CONFESSIONS OF P.J. HOGAN
by Paul Fischer
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P.J Hogan became an international success story when Muriel’s Wedding, the miniscule-budget landmark Aussie film became a worldwide hit. Since then, Hogan’s career has had its ups and downs, from the huge success of My Best Friend’s Wedding, to the trouble plagued Peter Pan and the largely unseen Unconditional Love. Now Hogan is back with the lightweight film adaptation of the best selling books, Confessions of a Shopaholic starring Isla Fisher as would-be journalist Rebecca Bloomwood as the young woman who simply cannot help herself. Hogan sat down with PAUL FISCHER to explain the reason why the five year break between projects.
QUESTION: Why did you fall in love with Shopaholic?
P.J. HOGAN: I love the books. Jerry Bruckheimer sent me the books, and I thought they were just hilarious, they have a wonderful generosity of spirit and comedy that really spoke to me. I read all of the books – there’s five of them – and they’re laugh-out-loud funny, but when I was reading them, I found myself laughing at things that weren’t jokes. I didn’t know why I was laughing, just, the situations that this girl found herself in were hilarious to me. So I thought, “If I can capture that comic spirit, that eccentricity of her voice on film,” then I’d really be on to something. I also identified with Rebecca Bloomwood.
P.J. HOGAN: Because, when I was young, I got into a lot of trouble with credit cards. In fact, in my early 20s, I had one of my credit cards cut up in a store, one of the most humiliating experiences of my young adult life. That was my way into Rebecca Bloomwood, because in one of the books, that happens to her, so, I really understood her.
QUESTION: What was the decision behind doing two books, and why this second one in particular?
P.J. HOGAN: Well, the second one – I loved both books, but I thought the second one was, in a lot of ways, better than the first book. And, the first book is really a great introduction to the character of Rebecca Bloomwood, but the second one is a really wonderful story, so I thought, if it’s okay with Sophie, I’d love to have a shot at some of the sequences in the second book, like the sample sale sequence. And the second book has a fantastic end, when she auctions off all of her belongings, so I thought that was a terrific ending for the movie. Sophie was on board with that, so we combined the two. I also thought it just made the story stronger.
QUESTION: Was it a challenge to structure the film so that there would be a satisfactory third act that would conclude the story?
P.J. HOGAN: That’s always a challenge. The third act in any film is always a challenge, particularly in a romantic comedy, because people want it to end, and the audience has an expectation that – for example, lovers will get together. But you also want to do it in a way they haven’t seen before and we had a lot of threads that I had to tie up in the third act. So that’s another reason I went to the second book. Because I thought its third act was just a lot stronger than the third act of the first book.
QUESTION: Were you surprised that Bruckheimer, whose forte is not necessarily this demographic decided to option these books?
P.J. HOGAN: Yes, I was. When I first got the script and Jerry Bruckheimer’s name was on it, I thought it was a typo. I thought, “What’s Jerry Bruckheimer’s name doing on Confessions of a Shopaholic?” I was looking for the explosions. everything explodes. There’s a closet full of clothes. But Jerry loves a challenge. There aren’t many fields of film story that he has not conquered, but the romantic comedy is one. And so I was very pleased that he asked me to try and conquer it.
QUESTION: Why did he ask you? Because you have been kind of absent from the business for a few years.
P.J. HOGAN: he liked my films. So that’s why, the only reason anybody asks you to do something. They like your work.
QUESTION: Are you surprised that Muriel’s Weddimg has still kind of stood the test of time?
P.J. HOGAN: Yeah, I really am surprised. It is the movie that people keep bringing up. And, they keep bringing it up to Toni Collette, as well, who’s been in a lot of very, very successful movies, but whenever we talked, she always says, “it’s still Muriel’s Wedding. To a lot of people, I’ll always be Muriel.” And, I love that. We had no idea at the time that we were making a film that it would become what it was.
QUESTION: You didn’t have much money, either.
