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Adapting THE GREEN MILE: Frank Darabont, Part 2
June 20, 2000
In the first part of Frank Darabont's question-and-answer session with the press, regarding his adaptation of Stephen King's The Green Mile
, the writer-director addressed the underlying meaning of the original novel and of the film, a meaning he refused to articulate, saying that he preferred films that left the audience with something to discuss after they left the theatre. We begin the concluding section with Darabont's response to continued prodding from reporters regarding the thematic underpinnings of race and the death penalty:
Frank Darabont: Again, I have to repeat my answer: it's for you to decide. It's for the audience to decide; it's not for me to force feed you some sort of conclusion here, today or any other day. Which is why I'm not taking a stand on the death penalty. I'm not going to tell you what I think.
QUESTION: BUT BY CHOOSING NOT TO TURN THE CAMERA AWAY DURING THE EXECUTIONS, AREN'T YOU MAKING A STATEMENT OR TAKING A POSITION?
If you decide that I am, that's fine. I don't think I am. I don't think the movie does take that position, but I think it raises the question in an honest way. Raising the question in a dishonest way is if the camera doesn't see it, you know? If we're going to embrace the death penalty, then at least let's look at it honestly for what it really is; if we're going to dismiss the death penalty, let's look at it honestly for what it is. This is one of the reasons I found [SAVING] PRIVATE RYAN to be such a powerful film: if we have to wage war, okay, but let's look at it for really what it is; let's not romanticize it. Then we make our decisions from there.
THERE WAS AN ASSUMPTION THAT 'WE'RE GOING TO PUT COFFEY WITH MELINDA, AND HE'S GOING TO HELP HERE'WITHOUT ASKING HIM. IT PUTS YOU IN MORALLY AMBIGUOUS TERRITORY.
That's cool. These guys are white, man; he's black. They're the authority; he's an inmate. As decent and compassionate as these people are, they are also a product of their time and their environment. They could be the most enlightened people in the worldand make an assumption. My answer is: if you just sort of track the events as the occurred, they never had a chance to ask him. Frankly, I think Paul would have; I think those guys would have said, 'Do you mind coming and helping us out?' He knew what was going on. He was ten steps ahead of them. He knows something's up; he knows something's happening. Because that's the way he's wired; he's built to do thatthe way Stephen King is wired to be a writer.
WAS THERE A BACK STORY THAT COFFEY HAD LIVED FOR 200 YEARS, AND BEEN THROUGH SLAVERY AND ABOLITION AND THE DEPRESSION, AND THAT'S WHY HE WAS SO WEARY AND DIDN'T EVEN WANT TO TRY TO ESCAPE HIS EXECUTION?
Yeah, you read my mind about the back story of that character. I didn't want to state it, because, again, I wanted to leave that to your imagination as well.
DID YOU SHOOT IN SEQUENCE?
Yeah, largely; I mean, loosely within that context. We shot all our interiors here, over a four-month period, and then went on location in Tennessee. Obviously, we didn't bounce back and forth in that sense, but because we were largely in the same environment, we had the luxury, as we had in Shawshank
as well, to go in some sort of continuity, which I like doing. It's not a scene by scene thing, but certainly with Shawshank
we went by sequence of years, so if it was 1952, we'd shoot that and then move on to the next block of years. That kind of specificity of location allows you that luxury. I'm sure one of these days I'll be doing it the way everybody else does: 'Okay, now we have to shoot scene 138too bad it's the first day!'
AS A FAN WHO ALSO KNOWS THE MAN, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF STEPHEN KING'S ANNOUNCEMENT THAT HE WAS NOT GOING TO WRITE ANYMORE?
I don't know if that's exactly what he said; I think what he said has been interpreted as that. I think he's maybe reordering his priorities, which I don't really blame him for, considering how close he came to no longer being here. I honestly can't speak for Steve, because I'm not him; it would be arrogant of me to try. But I can't believe he's going to stay away from what he was put here to do. He may want to take a break from it, and who can blame him? But I somehow can't see him staying completely away from it.
EVEN IF HE RETIRES HE HAS TWENTY BOOKS STORED. BUT HEARTS OF ATLANTIS
LOOKS LIKE SOMETHING YOU COULD DO, IF IT WERE BROKEN INTO SEGMENTS.
I'm not sure how that works as a movie, honestly. I'll be fascinated to find out, because I know they've hired Bill Goldman to write the screenplay, possibly for Rob Reiner to direct.
WHY IS A PRISON, THE PLACE WE LEAST EXPECT TO FIND HUMANITY, ATTRACTIVE TO YOU AS A FILMMAKER?
Well, again, I have to bring the war story back into it. For some reason, prisons and wars strip away a lot of bullshit. It shows people at their most extreme, one way or the other. The issues are far more immediate. And maybe it just lends itself to a more heightened sense of drama; I don't know...I don't know if that answers the question fairly or not.
YOU DO PLAY WITH THE AMBIGUITY: THE GUYS BEHIND BARS AREN'T NECESSARILY THE BAD ONES, AND THE GUYS ON THE OTHER SIDE AREN'T ALL GOOD.
That was one conventioneven in Shawshank
, the captors were the bad guysthat this movie turned on its ear, which was greatly satisfying for me, because I'm not sure I've seen a prison movie ever where you get the chance to completely humanize and sympathize with the captors, particularly the guys who have to put the guy in the electric chair: they either faceless or they're the bad guys. In this, they are truly the protagonists. That was great fun.
WHY WAS TOM HANKS YOUR CHOICE FOR THE ROLL?
Oh, golly, any number of reasons, but he was the face in my head. He projects such an inherent sort of integrity and decency as a personone of the reasons people respond to him so well. And that's real; Tom isn't acting there. He really is that. The same way that Michael Clarke Duncan projects that incredible wisdom, that incredible soul, Hanks projects this deep integrity, which is probably one of the reasons people keep comparing him to Jimmy Stewartwhich I know annoys the hell out of him. I always compare him to Billy Barty; I say he's the really tall Billy Barty, just to give him a break.
WHAT'S YOUR NEXT PROJECT?
I'm fairly convinced at this point I'm going to direct a film called The Bijou
, which is my opportunity to make, I think, a Frank Capra film, in the sort of pure sense of the word. It's a romantic comedy. It's set against the backdrop of the House Un-American Activities Hearings1952. It's a very different kind of movie for me but one that, again, has a thread of humanity in it. It's got a great story going.
NOT A PRISON MOVIE?
Well, the guy could go to prisondepending on how the hearings turn out!