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Prison Bound
Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's serialized novel The Green Mile, starring Tom Hanks, has been nominated for four Academy Awards on March 26 including Best Picture. The death row drama follows Darabont's powerful The Shawshank Redemption. Darabont spoke to TIME reporter Stephen Short on March 18 about Oscar nights, Kenneth Branagh's poor direction in Frankenstein, his idols and crying while watching his own films.


Frank Darabont
TIME: What's it like being caught up in all this Oscar stuff. Stressful and exhausting?
Darabont:
Completely ... You know, during this Oscar stuff and press junkets and all else, you just grab on and get dragged along in all the hype and noise, but then come March 27th, the day after Oscar night, silence descends and nobody hears a squeak from you again. But this movie's been with me for two-and-a-half years and living it and talking about it gets pretty numbing.

TIME: So what's the big night like? Is it possible to enjoy it at all if you get nominated and then don't win?
Darabont:
It's not easy. One of the pleasures of being nominated for a start is the company you're in. I'm not nominated this year, though the film is, and I do remember when I got nominated for The Shawshank Redemption. It was really stressful--stressful because you worry you're going to lose and you worry you're going to win. That made it hard to enjoy. This time around, I'm just going to savor it and chill a little more.

TIME: What movie should win Best Picture for your money?
Darabont:
Well, put it this way. My flat-out favorite movie of the year was Toy Story 2.

TIME: That's a rollicking good film.
Darabont:
Isn't it? That film for me demonstrates a complete love of story-telling. It's energetic, it's robust, that's what good cinema should be about.

TIME: American Beauty?
Darabont:
A knockout.

TIME: The Insider?
Darabont:
Gorgeously crafted.

TIME: Being John Malkovich?
Darabont:
Wonderfully absurdist, just the ticket. Very inventive filmmaking and that Malkovich could play the role as he did and laugh at himself that much, that was perfect.

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TIME: Shawshank was a beautiful movie. Everything cinema should be. It was also six years ago. Why did you wait so long to make The Green Mile?
Darabont:
It may sound clichéd, but I was waiting for a story to fall in love with. I'm not the kind of guy who takes directing lightly...I'd never make an indifferent film and if you do have to live with a project for a couple of years, then you've really got to love it. I'm also lucky that way--I can do what I like. That's a big luxury.

TIME: You were still working in the interim period. Scriptwriting on The Fan, The Eraser and Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein, I believe, in 1994.
Darabont:
Oh God!

TIME: Did I say something I shouldn't have?
Darabont:
No, it's just the memories aren't so good.

TIME: What, with all of them?
Darabont:
No. Just Frankenstein.

TIME: What happened?
Darabont:
Frankenstein was awful.

TIME: I agree. And I'd expected so much more from it. Did you and the cast keep telling Branagh that?
Darabont:
Well I wasn't directly involved on the set, but I think Branagh and I just had a different understanding of what the movie should be. I think it's the best script I ever wrote turned into one of the worst movies I ever saw.

TIME: Really. That bad!
Darabont:
Yes. There was no subtlety or texture. It was like putting a sledgehammer in the hands of a ham-fisted director.

TIME: Did you tell Branagh that?
Darabont:
Kenneth's problem was that he just wouldn't listen. He thought he knew exactly what he wanted and he wouldn't deviate. There wasn't a day a writer wasn't welcome on that set.

TIME: Hmm. Great shame, because I thought his Much Ado About Nothing was fabulous.
Darabont:
Agreed. He really got a warm feeling into that movie. I think that's the best thing he's done.

TIME: You've obviously got a Stephen King fetish?
Darabont:
Yeah. I just don't know how he manages to write what he can and where he gets his ideas from. He's unlike anyone I know in that way.

TIME: Did you worry that The Green Mile was just too much like Shawshank Redemption? Did you ever feel like you weren't doing anything new?
Darabont:
I felt the two were dissimilar. If they'd been too close, I wouldn't have taken them on.

