FILM & TELEVISION

'Operation Finale' director Chris Weitz talks about Nazis, Ingmar Bergman and 'Star Wars'

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Sometimes working as a director, others as a writer, on a few occasions as both, Chris Weitz has been involved with movies his whole life, sometimes with his older brother Paul, others on his own. Their best-known films as a directing team are "American Pie" and "About a Boy." On his own, Chris has directed "The Golden Compass" and "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." He also wrote "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."

His newest, "Operation Finale," the tense, true story of the post-WWII hunt for the Nazi villain Adolf Eichmann (played by Ben Kingsley) was directed by him, and written by Matthew Orton. Weitz spoke about his career, the film, and why he was the ideal person to make it last week in New York.

Q: Looking at your family history, you're probably not surprised that you ended up in the movie business.

A: Well, my mom was an actor, my grandmother was an actor, my grandfather was an agent to a lot of filmmakers, including Ingmar Bergman and Billy Wilder. I had met some of these people as a little kid. I went to the Barnum & Bailey Circus with Ingmar Bergman once at Madison Square Garden.

Q: So, what was your entry into it?

A: I wasn't one of those kids who was making movies from childhood. For me, it was sort of a way to do something with what I had been studying at university, which was English literature. I've adapted a lot of books (into screenplays), but I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was a freelance journalist for a while. Then I kind of fell into movies. My brother was writing plays, so he was much closer to imagining doing this kind of thing. But he and I thought, "Well, why don't we try." And we did, and I've done it now for my entire adult life, since age 21.

Q: And you've had a lot of ideas out there for films that haven't been made, right?

A: Early on, Paul and I didn't understand how things worked (laughs). So, we'd come up with cockamamie ideas, like what if you told "Casablanca" from the point of view of Sam instead of Rick ... but incorporate actual footage. We talked to Warner Bros. about that but it went absolutely nowhere. Actually, Warner Bros. did hire us to write a remake of "A Double Life." It's a pretty wild movie, kind of a melodrama-thriller. We wrote the script, but they did not make it (laughs).

Q: How did you get involved with "Operation Finale?"

A: Jonathan Glickman, the head of production at MGM, sent the script to me. He knew that I had sort of a background in Nazi Germany through my father writing books about it. He wrote books about prominent Nazi leadership: Ribbentrop, who was the Nazi foreign minister and Hjalmar Schacht, who was the Nazi banking minister. When I was a kid I was organizing my dad's research library, and I was copyreading his galleys. So, I've always thought about this period, and it immediately struck me as something that I was prepared to do.

Q: Your dad, John, is best known for being a fashion designer in America. But is it true that before he wrote those books, he was actually a Nazi Hunter?

A: In the sense that he would interrogate some captured Nazis. This was toward the end of the war, during the Allied occupation of Germany. My dad was in the Army Counter Intelligence Corps, and then in the OSS (predecessor of the CIA). He spoke fluent German and he looked Aryan. There was one instance when, after the liberation of Dachau, some of it was used as a POW camp, and he was inserted as an SS officer who had been captured, in theory, in order to monitor the behavior of the SS and German soldiers that had been captured, because there was fear of a prison revolt.

Q: You knew these stories and you helped him with his books. So, you were the right guy for this movie.

A: I would like to think I was more prepared than the average guy.

Q: I hope you don't mind if I briefly change the subject to "Star Wars." You wrote the script for "Rogue One." Are there any rules to writing a "Star Wars" script?

A: There are actual rules, like nondisclosure agreements and security arrangements. And story-wise, there are some constraints. But there's a surprising amount of latitude for creativity. I think that if something doesn't absolutely violate the feeling or the established kind of "facts" of "Star Wars," you're fine. I had a tremendous amount of freedom. There's this wonderful guy Pablo Hidalgo at Lucasfilm, who's kind of the repository of knowledge about "Star Wars." I could send questions to him to make sure that I wasn't getting something wrong. There's a great line he has about "Star Wars" ... the question being, "How fast does a starship move?" And the answer is "at the speed of narrative." Which is to say that as long as you're telling a good story, which feels right and consistent, you don't need to get too caught up in the details.

"Operation Finale" opened on Aug. 29.

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