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Cover Story: 20 Good Questions

Brett Ratner
Hollywood producer/director and Miami Beach native Brett Ratner. (Photo courtesy of ABM).
Brett Ratner
By now, it seems there's little that has transpired in his life yet to be chronicled in one form of media or another. The way he talked himself into film school at NYU at age 16 with grades that could be described as "mediocre" only in the most generous sense of the word; the way he convinced iconic Steven Spielberg to front him five large to complete a student film; the way he has ascended in meteoric fashion into the pantheon of Hollywood's greatest directors. As for his brilliance, consider merely that his movies have generated more than $1.5 billion and there's hardly a single serious thespian in Tineseltown who hasn't overtly pined to work under his guidance. Brett Ratner personifies perseverance more so than any auteur of his generation. His dossier includes the "Rush Hour" trilogy, starring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, which has amassed a global gross around $506 million; "Red Dragon," (the thrilling prequel to "The Silence of the Lambs") featuring Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman; "The Family Man," with Nic Cage and Téa Leoni; and "After the Sunset," headlined by Pierce Brosnan and Selma Hayek. Ratner's training in the arts began at Miami Beach Senior High School under the tutelage of legendary Jay Jensen.

Q11: Did the fact that you had such a distinguished cast for "Red Dragon" make your work easier or more difficult?
When it comes to an ensemble, it can be more difficult because each actor has his own method. I just have a point of view. I'm a storyteller. I know what I want to see and what I want to hear. But each actor literally has their own way and their own approach. So you have to adjust the way you work based on the actor you're working with. Each personality is different. Not only are you a director, but sometimes you have to be a father, a psychiatrist, a coach. There are a lot of different roles to play when you are a filmmaker.

Q12: You directed Charlie Sheen in "Money Talks." What are your thoughts on what he's going through?
He's my friend. Obviously he has issues. But he's a brilliant guy. He's incredibly talented. I love him and I support him 100 percent. I think people are taking him too literally.

Q13: Above all else, is being a storyteller what defines you and how you want to be perceived?
That's what a director is. The visual aspect of filmmaking is personal; the technical side of filmmaking is something you can learn from a book. But the storytelling ability is something you either have or you don't have. That's what I work on constantly, [by] watching a lot of movies, reading a lot of books, going to the theater, telling stories myself, and listening to other people tell stories. No matter what the medium is. And I practice that. Whether it's a TV series that I do like "Prison Break" or my new series coming out on April 1st, called "Chaos." Or a photograph I shoot, trying to tell a story with a photograph. Or a short film that I've done like "New York, I Love You." I'm constantly trying to work on my storytelling skills.

Q14: What does directing the same actor in multiple works do for your relationship?
When an actor trusts you, the more he trusts you, the better the performance will be. When you have an actor who is comfortable with a director, they will try things they probably wouldn't with a director they don't know. They take more risks.

Q15: You've said film school teaches you how to make movies but not how to get jobs. Is film school still a requisite for anyone who wants to do what you do?
It depends on whether you want to make movies for a living or make them for fun. You don't have to make movies and have it be your profession. You can do them for fun, as a hobby. They don't have to be $100 million movies. They could be in your backyard with your friends. It depends on what your goals are. That being said, I don't think film school is a requisite. You can just go and make them. You just have to keep working at it. Practice makes perfect. Some people go to business school and they are very successful; others do it on their own by starting their own business. There is nothing like the life experience of actually doing something. I was doing it and going to film school. I've been doing it since I was eight years old. I went to film school to kind of have structure and have a discipline. And film school allows you to interact with other people because you have to deal with crews.

Q16: You've made a career, it seems, out of successfully luring actors to projects who others said you could never get. Do you see a great lesson therein for youngsters?
That's my message for young people when I talk to them. I was told I couldn't get into NYU film school because of my grades. I was told that I couldn't reach out to Steven Spielberg. I was told I couldn't do "The Family Man" because I wasn't old enough or because I didn't have a family of my own. Every time I've been told "no," I've turned the "no" into a "yes." Nothing is impossible. I think that's something that people should remember, especially young people. Because you have nothing to lose. My mother would still love me, and my grandparents would still love me, and my friends would still be my friends, even if I didn't become a big director. My dream was not to have a big house, or to have cars, or to have money. I just love storytelling. My dream was to make movies.

Q17: Are you going to do "Beverly Hills Cop 4" or are those just rumors?
We don't have a script yet, but I am definitely going to do it with Eddie [Murphy]. I have had such a great experience working with him on "Tower Heist" that he and I are just going to go out and get it done.

Q18: I hear legendary stories about your mom, but never anything about your father. If I'm not striking too tender a nerve, can you tell what your relationship with him was like?
He passed away and I didn't know him really. I consider my father to be [philanthropist and The Forge restaurant founder] Alvin Malnik. Al raised me. I considered Shareef to be my big brother. I feel like I'm part of the Malnik family. Al is really my father. He was at my birthday party last night, too.

Q19: What defines the making of a successful movie for you?
It's never the critical reviews. It's that I'm happy with it. There is not a frame in "Red Dragon" that I would change. There's not a frame in "Rush Hour," either. I set out to do those [projects] with the full support of the studio and the actors cooperated and they were great experiences. If they are successful at the box office, that's something that's out of my hands, whether the public likes them. Fortunately, for me, they've liked all the movies. By 'liked,' I mean that they paid to see them.

Q20: Do you still wake up sometimes shocked that you live in such a gorgeous home?
I'm not jaded now. I don't wake up shocked. But my life is pretty incredible. I said that [back in 2000] because the writer was in my house. She was standing there at the moment and she said how nice it is. And I said that I was pretty shocked because I never thought I'd have a big house. All I wanted to do was make movies. Now, my shock, or the times that I have to pinch myself, is when I think about the friends I have, the mentors I have: Bob Evans, Roman Polanski, Warren Beatty. These guys are really awe-inspiring.

Archive: 20 Good Questions
Best & Brightest: June 2011