What’s the best advice you’ve ever received
I was talking about careers with Andy Griffith, and as uncontroversial as he was, he felt that to be true to yourself, you’ve got to be ready to anger people once in a while. When I was 16, Henry Fonda told me, “If you love movies, become a director; if you love acting, keep your focus on the theater.” In either case, you’ve got to be willing to take a huge risk every 18 months, or else you’re not really trying. They both suggested that, even in a popular medium like film, the audience can sense when you’re manufacturing instead of creating.
You worked with icons like John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. What did you learn about manhood?
John Wayne used a phrase, which he later attributed to John Ford, for scenes that were going to be difficult: “This is a job of work,” he’d say. If there was a common thread with these folks – Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Glenn Ford – it was the work ethic. It was still driving them. To cheat the project was an insult. To cheat the audience was damnable. I directed Bette Davis, too – she was the toughest of them all.
What advice would you give the younger you?
That you must exude confidence – particularly if you want to direct. There was a combination of shyness and just fear of looking stupid that kept me out of a lot of interesting creative conversations that I could have had at an early age.
What’s the secret to being a good leader?
I love leaving the door open to good ideas. I love the collaborative swirl. I get charged by problem-solving, usually under some kind of stress – the sun is going down and we have eight minutes, and we have to solve it. Great things come out of it. I used to feel that I had to be dictatorial in order to be respected, but after I did a couple of TV movies, I began to see that authority came with the job. So I began to relax and let more people into the process, and my work really improved. But it can’t be a democracy; I liked Bush’s line about being the decider – it’s one of the only things I liked about him. Once in a while I play the decider card.
What did making ‘Apollo 13‘ teach you about America?
The fact that we celebrate people who step outside the box and color outside the lines. That’s really important. In the research I did for ‘Apollo,’ there was never a moment’s hesitation by anyone that we would do anything other than save these guys, until every resource, every ounce of energy was spent. And I’m very proud of that aspect of our culture.
What role does vanity play in a man’s life?
Way more than many of us admit. But it isn’t always about the looks; it’s about our standing, and what other people are thinking. We’re all constantly keeping score. You can’t help it. But trying to pit ourselves against other people in some measurable way is largely a waste of time. Look at Clint Eastwood and Ridley Scott, two guys who, at least creatively, inhabit their space in a way that I admire. I don’t know them well, but I don’t think they are looking over their shoulders and wondering what people will think of them.
How should a man handle regret? And what’s your biggest regret?
The regrets I have are strong enough that I wouldn’t share ’em. I think that you can’t live without suffering some. You can’t expect perfection. It is important to sort of acknowledge some of our imperfections. I write them down. There’s something about acknowledging mistakes and being able to put them down on paper; they become facts of your life that you must live with. And then hopefully you can navigate the road a little bit better.