause is worth it. And in Vietnam we have reasons to question it. But you die hopefully with honor and with courage. And you should be remembered for your sacrifice. That is not to say the war was right, but you honor the men who fought in the war.
I thought we [the United States] were going to go to war in Iran. If we had been more successful in Iraq, I have no doubts that we would have been more involved in the Iranian situation now.
[on Bernie Madoff] Madoff I consider to a be a sociopath; he was a crook running a Ponzi scheme.
[on the recession] Wall Street has an important role to play, and it can be a very constructive role in financing, in new business, in financing state bonds and pension plans. But the speculation is the mother of all evils. There have to be regulations. And we're not getting these regulations in place.
Look, you know something of what I've fought against in the U.S. establishment, but - McDonald's is good for the world, that's my opinion. Because I think war is the most dangerous thing. Nationalism and patriotism are the two most evil forces that I know of in this century or in any century and cause more wars and more death and destruction to the soul and human life than anything else - and can still do it with nuclear war. The prime objective we have in this era is to prevent war, to live in peace. The best way you can do that is to bring prosperity to as many people across the world as you can. And when you spread McDonald's all over the world, food becomes cheaper and more available to more people. Won't it be great when they can have McDonald's throughout Africa?
The Pax Americana, to me, is the dollar sign. It works. It may not be attractive. It's not pretty to see American businessmen running all around the world in plaid trousers, drinking whiskey. But what they're doing makes sense. Now it's been picked up more intelligently by the Japanese, the British, the Germans. But it brings education, health, and welfare to the rest of the world.
I don't feel particularly old, but I feel it in the morning when I wake up. Film is exhausting to make, it's a very tiring process physically.
You cannot approach history unless you have empathy for the person you may hate. We can't judge people as only "bad" or "good". [Adolf Hitler] is an easy scapegoat throughout history and it's been used cheaply. He's the product of a series of actions. It's cause and effect.
I agree with my father that the foundation of a healthy, prosperous and relatively free society is capitalism. The whole Alexander Hamilton idea of capitalism was to make the country grow, and he was essentially right that banks could be used to make the country grow, because we need capital and we need credit. And that is fundamental, and somehow people when they attack Wall Street so blindly, so ignorantly, they lose sight of that function.
J.P. Morgan merits enormous attention. He was a pharaoh. He controlled American business and governments in a way that's never been seen since.
[on Russia and China] When I was researching dissidents during the 1980s in the Soviet Union, there was a form of denial, which was that these people, who were very courageous people opposing the regime, were going to psychiatric institutes. The Russian people did not understand them and I felt very sorry for these people. I tried to do a movie about it but it could not get it financed. But I remember at that time researching the Brezhnev [former Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev] regime how much of a hero Joseph Stalin was to the average Russian who did not really know about the great purges, and terrors, and famines of that period. Of the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Self-delusion of a population in denial is overwhelming to me still at my age. In China, which I've visited several times, I see a new generation, young people, crippled with amnesia. Unable to gain access to their own history. And then I see a generation my age, older people, men and women, and I'm amazed by what they've been through in their lifetime. Far more than I have, because they have lived a Lewis Carroll life, where it's been a 180-degree turn at the middle of their lives, at the age of 30 or 40 they've moved from collective Communism and worship of one god Mao, to a highly brutal competitive individual consumption and corruption in the name of another god: money.
[on Alan Parker] Yes, I did say Alan Parker has no sense of humor, and this comment will haunt me for the rest of my days. But he doesn't, does he? Have I missed something?
[on his script for "Scarface"] Al Pacino intimidated me when I watched him in rehearsals, I saw how he turned Tony Montana into something very feral, something immigrant and hungry and decadent.
[on taxation] I pay 50% at the end of the day, it's a lot of dough. We work very hard, but we try to create things, we produce things. I think production is the key, I think producers should be encouraged. But when you're a speculator and you don't produce anything, that's where I think you should be taxed differently. I think there should be a bank tax. I think there should be a speculation tax, much higher. There's been proposals to that effect and they get defeated by the Republicans in Congress. I would put a tax on speculation because if you roll over stuff and you're just making money with money, like a casino, that's when you should really be taxed. A "Casino Tax", so to speak. But I don't really think taxing productivity is wise beyond a certain point. I'll pay 50%, but when you get to the 60% mark you're really dying, because you give jobs. My dad, who was a stockbroker, used to say, "No profit without production".
When I did "Platoon" in 1986, I was saying very openly that marijuana helped me survive the war. It helped me keep my humanity in a situation that was dehumanizing.
It's not a war on drugs. It's a war for money. There's too much money in it to back out now. Even if they taxed it, and they'd love to, there's so much money on the criminal investigation side with the DEA and the prison system. There are so many people in jail for drugs. They spend billions annually keeping non-violent criminals in jail, many of them drug users. How do you go back after forty years of tactics that haven't worked?
[on Taylor Kitsch] He is very laid back. He's got that Canadian attitude. But he's a great athlete. He's a good boxer and apparently a great hockey player. At the same time he's powerful on camera. He conveys what in the old days you'd call a man's man.
You see a coarsening of society through war. If you think not showing the coffins that come back to the United States is a solution, that's not so. We have to be more truthful about the nature of violence.
I gave [my children] the best education I thought they could get... but I realize you have to go through some suffering and pain. People don't appreciate education unless they are an immigrant or coming up the hard way. It's a sense of entitlement.
I grew up conservative, remember. So I had a William Buckley view of the United States in the '40s and '50s - that we were good guys, and that we were moral, and that we were doing the right thing. And now I think, how did we become this bully - this international terror that dominates the world scene today?
