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Nick Cave Q&A

By JAMES PARKER  |  May 23, 2006

James Parker: Nick? James Parker from the Boston Phoenix.

Nick Cave: Hi James, how are you?

JP: Good, thank you. And thank you very much for speaking to us.

NC: Okay. What do you wanna know?

JP: I wanna know, first, how many screenplays you’ve actually written?

NC: One. No, sorry, two. I've written a new one for John Hillcoat after The Proposition. It's being made here [in the UK] in the summer, quite soon.

JP: What's it about?

NC: It stars Ray Winstone, again, and its about a sexually incontinent handcream salesman.

JP: Seriously?

NC: Yes. It's set in Brighton, England. On the beach.

JP: OK then. Now, about The Proposition: a lot of your songs are stories, with characters, psychological drama and whatnot. I was wondering at what point this project announced itself as something different, or larger?

NC: Really what happened is I was kind of asked to do it by Johnny [Hillcoat]. He'd been trying to get an Australian Western off the ground for many many years, and I was supposed to do the music for it. He did get a script together and he showed it to me and we both thought it was . . . not right. It was an American Western set in Australia. Just sort of plunked in Australia, it wasn't Australian at all. And I mentioned that to him and he said, just kind of out of desperation, ‘Well alright then, why don’t you write it?’ So I said I'd give it a go. And it just seemed a very natural thing to do in the end. I've been telling stories for, y'know, all my working life, and this just seemed like a logical extension. Not in any way a new direction, but an extension of the same thing.

JP: And was it strange seeing actors inhabit these characters, that normally you perform yourself?

NC: It was actually really wonderful. I did it very quickly, the script, and then went back to my day job, and really kind of thought no more about it. I did it in three weeks and ­

JP: You wrote the script in three weeks!?

NC: Yeah. I banged it out and gave it to John, and went back to making music. And then, I don't know, a year and a half later or something John by some
miracle actually raised enough money to get it made, and I was brought out to Winton, in the heart of Queensland, in stinking heat, to this little town where all the actors had assembled. And I could barely even remember the story.­ I was just brought in there to help with any dialogue that wasn't kind of flying properly. And it was just extraordinary.­ I was sitting there watching Ray Winstone and Danny Huston and all these great actors doing this stuff and I was just thinking 'Fuck, this is really good!' Cos it was just this pile of words to me. I was there a week, and it was actually very moving.

JP:Was there a moment when you thought 'Wow, he's really nailed it. That's EXACTLY what I meant...'?

NC: Well it's more that they did more to it than I meant. Especially Ray and Emily [Watson] ­ they just brought this tenderness to their relationship that was really moving to watch. Just to watch them really bleed this thing, y'know, and make it something really beautiful.

JP:The bit where he subsides into her arms at the end of the day, it's like he's being released from his straps.­ He's so agonised about it . . .

NC: (Laughs) Well he is very agonised in this film, and from my point of view as a writer it was a joy to sort of set up this conceit --­ which is the idea of the proposition -- ­ and then quietly and systematically set about dismantling the characters. And Ray came apart very well, I thought. (Laughs)

JP:I was quite struck by the fact that you gave the death speech of the John Hurt character to another author ['There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?' Gypsy¹s speech from 'Lavengro' (1851) by scholar/traveller George Borrow.] I wanted to ask why you did that.

NC: Well basically the John Hurt character was cut down quite considerably. I mean once I started writing the scene in the shack it went for fucking ages, there was way too much of it and they kept having to cut it down ­unfortunately, cos it was a great performance, but all through it he quotes other people, Tennyson, all sorts of people . . . He¹s just this overeducated dog that's living out the back of beyond, and he's always quoting.

JP: It¹s a beautiful bit of prose, that Borrow bit...

NC: Yeah it¹s lovely, isn't it?

JP: Speaking of beauty, it seems to me that the only character in the film who can enjoy beauty, or allow himself to be approached by it, is [the murderer] Arthur Burns. You know, he sits there watching the sunset, he enjoys the singing of his little hooligan . . .

NC: It just felt like the environment was so brutal that anyone who was struggling with any sense of morality under these conditions was destined to lose. And if you could just accept the nature of your character and your environment you were able to . . . enjoy your life! And that's the way I saw Arthur Burns, even though he's evil he accepts it and understands it. Doesn't have any problems with it. The other people are really struggling and fighting with their own sense of morality, ­and in this environment morality is a luxury that no one really can afford. Something like that.

JP: I kept expecting there to be a priest in the movie. But there¹s no priest, is there?

NC: Nope. You've got the wrong country.

JP: Is that right?

NC: They were all stomped out over there. We don¹t have that same tradition of the evangelical preacher, that¹s more of a Southern thing.

JP: I was trying to think of another screenwriter who wrote his own soundtrack, the only one I came up with was Charlie Chaplin. Are there any others you're aware of?

NC: I dunno. Charlie Chaplin does, does he?

JP: Yeah.

NC: Well then I'm really in very good company. That's good to know.

JP: Which is worse, the film business or the music business?

NC: Oh the fucking film business, any day. (Laughs)

JP: Why¹s that?

NC: Because there's so much money involved, one just has to tow the line. In the music business you get to say ‘no.’ You can say ‘no’ a lot, actually. Like to interviews. Like for example this one. (Laughs) And you can get away with it and there’s even a certain kudos involved, but in the film industry, y'know, they just don¹t accept that. And the whole thing just goes on and on and on. It¹s funny cos I'm in the studio at the moment and everyone here is pissing themselves laughing that I'm still plugging The Proposition, y'know, years later.

JP: Well we¹re very grateful . . .

NC: To me thats very much the deal. For music I feel like I¹m in control and I kind of run the show as far as my own career goes, but in the film industry I certainly don¹t. Anyway, its been a pleasure to talk to you.

JP: Likewise.

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  Topics: Features , Entertainment, Movies, Charlie Chaplin,  More more >
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