• by director Kathryn Bigelow
Often times, after a movie opens, folks will come up to me and ask
a question or two, wanting to know how I managed this or that shot,
or why I chose this or that approach to the film as a whole. But usually,
they get around to what’s really on their minds, and they say
something like, “What’s the most challenging part of the
job of being a director?” They want to know about the tough stuff,
the hard stuff.
We’re all like that, I guess.
We’re all interested in challenge.
The truth is, once you’ve decided on the material—and that’s
the first tough call—all the rest of directing, from the camera work, to
creating a visual grammar for the film, to post-production, fall into place on
their own, at least for me.
But there’s a big if.
If…you survive the one fork in the road that you absolutely cannot back
And that’s casting. Pick the wrong actor and it doesn’t matter how
dazzling your camera work is, or how great the movie sounds, you’ll still
end up toast.
For The Hurt Locker, I was lucky enough to work with a brilliant screenwriter,
Mark Boal, whose direct, vivid writing about the inner life of men in the bomb
squad had the ring of truth and honesty that can only come from first-hand observation.
Mark is also a journalist, and he’d been in Baghdad with the Army, and
seen with his own eyes the intense bravery and fear these men live with on a
daily basis. In William James, he’d created an extremely complex fictional
character rife with vivid paradoxes—both a thrill-seeking cowboy and a
calm professional, at once a hero and a man adrift in his own isolation.
My problem? Finding an actor with shoes big enough to fill such a nuanced role.
I needed a young Sean Penn or a young Russel Crowe. I needed, in other words,
I looked and looked for quite some time and then happened to see a small independent
movie called Dahmer, in which this terrific actor named Jeremy Renner
gave an incredibly nuanced performance, eliciting compassion and revulsion in
almost equal measure. It was an arresting display of major talent, and from that
moment forward I was determined to work with him. I cast Jeremy as James.
Some folks involved in the financing of the movie were a bit concerned by the
choice because Jeremy wasn’t (yet) a household name. They felt they’d
have to work extra long hours to bring this bright new star to the public’s
attention. But to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t all that worried. Though
I still had to go and actually film the movie—and spend six months in the
Jordan heat and sand—the hardest part of my job was done.