Because the idea occurred to me that it would make a funny movie to have a group of people that wanted to rob a bank and set up a front next door, and the store that they set up did better than their bank robbery. You know there's only two things that I can really play; I'm a very limited actor. I can play an intellectual, and I can play a lowlife. I've played a little thief or a crook or a bookmaker. It's something that comes more natural to me. And then I can also play an intellectual because I look intellectual.
Do you see yourself continuing in this lighter direction?
No. Not necessarily. I mean, I might if the next idea occurred to me was a light idea, and it was a good idea, I would do it. If it was an idea about the Holocaust, I would do that. It really just depends on what works for me at the time.
Is it true that you never watch your own movies again?
That is true. I haven't seen Take the Money and Run since 1968. I haven't seen any of my movies again.
Yet there are other movies that you do watch over and over again. How come not your own films?
Well, because mine I would hate if I watched them over and over. If I saw them again I could only see what's bad about them, the mistakes, those things that if I had the chance I could do over again. Whereas if I watch somebody else's movie again and again, it's purely pleasurable!
What do you think of the state of comedy today, with films such as There's Something About Mary and South Park. Do you ever watch these?
I don't watch them, so I don't know. I mean I'm not really a big fan of what I guess you'd call commercial movies. I don't see a ton of movies, and I'm not that interested in comedy, really.
I find it interesting that you say you're not really interested in comedy when that's the genre you're most closely associated with.
I know, I never have been. I always wished that I had Tennessee Williams's talent or Arthur Miller's talent, as opposed to mine. Because I enjoy serious stuff more than I enjoy comedy, so when I go to see a film or a play or read a book, I enjoy a serious one. That's my own taste. So I rarely go to see comedies. I've never seen too many good American talking comedies. I mean, I like the films of the Marx Brothers, but in terms of talking comedies, there haven't been many good ones. Lubitsch did a couple of good ones. Born Yesterday was sort of funny. I think it's probably, in terms of talking comedies, the best American one. Better than all that nonsense with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant and the leopard, which I always found stupid. The two films that you should see in terms of talking comedy - and I'm not talking about the Marx brothers, because those are not really legitimate comedies, those are records of the Marx brothers as performers - but in terms of comedies where the movie itself functions, you have to see Born Yesterday and Trouble in Paradise. And then after that, if you haven't seen it, you should see The Shop Around the Corner.
You are definitely an important cultural figure in American arts. Are you aware of this as you're making films? Is it a burden or an honor?
Completely unaware. I see no trace of an influence anywhere at all. I had this conversation with Scorsese and I was telling him that I see him as an influence everywhere, and I see Spielberg as an influence everywhere. And I just don't see myself as an influence anywhere.
What would you like to be remembered for?
Gee, only that I never sold the audience short. I always felt the audience was at least as intelligent as I am, and more. So I never made a picture, or tried to make a picture, that slanted down to the audience. I never pandered to them in any way. That I always had a great respect for them.
Which living filmmakers do you admire now?
Well, of course, Bergman's still alive and I admire him. I admire Bertolucci. I admire Marty Scorsese and Francis Coppola and Robert Altman. There's a lot of people whose films I admire.
Do you still divide people into "the horrible and the miserable"?
Yes, I have a very pessimistic life. You know, the concept of life as a monstrous, monstrous thing. And I still feel that way about it, and I'm really not off into any kind of lighthearted thing. First published: 2001