Hollywood director Joel Schumacher sees a bright future for his new film’s Israeli star. ‘She’s amazing and I admire her,’ he says
If it were up to American director Joel Schumacher, who has worked with Hollywood’s leading actresses – from Julia Roberts and Demi Moore to Nicole Kidman – Israeli soldier Esti Ginzburg would have a bright future in the movie capital.
After directing Ginzburg in his new film “Twelve,” Schumacher believes the young model is going places. “With Esti’s looks and with a lot of determination, she could definitely have a Hollywood career,” Schumacher told Yedioth Ahronoth in a special interview.
“After taking acting classes, you’ll see she’ll get far in life. I think she should be a James Bond girl. She could play that role wonderfully.”
“Twelve” deals with the life of spoilt, rich teenagers in New York. Ginzburg stars in the film alongside Chase Crawford from the series “Gossip Girl”, who plays a drug dealer, rapper 50 Cent and Emma Roberts, Julia Robert’s niece. She plays the role of Sara, a beautiful and popular girl who’s busy planning her 18th birthday.
“It’s a film about the Western culture today,” Schumacher explains, “about young people who dress like grownups and want to be cool, but are actually still children. They’re sophisticated on the one hand, but have yet to develop the senses adults have.
“Although they’re raised in perfect environment conditions, they sometimes feel lonely and insecure. It’s a generation which grew up on the internet and fast publicity through reality shows. It’s also a film about bad parenting – the parents are preoccupied with themselves and their careers and are not present in their children’s lives.”
How did you get to Ginzburg?
“A New York casting director told me about a young model who lives in Israel, doesn’t have any acting experience but seems very interesting. I set a meeting with Esti, and when she entered the room I was captured by her beauty. God, she is so amazing. I thought she would be suitable for the role of Sara.
“Esti has a sort of sweetness, and I thought she would be able to bring her innocence to the character, helping us avoid the stereotype of the stupid blonde. After Esti flew twice from Israel to New York for the audition, I was glad to offer her the role.”
Schumacher won’t stop praising his discovery. “Esti has a wonderful role in the film and I simply admire her,” he says. “Throughout the shoot the actors turned into a small family, and Esti was like a Jewish mother – she cooked and prepared meals for us all the time. I wish she were my daughter. She’s charming and not at all spoilt.”
Did she share any experiences from her military service?
“Yes, she even sent me a picture of herself holding a rifle. So I told her, ‘This is exactly what the world needs, a blonde girl who can shoot.’ Chase Crawford and I were a bit worried about her and afraid that she would be in the front. I wouldn’t stop harassing her about it and calling her to Israel. I only clamed down after realizing that she isn’t a combat soldier.”
The film “Twelve” is named after a new, dangerous drug which the Manhattan’s youth have taken a liking to.
“I myself have dealt with a drug and alcohol addiction for way too long in my life,” he admits. “When I was young we were very innocent about drugs. Today drugs are very accessible. The unfortunate thing is that most addicts know just how destructive the drug can be, and yet choose to use it and become addicted.”
Schumacher, who celebrated his 71st birthday on Sunday, was born in a poor New York neighborhood. His mother was a Swedish Jew, and his father was a Baptist from Tennessee. He lost his father at the age of four.
“My father was feeling ill, so they took him to the hospital,” he says. “He died the next day and I never saw him again.”
How did his death affect your life?
“I don’t know, because children have a tendency to deal with things they are familiar with, and I didn’t know what it was like to grow up with a father. Had I been older when he died, I could have understood the loss, but I didn’t get the opportunity to build an adult relationship neither with my father nor with my mother, who was busy working hard. I got used to living my life without my parents, so I have friends who are like my family. I simply created a new family.”
Do you feel connected to your Jewish roots?
“When my father died, my mother didn’t have any time to deal with her faith, because all she cared about in life was to work to provide for us. So apart from my bar mitzvah, I wasn’t raised as a Jew. I also remember that we sometimes used to go to my uncle’s on Passover and celebrate the seder there.”
