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Working with Lee

Colleagues speak out

“What attracts me to his style as a filmmaker is he crams so many different genres into one film. For him, a movie doesn’t have to be only funny or only sad or only a love story or only an action film. He’s perfectly happy to do all of those things in one movie.

“When we were looking for somebody to direct ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ we wanted somebody who could be very funny but wasn’t going to sacrifice the dramatic aspects of that story for the humorous aspects or vice versa. The book was a perfect amalgamation of those things. The script was a perfect amalgamation of those things. When you go after a director, you want to find somebody who is going to realize all of the elements of the screenplay and not just some of them.

“He was constantly giving actors direction that unnerved them or confused them or surprised them or seemed totally at odds with what their expectations had been. And yet, when they saw the film, they were amazed by how he did have a much bigger picture in mind than they could have told by just what was going on in a particular scene.”

— Lindsay Doran, producer, “Sense and Sensibility”

“What makes him a great director is you’re witnessing a story that somehow you are a part of — whether you’re in the 18th century or the 1970s or mythic China. You feel a personal connection. I think that’s a great storyteller.

“You add to that his immense visual gifts and technical gifts and the fact that he knows how to talk to actors and to challenge actors, then you wind up with a great filmmaker, which is perhaps another step on from a great storyteller.”

— Alan Rickman, actor, “Sense and Sensibility”

“The first thing he thinks of in making a movie is casting in the biggest sense of the word — the entire creative team, including the actors. He works with the people he has. He doesn’t try to impose a vision; rather he tries to pull out of people stuff they didn’t know they could deliver.

“I remember when he was directing Emma Thompson in ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ and we were shooting the climactic scene where Emma has to break down and cry. I was curious to see what kind of direction he would give. The only direction he gave her was simply, ‘No matter what you do, I don’t want to see your chin move past this point.’

“He gave her something to work against, something to think about. It was the exact touch that was needed. It wasn’t, ‘I want to see some big tears here.’ He trusted Emma to know what it was she had to do.”

— James Schamus, collaborating writer on “Sense and Sensibility,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and other pics

“His approach as a director was quite different in the way he prepares his actors. When I got the role (of Mikey Carver), they sent me a packet of information so I could familiarize myself with the time period. Along with it came a questionnaire for my character to fill out — basically, questions revolving around his relationship with the family, with friends, what he does with his time off, what he enjoys. It wasn’t stuff that would come into play in every scene, but it gave you this fabulous history of your character. The depth of your character was more pronounced.

“Some directors are quite wordy and describe all sorts of different things they want. He didn’t really do that. He was very powerful in his simplicity. He could come up and say a few things and you knew exactly what he wanted.”

— Elijah Wood, actor, “The Ice Storm”

“Every director brings something different. He brings the balance of the dramatic and the physical side, and that was so important to this movie. One side didn’t overwhelm the other. Working with him was an incredible learning experience.

“Mandarin is a foreign language to me, really. … I had to spend more time memorizing my lines. But when it came to the rhythm — where you start and where you pause — it makes a big difference. He was like a conductor behind the camera, saying, ‘Up, up, up, slow, quick, quick, quick, slow.’ It was hilarious.

“The scene where Chow (Yun-fat) was dying in my arms, after every take he’d come up and suggest something new. … He came up to me after the second take and he was in tears because he was so into the scene. … As an actor that’s so touching because a director is normally detached, but he was way into it. That was very, very special.”

— Michelle Yeoh, actress, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

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