Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch director whose latest blockbuster is the hot new Arnold Schwarzenegger film "Total Recall," says he's been choosing his U.S. projects carefully to allow himself time to assimilate American culture.
"I have stayed away a little bit from what you would call `normal' movies," Verhoeven said in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles office. "I've concentrated more on action stuff because I still felt my mastery over the English language was not strong enough to have nuance judgment about dialogue. And in action movies dialogue is important, but a little less important than movies that are only about acting."So I really thought that coming from Holland in '85 I needed a couple of years to familiarize myself with the language and the culture."
You wouldn't know that from either his speech or his movies. Though Verhoeven has a Dutch accent, he speaks English very well. And his two American movies - "Robocop" and "Total Recall" - are replete with satirical references to American culture, albeit depicted in a bleak futuristic society.
Oddly enough, "Robocop" was Verhoeven's first foray into science fiction, his Dutch films being more personal in nature, from the very popular "Soldier of Orange" to the very weird "The Fourth Man."
And though he says he's not sure he would want to be stuck in the science-fiction genre forever, Verhoeven would have no hesitation at taking another science-fiction film - or another Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, for that matter - if he liked the script.
"Now I know special effects, more or less, and where I've always had the feeling I was running behind myself and trying to find out how things work, it would be nice to do a special-effects film knowing what I'm doing from the beginning. I would not hesitate to do it again. But if the next script is a comedy situated in Manhattan, I'd be as happy to do that."
Unlike some filmmakers, who are hesitant to discuss a film's budget, Verhoeven is surprisingly candid. Yes, he says, it's true the film went over budget, and yes, it's true it cost about $50 million to make. But Verhoeven doesn't feel the need to feign embarrassment - after all, the film seems a sure thing to make all that money back, and much, much more.
"The budget was set at $43 million and the end result was $49 million to $50 million, so I went 15 percent over budget. But I think every dollar is on the screen. It's just that some things are more difficult and so we asked for more time, and sometimes things didn't work out the first time and we had to reshoot. That's pretty normal for special effects. Like with every prototype, and this film is in some ways a prototype, there are problems you don't foresee."
Verhoeven says the film would have been much more expensive if shot in Los Angeles, but he took his cast and crew to Mexico City for the entire 125-day shoot. "If we shot in Los Angeles, it would have cost about $60 million to $65 million, probably. But in Mexico City, we shot on eight soundstages simultaneously that we could use for seven months, and we only paid $300,000. That would have been a couple of million in Los Angeles. And working with Mexican labor, using a Mexican crew, is really a lot cheaper too."
He's equally candid about the film's controversial violence quotient, which is, to understate, extreme.
"From the beginning, the editor, myself, Arnold and the producers, we thought we should not make the movie as violent as we shot everything. We all said, `What do we want? What kind of movie are we making? An R-rated Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie.' On the other hand, we took out the more extravagant violent things.
"This was the amount we wanted, and it's pretty extravagant, but we felt the felt the violence should be on same level as other things in this very extravagant movie. It's partly comic book, and, right or wrong, that's what we thought would be OK."
Verhoeven said he was disappointed when he had to cut "Robocop" to get an R-rating after it was slapped with an X by the Motion Picture Association of America. He therefore did not submit "Total Recall" for a rating until he was sure it could get an R. "We asked their (the ratings board) opinion, and at a very early phase of the movie they looked at it and said it was a pleasure to watch, but they said some areas were too strong, and, `If you want to have an R, you'll have to tone it down.' We did and got an R."
Unlike his "Robocop" experience, however, Verhoeven says he doesn't feel compromised with his cut of "Total Recall," since it was agreed upon by everyone involved that they had achieved what they set out to do. "With `Robocop' I liked the original version a little better, but it was not a problem (with `Total Recall')."
Though a foreigner, Verhoeven's two American movies are loaded with inside culture jokes - and they weren't all on paper. "Some were in the script as a blueprint, and coming from outside I probably pushed them more or saw them more than an American director who was so familiar with all these things."
So why is he making movies in America when he was so successful in his native Holland? "The first time I thought about coming here was, of course, when they sent me the script of `Robocop.' But I didn't know if I would stay here or not. After half a year I brought my family in, my wife and two daughters, and they liked it and wanted to stay. I'm here for five years and my family for four. If everything goes normally we will stay. My kids really love the United States. They speak Dutch now with a strong American accent. The society is a bit more dangerous here, but there are a lot of nice challenging things."
On June 22, one of the movies that will be in competition with Verhoeven's "Total Recall" is a sequel to his own "Robocop," directed by someone else. The irony is not lost on him. "I was offered `Robocop 2,' they asked if I was interested and I said no because I would not be inspired any more really. So much of myself was there that I felt I would be just repeating myself.
"Now (when `Robocop 2' is released) I'm fighting my own shadow there."
And how was his experience with Arnold Schwarzenegger? "Arnold is the most easy actor to work with. You can be so open and honest with Arnold. He has no real ego that stands in the way of getting a better performance. With a lot of actors you have to be careful. If you say something negative they can be blown away. But Arnold can accept that. Arnold for a director is extremely good to have in your cast. He's powerful and if there are big problems he will join you in the political arena, money-wise, budget-wise - he would be there and he would really have an opinion respected by the producers because they all feel he has a healthy regard for what's best for the movie."