Decisions, decisions

Who cast Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire? Why did the artist Pau la Rego decide to depict women as dogs? To coincide with today's `Decisions' co nference at the Tate Gallery, these questions and more are answered by those wh o had to grapple with them
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The artist When someone told Paula Rego the tale of the old woman who swallowed pets, she was hooked. In her recent work women feature dog-like, scavenging and baying. She talks of `The Bride', turned belly-up The Bride is one of the pastels that I've just shown in an exhibition titled "Dog Woman 1994", a series of works where I've imagined a number of women scavenging, grooming, baying, sleeping and waiting for food. The Bride is made by her dress. I always u se a model and for this work my daughter played the part in a 1950s raw-silk cream wedding dress, loaned by a friend.

It's always difficult to say how you come to make a painting, but part of the background is that someone told me an old Portuguese tale in which an old woman swallows her pets. It fascinated me, even if my works left the idea far behind.

The first of the pastels was Dog Woman. I looked at a drawing I had made of a squatting woman, with a growling face and an aggressive knee. I remember that my model had come into the studio and I had said to her "Squat" and drawn her. When I looked at the drawing later I saw the "Dog Woman" there but realised I couldn't have both an aggressive face and knee: they cancelled one another out. So I gave the "Dog Woman" a Snow White face. I used my own knee and crouched, modelled and painted at the same time. Later I looked at Degas's Bathing Women pastels. I realised that these, too, are animal-women of a sort.

The Bride is wound in her dress. I did one drawing of The Bride in which she was sitting, doggy-fashion, on all fours. But she looked too lascivious. So I decided to turn her over. That was all-important. She is turned belly-up, in an attitude of surrender; as if she were ready to have her tummy tickled. As in all the works, her hands and feet are uncovered; it was so vital that her extremities were exposed, as they are in all animals.

She holds on to the dress tight; the veil gives her the look of a fallen angel.

The director As director of The Place theatre John Ashford has single-handedly taken on the mission to import European dance to Britain. The fall of the Berlin Wall opened up access to the cultures beyond it In 1980 I lived in Japan for a year. This gaveme an entirely new perspective on Europe - I began to see Europe from the other side of the planet. "Are you from Europe?" was the first question I would be asked. While in 1980 some might have said "No, I'm British," my answer came out as: "I am an English European."

I began my search into European cultural history and its conflicts, and decided to represent the diverse cultures of Europe in London in a language that could be understood - dance. The fall of the Berlin Wall opened up all those countries on the other side, introducing fantastic new possibilities for dance. About 12 years later I was in Budapest watching a performance by TranzDanz, a deconstruction of folk dance that relates to the loss of tradition. This pinpointed the questions of national identity for Hungarians after the fall of the Wall. It made me cry. At that point I understood that the idea I was stumbling towards was right.

The producer Steve Wooley's life changed on seeing the film `Angel' at Cannes. He was instrumental in getting its release here. But it was his introduction to Neil Jordan that was the real turning point in his life. Together they went on to make `The Crying Game'. It was, he says, a creative partnership of writer and producer What changed a lot of things for me, for my company Palace, and for a lot of film-makers in this country, was the 1982 movie Angel. I saw it at Cannes out of competition and I was astonished because it seemed to be so cinematic, like an RKO classic, and so unlike British or Irish films. I searched around for the person who had made it and the only name I recognised on the credits was that of the executive producer, John Boorman. Iarranged to meet him and found out that Angel was about to be broadcast by the new Channel 4, which had funded it. I campaigned vociferously for it to have a theatrical release but David Rose, the head of drama, resisted. Eventually they gave us a bit of leeway, giving the film rights to the British Film Institute and the video rights to us, and it ran for six weeks at my cinema, the Scala, and at the now defunct Paris Pullman.

As video distributors, we at Palace were getting constantly gazumped by the bigger companies. A move into production seemed the only step that would give me and my partner, Nik Powell, control over our product. It was thrust upon me because I wanted to keep the company going and I was having such a good time meeting directors. People like Jeremy Thomas and Hector Babenco were very encouraging. I met Neil [Jordan] while lobbying for Angel's release, and we had decided we would try to work together.

Neil was having problems in Ireland because elements within the community were upset that the Irish film board had given him so much money. He was hiding out in London so he was happy to do something. We recognised that we would complement each other's weaknesses - Neil's not very good at pitching and I would need his skills as a writer and film-maker.

Decisions on films are often collaborative. It's never just one person, it's a constant compromise. There's never a line where someone can say: "I am the auteur." Everything contrives to affect you; casting, locations - all things that are dictated by the budget. With a studio picture the ambition for the film is coming from one source. On an independent film you've got a responsibility to various distributors around the world. Either way, you still have to make sure you've made something that ultimately recoups its budget. Everything else should be expendable towards that end - that's the nightmare of it.