I do feel that the Jim Crow laws are very important, coming back, by the Suprene Court gutting the Voting Rights Act. The gerrymandering that's going on in the states. I do believe that we owe this Republican legislature to that gerrymandering. And part of that is that ballot security issue. Every time... you've got have IDs for the poor and so forth. It's cutting out the blacks. They are really hanging on to... they don't want the Hispanic, Asian, black mixture to take over. I think that's what the Supreme Court thing is. I think that's what the gun laws are about too. The states want states rights. They want to keep the rules white. That's how I see this Tea Party.
I grew up conservative, remember. So I had a William Buckley view of the United States in the '40s and '50s - that we were the good guys, and that we were moral, and that we were doing the right thing. And now I think, how did we become this bully - this international terror that dominates the world scene today?
[on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy] Like everyone, it was sad for the country. He was a handsome young man with a beautiful family, but the consequences of the act did not have meaning for me until later. Within four years I'd be in Vietnam as a ground soldier. And then as I got older, JFK's presidency became more important to me in retrospect than ever before.
[on his film "Wall Street" and its leading character, the reptilian Gordon Gekko] When I made the movie I thought greed was NOT good. But I learned people really like money. They like to make money. They will even admire the villain with the money - even when he breaks the law.
The Hollywood blockbuster is based on the idea of the conquering hero and that we are the exceptional nation, the indispensable nation, the rescuer of nations. But it's a fantasy, and people like Obama haven't really studied their history. They haven't studied cause and effect. Besides, the heroic narrative does not work because everyone thinks they're the hero, and then you end up with crazy heroes around the world trying to be a crusader.
I grew up living in the heart of the American dream in New York City. My father was conservative. I served in the military and it took several years after that of seeing the world from the point-of-view of people who were exploited and abused to change my perception. And my films have also taught me about aspects of life. With 'Untold History' I had the chance to really study and broaden my knowledge of the American past. And it's not the bill of goods they taught us in school.
Corruption surrounds us. It's in every part of the American organism now, from Wall Street to the military, to legislators and politics. It's endemic.
[on President Dwight D. Eisenhower's warning about an expanding military-industrial complex] It's only gotten worse because the money has gotten much bigger. Now we're in an impossible situation where we find ourselves driven into wars, driven into a hundred and some thirty countries where we have military alliances, military bases. We can't seem to get out of it. I'm not sure that any one single man, one president, can do anything about it.
[on "Talk Radio" as a learning experience] I wasn't thinking of it so much as "my" movie as a chance to develop technique. Remember, I was a young director looking for new ways to express myself on film. (...) A lot of it was Robert Richardson and I learning how to use space by shooting in that tight little studio, which was cleverly built by [production designer] Bruno Rubeo. As you noticed, we used a lot of glass and reflections, bringing the lights up and down so that characters would appear and disappear, playing with different levels of reality within the studio. We got very comfortable with the idea of confinement on that set, which meant that then we could apply those ideas to a larger canvas when we moved on to "Born on the Fourth of July". There was a lot of location shooting on "Born..." and very little on "Talk Radio"; we did have the middle section with the basketball game and some scenes in cars, but all of that stuff in the studio was methodically shot. We shot it in around 30 days, and every one of those days was thought out to the max - boarded, rehearsed, with poor Eric Bogosian saying 40 or 50 lines of dialogue while moving and hitting marks. He didn't even know what marks were when we started, coming from the theater. We threw the first few days of rushes away, in fact, because they were so terrible. If you look at the movie we don't introduce him right away, you just see other characters and hear his voice for a while before you see him. (...) It's funny, because you can call it a small movie, but it has a muscularity to it and we really tried to push that as far as it would go. It contributed greatly to "Born..." and everything that came after it, because Bob learned a lot about lenses, and I fell in love with the split diopter. Bob didn't like it for some reason, but I loved it and I used it to death. I didn't care how crude it was, I loved the feeling of it. We built a three-sided set with a translight of the Dallas night skyline outside the window, and Bob used light banks with everything on dimmers so that the lights would come in and out at very precise moments, and he had to figure out how to deal with all of those crazy reflections. Often he would find magic in things that weren't expected or planned for, even though we very carefully designed our shots ahead of time. That was part of the discovery process. 
"Wall Street" was an unfortunate situation because we fired [composer] Jerry Goldsmith. We paid him a lot of money, and I was unhappy with the music he had written. He was a big composer at the time, and he was really insulted, so I didn't make a lot of friends in the musicians' union when that got around - at that time, replacing a composer that way just wasn't done, I suppose. We were running out of time, and I liked The Police and had some kind of connection to Stewart [Stewart Copeland] that I can't quite remember, and he came in and did a nice job very quickly. 
It's a dangerous world where one country [the U.S] is telling the world what to do, with the exception of Russia, China and North Korea. (...) Let's hope for a balance of power. 
With Trump [Donald Trump], I hope that he has the good sense, because he's a businessman, that he would find a way to make a deal with Russia as well as China, and that would be better for everybody. 
Mr. Snowden [Edward Snowden] said very clearly, that the mechanism is in place now so that when there is another terror attack, which inevitably there probably will be in this country, the next president, whoever he may be, will have the authority to really close down the system in the most oppressive way than it's ever been. 
I'd point out to those of you who are struggling to be independent and to stay independent, that's the hard part, staying independent, I'd like to remind you that you can be critical. You can be critical of your government, and we've forgotten that. (...) The 1970s can come back, if you embody that in your own work. So don't go easy on what you think is wrong. Think internationally. There are other values beside our little little echo bowl we have there.