Director Robert Luketic has worked with some of the most well-known actresses of our era, from Jennifer Lopez to Jane Fonda, and has directed them to box office gold. However, the Australian director known for rom-coms such as “The Ugly Truth” and “Legally Blonde” has his sights on taking over other genres. In the tech thriller “Paranoia,” Liam Hemsworth faces serious ethical questions while engaging in corporate espionage. The outspoken director sat down to discuss his journey in making the film, as well as his future career plans.
BE: One of the most mysterious characters in the film is Dr. Judith Bolton played by Embeth Davidtz. How’d you come across her?
ROBERT LUKETIC: She’s a friend of the producer, Alexander Milchan. I remember seeing Embeth in “Schindler’s List.” She’s just a nice, classic, kind of WASP-y woman. It’s very much what the character is based on. I wanted someone who could be icy and evil, but not tip the hand too much. I wouldn’t want a person that we really couldn’t read. I met her for tea in Beverly Hills. When I walked in… you know when you read something and that you imagine in your mind? I said, “You actually look like Judith.” I called her Judith from that day on.
BE: You’ve done films like “Legally Blonde,” but you’ve also done films like “21.” As a director, is it hard to switch genres?
ROBERT LUKETIC: I started out in film school making dark, thriller kind of stuff. Finally, I made a musical comedy and that sort of branded me, which is what this town does. The next 15 years, it became all light and fluff and screaming girls and wedding dresses and stuff, which really isn’t me. I’ve been fighting for many years to break that and get out of that. It’s a challenge. It’s like they don’t think of my name when a studio gets a new script and goes, “We’ve got to get Robert Luketic for this thriller. Yeah, the ‘Legally Blonde’ guy. We’ve got to get him.” (LAUGHS)
BE: What kind of movies would you like to make?
ROBERT LUKETIC: I want to see what it’s like to make those movies that those big budget guys get. The ones where there are no limits. Those people that get unlimited resources, like whatever they have here they can put up there. That would be such an incredible experience because my movies have been generally on the smaller side in terms of budgets. What you find is that it’s constantly compromising. Everything is a compromise. Every goddamn thing is a compromise and that hurts, ya know? That gets you after a few years. I’d love to know what it’s like to do an “Avengers” or “Dr. No” or something.
BE: Or “The Lone Ranger 2″?
ROBERT LUKETIC: No. (LAUGHS) I’m not much into the cowboy thing.
BE: Is it easier working with veteran actors like Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman?
ROBERT LUKETIC: Yes and no. These two are pros. They know their lines. They know what they’re doing, but so does Liam and that’s why it’s ‘yes and no.’ Each and every performer is its own unique, distinct personality and way of working, so it’s hard to separate that one’s easier than the other. They’ve all been different. I’ve worked with two-time Oscar winners who were not quite prepared and I’ve worked with people who have just done their first thing who amaze me. I think that everybody comes with their own strengths, their own baggage and insecurities as directors do. I’m a basketcase. I’m just holding it together, so you don’t think I’m a freak. (LAUGHS)
BE: In the film, Liam is faced on more than one occasion with the prospect of selling his soul. Have you ever encountered that sort of ethical choice as a director?
ROBERT LUKETIC: Yes, and I have sold my soul to do that… once. And I’ll never do it again. When you make a movie for all the wrong reasons, something inside of you is forever changed. I’m not going to do that anymore.
BE: You’ve mentioned that you did thrillers in school. Why not do horror movies?
ROBERT LUKETIC: I’d love to do horror movies. I have to find the right one, though. With the horror genre, it has to be groundbreaking. I’ve yet to read one. I’m not the first to get this material. You’ve given me a good idea to tell my agents to start showing me this. I could make something scary.
BE: With “Paranoia,” was there ever any pressure to stick to the book?
ROBERT LUKETIC: I don’t think there’s ever pressure. I like to maintain the integrity of the characters. A plot is something that will invariably have to change. This book was made in a time where technology was not as pervasive. The challenge for us was to make it relevant and contemporary. Within five years, things can shift dramatically. Remember, five years before Facebook, we couldn’t imagine a world with this sort of stuff going on. The book was written ten years ago and it was between two telecommunication businesses. We made it more about the technology, keeping the same kind of structure, but making it about things that are relevant today.
BE: With your resume, do you have to interview to direct a film?
