Tony Kushner from Fabelman Talks About Writing With Spielberg, The Power Of The Arts And More [Exclusive Interview]
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Tony Kushner from Fabelman Talks About Writing With Spielberg, The Power Of The Arts And More [Exclusive Interview]

You’re so good with ensembles and feel, and there’s not a single person I put out of this movie saying, “I don’t like that guy, I don’t understand where they’re coming from.” Even the bullies, although they are quite disgusting, but I understand where they are coming from. Does it come naturally to you at this point in your career, or is it something you work on and fight against, as you say?

I always feel like, I don’t know how you’re going to write a character if you can’t understand the way that character describes yourself. How do people straddle their own contradictions? I mean, unless they’re psychotic, in which case they don’t have to do that. This is why I don’t think I really wanted to write Donald Trump as a character. I didn’t want to write Ronald Reagan as a character, because I didn’t think there was any core coherence and I didn’t think they cared about that.

But most people, including people who behave very despicably, you have to think, “How does this person understand themselves and what is their internal ego ideal? How do they explain to themselves the times when they failed to live up to their own standards or what would we consider a more general standard of decency and behavior?”

The danger is that it can take you to a place where you write Nazis and try to make people feel sorry for them. But — it’s kind of an answer to your last question as well — there’s a lot of me in everything I do, because my job is to try and dive deep into people. [as I can]. When I got all of these notes, I wrote this 81-page document for Steven that brought together all of his memories into one continuous narrative simply because I wanted to see if I could do it, and I didn’t know if it could. will change to anything. And I wrote this thing. What you have to do is think, “This person was faced with this, and then what did they do in reaction to this, and why did they do it? [it]?” as much, as deeply as you can imagine. “How do they think this will get them what they want?” That’s the job.

I’m glad you feel that way about the two bullies. They were very different people, both of them. And I’m a little nervous because there’s like, “Oh, this is the high school part, this is a high school movie we have to work on here, and there’s this intruder.” But I think we both came close to it — I mean, they’re in the movie because the main part of the story is from his memory. That’s something he told me. So the mysterious thing that happens at the end of that sequence, which I think is important to the whole film, we have to really think about why this happened. When Steven was a kid and it happened to him, he was like Sammy in the movies: “What the hell is that?”

I feel really good about how completed and unfinished the lessons are, because it’s kind of a mystery, because it’s about the power of art. There are powers of art that you can control the more you master certain forms, and then there are things that you have no control over and you have to learn humility in dealing with them. This is the real power in the world. This is not a direct power, but an enormous indirect power. And you have to realize that you’re playing with something that has great power in the world and you shouldn’t fool yourself, even if you’re Steven Spielberg, that you know exactly what will happen because you made this. I mean, that’s when bad art is made.

Beautiful things like the movies he makes, there’s a part of him that just says, “Go out into the world, and I hope what I put into the world is a good thing rather than a bad thing.” And I think that’s always true. The work, I think, is for good, but you have to give in to the fact that you’re not in control of it. And that, to me, on the one hand, is at the heart of the whole film. So I’m glad you feel that way. We’re both happy with the fact that there are no villains in this story, especially in the middle triangle.