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Filmmaker Paul Schrader on cancel culture, hating Saltburn, and the death of cinema: ‘Why wouldn’t I cast Kevin Spacey?’

The Oscar-nominated writer and director behind ‘American Gigolo’, ‘Cat People’ and the script for ‘Taxi Driver’ speaks to Geoffrey Macnab about battling ill health, his sadness over Lindsay Lohan, and why he wouldn’t criticise Scorsese in public

Thursday 07 December 2023 06:30 GMT
‘If I am going to make a film about dying, I had better make it quick’
‘If I am going to make a film about dying, I had better make it quick’ (Getty Images)

Being politically correct is kind of boring,” Paul Schrader tells me. It’s a mantra the director and screenwriter has lived by throughout his nearly 50 years of movie-making – years that have made him cinema’s supreme chronicler of male angst and existential anguish. Troubled men crop up in most of his films: the glossy sex work thriller American Gigolo (1980), the erotic horror Cat People (1982) and the neo-noir Affliction (1997).

When he was 26, he wrote the screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) – he’d go on to write or co-write Scorsese films including Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Bringing Out the Dead (1999) – in the process creating the ultimate movie anti-hero, the lone wolf Travis Bickle played in such blistering fashion by Robert De Niro. Fifty years on, Schrader remains as preoccupied as ever with masculinity at its most twisted. In his most recent film, last year’s Master Gardener, the main male character is a horticulturist with a white supremacist past.

Schrader is now 77, his biggest problem in recent years being his health. He still has long Covid, and has been in the hospital three times in recent months with bronchial pneumonia. “My ability to breathe will never be what it was,” he says. For a while, he was housebound in New York, unsure if he’d work again. Now, though, he’s up for travelling. This week, he is heading to Avellino in Italy to present a masterclass and receive the Laceno d’Oro film festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s also just finished another film: Oh, Canada, which stars Saltburn’s Jacob Elordi, Uma Thurman and Richard Gere, marking a reunion between the pair more than 40 years after American Gigolo.

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