×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Listen: Oscar Nominee Paul Schrader Reflects on the Long Journey of ‘First Reformed’

PLAYBACK is a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films. New episodes air every Thursday.

Paul Schrader is finally an Oscar nominee. Not that it’s anything he ever coveted. The 72-year-old filmmaker has carved his own path through the industry, a true writer-director packaging his projects independently, digging into the same themes that have kept his attention for more than four decades. With “First Reformed,” which brought him a nomination for original screenplay, he has encountered something utterly foreign to him: The long-haul awards campaign. His film debuted at the Venice Film Festival in 2017 and here Schrader is, still promoting it a year and a half later.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

“An independent film can have a very short life, sometimes as long as three or four days,” Schrader says. “We’re now in the 16th month of this film’s life. To have it be sort of in the conversation that long is kind of amazing … I have a rather peculiar career. I work on spec. I’ve done a few assignments over the years but mostly I have my own little shop. Rather than do something this past year I just decided to play this out, because it was a real sense of fulfillment, of a circle being rounded off. [This film has been] the greatest sense of completion, of, ‘Whatever I came to do, I’ve done it.'”

Well-known by now is how the film came to him. Schrader says that though he wrote the book (literally) on transcendental style in film, he never wanted to make a movie about spirituality and end up “on that Bressonian ice,” as he puts it. When he saw Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2014 film “Ida,” he finally felt the charge. It’s nice, then, that he’s been able to ride the circuit with Pawlikowski, who was nominated for directing “Cold War” this year.

“There was first an intellectual decision to make a film about spiritual life,” Schrader says. “When I met Pawel I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to write that film you swore you wouldn’t write … I think art can be very, very functional. You can drive a nail into a piece of wood with art. I still, more or less, operate in the same way I [always have]. Not every film, of course, but every several years you return and say, ‘What issues are troubling me now, at this stage in my life? What are the possible metaphors for that issue, and how can a story be explored with that metaphor?'”

It’s unfortunate, though, that the film’s star, Ethan Hawke, was passed over for a nomination. This despite being the most laureled actor during the critics’ awards stage of the season. It seems that spot may have gone to “At Eternity’s Gate” star Willem Dafoe, who worked with Schrader on 1992’s “Light Sleeper” and could partner up with the filmmaker on an upcoming western as well, so it’s hard for Schrader to be too upset. Still, he saw in Hawke at this stage in the actor’s career a real sense of gravitas that was perfect for the story of a reverend haunted by the existential questions of our time.

“Ethan, he’s not like this character,” Schrader says. “He’s an Austin hippie. He’s a Texas goofball. But at this age now, he has this striking presence, those wrinkles, and a kind of gravity to his appearance that we associate with tortured men of the cloth. So I started thinking about him while I was writing. I was also thinking about Jake Gyllenhaal and Oscar Isaac, but Ethan was 10 years older. I realized that because he had such a reserve, maybe something good could happen if he didn’t try to please you. I said, ‘Whenever you sense the viewer getting interested in you, just lean back. Don’t do anything to curry their approval. See what happens.’ So that was the approach we took. I was just talking to Richard Gere about it and he was so impressed by it he said, ‘How can he do that? How can he not show anything? Doesn’t he have any emotions?'”

For more, including thoughts on the evolving independent film landscape and Schrader’s adoration of Lady Gaga’s work in “A Star Is Born,” listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link below.

iHeartRadio
Hear more episodes of “Playback” at iHeartRadio.
– Listen at Spotify.
– Subscribe via iTunes.

Paul Schrader photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast.
Dan Doperalski for Variety

More Film

  • 'Shazam!' Review: Zachary Levi is Pure

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content