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Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor
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Julie Taymor Interview (page: 2 / 6)

Theater, Opera and Film Director

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  Julie Taymor

Were you a serious student at school?

Julie Taymor: Yeah, yeah.

I did well in school. You know, I went to Oberlin. At that time, grades were -- you elected to have them or not. It was all of that era where grades were out the window. But I did very well in school. I didn't really study the arts; I practiced the arts. I really never studied drama and playwriting or any of that. I just was a practitioner always.

What about books? Were there books that you particularly remember as a kid, growing up?

Julie Taymor: Well, as a child I remember Little Lord Fauntleroy and A Little Princess and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. Those are the books that I can remember. As a young adult -- I think 14 or 15 -- Gabriel García Márquez. I think that I must have read One Hundred Years of Solitude when I was 14 or 15, and that was my favorite book at the time, and then more of his books. As I get older, I have other favorites.

Could you name a few?

Julie Taymor: Salman Rushdie's books. I think the last one he wrote, Shalimar the Clown, was incredible. Oh my God! It's hard when you get put on the spot for your favorite. It's always what you just read. White Teeth! I read a lot of books that are, for lack of a better word, cross-cultural. I find movies and books that take me -- transport me to another culture are the things that I'm most interested in, and always have been. So reading about someone from an Indian culture growing up in England -- some other books by Indian authors have come out recently that I've really enjoyed.

You mentioned visiting Sri Lanka when you were 14 or 15. What program was that?

Julie Taymor: It was the Experiment in International Living, where you live with a family for the summer.

That's really young to be traveling away from home.

Julie Taymor Interview Photo
Julie Taymor: Yeah, but they let me do it. They were very busy with my older brother and sister, who went right through politics, the drugs, the dropouts, the marches, the entire '60s, and I watched that as a voyeur. I was 12 or so, watching my sister, who was in SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. Then her husband was on the way to being a Weatherman. I saw the whole thing. My brother went to Haight-Ashbury and was a musician and dropped out of college three or four times. And the LSD! I actually had tremendous sympathy for my parents, compassion, because they didn't know what the hell was going on.

This new movie that will come out next year, Across the Universe, is the first piece of work that I've done that has anything remotely to do with the way that I grew up in America. Everything else I've done, whether it's Grendel -- Beowulf, the monster -- or Frida Kahlo or Titus -- Shakespeare -- or Indonesia, have been places where I feel I lived. Where I live is not necessarily in New York City. That's where my apartment is, but I live in Mexico, or I live in Indonesia. I live in Japan. I feel as comfortable in those other cultures, because, in a way, I'm always uncomfortable. I can't explain that, exactly, but I put myself into situations where I'm forced to do something, to create, to respond, to see differently.

It was fascinating to be offered a Beatles musical -- this is using 30 Beatles songs -- having nothing to do with the Beatles. It's a completely original musical set during the '60s that takes place in New York and Vietnam and Detroit and Washington and Liverpool, but is not about the Beatles, and really is telling the story of that time.

How did you get the Beatles songs?

Julie Taymor: Revolution Films. They had the rights. I picked the songs. That's where I was this morning, before I came here, I was in the cutting room, working on that movie.

So you're preparing an opera for its world premiere and cutting a movie on the same day?

Julie Taymor: Yes. I've been back and forth. I had to look at visual effects this morning.

Sounds like a busy weekend.

Julie Taymor: Very. These are the two biggest projects I've ever done, and they overlap each other, this film and this opera. Bigger than The Lion King actually, in a certain way.

Going back to the beginning of your career, what do you think you learned in Japan and Indonesia that changed your way of looking at things?

Julie Taymor: Very different in Japan than in Indonesia, because Japan is already a modern culture, even though they have traditions, which are incredible and are not just preserved, but living. Different experiences impressed me. One thing is, I would go back and forth between the traditional arts, like the Kabuki or the Noh, and explore the contemporary theater, like Suzuki or Terayama, the Butoh theater, and all of the unbelievable puppet theater that they have for adults. You know, we still hear the word "puppet" and we get this nauseating image of some kind of Muppet or something. Puppets really are the origin of theater. Even the shadow on the wall of Plato's cave was a puppet. The very first actor was some kind of hand creating some kind of animal.

I met a Noh mask carver in Kyoto, and I was very impressed, when I went into his workshop, how he laid out his tools, how he laid out the wood and the carving tools, and the neatness, so that the act -- the sheer act of carving -- was an act of devotion. And you didn't go into just a messy studio and just slap-dash something together. The making of the mask, or the making of the puppet in Indonesia, the carving of the leather shadow puppet, is such a high art form that -- a wooden mask, you have to hold the head to north, and the south would be the bottom. How you put the masks in a box, how you treat them -- they are not merchandise. They are not just inanimate objects.

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If the grain of the wood in the tree goes from north to south, then you carve that mask that way. People make up these rules. They're not God-given, because there's no such thing, but somehow these rules come from nature. When I was talking about awe earlier, they are things that bring the level of our humanity to another place. We can either be monsters or angels. We are able to be demons and angels, as that book says. We are able to be incredibly creative or to be incredibly destructive. We have that decision to make, to create something. It could be grotesque and ugly, but it is monstrously beautiful, so it inspires people.

I received from my experience in Japan an incredible sense of respect for the art of creating, not just the creative product. We're all about the product. To me, the process was also an incredibly important aspect of the total form. And in Indonesia even more so. So then I spent more time in Indonesia and watched these incredible ceremonies that would go on for nine hours that were completely -- the separation between your function as a Hindu and your function as a puppeteer creating a puppet show in this Hindu (culture) -- there is no separation.

Julie Taymor Interview Photo
We have relegated our arts to an entertainment factor, yet on the other hand, we recognize the power of sports and entertainment to completely take over the psyche of individuals, the worship of celebrity. So you can't dismiss it. I think that there is a point where you can't dismiss it. What you have to do is plug into it and understand that that's something very powerful.

There is incredible power in the arts to inspire and influence. Let's even just take homosexuality in our culture. Brokeback Mountain is, to me, way behind. If we didn't have movies like Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, where we see a love affair between two men. That was way beyond Brokeback Mountain for me. When we saw the family accepting their son's choice -- not even his choice, but who he was -- that completely started to change the culture. So in entertainment, you have the power to totally transform.

Now, again, if you're talking about religion, we see that we're into this massive religious warfare. That is so totally connected to the spirit, and the spirit is completely manipulated by the arts in a good and bad way. You can rile people up with incredible poetry, with words. And what are words?

I heard Ralph Nader speaking about the sharp tooth and the smooth, silvery tongue. Grendel is full of this. What Grendel is about speaks to these issues. It is the power of music and the power of words, whether they're from the Koran or the Bible, to sway you. People will go to war based on art. "Men gone mad on art." That's a line from Grendel.

If you can show through a story what will happen, what is going on, you will by far inspire and influence people more than anything else. They're not going to be listening to reality. They won't. Because there's nothing worse than reality. What they want to hear is stories, and then if the stories touch them -- and that means sets the blood and sets their sentiments and their emotions going -- they will do something. But it has to be done that way. That's what will move them.

That's why when you go to church and you see people going into a trance, you say, "How does that happen? How did it physiologically happen?" How do people walk on coals if it's not through belief? Belief is through talk and through image and through music and through the church or the temple or the space that you've created to create that sense of transformation.

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This page last revised on Sep 28, 2010 16:31 EST
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