HFPA in Conversation: Paul Greengrass, Inspired by Real Life

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros October 17, 2018
Filmmaker Paul Greengrass, Golden Globe nominee

magnus sundholm/hfpa

Real-life events have always inspired English director Paul Greengrass.  HFPA journalist Lorenzo Soria met the visionary at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills where a wedding band was rehearsing in the courtyard at the same time.  Greengrass, looking back at his career while the drummer was soloing, talked about his first job was on British television. “I worked for a documentary-current affairs program, which was just a great place to learn how to make films. That sort of marked the choices of films I’ve made and the way I make them and the style.  And every filmmaker’s like that; the films you make are always the product of your experiences in life and also your inner instincts.  The key is to be true to yourself, that’s the most important thing.

Back in the 80s and 90s, he didn’t dream about a career in Hollywood. “I was sort of making the films that I made and they were small and particular.  I enjoyed doing them.  Then I ended up having made Bloody Sunday and I was lucky enough to have won at Sundance and Berlin.  Then suddenly I had the opportunity to make a film in Hollywood.  And I’d never thought of doing it but once I had the opportunity I wanted to make a commercial movie.”

That was the second in the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Supremacy, 2004.  “I was in that stage I wanted to do something different. That led me to Bourne. I really loved it; I found I was pretty good at it, I knew how to do it.”

He did two other Bourne action thrillers with Matt Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum and Jason Bourne.  Damon also starred in his war thriller Green Zone.  “There’s a side of me that loves to entertain and loves to have fun and loves to create spectacle and loves characters and loves popcorn movies.  Then there’s a side of me that, I suppose, goes back to when I started out, documentary days, where I love to engage with the way that the world is and I try to do films that keep both alive.”

His most recent movies are all based on real-life events.  United 93 is drama focused on the events on the plane that was hijacked during the September 11 attacks of 2001. Captain Phillips is inspired by the Maersk Alabama cargo ship hijacking by Somali pirates in 2009.  His latest, July 22 is a narrative of the 2011 terrorist attack in Oslo and its adjacent island, Utøya, following its events all the way to their aftermath “It was amazing to me and inspiring, the way that Norway fought for her democracy and the different ways she did and the way her politicians did, the way her lawyers and judges did and most importantly the way individual families caught up in it, but more importantly young people did.  That led me to make the film because I think it speaks to all of us.”

He hasn’t announced yet what is his next movie. “Now it’s interesting because I feel like I need to do something else again.  I can’t think of what that will be but I’ll find out.  That’s exciting.  I think it’s so important when you’re a filmmaker to keep doing something different.  If you do the same thing again and again and again, in the end, you go stale.”

Listen to the podcast and get more of Paul Greengrass's views of making July 22 and whether there will ever be another Bourne movie.

Listen to the conversation here or, for immediate access to all of our podcasts, subscribe to HFPA in Conversation on iTunes.