jock hollywood

It’s a long way from Broxburn to Sunset Boulevard, but Scottish director MICHAEL CATON-J ONES has made the trip in the space of a short few

years. Trevor Johnston met him to discuss his latest film, This Boy’s Life.

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Ellen Barkln, leonard DiCaprio, and llobert llelllro play not-so-happy families in This Boy‘s Life.

he double-barrelled name might con-

jure up visions of the Home Counties,

but the rasp of Michael Caton-Jones’s

still-present Scots accent fits snugly

with his straight-talking attitude. He’s

gone Hollywood in a big way and he’s nae bothered. ‘The problem with Britain,’ he proclaims down the line from his office in LA, ‘is that people are frightened of getting too good. Because if you get too good, people start to hate you. I don’t care about any of that shit. I live to make films.’

And This Boy 's Life is exactly the kind of film he went to America to make. Starring Robert De Niro and adapted by twice Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robert .Getchell from the autobio- graphical novel by Tobias Wolff, it may not quite be the masterpiece it so badly wants to be, but among the current screeds of formulaic studio pap it certainly stands out as a quality product. Caton-Jones is well chuffed with it at any rate.

‘lt’s a relatively honest portrayal of what it was like gowing up in a working class environment: 508 America wasn’t so different from the Scottish Central Belt,’ reflects the boy from Broxbum, who left East Lothian in his late teens for the bright lights of London’s Theatreland and a subsequent stint at the National Film School. ‘To be honest, it was a chance to make in Hollywood the kind of film I’d be doing back in Britain, but staying back there was never really an option. After I did Scandal, 1 got 33 scripts sent to me, and only one of them was from England. The writing was on the wall.’

Determined never to be constrained by lack of opportunity, Caton-Jones has seemed like a man with a plan ever since film school, and his rise to somewhere near the top of his profession has

been impressively swift. From award-winning NFTS short The Riveter to artsy Channel 4 mini- series Brond, from sprightly first feature Scandal to workmanlike WWll actioner Memphis Belle, it was a short and inevitable step to Tinseltown, where the newest addition to the Beverly Hills Brit contingent had firm ideas on where his career was headed: ‘I knew I had to make myselfcommercially viable in Hollywood studio terms and use that to get to do stuff with a bit more meat. Michael J. Fox in a comedy called Doc Hollywood. that’s something the guys in suits can understand.

‘Apathy’ is his word for the studio’s attitude to This Boy ’5 Life, but the combined enthusiasm of Caton-lones and producer Art Linson (The Untouchables, Singles) got the picture on the screen. Focusing on a fine central performance by nineteen-year-old Leonard DiCaprio. it tells the story of the adolescent Tobias Wolff’s strug- gle to square up against the

be the smart kid in a small town, to think that everyone else there is dumb and you’re gonna get out of there anyway, all that was pretty much in tune with my own adolescent arrogance, and once you understand the emotions the characters are going through, it’s easier to translate that to the audience.’

Pretty much the key player in facilitating com- munication is young master DiCaprio, for whom Caton-Jones has nothing but praise: ‘He could convey quite complex emotions with his face and he could just be a kid at the same time. Bobby and Ellen had to run to keep up with him because the freshness and honesty of his performance really showed them up.’ Actually, he’s spot-on there, because the teenager acts De Niro off the screen, largely because the latter gives us anoth- er one of the mannered exercises in extreme psy- chosis we’ve just seen once too often.

It is, of course, the presence of De Niro which, ‘signals the kind of quality picture we were trying to make,’ and Caton-Jones is well aware that working with him might represent a kind of plateau. ‘Once Bob trusts you, he wants direc- tion. What’s interesting about him is the way he builds up the character, and you’re as included or not included in that process as you want to be. For a director, it’s great to have someone who cares about the overall thing as much as you do, and it’s gonna be difficult once you’ve had that experience to go back.’

While there’s a British project in development (Andrew Davies is adapting his novel 8. Monkey), Caton-Jones has no immediate plans to come back to Blighty to work on a permanent basis. He’s just gonna keep doing his thing, though as an LA Scot returning from across the Big Pond, he’s greeting his forthcoming BAFTA Scotland/Scotsman Celebrity Lecture appear- ance with a touch of trepidation. ‘lt’s one of life’s great quandaries, isn’t it? You can’t do anything in Scotland, and when you leave, they love you up to a point before the backlash starts for no reason related to anything you’ve done. Basically, I go to work. I make my films. Between times, I emerge to do publicity and have a life for a while, yet in the meantime these per- ceptions have emerged about you that you have no idea are going on. It’s peculiar, but it doesn’t bother me. Fuck ’em all.’ Cl This Boy ’s Life premieres at the Film Festival on Saturday 28, before going on general release on Friday 3 September. The BA FTA Scotland/Scotsman Celebrity Lecture takes place at 8.30pm in the Film/rouse on Saturday 28.

domineering stepfather that his mother had turned to after the failure of he? first marriage. The young protagonist’s yearning hopes of escape from a con- straining rural environment play against the unpredictable excesses of Robert De Niro’s near-psychotic pater Dwight and Ellen Barkin’s put-upon mom Caroline.

‘It helped to come from a small town. An American wouldn’t have made this movie this way,’ explains the 35-year-old direc- tor. ‘There would definitely have been lashings more syrup. To understand what it’s like to

‘The problem with Britain, is that people are frightened of getting too good. Becauseifyou get too good, people start to hate you. I don’t care about any x ,Y of that shit. I live to make films.’ - .‘b K

Michael Batan- \. .. I. Jones

The List 27 August—9 September 1993 17