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Todd Field on Writing ‘Tár‘ in 12 Weeks, His 16-Year Absence and Why Tom Cruise Told Him During ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ He’d Be a Director

Awards Circuit Podcast: Also on this episode, "The Inspection" star Jeremy Pope, while the Roundtable tackles animation.

American director Todd Field at the 79 Venice International Film Festival 2022. Tar Red Carpet. Venice (Italy), September 1st, 2022 (Photo by Rocco Spaziani/Archivio Spaziani/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

Todd Field was working as an actor on Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” when star Tom Cruise took him aside. Cruise looked Field in the eye and told the budding auteur that he would one day be a director. “He basically pushing me onto the fighter jet,” Field recalls to Variety‘s Awards Circuit Podcast. “I said, ‘oh yeah, I went to film school.’ And he said, ‘no, no…you’re going to DIRECT.’ What are you going to do?”

That moment with the superstar had a profound effect on Field, who was then pursuing an acting career, with previous film credits that included “Radio Days” (1987) and “Sleep with Me” (1994).

Field, of course, did indeed eventually become a celebrated filmmaker. But 16 years have passed since his last film “Little Children” (2006) was released in theaters. Now, he’s back with his finest film yet, “Tár,” starring Cate Blanchett.

On this week’s episode of the award-winning Variety Awards Circuit Podcast, we sit with Todd Field, the writer, director and producer of “Tár,” as he discusses working with Blanchett and Nina Hoss, as well as some of the film’s most burning questions and how long until we get another feature from him.

Listen below:

It may have been 16 years since “Little Children,” the last film Todd Field directed, but it only took him three months to write “Tár.” And the psychological look into the world of a fictional female composer has generated plenty of thought-provoking conversations from audiences.

“Tár” focuses on Lydia Tár, played by two-time Oscar winner Blanchett (“The Aviator” and “Blue Jasmine”), a lesbian composer who becomes the first woman to conduct a major German orchestra.

After premiering at the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals, the film opened to rave reviews from critics, firmly placing the film in the middle of the Oscar race across all categories.

Field’s two prior features were both adaptations of other stories, which earned him two noms for best adapted screenplay in their respective years. “Tár” is his first original story, but not the only original script he’s ever penned. When Field finished his fellowship at the American Film Institute in the early 1990s, he wrote an original script that he describes as his version of “400 Blows” (1959), the French coming-of-age classic from François Truffaut. “I gave it to my then agent who said the 1980s was not an era.”

Field was depressed and discouraged by that response, and never showed it to anyone.

So naturally, when Peter Kujawski, chairman of Focus Features, asked Field to write anything he wanted, Field had anxiety about it. “When someone gives you that kind of freedom and respect, you’re desperate to meet it, head-on,” he says.

In about twelve weeks, and at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Field wrote the script for “Tár.” “I’m not a plotter,” he says. “I normally think about characters. I’m interested in people and watching people’s behavior.”

Before making his first two features – “In the Bedroom” (2001) and “Little Children” – Field acted in films such as “Twister” (1996) alongside thesps like Bill Paxton and Philip Seymour Hoffman. He recalls “being pelted with real hail out of machines, and having our scalps split open, and having to get stitches.”

As for what he’s been up to for the last 16 years, it’s not as complicated as many would think. “I was raising children,” he says. “Trying to keep the lights on.”

What’s next for Field? Aside from knowing he’s no longer attached to the Hulu series “The Devil in the White City,” the filmmaker says he has some ideas brewing. One is a project he wants to do with Blanchett and his “Little Children” star Kate Winslet. “I have this idea,” he says. “I always think of the two ‘C/Kates’ a little bit about how we thought about DeNiro and Pacino before they were in that scene in Michael Mann’s ‘Heat.’ It was there as we were all waiting to have a scene with the two of them together. I think the ‘C/Kates’ at some point, they need to work together.”

Yes, please.

Jeremy Pope (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images) Getty Images

Also on this episode, actor Jeremy Pope talks about his role in the new film “The Inspection,” from writer and director Elegance Bratton. He discusses his love for Broadway, his upcoming opening alongside Paul Bettany and being seen in Hollywood.

In addition, the roundtable returns to chat about some of the year’s top animated and documentary contenders (with “Good Night Oppy” opening this week in theaters and “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” premiering at AFI Film Fest).

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, who also co-hosts with Clayton Davis, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.