Over the last few days we’ve been running an interview with producer Todd Lieberman, who- alongside producing partner David Hoberman – has been responsible for producing films as diverse as The Fighter, The Proposal, Surrogates and The Muppets.
Earlier this week we ran the first two parts: where Lieberman spoke about his career as a producer, and discussed the quirks of working with Muppets. In the final part of the interview, Lieberman turns the tables on me – quizzing me on movies I’ve liked over the last twelve months, which then led to us geeking off about Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook, then moving on to his taste in movies, and which films he would have liked to have been involved with.
Todd Lieberman: So what movies have you seen that you like this year?
HeyUGuys: I was about to ask you the same thing. I saw Django Unchained the other day.
Todd Lierberman: You like it?
It’s amazing. I thought I was going to – I have this odd relationship with Tarantino’s films. When I was 18 I loved Reservoir Dogs, I didn’t particularly care for Pulp Fiction, but I loved Reservoir Dogs. Jackie Brown I was a bit hot and cold on, but I love True Romance, because I love Badlands
Great, great film…
Even down to the fact that he aped the soundtrack. And I’m determined to talk to Hans Zimmer about whether he got the Thin Red Line gig on the grounds that he’d done the soundtrack the year before to a film that was a homage to Badlands. That’s me being a geek there.
But since Kill Bill One, I haven’t liked much of his stuff, I found Inglorious Basterds a bit – I didn’t like it, flat out, but Django blew me away.
How good is Christoph Waltz in that movie?
He’s amazing. You’ve got him on Muppets, haven’t you?
[At this point Lieberman goes quiet – it seems that even with rumours flying around everywhere, there’s not enough paperwork in place for him to confirm them]
Unofficially. It’s been reported anyway.
[Lieberman laughs, refusing to give anything away]
OK, we’ll skip around that.
He’s amazing! How good is he in that movie? Unbelievable. Nobody pulls off that ‘loveable villain’ character better than he does.
That’s the interesting thing. In Django he’s not a villain.
Yeah, but he’s got that…
He is playing Hans Landa but with morals and ethics.
I like to think he’s Hanz Landa’s grandfather.
That’s funny. That would generationally make sense.
Absolutely. Hanz just went the wrong way.
So what have you seen? What have you liked?
I’ve seen everything – everything that’s now being voted on. A movie that I don’t think is getting enough attention, that I just loved is Moonrise Kingdom. That movie’s amazing, really fantastic movie. And then of course, my good friend and pal David Russel’s movie, Silver Linings Playbook, that’s excellent. I rooted for him, because he’s so talented.
One of the best acted films of the year.
I didn’t love all of it, but the performances were so strong
He’s an incredible director, and working with actors, and getting the best out of them, I’ve seen it first hand, obviously, he’s unique in that way that he does it. This is a good year for movies, I’ve liked a lot of movies. Going back to the movies that make you feel good, I loved the movie The Untouchables, that was great.
I’m curious, when you watch something like that – when you watch anything for that matter, do you sit there as a bit of a catalogue shopper thinking, ‘I’d like to work with him, I’d like to work with her’?
Well yeah. My goal is really to keep expanding and exercising new muscles in different genres, and mixing that with working with the best people. My love of movies, and watching movies, is also being able to educate myself on voices, and saying “that’s amazing. What an incredible piece of work. Wouldn’t it be great if I did something with that person and mixed it with this idea that I have/” and that’s how it works. And then when you look – I started our conversation by talking about the wide range of films that I wanted to do – when you look at the movies that we’ve done of late, and hope to continue to do, it goes from a romantic comedy like The Proposal, to The Fighter, to The Muppets, to Warm Bodies – a zombie romance, to 21 and Over, which is a college, drinking comedy.
Warm Bodies particularly interests me. That whole zombie thing had, at one point, felt a bit played out. You had Shaun of the Dead, you had a slight revival, but then interest dropped, but you’ve got Warm Bodies and World War Z forthcoming.
