In London to promote his frenetic new movie at the London Film Festival, 70-year-old Schrader told Cassam Looch that 1999’s Bringing Out The Dead was the fourth, and final time that he would be working with Oscar-winner Scorsese.
“We did the four together. I could tell on that final film that it would be the last one because I was acting too much like the director. There can be only one director. I could feel the friction and afterwards I said ‘I think four is enough'”.
When asked if this made the relationship between the pair difficult to maintain, following huge success with Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ, Schrader reveals that they are actually still very good friends.
“Oh, I usually have dinner with him several times a year. I was supposed to see him this month actually, but they’ve just tightened the schedule of Silence, his new film. It’s a three hour fifteen minute film that’s out in December for the awards season and he’s still finishing it off.”
Dog Eat Dog is the story of three ex-cons attempting to adapt themselves to civilian life following extended stints in jail. They are offered a job by an eccentric mob boss (Paul Schrader himself) with a payoff too rich to turn down. All they have to do is kidnap a baby, the child of a colleague who’s ripping the mob boss off. With the ‘three strikes’ law for life sentences looming over each of them and in the midst of battling their own personal demons, the smart money would be on rejecting the offer… But what the hell, they’re going to do it, and they’re going to do it their way.
The first scene in the film is a violent, crazed nightmare of blood, guts and neon colours. Schrader explained to us just why he chose to start as he did.
“The opening scene from the script was what sold me on doing it. The tricky task was to give the audience to laugh at that, if they do that in the first ten minutes then they will keep on doing it. That’s why it began like that, with the music and the tone.
I did Auto Focus a couple of years ago and felt that audiences had trouble laughing as it was just too subtle, and I was determined not to make that mistake this time around.”
When asked about how the film was picked up, Schrader gives a surprisingly honest answer.
“There was actually a bad bit of business between Nic [Cage] (Face/Off) and I on our previous film (2014’s Dying of the Light), which was taken away from us. We wanted to work together again with final cut. After reading this I thought it was the one. I sent the script to him and he said he wanted to do it, but this time play the ‘straight’ man having done ‘crazy’ so many times before. That when Willem Dafoe (Mississippi Burning) got involved.”
Troy (Nicolas Cage), an aloof mastermind, seeks an uncomplicated, clean life but cannot get away from his hatred for the system. Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) is on the mob’s payroll and his interest in his suburban lifestyle is waning. The loose cannon of the trio, Mad Dog (Willem Dafoe), is possessed by true demons within, which lead him from one precarious situation to the next. One more hit, one more jackpot, and they’ll all be satisfied. But somehow the law keeps catching up with them wherever they go.
“The likability of the characters, given how awful they are, comes from the charisma of Cage and Dafoe. We like to watch them no matter what.” Schrader explains. “They were in the David Lynch film Wild at Heart 25 years ago playing offbeat character there too, and it was fun bringing them back together. You actually try not to do that as a writer, it should be done in a way so that actors want to do it, not get actors in that you already have in mind. For my next film though, I knew it was a perfect role for Ethan Hawke.”
Schrader told us that the process of writing hasn’t really changed for him since his first project. “In the end,” he told us “It’s the same as when I did Taxi Driver. The scripts I write can’t be sold, so I have to package them and find the actors. The marketplace for spec-drama is almost nil now.”
Dog Eat Dog is in cinemas and on demand from 18th November