Tablet Life & Arts

Interview: ‘Foxcatcher’ director Bennett Miller

Director Bennett Miller does not fancy himself a sports fan, mostly because he does not want to care.

He has made a pair of movies about sports, but both are detached from the emotion of the games themselves.

The first was Moneyball, about baseball, and now comes Foxcatcher, which is about wrestling.

“I’m naturally drawn into sports, but as an act of will I try to keep it at arm’s length,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s very dangerous to me. I can lose myself and become emotionally bound to something that has no bearing on my life. I cried my eyes out when Muhammad Ali lost to Leon Spinks in 1977. It was like it was two seconds ago. I allowed myself to care.”

With both Moneyball and Foxcatcher, Miller does not allow the viewer to much care about the results of the actual games but rather the people themselves.

It’s based on the tragic, true story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz and his relationship with eccentric billionaire John du Pont, played by Steve Carell. Du Pont fancied himself a mentor and coach, turning his estate into a training facility and dorm for many wrestlers. But sports is just a backdrop.

Was it a deliberate effort on your part not to focus much on the outcome of the game’s themselves in these films?

It’s a question of, where do you place the focus? Where is the drama? The drama was less on the field, or on the mat, than the other areas. The aspects of the story that matter play themselves outside of the field.

You directed Capote , which was about an eccentric man. Did du Pont and Truman Capote draw you in because of their eccentricities?

Maybe the eccentric part. By eccentric I don’t mean strange or quirky. I was drawn to those people and those stories. People who are just outsiders who don’t necessarily fit in or belong but have a great ambition.

Capote would manipulate people, and felt bad about it; du Pont did the same, but I don’t sense he felt bad about it.

You are probably right.

Do you think du Pont was a closeted gay man?

Probably. I did a lot of research with people [who knew him at his estate]. There was never a pass. I couldn’t help but wonder what drives might have been for a guy who was trying to see himself as a heroic figure. He cast himself in a role he was entirely unfit to fill but could because of his wealth.

Were you trying to make a statement on class distinction with this film?

I wouldn’t say commentary because there is no conclusion. I don’t condemn anyone or anything. If the film does anything in that regard is the dynamics of the classes attempting to cooperate and they share a common goal for a period of time.

Your movies are very quiet, little score, etc. — why?

The style sensitizes you to the subtleties that are going on. There is a lot that is unspoken that is communicated. You need to be sensitive to the different frequencies. When you still the waters, you see the bottom. The austere style is something to do with that. These films don’t tell stories as much as they observe them.

You have developed a style that works and gets you work. Have you had your U2 Pop moment where you go against the grain and make something different?

Sure, without a doubt. Not to do it, but I think what I have done in the past has had the element of discovery for me. If it becomes routine, then I am not doing the same thing. I always want to keep it about that.

This is a hard movie to watch. Was that the design?

It is a hard movie and it disdains from giving satisfaction. It winds and winds and when you press the button, and it pops at the end, it’s tragic.

Do you like those stories?

I like sobering stories.