Debra Winger on being alone in the desert for Bertolucci's Sheltering Sky

by HFPA March 10, 2014


I wasn't completely alone, of course. I traveled with some Tuareg tribesmen. I went to the villages. I slept under the stars. I had whatever experience I had. I can't put it in words. It would trivialize it.

But when I came back, I felt safer in my robes so I stayed covered. Arriving in Paris, it was a wonderful experience to see how differently I was treated because I was unwilling to take off my sash and my turban.

Finally when I got to my hotel room, I remember closing the door and looking at this big luxurious bathtub, and feeling a little repulsed by all the excess. That feeling carried over for quite a while, long enough for me to give away a lot of my possessions.

What I felt in the desert was a shrinking, a natural getting down to size. Being famous you get very, very big, swollen. It's a trap. You start to involve only yourself in your world.

The desert enables you to get down to size. If you walk somewhere, there are no footsteps. You can't get much smaller than that. You start to realize you can do great things in your life, but that eventually everything turns to dust. The only real work you can do is on yourself and your consciousness. That's the true reality.

I've been accused of being too intense when I'm working on a film. The truth is, that's all I care about when I'm in a role. I never leave the location, it's part of the way I work.

Normally, I go to the dailies every day and I watch them. I'm extremely critical. I watch them partly as Debra, partly as the character. I am very superstitious about leaving
the location.

I've been accused of hating Sundays. When you're on location you work six days a week.
By about the third week of a film, the director knows to come and get me because, if I'm left all alone on Sunday, they may be in trouble on Monday. I kind of climb the walls if I have a day off.

Jack Tewksbury