Cameron on Wilder: Various Quotes

Various quotes from Cameron taken from about Billy Wilder.

“It was like a film school masters’ class, and the best interview I’ve ever done. His biggest influence on me has been how he’s lived his life. He’s still so curious and interested in everything and everybody. I want to be curious my whole life, too. If there’s anything bigger, I don’t know what it is.”

Courtesy of The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle – Jack Garner – September 22, 2000

When you did Conversations With Wilder, did you feel the shadow of Truffaut-Hitchcock [a book in which legendary French director François Truffaut extensively interviews Alfred Hitchcock] hovering over the project?

CC: More than a shadow: That book is on my desk. I love that book and I consciously tried to emulate it. Some people thought I succeeded and other people didn’t, but that was definitely the model. But Billy gets more personal than Hitchcock, because that’s just who he is. He engages in dinner-conversation theater. He’s an anecdotist. He’s a master filmmaker and so much more. Hitchcock, I think, was sort of determined to talk about craft in Traffaut-Hitchcock, and from the beginning, I knew my book was going to be different in that respect. Still, I loved that Truffaut was a fan and openly so. And I was, too. Why not? Why not wave the flag for your heroes? That’s what Almost Famous is about. Wave it. Lester Bangs? Fuckin’ wave the flag.

The thing that was strange about the book is that you acknowledge Wilder as a huge influence, yet your sensibilities couldn’t be more at odds. He’s sort of the ultimate post-war cynic.

CC: But he’s not. He’s perceived that way, but he reminds me of my grandfather–a sharp observer, fiercely protective of the things that he loves, wide open to life, and curious to the end. And he believes, with narrowed eyes, in the best of people first. That’s Billy Wilder. He’s not the Ace In The Hole guy, although he can access that [sarcasm] instantly, and I really responded to his optimism above all. Life is endlessly curious to him. He’s 94 and one of the youngest guys I know. And one of the great lessons of Billy Wilder is how he lived his life–how he lives his life–and on that level, I couldn’t wait to document that part of him. I would love to do something more corrosive, and I plan to soon, but only as long as it comes naturally.

Courtesy of The Onion – Scott Tobias
In between “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous,” Crowe devoted his time to researching and writing a book of interviews he did with filmmaking giant Billy Wilder. “Conversations With Wilder” was released last fall.

“I learned a lot,” said Crowe. “He is an international treasure and not a man who likes to be interviewed about his work.”

Besides getting an education, Crowe happily won, over time, a friend.

He tells the story of him and Wilder sipping sake over dinner one night. There is obvious affection, and some of the old hero worship, in Crowe’s voice as he does his best Billy Wilder imitation:

“If you never do anything with any of these interviews, that’s OK. They’re just for you.”

“What he was saying,” Crowe said, “was, ‘I’m happy to be giving you this gift.’ It’s probably the highlight of everything that’s happened to me since high school.”

“Timeless,” Crowe reflected, “is cool.”

“Billy Wilder is cool.”

Courtesy of San Diego Union Tribune – David L. Coddon – September 10, 2000

What does Billy Wilder think of Almost Famous?

It was the toughest two hours of my life, because I couldn’t really tell. I sat behind him so I could work the volume, because at 94 he is not a fan of rock music. He laughed when Penny Lane was told that her rock star lover wanted to trade her for $50 and a crate of beer, and she looks hurt, before saying: “What kind of beer?” I have written a line that made Billy Wilder laugh! Anything can happen from here and I will still be a happy guy.

Courtesy of Total Film Magazine – Garth Pearce – February, 2001

“For me, Billy Wilder defines the art of movie comedy. There’s just no one else who can touch him. We don’t have anything close to (his talent) working in movies today, and it’s such a loss. Seeing his movies makes you realize how much the art has deteriorated since his peak. When was the last time anyone made a movie in this country as good as ‘Some Like It Hot’ or ‘The Apartment?'”

In the book, Wilder talks about his long-standing dream of making a film about his career as a young journalist in the magical days of pre-war Vienna. Was this frustrated desire on the part of his filmmaking hero one of the things that made Crowe want to embark on his own version of the idea?

“Probably it was, because I did realize from talking to Billy that, the further removed you get from your youth, the harder it becomes to do that kind of film successfully. I’m in the stage of my life now when that (formative) period is distant but not so distant that it’s dim in my memory. Also, the early ’70s are not so removed for us that recreating them becomes a (prohibitive) task — as re-creating ’20s Vienna would be for Billy.”

Courtesy of the Seattle-PI – William Arnold – September 7, 2000

Jerry Maguire was your ticket in to the book with Billy Wilder?

A:  Absolutely was my ticket in.  He recently made friends with Sam Mendes and there’s…just a little something about a guy who’s gotten out there and gotten noticed in a way similar to the way that he was noticed…that just gives him a little twinkle, like he’s meeting the current crop.  And he…Billy Wilder respected me, I think, to a point before he saw Jerry Maguire, but after Jerry Maguire he took me seriously.  I mean, there was a great moment when I tried to get him to act in Jerry Maguire and I went over to his office with Tom Cruise…to [get him] to play Dicky Fox [the older agent].  Because I thought, Tom is going to close Billy Wilder, I can just sit back and watch this happen.  And Billy just really enjoyed hammering Tom with “No.”  And “No” and [Wilder impression] “In the old days, the stars did not dress like this.  They dressed in a suit they look good when they go out.”  And Tom looked pretty good that day.  He was just hammering him.  As we were leaving, he said, “Nice to meet you and nice to meet you, especially you [to Cruise].”  He was a little bit like [to Crowe] “You’re a fan, who knows about you?”  But [to Cruise] “You’re a star and in my next picture I may need you.”  Later I heard that he liked Jerry Maguire and if I wanted to interview him for my column, I could.  And so I went to interview him and said, “I don’t have a column but I would like to do a book” and he said, “No!”  And that argument went on for about six months and then he finally said, “Well, okay, give it a shot.”

Courtesy of Corona Coming Attractions
You can see me, throughout the book, trying, on a basic level, to get Billy Wilder’s blessing for an autobiographical movie,” Crowe says. “But he would never go for it. He would say, ‘Who would see such a picture? Maybe your parents.’ And meanwhile I’m going home at night working on this movie. So in a way, I ended up doing the movie that Billy himself would never make, something that’s sort of boldly and frighteningly personal.”

Courtesy of L.A. Daily News – Glenn Whipp – October, 2000