TIME: You're style's reminiscent of [director, writer and producer] David Lean in that respect. He didn't exactly overdo it in terms of output, but always made oddly gripping movies.
Darabont:
It's so bizarre you say that. The production designer on The Green Mile, Terence Marsh, had worked on Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago with David Lean, and Terry would tell me what a genius he was. Then one day he said to me, 'the way you work reminds me of David Lean.' It's hard to get a better compliment than that.

TIME: I knew nothing about The Green Mile when I watched it, certainly I knew nothing of its fantastical nature. When the fantastical started happening, I couldn't quite work out what sort of movie I was watching. It was like Shawshank goes Ghost. Did you worry about that? You must have thought, if I'm not careful, this could get away from me and feel tacky?
Darabont:
Quite a lot. That was a tough decision, how to represent the fantasy. I did have the opportunity to go overboard with the effects but I didn't want to, I wanted them organic. The tone of The Green Mile is so delicate and dramatic.

TIME: For me, the effects just came out of nowhere.
Darabont:
I like that. As a director it's wonderful to sneak up on an audience and surprise them that way ... After the first screening we did with the movie, we trimmed a couple of effects shots. I thought to myself, 'let's not allow the effects to be admired too much by the audience.' I wasn't making a big light show, but it did teach me that effects are a compelling tool to tell a story.

TIME: Has it whet your appetite for a Matrix-type movie?
Darabont:
I tend to be more old-fashioned than that. A director shouldn't get in the way of the movie, the story should.


Darabont gets down with Michael Clarke Duncan (right)
TIME: How does it work when you watch a film later. Can you ever just be a regular audience member and sit down to watch one of your movies and enjoy it?
Darabont:
You can, yes. And sometimes the story seems to make sense, other times, it doesn't. I think once you've finished a movie you really have to detach from it so that you can come back and watch it as an audience member. I did that with Shawshank recently and it was the oddest feeling. It didn't even feel like my movie anymore. It was just another regular film that I might have rented out of the video store.

TIME: And did you love it?
Darabont:
I have to admit, I did cry again. But then, that's maybe more to do with Stephen King's writing talent. But then, I'm a bit of a sap sometimes and it got to me. Even in The Green Mile, towards the end, there were moments where I was moved and the water still turns on.

TIME: Who do you admire in this industry? What influences do you acknowledge?
Darabont:
Spielberg. He's like a latter-day Frank Capra [director] who I regard as being a sort of spiritual father. Steven Spielberg's a huge influence on a lot of people, and Schindler's List still looks like a great movie. Maybe one day I'll make a movie that great, but I haven't yet and probably never will. Mr [Stanley] Kubrick was a big inspiration, David Lean of course and also Buster Keaton. I think he should be compulsory viewing for a lot of people.

TIME: Any one film really stand out for you?
Darabont:
There was one. I was very young, about 13, when I was deeply effected by George Lucas's first piece [the 1970 sci-fi THX 1138] I can seldom remember a film where a director's world view was stamped so hard on every frame of the movie. It's an underrated, cultish film that didn't do well but was probably better than anything he did after it.

TIME: With all The Green Mile related paraphernalia of the last two or so years, have you had any time to fall in love with another story?
Darabont:
It's odd. I found a script around the same time I had decided on The Green Mile. It's an original screenplay written by a guy called Michael Sloane, with an 'e', called The Bijou. I'd say it's got the essence of a Frank Capra movie. It's a romantic comedy which also deals with the McCarthy hearings and the Hollywood blacklist in the 1950s.

TIME: I'm hooked already.
Darabont:
Me too. I'm anxious to switch gears tonally now. You know ... Shawshank and Green Mile ... those places are emotionally and physically weighty, and I'm relishing moving away from that sort of density.

TIME: Who's going to be in it?
Darabont:
I daren't say, because nobody's committed yet and if I say a tentative name, it might tempt fate too much.

TIME: O.K. When will shooting start?
Darabont:
We're finishing the script in April and I'd like to get to start shooting in summer. I'd rather the weather didn't kick my ass for a change. Summer it will be.

The Green Mile is now playing in Hong Kong and around the region, opening March 24 in Thailand, March 25 in Japan and March 30 in India.


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