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Setting The World To Rights: Michael Winterbottom


More revered on the continent than he is at home (three Palme D'Or nominations and a mantelpiece-flattening number of lesser-known Euro awards suggest that much) and part of a golden generation to emerge from the North West in the mid-nineties, Michael Winterbottom is essentially to filmmaking what Paul Scholes is to football.

He shares another trait with the ginger midfielder, too: an indifference to interviews, shying away from the spotlight and preferring his socially heavyweight and politically conscious films to do the talking. Unless of course it’s for The Trip, in which case that job falls to the motormouthed duo of Coogan and Brydon.

So, it’s perhaps testament to the message at the heart of The Emperor's New Clothes – the new documentary co-created with Russell Brand to take a look at the financial crash seven years on - that the 54-year-old filmmaker is as animated as we have ever seen him, sitting down to chat in a London hotel room, arms flapping wildly on the topic of high-ranking bankers. And those pinstriped villains he and Brand hounded throughout the making of the film aren't the only topics close to his heart.

From politics to TV, to work ethic, here Winterbottom gives his state of the nation:

“People will look back on the last five years and all think we’ve gone collectively mad. How can something so obviously the failure of free market fundamentalism be transformed into a public spending crisis? In a sense it was our fault. Politicians aren’t supposed to represent us so it’s their fault; bankers are unbelievably immoral and don’t give a shit except for more money, so they’re at fault, but we’re at fault as we shouldn’t have allowed it to happen. It’s incredible that we’ve let them get away with it.”

I'll be voting this year. Are any policies of the major parties going to radically transform the system? No - clearly, they’re all talking about small changes, but it’s tradition to vote and it's our right.”

I’ve always been rubbish with money. But I have been lucky enough to have kept on working and kept my head above water. I've never once had the money to buy a Ferrari, but then I’m not extravagant anyway.”

"We've forgotten what's normal. It's a shame they've lost touch with what is normal. We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that it’s normal that a boss of a company will earn 300 times what a worker can earn. It’s ludicrous

The golden period of American TV is exaggerated. It currently has very high production values and the shows are well-written, but I think people take far too much interest in some of these shows. Take Mad Men, from start to finish there were lots of articles written about it, but I believe it has two million viewers in America, so it’s a tiny, tiny audience. Compare that with an ITV drama that pulls in 6 million viewers and it's laughable. It’s easy to say they’re well-written because it’s aimed at a specific audiences but any show on BBC Four will always get nicer articles written about it.”

You want to have actors from all backgrounds. You want actors who can play a whole range of parts that connect with what’s going on in society, so it’s important you get people from across the board. Do I think there are more public school actors? Maybe. But the rich one per cent should be characters in films like everyone else, so one per cent of actors should come from that demographic.”

“I tell everyone on set they have to be there on time. The first thing I directed was a documentary on Ingmar Bergman, and I was told that you must always be on time. If you were a minute late he would not be working with you at all. He demanded absolutely everyone was punctual, and whenever you’re making a film it’s very important to be just that.”

“I didn’t get the script of Good Will Hunting. Obviously everyone wishes they had the chance to do more films, better films, more successful whatever, but in terms of Good Will Hunting, as I say, I just didn't get the script. I didn’t get the film. So it didn’t bother me [turning it down]. Sure, everyone wants that kind of success but I’ve no regrets."

“I’m very culturally isolated. I've never seen Game of Thrones. Box sets do not exist in my house.”

“Age hasn’t slowed me down. We have a company now, we employ people, so you’re always looking to work on stuff. There are always three things I want to make. You never think ‘I can’t be bothered to make them’, as they’re your projects.”

“I’m not very anarchic. When I was a student I was involved politically, quite active even, but then you start working, and it’s hard to easy for your job to absorb most of your time. That’s what’s why it was fun to wind Russell [Brand] up for this film and watch him go.

The Emperor's New Clothes is in select cinemas now



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