I love Warm Bodies, I think it’s a fantastic movie. I think people are going to be really surprised when they see it, in a good way, just of how unique it is, and how satisfying it is. It was one of those movies going in where you were like, ‘woah’; it’s a Romeo and Juliet story basically told with a zombie and a human, and how there’s a friendship and a love story that evolves. That’s a tricky line to balance without either going into the absurd, or going into the pat. It took a real steady hand to figure out what that tone was, and Jonathan Levine, who is a tremendous film maker really accomplished it, and you believe it, you believe fully that love story. Because that works, and because the two of them work, and you believe that love story, the movie as a whole is really satisfying. I just think people are going to dig it.
How is that then to switch gears, to go back to something like The Muppets, that’s a larger scale? There’s got to be bigger logistical challenges at the very minimum.
There are, but I love it. I don’t mean this in a negative way, I mean it in a positive way: I get bored easily. I like doing different things, so going on from a zombie movie to The Muppets, to presumably – we’re developing a dark western, to this book I was talking about. They’re all totally different things.
I do love a good western
This is a good one. I can’t say anything much about it.
Proper 19th century set, not futuristic, no aliens?
It’s legit. It’s an actual western, and it’s very powerful. We’re putting together a pretty interesting package right now, and it’s dark, it’s pretty unrelenting.
So much more Unforgiven than John Ford?
Yeah. It’s a real – it’s more about the characters than it is about the landscape. There’s a really great story there. I’m very excited about it, and I love the idea of being able to do Muppets, [and a] dark western in and around the same time.
What’s your favourite film?
It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s a movie I can watch, and do watch every year. That’s a movie that I think has a wonderful message. You come out of that movie feeling great about life, it’s life affirming. I guess it depends on my mood. That’s in a positive, reflective mood. There’s different movies for different moods, I guess, but I think all in all, if I were to think about the movie I’ve seen the most, the movie that I would give as a gift to people, the movie I think speaks mostly about what my philosophy on life is, I think it’s that.
And favourite film of the last ten years?
The last ten years? You know what’s a movie that I love, that I don’t think got the attention it should have gotten. And this could have been over ten years ago, but I think it may have just been about ten years ago, is a movie called In America. Paddy Considine and James – my left foot, what’s the director’s name?
Is that the one where Paddy Considine takes his daughter around?
He moves from Ireland, and he moves to New York, wife is sick. It’s an amazing film, and also life affirming.
It’s curious that you like that sort of very serious subject matter given – even The Fighter, it is serious, but there’s that action element, there’s the high concept element.
I think The Fighter you come out of that movie feeling good about life. You feel like there’s a redemption story, there’s a serious uplift. I think a movie can take you down real far as long as it brings you back up.
[We pause, as we both desperately root around on IMDb, trying to find out the name of the director of In America]
Jim Sheridan. It was in 2002, so just over ten years ago. Great film.
So after I saw that movie, and then I watched it again, and I’ll tell you another movie – this was over ten years ago, but there’s – I watched this again, I wrote a letter to Jim Sheridan, saying how affecting this movie was, and how amazing it was. It takes a lot for me to do something like that with someone I didn’t know.
The other movie that I think is one of the greatest of all time – certainly of the past twenty years, is the first Matrix. That’s a movie where, when I sat and watched the movie for the first time, it’s the only time I think I’ve ever done this – I didn’t get up from my seat, I just waited for the next showing and sat there and watched it again.
Don’t fancy a stab at something crazy like that?
I would love to do something [like that]. Great sci-fi has messages that talk about society, and relevant to things that are going on in the world today. I think District 9 was a good example of that. It was able to talk about an issue, without actually talking about that specific issue.
One last question. What film’s been released that you wish you’d made? Since your career started, what have you watched and thought – ‘if only I’d had a chance to make that’ – whether because you thought you could have improved it, or whether you’d love to have ha it on your CV.
There’s so many, there’s so many movies that I love. The Matrix is certainly one of them. I could tell you one in this past year that I actually e-mailed the folks involved and said, ‘I would have loved to have made that movie’, was Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s really good, it’s excellent, and it plays in the exact time frame when I was in high school, so it spoke to me personally. I literally e-mailed the folks afterwards saying, ‘I wish I had made that movie’.
It’s a great cast, very interesting storytelling… Stephen Chobosky wrote a great novel, and then adapted it himself, and directed this great movie. He’s super talented, I would have loved to have been involved with that.