Oren Moverman: It is very biblical, but it was (co-writer) James Ellroy’s idea. It was something that came out of his unique mind, and brings up a lot of interesting dynamics.
RS: Yes, including the inevitability that they would gang up on him, and he’d be outnumbered. But yeah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel and the whole thing, right?
OM: Right (chuckles).
RS: Although we don’t have maids thrown in, but we do have other people involved. I didn’t get the sense that he was trying to find intimacy there…
OM: I agree. He’s just some kind of animal, and someone who has been worn down morally and ethically and spiritually; someone who has no core, really, except a set of false beliefs. And the idea that his bad behavior toward bad people makes him good. It’s a very questionable ethos, but it’s basically his way of operating in the world. And so I think his desire to be with women, his desire to be loved, is much more of the physical and superficial nature. It’s his idea of having a core, which of course is completely wrongheaded.
RS: Yeah. I was interested in the relationship with his daughters. Was that sort of the last vestige of the milk of human kindness, or did it just wind up being another casualty on the battlefield of his relationships?
OM: I think it’s ultimately the last casualty; it’s when he loses everything. He’d managed, in his life, to separate his personal world from his job, thinking wrongly that they’ll never mix, and never affect each other, forgetting that he’s the one who connects those two worlds, and so he brings himself into each of those worlds. It’s a certain kind of punishment, if you will. It’s the last chance he has at redemption, really, and he screws it up. He doesn’t know how to build a bridge to the future, or toward change. His inability to adapt means they are unable to include him in their lives, and that’s a terrible ultimate punishment, as far as I’m concerned.
RS: A self-respecting critic is not supposed to gush, but I’ve to ask you: how did you coax all those great secondary performances out of those people? And I’m talking about Robin Wright and Ben Foster and Sigourney Weaver and Ned Beatty and Ice Cube – lots of significantly impactful minor characters.
OM: I wish I could take credit for it. Don’t tell anyone, but I figured out the secret formula; get great, intelligent, talented actors to be in your movie, and you get great results.
RS: (laughs) Yeah, it’s all about the people you have around you, right?
OM: Exactly. We all lift each other.
RS: I thought that was an outstanding aspect of the film. In a way Woody Harrelson was – I don’t want to say one-dimensional – but it’s such a laser beam that it was refreshing to see some variety expressed in the relationships with the secondary characters.
OM: Yeah, in many ways the secondary characters are comprised of elements of him – they’re almost a commentary on him. But you’re right, he’s a character who refuses to change, so if you just had him in the movie, it would be very monotonous. But these other characters add a lot of color and flavor and meaning to his interactions.
RS: Is Dave Brown based on a real character?
RS: But was there some sort of scandal – I’m sorry, I’m not part of the LA culture, but was there a scandal involved with the police there?
OM: Yeah, I’m not from L.A. either, so I had to learn about it, also, but in the 1990s the LAPD had to be taken over by the federal government because it was so corrupt: cops went to jail, and changes had to be made. The time in the movie represents that.
RS: “Rampart” actually refers to a particular station, right?
OM: Yes, a station just outside of downtown LA, mostly Hispanic.
RS: That incident with the rookie cop and the French fries – it was an indication that Woody’s character just couldn’t let anything go, right?
OM: That’s exactly it; he couldn’t. But it’s also an introduction to different sides of his personality: the tough guy, the cynic, the torturer who hates to see people wasting food. He’s kind of toying with her, kind of humiliating her, and yet his heart breaks for her when she says she never knew her father. That gets to him, because of his own tenuous relationship with his daughter.
RS: That line about not paying taxes because he can’t owe on something he’s not committed to—
OM: Yeah, it’s about the cash from strong-arm confiscation of illegal poker games, and other strong-arm kinds of operations.
RS: Well, and that’s ultimately what got him in trouble – the investigator just wouldn’t let that go.
OM: Yeah, corruption stops when the honest people won’t put up with it.
RS: This ragged, muddled relationship with the exes – you have to continue to relate with them because of the kids, but there’s this weird kind of animosity/affection/shared history/anger – thrown together in one volatile mix.
OM: I agree with you – very loaded relationships which point toward a broken quality in the future. And the twist here is that the exes’ relationship with each other is closer than either of their relationships with him.
RS: How does it affect your work as director to also be the co-writer?
OM: Not only am I close to the material, it allows me to change things as I go: to treat the script as a living, breathing thing, as opposed to something that’s fixed and just has to be executed. It was fun to sculpt the movie along with the actors.
RS: Would you be willing to direct something you didn’t write?
OM: Yes, I would be very open to that.
RS: What have I failed to ask you about that you really want to tell me?
OM: Mmm. That’s probably the best question I’ve ever heard. And that’s how I would respond, by saying that’s the best question I’ve ever heard.
RS: (laughs) Thanks. Well, I appreciate you as a writer and a director, and I hope that you will be part of some projects in the future that excite you and get your creative juices flowing like they are here.
OM: Thank you. That’s very kind of you. Thank you.
Ronald P. Salfen is interim pastor of St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas. To read his movie review on “Rampart”, click here.