Our interview with Youth director Paolo Sorrentino

The Digital Fix spoke with Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino whose film Youth, starring Michael Caine, Rachel Weisz and Harvey Keitel, is now out in UK cinemas.

Youth tells the story of Fred (Michael Caine) and Mick (Harvey Keitel), two old friends now approaching eighty, on vacation together in an elegant hotel at the foot of the Alps.

Paolo Sorrentino is also known for The Great Beauty, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2014, and This Is the Place, his first English-language film, which starred Sean Penn.

TDF: What does being young mean to you?

PS: Being young is having a precise idea of what freedom is. The reason why I wanted to make a film about old people is because even in old age, you can claw back an idea of freedom and achieve it.

TDF: Music is key to your films. How involved are you with the creation of a soundtrack? When you are preparing scenes, do you have the idea of the music in your head?

PS: Normally, music is written into my scripts, so I have the music very much in mind when I write. For this particular film, it was different, because I had to commission an original score. I knew the New York composer David Lang and I explained to him exactly what sort of emotions I wanted to convey for each scene.

TDF: Youth and the Great Beauty are both about creative men looking back on their lives and trying in some way to make sense of them. Would you say that’s right? What does the theme mean to you?

PS: No – this was by chance. I hadn’t thought about it.

TDF: In the film, Jimmy (Paul Dano), Fred (Michael Caine) and Mick (Harvey Keitel) all fear in some way being typecast. Do you think typecasting is always negative – and have you felt typecast about any of your work?

PS: It happens to everybody. This is because people don’t have enough time to dedicate to you as you would like them to. In order to simplify, people tend to define others in very simplistic ways.

That’s the reason why families exist – there’s a very restricted number of people in your inner circle who do not simplify the idea of you.

As to whether typecasting is negative – if you take characters in the film, Jimmy suffers from being typecast. Whereas the Fred couldn’t care less, because of the stage in life he is in. That’s what we call wisdom.

TDF: You’ve mentioned before that you wrote the part for Michel Caine. What attracted you to him and his work?

PS: Michael Caine is an actor and an man that’s always been the perfect joining of levity and a profound intelligence. This is exactly what I wanted for the character. In my mind nobody else could have played the part. Only Jack Nicholson could have come second.

TDF: You’ve now made several films in English and Italian. Do you approach the writing and making of a film differently, depending on the language?

PS: I do it in the same way. The only difference is that when I’m writing for an English-speaking film, I’m delving into a larger pool of possible actors.

TDF: Your next project is the TV series The Young Pope (starring Jude Law). Does making content for TV feels very different from film? Do you agree that we are now in the ‘Golden Age of TV’?

PS: It’s the golden age of television because a few years ago people discovered that you can tackle a TV series with the same freedom that is usually afforded to a certain type of cinema.

People used to make TV series thinking that the audience was simple. Now it has been ascertained that the audience can be as complex as film goers. This, in turn, afforded much more freedom to creative writers and people active in television. I put myself among the people who feel its freedom and its creativity.

In terms of making it, I don’t find it different in the style of directing. It’s not the same with scriptwriting, because I have to deal with different lengths, and I’ve had to be more creative with how to pace the script.

Youth is now out in UK theatres.

Marion Koob

Updated: Feb 01, 2016

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