One of the best films I’ve ever seen was American History X.
Whatever happened to its brilliant director Tony Kaye?
Tony Kaye reminds me of myself.
When I left London for Los Angeles in 1990, I saw myself as following in the footsteps of legends like Von Stroheim, Welles, Coppola. I assumed that to be a good director you had to be a pirate just like those guys. What I didn’t understand was that they were all playing the game, and playing it magnificently. They had recreated themselves as mythical figures but they had never lost sight of the rules. Unlike me. I did everything just as I’d read that they had done it – the tantrums, the showmanship, the preciousness. And now most executives in most studios won’t touch me. It’s not that they think I’m no good. It’s just that if you’re a pain in the arse, it doesn’t matter how good your films are. People don’t want to be bothered. I had passion – you have to give me that. But I was, it has to be said, a spectacular pain in the ass.
I had been preparing for that first film for 14 years. I was top of the pile in the world of American TV commercials, but I had only got into advertisements because I knew it was a surefire route into movies. But if you’re not careful, you get paid a lot of money to stay where you are in life. I could feel that happening. When New Line sent me the script of American History X, about the relationship between a neo-Nazi and his impressionable kid brother, it was deeply flawed. I thought I could manoeuvre around it: invent stuff, improvise, improve what was on the page.