Martin Scorsese kept Silence for 27 years
Acclaimed film-maker Martin Scorsese talks about making a passion project on Jesuit missionaries come to fruition
In 1988, when Martin Scorsese showed The Last Temptation Of Christ to a group of religious leaders in New York, Archbishop Paul Moore gave the film-maker a copy of Shusaku Endo's historical novel Silence.
It had a profound effect on him and since then, he had been trying to make a movie about it.
At the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, the diminutive and fast-talking director explained why it took 27 years for the movie to be made.
He said: "We were able to get the rights pretty quickly. I thought I understood it, but when I tried to write the script with Jay Cocks in 1991, we couldn't do it. We couldn't figure out what was necessary and what wasn't."
While he was struggling with the script, one of the rights-holders went to jail and other people started claiming rights.
The legal and financial problems made investors back away.
But Scorsese, 74, kept working on the film. After two tries, in 2005 and again in 2009, director Ang Lee told him to consider shooting it in Taiwan.
In relatively inexpensive Taiwan, they found similar locations and came up with a reasonable budget, and finally started filming it in 2015.
Said Scorsese: "I kept saying cut it down, cut it down. Finally we were able to make it with US$46 million (S$65 million)."
Silence - opening here tomorrow - tells the story of two Jesuit missionaries, played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, who go to Japan to look for their missing mentor, and to spread Christianity in a country where Christians are persecuted and tortured.
The title refers to the silence of God in the face of the horrifying trials the missionaries faced, and the faith they struggled to keep in so doing.
Though beautifully filmed and sometimes heartwrenching, Scorsese felt this was not a movie that would attract the masses.
He said: "I am going to do the best that I can on this film and this is a lifelong project and I am just going to put it out there. Not everybody is going to like this picture.
"The best thing to do is not to read anything about it, just do the work and think about what else you can do with the time that is left for you."
The conversation turned to the casting.
Scorsese had admired Garfield in Boy A and Never Let Me Go, so he called him in to audition.
Said Scorsese: "His audition was so good. It was 2½ hours long. He did one scene and I gave him some direction and he did the scene again and he took the direction.
"Then I said, 'Why don't we try this other scene and why don't we try this and why don't we try that?'
"And then you start to get an idea of what the film will be with him."
On Driver, he said: "I had seen Adam on Girls and I thought he was unique. I liked his presence, his face and his body language which I don't quite understand (laughs).
"And I don't know where he is going sometimes, but it's interesting and his mind is somewhere and he is unique and genuine. So that was key."
One has to see the film to really get the remoteness of some of the locations used.
Thick mud, rocky inclines, and rutted stony pathways made walking hard and moving equipment even more arduous. Scorsese needed help moving around.
He said: "I have asthma and I can't climb. I had a bodyguard, a guy named Tony from New Zealand, and Tony would sort of lift me up and take me over (laughs), and I was hanging onto him, basically."