Danny Huston on his Father

Danny Huston is one of my favourite actors, he is simply superb in everything I’ve seen him in, especially ‘Ivans XTC’. Here he talks about some advice his father, the great John Huston, gave him as a young man about directing

“When I was a kid, I had this Super-8 camera, and I was avidly filming in all directions. My father says, “Stop that now. What are you doing?” I must’ve been all of ten. He says, “When you look from left to right, what do you do?” So I look left to right, right to left, and I give up. He says, “You blink. That’s a cut.”[laughs] He said, “Concentrate on what it is that you’re trying to say, and stick to that. Get rid of all the other nonsense.” That’s a really good lesson in film language. If you have an exterior shot here of somebody coming in through the lobby, you don’t necessarily have to show them going up the stairs before you cut to them in my room. There’s an economy, which helps focus you as a storyteller. I suppose that could be applied to life, to not be openly dizzy by stuff that’s not relevant to you. It also helps in creating a character and giving him stillness. I pride myself in not being an actor who overstates his performance, but in this particular interview, that doesn’t apply. [laughs]

That lesson was a big one for me. I started to learn how to turn the camera off and move in for a close-up. When I watched my father direct, he would cut mid-speech because he knew that he wanted “To be, or not to be…” wide, and it was going to be a close-up for “…that is the question.” At times, it was also protective, insofar as the studio couldn’t cut around that moment. Using a low ratio of film is a rather cunning way to get your cut, but it also helps find the key to the scene.

One of my favorite pieces of direction was Katharine Hepburn struggling with her “African Queen” role ever so slightly, and my father just leaned in and said, “Eleanor Roosevelt.” [laughs] It’s that economy, where another director would’ve possibly had a long explanation that would maybe leave you more confused. Great men like [Robert] Mitchum, you’d ask him: What was it like working on the film? “Yep.” Would you like some coffee? “Makes me fart.” How are you? “Worse.” At times, I suppose there’s an element of bravado to it, not overly precious behavior. That’s the epitome of cool to me, when there are men who are dealing with stuff that has great depth, but shrug it off.

I’m here because I’m doing a premiere screening of “You Don’t Know Jack,” with Al Pacino as Jack Kevorkian, and I’ve got a blonde wig. [laughs] Barry Levinson said to me last night, “I think we’ve got something good here,” and it reminded me of a story my father said about “The Treasure of Sierra Madre.” My father turned to [Humphrey] Bogart and said, “Bogey, I think we’ve got something special here,” and Bogart looked at him and said, “Oh shut up, John, it’s just a fucking western.”

One thought on “Danny Huston on his Father

  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday « John Murphy: Editor

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