Schumacher, who grew up unsupervised, without parental authority, began drinking and smoking at the early age of 10. He later studied design and worked in the fashion industry, decided he wanted to make films and moved to Los Angeles in the 1979s, where he worked as a costume designer on television and films, including Woody Allen’s “Sleeper,” and began writing scripts. In the early 1980s he turned to directing. His career has seen ups and downs.
Schumacher has produced two adaptations of John Grisham best sellers, “The Client” and “A Time to Kill”, and two Batman films, “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin,” which flopped in the box office.
But even the flops didn’t leave Schumacher jobless. Today, at an age when many artists find it difficult to carry out projects, Schumacher manages to survive.
What is the secret of your survival?
“I don’t understand why famous and talented directors find it difficult to get work and are forced to retire. Perhaps it’s because the industry has changed. I’m lucky. Since I don’t just want to engage in large productions, people with interesting projects come to me. They know I am attentive and can work under different and diverse conditions, and even direct a low-budget film. It’s less stressful making small films, because you don’t have this pressure to pay back the huge investments.”
Other films he directed include “St. Elmo’s Fire” with Demi Moore and Rob Lowe, “Cousins” with Ted Danson, “Phone Booth” with Colin Farrell, “The Phantom of the Opera” which was nominated for a Golden Globe, and “Falling Down” with Michael Douglas, which took part in the Cannes International Film Festival in 1993.
Schumacher enjoys working with the same actors over and over again. For example with Julia Roberts in “Flatliners” and “Dying Young”, and with Kiefer Sutherland who starred in five of his films.
When you look back, do you see a connection – a common thread – between all your films?
“I enjoy creating, especially films about imperfect young people, because they can change. When you show people who have made wrong choices in their life, they still have time to change direction in their life, and that’s encouraging.
“Perhaps I’m doing these films because I have done so many mistakes in my life, and perhaps because I myself am such a mashugana and screwed up. It’s amusing being crazy, because I work in a crazy industry after all.”
Schumacher, an honest, brave and revealing person, is openly gay – not exactly an acceptable thing in the conservative movie capital.
“I’ve never hidden my sexual identity,” he says. “I have been open to the world about this since the age of 16. If I was ever discriminated in Hollywood for being gay, it was done behind my back. Hollywood looks for talent and doesn’t care what takes place in the talent’ bedroom.”
There is a heated argument in Israel at the moment over the forced outing of famous homosexuals. What’s your opinion on this matter?
“Coming out of the closet is great, but people should not be forced out of the closet. It’s personal. No one should engage in forced outing. There’s something very ugly about it. People should be given the time to come out at their own pace. I can understand stars who are sex symbols and have a huge career, and coming out of the closet could pose a problem for them.”
Is there love in your life at the moment?
“I have been loved quite a lot throughout my life, but I don’t think I’m good at relationships. I’m good at friendships, but I’m not the marrying type. Today I’m just old.”
Schumacher is currently in Louisiana, where he is shooting his new film “Trespass”.
“It’s a thriller about a family whose house is broken into. During the break-in, those present discover many secrets and lies about their life,” he explains.
The new film stars two actors who have worked with Schumacher before: Nicole Kidman (“Batman Forever”) and Nicolas Cage (“8MM”).
“Nicole and Nicolas have become younger, while I’ve grown older,” he complains. “Since we worked together, each of them has gotten married. Both Nicole and Nicolas have a baby at home now, and they seem very happy.”
The thriller is being produced by Hollywood’s “Israeli gang”: Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, and Boaz Davidson.
“Since I have made many films with producer Arnon Milchan as well, I am in fact officially Israeli,” Schumacher jokes.
Have you ever visited Israel?
“Yes. In 1977 I visited Rome, and a producer who was one of my closest friends called and invited me to his little brother’s bar mitzvah which was to be held in Israel. So I came to Israel. I spent three weeks there and visited many places: Safed, the Dead Sea, Masada, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
“I had a lot of time to get to know the country, and I found it wonderful, inspiring and very brave. This visit was a long time ago, and I’m sure everything is so different now. I want to come again and I’ve received a lot of invitations, but I work most of the time, so it just hasn’t happened.”