The key decision for Neil's and my most recent film, Interview with the Vampire, was the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat. We were asked by the studio to cast Daniel Day-Lewis. Neil and I agreed because Daniel is a great actor, although it was a bit irksome because British actors are so often cast as the villain.

When we lost Daniel, Tom Cruise had already been discussed and I got into a heated argument with our casting directors in New York, who were worried that he was not good enough. I thought he was pretty good in Born on the Fourth of July, where he was playing against type, and that to see Tom as the rat-eating villain would give the audience more of a frisson than seeing another Brit villain do it. The studio initially resisted because they thought they'd never get him, but once Tom was saying "Yeah, guys, this sounds great" they were right there, saying "You've got to cast him, you've got to cast him." I think it was absolutely the right decision, both creatively and economically.

The censor As chairman of the Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship, Bernard Williams faced choices he knew could change the law. With bestiality on the agenda, surprising decisions were made There are two decisions I particularly recall that were taken while I was chairman of the Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship in 1979. One I took before our first meeting. The slightest acquaintance with the history of such committees told one that the chance of our report being turned into law was lower than 50 per cent.

So we needed an aim that went beyond making well-formed proposals to change the law. That would be to write a good book about the subject. We had that aim in view from the first meeting, and were wise to do so, since the recommendations were of course not acted upon.

The other decision came near the end of our work. Almost all of us had come to think that the only reasonable ground for banning pornographic works (as opposed to restricting their circulation) was that a crime was probably committed in manufacturing them. One of our more conservative colleagues found this very hard to accept for works depicting bestiality. I remember very clearly how seriously he listened as several people suggested that it really could make no sense to add bestiality, all by itself, on no principle, to the list of what should be banned, and how, after a silence, he slowly said, "yes, you must be right: it makes no sense", and a unanimous recommendation was secured. He was certainly not a man to be pressurised, embarra ssed or bulliedand his decision seemed to us all that rare thing, the triumph of reason.

Equally, when I consider how differently some of the arguments would have to go now, it makes me see how, on such matters, the voice of reason can speak only in the dialect of a particular time and place, and may be heard only in a silence that is part of a particular conversation.

The comedian Renowned for his stand-up acts, Arthur Smith's play `Live Bed Show' has just opened in the West End. Beds began to possess Arthur some time ago. In beds, on beds, under beds... the options were endless I start with images, many images, and most of them fortunately remain consigned to the dustbin of experience. I had wanted to write a play for a long time and for several years I had this persistent image of a bed. I just kept thinking of all the things you can do with beds, around beds, on beds, under beds. In bed or out of bed, I still wasn't sure I could sustain a play.

Then Caroline Quentin, who is in the Live Bed Show, looked at the play and encouraged me to go on. I still really had no idea if it would work in front of an audience, but you can't predict that. After all, you can write what you think is a fantastic joke . . . and no one laughs.

The first performance of the Live Bed Show was a disaster. I remember it well. It was in Sudbury and only about 20 people turned up. I forgot my lines and people walked out. Everyone's nightmare. But when the play moved to Bath it all changed. It clicked. It was only at that point that I thought the play would work anywhere.

The novelist Adam Mars-Jones signed a contract to write a novel in 1988. Four years later, he hadn't delivered.

The route from failed book to finished novel was bumpy, but it was an anti-draft that got him through In 1988 I signed a contract with Faber to write a novel. By 1992, I thought that they should have one. It wasn't that they were putting me under pressure - they had faith in me, of a particularly debilitating kind. They announced the book when I lyingly implied it was all but done, and accepted my postponements with a shaming grace. But it was almost a decade since I had been deemed a Best of Young British Novelists without having written a novel; and, rather sinisterly, the Independent on Sunday asked me to review a book on writer's block.

I've never had the Trollope-Maughamly professionalism to sit down and write every day. On the other hand, when I had written fiction I'd done so in one draft (a draft and a half, strictly, since on reading it over I might add, subtract or rearrange), which felt to me very professional, in a different way.

So I promised Faber early in 1992 that I would deliver a novel that year. We settled on a month (August) and some time before that they asked for a title, which I grudgingly provided (Fulfilment). Then they asked for a theme or an incident which could inspire a cover illustrator. Then they wanted an outline of the novel on which to base a blurb. Rather grandly I said that it wasn't the sort of book well represented by synopsis, and they said they were sure I was right - but they would have to base a blurb on something. I gave them an outline of sorts, which found its way, word for word, into the Faber catalogue.

All we were missing was a book. By this time I had reefs of manuscript in various states of polish, but some of the basic problems of the project - parts of it dated from 1984 - had yet to be solved. I thought that it would do me less harm at this point to publish a bad book than to produce nothing, but even a bad book would take some salvaging from what I had.

