In a nearly 50-year directing career, Milos Forman has made only 12 features, but their variety astounds.

There’s biography (“Amadeus,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt”), adaptation (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), musical (“Hair”), period drama (“Ragtime”) and social commentary (“The Firemen’s Ball”), with many genres easily overlapping. Though he rarely repeated himself, the DGA’s 34th Lifetime Achievement Award honoree says passion was the abiding spark for any project.

“You feel strongly and fall in love with a story,” he says. “It’s a matter of the heart.”

Iconoclasts, though, whether embodied in the counterculture movement, a mental institution, radical early 20th-century America or the porn industry, were a constant. Says Forman: “Rebels are always good for drama.”

A key member of the Czechoslovakian New Wave, Forman moved to New York in the late ’60s to make films in America — eventually winning two directing Oscars. He says he overcame his meager English on film sets through directorial enthusiasm and “pretending” to understand. But his sense of humor proved a readily translatable language in and of itself.

“It’s as important in a movie as it is in a good politician,” says Forman, who cites Charlie Chaplin as a longstanding influence. “His mixture of very moving human themes and humor, I was smitten by that.”

Known as a masterful actors’ director, Forman has the same advice for dealing with the pros and non-pros who pepper his casts. “Don’t talk to them too much,” he says. “Then you confuse their head.”

Ultimately, Forman says, everybody’s an actor: “Professional, non-professional, that’s a bureaucratic division.” The main difference is how each responds to the camera.

“The professional actor loves to hear the response of the audience, while the non-professional are shy of the audience,” Forman says. “But they are not shy of the camera. It’s just a piece of equipment, while professional actors, they are shy of the camera, because they know that is the eye that will decide their future.”

DGA Awards 2013
Success to succession | Milos Forman speaks for the rebels | At the helm, in the trenches