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Oliver Stone Honored by Stockholm for Lifetime Achievements

Oliver Stone arrived in Stockholm on Thanksgiving day to receive the Stockholm International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, the day before the Swedish premiere of Alexander . Already “the numbers are looking good”, said the director for his latest film. The press conference held by Colombia TriStar in a magnificent ornate room at the Grand Hotel dealt mainly with his new film starring Colin Farrell, Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie. Stone was honored to receive the Stockholm award. Despite criticism of “Alexander” in the US, he believes that the film will get the attention it deserves from Europe, where "people are educated in the classics". But he admits that with the film, “that’s how we start the process”. While that may be true, the leading film critic for the Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter , Eva af Geijerstam, citing other classics, titled her review: "Alexander, the Freudian", criticising the mother/son relationship, and comparing the ending and beginning to Citizen Kane , without any rosebud.

Stone understands his work may not be understood at home due to controversy over the political themes in films such as JFK, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Salvador, and admits he would be naive to not want to find acceptance in his own country. However, Stone believes the US is now a divided country and that at the present moment his work is better understood abroad. “Europe , Sweden (addressing the press in Stockholm) see me differently”, he confided.

Stone said he met Colin Farrell in 2002 to discuss Alexander and couldn’t imagine him in the lead until after he had him “try on some Doris Day wigs”. The transformation helped him make up his mind. Tom Cruise had been an earlier consideration before the script was in place. Stone said he preferred having an Irishman play the part rather than someone British because he liked his English elocution but when he first met Farrell, a “young Irish scrapper”, he admitted he only understood twenty percent of his English. Stone said Farrell had “big beautiful eyes like Tyrone Power” and that his first reading of Alexander was “ a comedy of errors” but that he eventually turned into a very hot property with young women "screaming for him like the Beatles". With Minority Report Farrell “started getting hot”, and even “held his own with Al Pacino”. His background was in British and Irish television which helped make him a better actor, explained Stone. Then with five movies in a row , he was HOT.

Stone was interested in getting bankable stars into the project, and Farrell proved this in a short time-- "a handsome lad, a charming lad”. The other big star was Anthony Hopkins who did Alexander "as a favor to him" after collaboration on Nixon. But the role was hard for Hopkins, said Stone, who plays a much older Ptolemy.

As for Angelina Jolie, Stone knew her from when she did Gia at 19. “She has lived two lives in ten years since then”, first with marital and other personal problems, and now the mother of a beautiful son", said Stone. Jolie who plays Alexander’s mother is only one year older than Farrell, age 28. Nevertheless, Stone explains, her role is established early in the film when Alexander is a boy and slowly grows. The director had no doubt when they were seen side by side in tests that they would be good. As far as the role of Philip, Stone claimed that “he couldn’t get arrested with Val Kilmer”, and when he got him for the film, he was satisfied that together with Jolie, he had "strong, sexual, vibrant parents for Alexander". He called Jared Leto “a find”, the actor whom he believes embodies Hephaistion - the man that Alexander loved. He emphasizes that their relationship was “based on the concept of friendship espoused by Aristotle”. Finally Rosario Dawson “convinced me” she could play Roxanne.

Unlike Troy which Stone called a ‘well-made studio movie’, Alexander was an “independent” production where he maintained control throughout the project. Suggestions were made to all the investors including Warner Bros but that in the end, he did what was right for his vision. As far as Baz Luhrmann's Alexander project with Leonardo di Caprio as Alexander and Nicole Kidman as Olympias, he said the problem was there wasn’t any script, but surmises that there is plenty of room for other films about the epic life of the Macedonian conqueror.

Robin Lane Fox, an Oxford scholar was called in as historian for the project who in 1973 wrote what Stone calls “the definitive bio on the life of Alexander”. He claimed there were no contemporary records during the time of the Macedonian emperor, and that three or four hundred years after his death, the Romans wrote his biography. “We find in the story of Alexander”, said Stone “a man who was known for the tabloid aspects of his life”. Stone’s film takes his life down from five acts to three in a matter of a little under three hours.

Stone is insistent that Alexander was a “polymorphous man” with no fixed sexual identity. In response to gays who think that he isn’t “homosexual enough” and Greek lawyers who are trying to sue him for portraying Alexander as bisexual, Stone says “its hard to please everyone”. “Gays”, he says, “have missed the point”. “There was no homosexuality or bisexuality in the Greek lexicon of the time”. As for the Greek lawyers, he calls their actions “ absurd“ - and “rubbish”.

The character of Olympias played by Angelina Jolie is a strong woman at a time when women were second class citizens. She is the classic “stage mother” to Alexander says Stone. She was aware that if Alexander wasn’t made king after his father Philip, he wouldn’t survive. There are indications that she was behind the assassination of her husband, and had his second wife Eurydike and her son murdered. Olympias was a snake handler, and in response to the criticism that he goes too far with her interest, he explains that his own mother loves dogs and had a lot of them all over his house. Why not snakes? The snake she gives to Alexander as a young boy is done to help him conquer his fears, a belief that he takes with him to battle. Women of the time had no understanding of their ovaries, said Stone, and the idea that she became impregnated by Zeus may have developed out of her divine relationship with snakes.

When asked why he doesn’t do more films with strong women, Stone claimed that this film has been credited for having some of the best parts for women - with Angelina Jolie and Rosario Dawson. He also mentions Joan Allen in Nixon who was nominated for an Academy Award. But maybe he might consider the life of Margaret Thatcher as a future film, and asked for suggestions for casting. Meryl Streep was immediately brought up. Stone said he was also very interested in Evita but that “the president of Argentina screwed us up”.

Alexander was shot in Thailand and Morocco including some shots of India. When asked why more was not filmed there, Stone explained that the bureaucracy of shooting in India where the Bollywood concept is in play made it too difficult. He also admitted to showing D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance to his crew as a model for Babylon with its hanging gardens and tall buildings of stone. Ultimately Thailand proved to be an excellent location, particularly with a “tremendous respect” of animal husbandry and well trained elephants used in battle scenes.

Stone claims that historical films are not films about today and believes “we see history the way we want to”. He denied Alexander is an allegory for the US building an empire in the Middle East-- --such as the designs of Bush Jr and Sr. “The wars of Alexander’s time were based on the Homeric ideal where people were killed by their own hands. Modern war “prostitutes itself” with weapons and technology, he explained. As for Alexander, “in his wake he created the Hellenic Empire at a time when the Greeks were not unified and had a contempt for politics”. For more than two hundred years, the areas of his empire prospered. The Romans took the model and used it. Stone said that the same attempt to penetrate the East by the West and vice versa used in Alexander’s time is occuring today. He believes that 9/11 was such an action and added that in Europe alone, by the year 2050 there will be a Muslim majority. The West will meet the East and vice versa.

Stone said he would have two questions for Alexander today: how much did he know about his father’s death, and why did he marry Roxanne.

Moira Sullivan, Nordic Correspondent, FIPRESCI


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