Paul Verhoeven is the directorial force behind some of the most groundbreaking sci-fi films of the past few decades -- between 1987's RoboCop, 1990's Total Recall and 1997's Starship Troopers, he essentially owns the genre and inspired countless filmmakers in his wake. And who can forget Basic Instinct and Showgirls, which broke ground and made headlines with their sexually explicit material. Clearly, Verhoeven doesn't shy from being a trailblazer.
Which is why it's apropos that his latest endeavor could not be more different from his seminal, Hollywood-driven American films in both subject matter and production. He is again one of the first, this time directing a crowd-sourced script in his native Netherlands, the results of which are showcased in Tricked, which had its North American premiere this week at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The endeavor involved Verhoeven and his team releasing the first four pages of a script -- along with the first four minutes of the film -- and then sifting through hundreds of script submissions for each of eight episodes, shot along the way and pieced together to create a 50-minute feature. It meant Verhoeven and his actors were completely in the dark when it came to the evolution of each character's motivations, which makes for some pretty intriguing on-screen drama and deceit.
We sat down with Verhoeven while he was in town for the film's premiere, and enjoyed a rare chance to speak to the filmmaker about his new project, along with his thoughts on the themes, controversies and -- yes, even the remakes -- of his American classics.
Movies.com: This film is so fascinating -- not only did the public submit scripts, but there's also a public-made amateur film counterpart to your version, right?
Paul Verhoeven: Not to denigrate, but we did that when we had the premiere in Holland… they thought it was a great idea to put elements of the other movie in front of that. [Long pause] Yeah, that didn't work. [Laughs]
Movies.com: You introduced your version of the film as being "a self-portrait." Did you mean the process of it, or the content of it?
Verhoeven: The content. It's about how to behave with promiscuity, and how far do we accept amoral behavior? And in this case it's about a man, a womanizer, who has multiple affairs during his marriage. The essential moment for me in the movie is how does she [his wife] deal with the promiscuity of her husband.
Movies.com: It's interesting that you had this crowd-sourced script that ended up turning into something so personal for you.
Verhoeven: Yes, it did. Interesting enough, in the scripts that came in -- all of them -- when the woman starts to realize that her husband is unfaithful… all these people had the woman become crazy, angry, throwing things. Much more normal in the United States if you're unfaithful. So this is European thought that she knows and, yeah. That was what I wanted to show. Based on me, my friends, and others -- I mean, I know this behavior! I know the woman! Several of them. All European, of course. [Laughs] A little adultery, not the worst thing in the world. [Laughs] That's what I think, of course.
Movies.com: So many of your films have been or are being remade: Total Recall, Starship Troopers, RoboCop. Do you feel like nobody has any original ideas anymore? Is that sort of the conceit of Tricked, perhaps where the idea initially came from?
Verhoeven: You could call it, for the director himself, you could say, "Oh that's wonderful - your films are so important that they remake them!" It also looks like you're dead, doesn't it? [Laughs] Of course, I saw the remake of Total Recall. It didn't work, eh?
Verhoeven: Not at all. But, of course, these Philip K. Dick stories are weird. Even if you look at Blade Runner, which is a beautiful movie -- there's no doubt -- it's also a bit boring, I think. It's very much production design and the story is difficult to follow, and there is not much humor used in it. None, nearly. Now in Total Recall, I felt that the Philip Dick story is a bit crazy, and I think if you take it completely serious like they did in the remake, then you are really making your life miserable. Because everything has to be real and then it has to be convincing, there's no "wink, wink." A guy comes in and says everything basically that happened to you for the last hour -- and also to the audience -- is all nonsense. That is such a strange scene, of course, and I think if you make such a scene completely straight, then I think you can't pull it off. And I think when they made everything straight in the Total Recall remake, then the story is too crazy.
Movies.com: You've had an interesting relationship with the MPAA over the years. With RoboCop, you had to cut a lot of the violence, and it changed the tone of those moments. It made them more serious and menacing.
