I missed this David Marchese interview of Werner Herzog back in March but was happy to run across it today — it is the perfect lunchtime read.
When you pulled Joaquin Phoenix from a car accident, did you know it was him? Yes, although he was upside down in this car, squished between airbags that had deployed and wildly trying to light a cigarette.
That could be an image from one of your films. I knew he must not light his cigarette, because there was gasoline dripping and he would have perished in a fireball. So I tried to be clearly commandeering to him and tell him not to. But I was worried that if you gave him a command, he would strike his lighter even harder. So I managed to snatch the cigarette lighter from his hand. Then it became completely clear that it was Joaquin. But I didn’t want to speak to him after. I saw he wanted to come over and thank me. I just drove off.
Herzog talking about his time making The Mandalorian:
What about baby Yoda? Did you think baby Yoda was cute? No, not cute. It was a phenomenal achievement of sculpting mechanically. When I saw this, it was so convincing, it was so unique. And then the producers talked about, Shouldn’t we have a fallback version with green screen and have it be completely digitally created? I said to them: It would be cowardly. You are the trailblazers. Show the world what you can do.
See also 24 Pieces of Life Advice from Werner Herzog, including “Take revenge if need be” and “Carry bolt cutters everywhere”.
Working, a memoir from master interviewer and researcher Robert Caro, is coming out next week. David Marchese, no slouch himself when it comes to interviewing people, talked with Caro for the NY Times Magazine about his career, his process, and his ongoing multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. Caro allows that his insatiable curiosity about getting the whole story might not necessarily be a good thing at times.
I would like to have written more books. I’d like to finish this last Johnson book. But it’s the element of time — you’re always thinking no one will know if the thing you’re working on isn’t in the book. Take the Margaret Frost thing. [The introduction of “Master of the Senate” tells the story of Margaret Frost’s humiliating and failed attempts to register to vote in Eufaula, Ala., in 1957.] You say everybody knows about blacks not being able to vote in the South, so you don’t have to go into that. But I’d remembered coming across testimony from the Civil Rights Commission and I went, This is horrible. A sense of anger boils up, and it leads you to say, “What was it like if you tried to register to vote?” Don’t just say, “It’s hard.” What was it really like? You think you understand how hard life is in the South because you’ve seen movies about it. But then you learn about a guy who wanted to vote, Margaret Frost’s husband, who sees someone drive to his house and shoot out the light on the porch. He was going to call the police but then saw it was a police car driving away from his property. It was like the Jews in Nazi Germany: There was no place for these people to turn. So, do you want to write the book without showing that? The answer is no.
Has anyone ever done an interview with an expert interviewer about the experience of interviewing another expert interviewer? I would definitely read a debrief of Marchese on how to get someone like Caro, who knows all the tricks of the trade, to actually tell you something that they don’t want you to know. I’m also thinking of Errol Morris and Seymour Hersh at the end of Wormwood and how Morris can’t quite get what he wants from Hersh.