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Interview: Marjane Satrapi on 'The Voices' and how 'having children sucks'

The creator of "Persepolis" talks about her unlikely English-language debut film and how she's excited to be old.

You might not expect “Persepolis” creator Marjane Satrapi would be the one who directed (but did not write) “The Voices,” a dark comedy in which a troubled Ryan Reynolds talks to his pets and murders people. But the painter-turned-graphic novelist-turned-animator-turned-filmmaker tells us that you only live once and you might as well cram as much as you can into a life. A bounding lifeforce, Satrapi tells us her thoughts on the thrill of working with others, her idea for a blockbuster, why she prefers Flaubert to Anais Nin and looking forward to being old.

What was appealing about directing a film you didn’t write?

My world is limited to myself. My world is me. I would never sit behind my table and think [claps], “OK, today I’m going to write a story about a psycho who talks to his dog and his cat.” Never! But when a script like this comes to you and when you start reading it you see images. You ask yourself, “Do I know the equivalent of this film? Have I seen this film before? No, I have not.” Why do I love this serial killer so much? Because he is the nicest serial killer who ever existed. He’s a nice guy. You love all that and you close your eyes and you see the film. Then you say, “Bingo! I have to do it!” I would never make a film that I would never go out and watch myself. It’s two years off my life. If they proposed me to make “Transformers 5,” let’s say — never! As a franchise, there’s nothing I can create. And would I go out and buy a ticket to watch it? No! Why would I spend two years of my life doing it? This was a film I would pay to go out and watch.

What on earth would a Marjane Satrapi version of “Transformers 5” look like?

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It would be more fun. It would look better, first of all. And they would have these existential problems. [Laughs] I met with the head of a big studio, and he asked me, “What do you feel like doing?” And I said, “To make a movie about an alcoholic superhero.” Because in real life who is a superhero? Dean Martin was a superhero. The guy was beautiful, he was tall, he sang like hell. He does this [snaps], and 50 women fell down. As a result everything was so easy and he became alcoholic and depressed. This is what happens when you have too much power.

“Persepolis” is very much about the female perspective of a nation ruled by sexist men. What has it been like making “Chicken with Plums” and “The Voices,” both of which are from the male point of view?

I don’t think about male or female. I think about it as character. I don’t see a big difference between male and female to start with. For example, I’ve always said Flaubert is this French writer and he’s never really known a woman. And yet his description of Madame Bovary is so right. And then you have Anais Nin. She’s a writer, she’s a feminist, but when she’s with a man everything always works, they always have an erection. And you know, my god, you’d have to be a superwoman, because that doesn’t happen in real life. So I can’t relate to her. But I can relate to him.

This is very different from your other works. What connections do you see?

I think what they have in common is a sense of humor. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make a film that is serious from the beginning to the end, because it doesn’t feel like life. In life you always have humor. That’s why I love Ken Loach. He makes social cinema, but he knows his people, and there’s always humor in his films. You have other filmmakers who make social conscious films, and they’re being bourgeois, because they don’t know what poverty is. They think it’s the worst thing that could happen to people, to be poor! They think they’re just miserable all the time! If you think that then you’re taking from them their humanity. Their humanity is in their laughter. And humor is a matter of intelligence.

You’ve also moved from animation, where you can control every image on-screen, to live-action, where you have an unpredictable factor in that you have actors.

This is the best. This is the best. It’s such a moment of grace when you have great actors, like Ryan Reynolds. I imagine something. But he becomes Jerry, because he’s a good actor. And suddenly we’re shooting something and he comes up with an improvisation. For a moment I’m not the director anymore. I become the spectator of my own film. So the film goes much further than I could have ever imagined. The reason we use good actors is because they bring something to us. When you don’t have a really good actor then you have to direct them. You say, “Do this, do that. OK, you drank the water, put the f—ing glass down on the table, swallow the water.” It’s like you have to explain everything. This is for a bad actor. A good actor you just let them do.

Did you find any reluctance trying to make something different from what you’ve done before? Do you feel there was an attempt to pigeonhole you as someone who makes graphic novels, makes animation, makes work about Iran — none of which describe “The Voices.”

I don’t do different things because I want to surprise people. I get bored. I made graphic novels for five years. I loved it. And then I discovered cinema. I love cinema more than I love graphic novels, so I make cinema. I made an animated film. It took really long. It was great, but my god what a pain in the ass — two years going in every day. I’m not a marathon man. I’m a 500-yard sprinter. It’s not like I have 1000 years in front of me. I will only be able to work, let’s say, another 30 years, if I’m optimistic — given the amount of cigarettes I smoke a day. I think I can make 15 more films, that’s all.

I want to explore whatever I can explore. I would love, for example, to make a romantic comedy, where at the end they decide not to have children, because having children sucks. It’s a taboo subject. Our society is guided by religion and the only reason we can accept that people make love is to reproduce themselves. If you have a couple and they don’t reproduce, then it’s a sin to make love. I would love, in another romantic comedy, if the guy hesitates between two women and he decides, “You know what, I’m much happier alone.” And this is the end of the movie. I would love to do that. You can take a genre and make it different and it will speak to more people, because there are feelings we have but we cannot express because they are taboo in our society.

I would love to make a musical. That would be the most difficult thing in your life. I would love to make a war film. I would love to make many different things. But I’ve already made an animation film, so I’m not going to do it again. And no more graphic novels either. But life is big, and I will probably stop making movies in about 30 years, at 72 or 73. Then I will make a music band. Because with a music band you either have to do it when you’re 18, when you’re cool, or after 70. When you’re making music when you’re 40, it’s really like for losers. “I wanted to be a musician, and I’m still young and I’m going to make a band.” It’s like dying from an overdose — before 27 and after 72, it’s cool. But dying of an overdose when you’re f—ing 40? No good.

People really don’t care what you do when you’re old. It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card for your remaining days.

You have to have some hope for your old age. I said to myself that I was really behaving like a very nice woman. Inside I’m much wilder than I look. I behave. But one day I will be 70. Will I need to behave? People will forgive everything. You can say you’re old and can do whatever you want. I’m waiting for this moment. I will have a little stick and everyone who says something stupid I will beat them. That gives you something to look forward to when you get old.

Your bones don’t work anymore, but you can act like a jerk.

Yeah! Let’s be jerks! [fist bump]

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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