Verhoeven: With RoboCop, I felt that the tone had to be light. When I read it I thought if you take this completely seriously, then it's not good. And the violence should be so over-the-top that it would be really comic book violence. In the comic books, it's like fountains of blood! In the scene where ED-209 is seen for the first time in the boardroom and then there's a malfunction and he starts to kill the guy – that was the worst scene, because we used all the shots we had and it was fountains of blood, but I thought that was necessary. And so the first remark was, "Somebody call a paramedic" and when we showed it that way in the beginning, people were bursting out in laughter because it was so completely idiotic that somebody would ask for a paramedic when the guy's blown to pieces on the table. We had to cut it out. It's on the Criterion. After cutting it out, it was interesting that people did not laugh there -- that line was kind of gone. The line was lost because it had become more serious -- it was shorter, it was more real, and that made it, for the audience, a very violent scene.
Movies.com: It seems like you had to do the tough work back then to open up doors for the Quentin Tarantinos of the world.
Verhoeven: [Laughs] I hope that was a nice door! Clearly, if you see Django [Unchained], it's certainly more than I was allowed to have. On the other hand, if you look now at the nudity issue and the sex issue, the way I shot Basic Instinct would not be possible anymore. It would've gotten an X, even after me cutting it down. Even there, there's an American version and then there's the rest of the world's version.
Movies.com: It is disturbing that extreme violence is more acceptable than nudity.
Verhoeven: I'm like the bozo, basically! [Laughs] Let me put it this way, I like sex and I hate violence, but, in my opinion, both are fundamental to the concept of this universe.
Movies.com: Speaking of which: at the time, did you feel that Showgirls was going to go on to be a huge cult hit? Is that why you accepted your Razzie in person -- you just had a feeling you'd be laughing last?
Verhoeven: I thought it would be a normal movie! [Laughs] I overestimated the audience.
Movies.com: Well, now it's loved!
Verhoeven: Especially in France! [Laughs] Well, I think the amount of nudity knocked everybody down. And I think of course you can put some remarks on the script, there's no doubt about that. So in retrospect I think the mistake we made -- we should have done the same as Basic Instinct, we should really have made it into a murder mystery. One of the girls gets killed in that world -- as it would be a thriller, people would not be feeling, "I'm a voyeur." That was the genius of Joe Eszterhas… in all the sex scenes, he continuously also said, "Yeah, but she might kill. This is a seduction scene or sexy but it could also be a murder scene." He used the thriller aspect to have the audience accept the sex and the nudity.
Movies.com: Speaking of violence, Starship Troopers was a pretty prescient and in-your-face antiwar military satire.
Verhoeven: Yeah! I don't know if you could have made that now.
Movies.com: Now, you get propaganda pieces like Battleship -- essentially a two-hour version of the last scene in Starship Troopers.
Verhoeven: Yeah, but it makes fun of our intentions a little bit.
Movies.com: Battleship seemed a bit self-aware. Did you read it that way?
Verhoeven: Ehhhhh. Starship Troopers over Battleship. [Laughs]
Movies.com: Well, naturally! You mentioned earlier this year that you would be open to directing The Legend of Conan. Has there been any movement on that?
Verhoeven: Yeah, if it's a good script!
Movies.com: Have you been approached? Are you in talks?
Verhoeven: No, no no. This was based on an interview that I got by coincidence in a cafe in Venice when I was having breakfast, somebody came to my table and said, "We are from the fan club of Arnold Schwarzenegger and we feel that you should do the remake of Conan and could you say something about it?” And so I started to talk! I like Conan, and Arnold I know. I think if you would do a movie… you should do Arnold as somebody that is one step further than what he was before. Now he has been governor, he has gone through terrible personal sorrow. And I think you should make a Conan that would have been that way. And then they go from there and build a new Arnold -- somebody who's not sure of himself anymore. I think if you do it the same way -- like they did in The Last Stand -- it was the same, nearly, and I think that's such a pity. Because he has felt these things that happened to him. I think he's a different man now. And I think you could use that! You can see it in his face and I say, have a younger man doing "bam bam bam." That, I think, would be great!
Movies.com: So you'd definitely do it if they approached you?
Verhoeven: If they would dare to do it that way! If it would just be, "Okay, we'll redo the old one" they I say, “Why?” I don't think you can improve the old one.
Movies.com: We hope it works out. We also hope you attend the dedication of the RoboCop statue when it's unveiled next year in Detroit.
Verhoeven: Yeah sure! [Laughs]