BREAKFAST WITH ASSHOLES: 1. ROLAND EMMERICH

HOLLYWOOD – Roland Emmerich is our first interviewee in the classic series: Breakfast with Assholes.

This town has a long history of taking in immigrants from Europe and using their talent to our mutual benefit. Look at Billy Wilder. Jesus, did that Austrian have cahones! And then there was Fritz Lang, what a massive talent! Dr. Mabuse, M and Metropolis. Michael Curtiz, Erich Von Strohiem, the list goes on and on, I think. And joining that venerable list is Roland Emmerich: the Master of Disaster, the chaos theory himself, the man some people are calling the new Kubrick, and by some people I mean idiots.

Emmerich first made a name for himself with Universal Soldier, an interesting character piece that pitted the talents of Dolph Lungren against Jean Claude Van Damme, a pairing that brought to mind the great acting duel of Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton in Beckett. Following up swiftly with some explorations in ‘science fiction’, Emmerich soon mastered the genre with Stargate and Independence Day and completed his ‘Trilogy’ with Godzilla.

‘It was a technical exercise,’ Roland tells me as he pours skimmed milk onto his Rice Krispies. ‘I wanted to see if I could take this giant monster, from Japanese movies and have it destroying New York, with the military and missiles and what not and yet still be boring. You see Spielberg had done dinosaurs in Jurrassic Park but he had done the obvious thing and made it exciting. Mine was the more difficult task.’

‘You succeeded brilliantly,’ I tell him.

‘Shhhhhh,’ he says. Of course, he wants to listen to the snap, crackle and pop.

‘The casting of Matthew Broderick as an action movie lead was key,’ he says.

And Jean Reno as comic relief.

Having completely dominated ‘science fiction’, Rollie decided it was time to make his mark in period drama. The Patriot – starring everyone’s favourite anti-Semite Mel Gibson – was like David Lean with blood squibs.

In order to give his lead depth, Rollie had him make a chair, and then, to add comedy, Rollie had the chair be crap.

‘He sits down, it breaks he falls on the floor,’ he waves a spoon at me. ‘Hilarious.’

At this point in his career, we couldn’t write contracts fast enough for this boy.

The Day After Tomorrow I would sincerely credit as Rollie’s masterpiece. Perhaps the most politically important film since Conan the Destroyer. After which there was nowhere to go but down. Trust Rollie Emmers to make going down an art form in itself. 2012 was such a pile of horrible steaming effluent that even John Cusack looked embarrassed (and he’ll do anything for a coin that glints). Cusack has since altered his appearance by weirdly disguising himself as a young Nick Cage (pictured).

Having perfected cinema in all its forms, the question was what next?

Rollie licks his spoon thoughtfully.

Everyone talks about Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare. Borrrrring! So I had this idea that how can this little jumped up slap head, you know and the plays and school and stuff? Whereas a noble with the words putting together stuff would be better, the writer be. But there was a problem. How to persuade these great British actors, Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance, Rhys Ifans to be in a film which basically trashes the greatest English playwright.

So how did you do it?

Rollie laughs.

Easy. I paid them lots of money. They love money. They didn’t give a shit.

We laugh our asses off. What a great guy!

[This interview was originally published in The New Yorker September 2012]

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