A few months before the deadline, I had an idea for a piece of fiction that would take off from the concerns of my stories in Monopolies of Loss. I tried to give the existing project priority, and then decided I would have to get this new thing out of mysystem. I wasn't confident that it would be long enough to be published separately, and in July spoke to Robert McCrum at Faber to tell him so. He reassured me, which was maddening: what I really needed to be told was that unless they had a feasible manuscript by the end of August I would have my thumbs broken by the board of directors.

The new project, though, really was a different story. When I added new material to "Fulfilment" (the inverted commas testify to my lack of faith), I had no impression of greater flavour or richness. All that happened was that my big prose pudding becameharder to stir. But with what became The Waters of Thirst, even chance remarks from strangers fitted right in. It was as if I had set up a mild magnetic field, which would attract new filings into an elegant shape without too much work on my part.

My only fear was that it would be under length. My solution to this, in the context of my own psychology, was to make my handwriting so small that it was impossible for me to guess how many pages of a book were represented by each page of manuscript. Thenotebook I used, with my handwriting starting off normal-sized and then dwindling to a scale smaller than Jane Austen's, looks like something from a medical textbook, or the memoirs of the Incredible Shrinking Man.

A version of the book was ready in September. Robert McCrum of Faber had to decide within a few days of receiving it whether to go ahead, despite the inconvenience of having to announce a new title, write a new blurb and commission a new cover, or to remove me from the catalogue one final disgraced time. Luckily I was in the position of the person who in Brecht's aphorism has power over the bank by virtue of owing a million pounds rather than a hundred. In the end it made sense for Faber to accommodatemy perverse notion of fulfilling a contract.

The failed book and the finished one have nothing in common, not a theme, not a phrase. And yet if I hadn't spent so long trying to get somewhere with an enterprise that wasn't in my grain, would I have been able to work with such apparent confidence on a manuscript that was its opposite in every way? Turning from Fulfilment to The Waters of Thirst I knew that I wanted a number of things that I had decided against on the earlier project: a first-person narrative, a dynamic structure, lively if caricatural character-drawing, a one-movement structure going from light to dark. (A writer known for short stories who produces a novel is necessarily reviewed as if he had produced a string of short stories loosely linked, or else a single story obscenely bloated: by having no break larger than the one between paragraphs I could avoid the first of these fates.)

In a sense, the failed book was an anti-draft for the one that got finished. And so I get to stand by my boast about not doing drafts, never re-writing, but only by conceding that my working methods rank with the least efficient in the world.

The composer James MacMillan's first grand opera, `Ines de Castro', opens at Scottish Opera in 1996. When you've got a big idea, he says, sometimes you've just got to write it - but it helps if the right commission comes along I've had three tries at writing music-theatre or quasi-opera pieces in the past, and they've all been very ritualistic, very stylised. Ines de Castro, the piece I'm working on just now, is a complete digression. Basically, I suppose, it's a traditional narrative, a love story even, based on a true tale of 13th-century Portugal.

As soon as I saw John Clifford's play Ines at the Traverse in 1989, I felt it would make a great opera; and he basically handed me his text to whittle down as I needed. I didn't write any music until early last year, though; I just let the text settle inmy mind, allowing it to germinate ideas, to set the mood and style, almost subliminally, while working on other pieces.

I get ideas for operas all the time. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is another. I feel it has incredible potential: it's so full of allegory - Christian allegory, which is why I think I'm drawn to it. But just now I feel that something like that would be too huge to tackle. But then, when I first started thinking of Ines, it too seemed too huge for a young composer who had never attempted anything that big before. But through working out your obsession with an idea, you do clear out the mist of impossibilities, and gradually possibilities seem more feasible.

I've another allegory in mind, but it's much, much vaguer - basically just something to do with contemporary life. I've got lots of targets in mind, values that need to be questioned, but how to deal with them in opera I'm not yet sure. Sometimes it's a matter of waiting for the right commission. Ines wasn't a piece for a small company; it demands the full orchestra and chorus, lots of principals and extras, that Scottish Opera can give me. So I did hold back until they came along. But, in the en d, I think I would have written it anyway.

Sometimes, though, a commission helps crystallise things.I've been waiting years to write my next big orchestral piece; I knew I wanted it to be for big orchestra and solo instrument, but not a concerto. I had a certain sound character in mind, but it was only when I was approached by the LSO's principal cor anglais player that it came into focus. In fact, I'd already turned down an offer to write a tuba concerto. But you've just got to be strict with yourself, otherwise you end up not writing the music you should be.

n `Decisions', is a one-day conference at the Tate, London, today, to launch a radical new PhD in humanities offered by the London Consortium (an amalgam of the BFI, Tate, Architectural Association and Birkbeck College, London). Prospectuses from: Administrator, London Consortium, BFI, 21 Stephen St, London W1

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