P.J. HOGAN: Well, we had very little money. I mean, that was when the films made on– as they say in Australia, the smell of an oily rag. But she stuck around. She’s a character who won’t go away, which is great, because I had all the points in that film.
QUESTION: Your second Hollywood movie was a film that I know you had a mixed experience on. I mean, you and Julia Roberts, I know, kind of butted heads, at least that was the rumor going around.
P.J. HOGAN: I remember that it was fun to make. Julia is a true movie star and I realized that when I first saw dailies for the first time. There’s the experience of seeing Julia on the set, and you watch her doing it, you go, “Hmm, that’s okay.” But then on film, it’s extraordinary. She just lights up the screen. I mean, we both had a lot riding on that movie. Julia was returning to the romantic comedy after a long absence and she’d chosen me to direct, and I was really untried in Hollywood. I really felt that and I had strong opinions about what the film should be. And Julia, I think, also had strong opinions. So when we argued, it was always about the work. It was never about anything else but the film.
QUESTION: Have you had a desire to find something back in Australia?
P.J. HOGAN: there’s a script I had that’s set in Australia. I’d love to do another all-Australian film like Muriel’s Wedding. But it’s just really hard to put movies together now. Muriel’s Wedding was made without a movie star in sight. A lot of the actors in that film became well known, but then, when we made it, none of us were well-known. So it was very difficult. It took years to pull together the finance for that movie, because, nobody with a name wanted to play Muriel. Nobody. And I think that would probably be true of the Australian script I want to do next. Just because somebody’s a movie star does not mean they’re right for the part that you’ve written. I mean, a lot of people to get their films made, will do deals with the devil, like cast somebody who’s wrong for the role, to get the film made especially when you’re starting out behind the eightball.
QUESTION: Do you think there’ll be as big a gap now between Shopaholic and whatever else you do?
P.J. HOGAN: Probably. I’ll still continue to be picky. I mean, I waited a long time after My Best Friend’s Wedding, because I just didn’t find anything that I thought I was right for. Sometimes, if I don’t connect with material, I think I’m not the right director for it. I should work more often. I’m sure I’d become a better director if I did it more often. But, that’s just the way.
QUESTION: Do you also find, to be able to balance – well, you live in Australia, don’t you?
P.J. HOGAN: I live between Los Angeles and Australia. I travel a lot.
QUESTION: Do you have your family here?
P.J. HOGAN: Yes, I do, and they usually travel with me. Although we spend a lot of time here, because my kids are really sick of traveling. So, you know. They’ve put down roots.
QUESTION: Well, do you want them to follow in your footsteps?
P.J. HOGAN: I want them to be happy, If they want to do it, then good luck to them. But they know that it’s a hard business.
QUESTION: What do you like about LA?
P.J. HOGAN: it’s – I’ll tell you what. It’s funny, I try to not have much to do with the industry. Because I think it’s very, very important to have a life outside film. So that when you do make a film, you actually have got something to contribute. Not just, you’ve spent the last year or so doing deals, or going to premieres. So I treat very much LA as I would Sydney. it’s a nice place to live. My kids enjoy it and have good friends here.
QUESTION: And they go to school here.
P.J. HOGAN: Yes.
QUESTION: Public school, or in a private school?
P.J. HOGAN: One of my children is autistic, so can’t go to a public school.
QUESTION: Do you do a movie like this for the girl in you?
P.J. HOGAN: I try to do – look, I do my movies for myself. So, if that means the same thing, then maybe. I like women. I grew up with women. I have a lot of sisters. And so I find it – I guess I’m drawn to stories with female protagonists. I don’t know why that is.
QUESTION: Peter Pan was, like, the one male centred piece.
P.J. HOGAN: Yeah, but remember, there was Wendy. And in a lot of ways, if you think about that story, it’s really Wendy’s story. You experience Peter Pan through Wendy’s eyes.
QUESTION: Will your next film be female-centric?
P.J. HOGAN: I have no idea. again – look. If a script came along and I loved it and there was a guy main character, I’d be very pleased.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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