ROBERT LUKETIC: If it’s something a lot of directors want, then yes. This one was just offered to me. It’s a mixture of both. It doesn’t matter how successful you get, with the exception of maybe four directors. You want to make sure the people you work with, the financiers share the same vision of the movie. Otherwise, it’s going to be a shitty experience. In a way, it’s a formality, but it’s like, “We want to see Robert for this, but we also want to see other directors.” Sometimes that’s a way for them to control your salary. They’ll say, “We have Joe Shmoe who’ll do it for this much money,” but I call their bluff all the time.
BE: What part of the film stood out to you the most after seeing it on the big screen?
ROBERT LUKETIC: I love the interplay between Harrison and Gary. I think there are some really incredible intense scenes. I love the relationship that Liam has with Amber Heard. It’s very hot, very sexy. What starts off as a one-night stand turns into this love affair. What happens is he betrays her and he’s really shitty to her. That’s what’s human about the movie. We’re not all perfect and we do sometimes hurt those we love. Sometimes we don’t think it through. We’re just focused on getting somewhere or achieving something. I’ve done that.
BE: Was there a lot cut out of the film?
ROBERT LUKETIC: I think we only cut out two scenes.
BE: Earlier, Amber talked about being glad of playing a strong female character…
ROBERT LUKETIC: Yeah, she has a one-night stand with Liam and kicks him out the bed the next morning. She does traditionally what the guy would do. She’s very much in control.
BE: Do you think you have a better sensibility for directing strong female characters?
ROBERT LUKETIC: I just have experience doing it. (LAUGHS) When you’ve worked with Jane Fonda, Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon and Katherine Heigl, you’ve pretty much got your PhD in working with women. I really enjoy it, but now that I’m working with the guys, it’s pretty cool, too. I like continuing to do both.
BE: What do you have coming up?
ROBERT LUKETIC: I bet you get it wrong.
BE: Is it “Brilliant?”
ROBERT LUKETIC: That’s wrong. That’s two years old. I was attached to it. It was going to be “Paranoia” or “Brilliant,” and “Paranoia” won. As soon as I joined up to “Paranoia,” they tried to get it up and going again, but I don’t think it happened. Anyway, that’s not where I want to be. That would be retreading [old] territory.
BE: So, what do you really have coming up?
ROBERT LUKETIC: I’m deciding between two movies, both thrillers. One is set in Moscow. That actually has a very strong female lead, but it’s just an incredible story of betrayal and lies. The other one is about a guy who has a television show on cable. He’s like this social justice kind of commentator. He gets involved with this hitman whose part of a larger underbelly of New York City. It’s just a matter of when, who and where.
BE: What advice do you have for young directors or those who wish to become better directors?
ROBERT LUKETIC: I tell this to people. Part of getting something done is making a plan. They don’t always do plans. They just say, “Oh, I just want to be a director.” What’s the plan? I had a plan and that was to make a good short. A short should be a short. A short is not a mini-feature. Never go longer than 12 minutes, including credits. Never! Ten minutes, better. Seven minutes. When you go to a film festival and you watch shorts, the most memorable ones are the simple idea that is executed brilliantly — beginning, middle, end. Very simple. It should be a very simple idea. Don’t attempt a mini-feature, because everyone is like, “Arrgh” sitting there. Try and do that. There are two festivals in the world, in America actually. Telluride and Sundance. Telluride is what launched me. I got my short into there and from there, I signed deals: Miramax, Sony, MGM. It was pretty extraordinary, but it was something I planned. I said I was going to make this short and identify festivals. I said that within five years I would direct a feature film. It may sound grandiose, but make it as grandiose as you want… at least you have a structure and a place to go and that’s really what I’ve suggested to up and coming filmmakers. It’s one thing to make a film, but then you have to get people to see it, and I think film festivals are still the best place for that. Most festivals have a short competition or exhibition. It doesn’t have to be a competition. But just become good at storytelling. Develop your own voice. Don’t emulate and don’t worry about the rules, because you can make your own in terms of filmmaking, continuity and all those things we obsess about to make technically perfect. Use the language to make it your own. If you want to jumpcut from here to here, that’s okay. If you want to fuck around with it, that’s okay. That’s your voice, because what we’re looking for, what people are looking for, is a voice. You don’t want to emulate. You don’t want it to look like a Stephen Spielberg movie or a Scorsese movie or a Tarantino picture or a me piece. You want it to be a you piece. Simple, really.