US star discusses Youth, Bad Lieutenant and the Robert De Niro way of reading a script.

Harvey Keitel visted this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) (July 3-11) to present Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, for which he has received fulsome praise for his portrayal of a film director entering his autumn years.

But he didn’t really want to talk about it much. Not because he’s being a grumpy film star. Or because he has some sort of resentment towards the film. 

As he explained to a small group of journalists that included ScreenDaily: “They said the Native Americans didn’t want photographs because they felt the camera was stealing something from them. And that’s the way I sort of feel about that.

“That somehow, if I talk about this work, that something is being taken and I’m in a place I shouldn’t be because the work is there. More so about certain films: Youth is one of them, or The Piano.

“Particularly with these filmmakers who we all admire who make those films which are so personal that they’re difficult to talk about. But I suppose of they could talk about them they wouldn’t have made the films.”

But despite being reticent to talk about his latest film, Keitel managed to speak about a number of other subjects at a press conference and a lively masterclass, in which the actor received a foot rub from the moderator.

On the currently planned remake of La Dolce Vita

“Good luck. We can say something is a classic and we should leave it alone. But then again we have to support any artist who has an idea about anything. So I wouldn’t want to stop any artist creating anything they want to create. Would I go see it? Maybe. But I’d have to see what people said about it.

“I went to see a production of Madame Butterfly by Robert Wilson in LA once, which rocked me. That moved the world a little bit for me. And I didn’t want to see any other productions.

“But another one showed up in New York. I had to go as my in-laws were in town. But I wanted to leave it alone. And I went. And to this day I regret that I went. Because it affected me in a way that I wanted to strangle the director.

“With all due respect. I would still support his right to do it. We have to be careful what we put ourselves in front of sometimes.”

On how Robert De Niro taught him how to read a script

(Mimes flipping through a script with his hand): “Bullshit. Bullshit. MY PART. Bullshit”

On slapping The Grand Budapest Hotel co-star Tony Revolori every time he meets him

“We had to do a scene in the movie where I smack him. And the most difficult thing to do in a movie is smack. It’s hard to make it look real.

“So I said to him ‘Do you mind if I smack you?’ And he said ‘No.’

“I said ‘You can smack me as well because I’m going to smack you really hard.’

“So I must have smacked him 25 times before we got the shot. His cheek was red. And he was a champion about it. So every time I see him after the movie I smack him.”

On playing bad guys

“I’ve never played a bad guy. Every bad guy thinks he’s good.”

On the origins of Bad Lieutenant

“At that time in my career I was getting a lot of very good roles, but they were supporting roles and I was aching to get a lead in the movie. I get sent over the script and the script was really thin and the letters were massively large. I read it and after five pages and I threw it in the garbage.

“But I got it out and I continued to read and I got to the part of the Nun. That part was written by the extraordinarily talented Zoe Lund. The way she wrote that nun got me to understand what the script was about.

“Abel Ferrara and I got together and set out to get the money. Ed Pressman was going to give us the money. And then Abel came to me and said ‘Harvey. Ed’s changed his mind and is not going giving us the money.’

“We were both very upset. We both went to his house – and he’d just had a baby – and we said ‘We’re going to kidnap his baby.’

“We weren’t of course. But he did produce the movie. It was made for $1m and filmed for four weeks in New York.”

On his relationship with Abel Ferrara

“Like the other people I’ve talked about – the Scorseses, the Tarantinos and the Jane Campions – he’s got this soul that when you meet him, when you understand his idea you want to be around the idea because you know it’s going to take you someplace.

“And it did take me someplace, making Bad Lieutenant and Snake Eyes with him. It’s a pleasure to work with people like that. I feel very, very lucky that I met these various people or I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

On Reservoir Dogs

“Just reading that script moved me and it was magnificent. I said I want to do it.

“I called Lawrence Bender – Quentin’s producer – and said I wanted to do it.

“Then I rang Quentin who went ‘You’re not Harvey Keitel.’ And I said ‘I am.’ And we got together and made the movie.”

On Hollywood

“Hollywood has always been a cultural symbol of the USA because it reflects a great deal about us.

“The beauty of developing cinema the way they did, and the fact they revered cinema themselves and the great films that have come out of Hollywood and the great stories that are told and how these stories were about people. And how learned and grew from meeting these people on the screen.

“This is the gift of cinema. I’m really here to celebrate our work together. I’ve sat out there more times with you than I have up here in front of you. The importance of cinema just continues.

“Sometimes it gets off course and goes for the commercial. Hollywood has been great for us. And it’s also been a demon. But we wouldn’t want to do without Hollywood.

“I’m really proud to be in the cinema. We have to struggle to make the kind of films we want to make. And we can’t always do it. Because greed does exist. Fear does exist. But heroism does exist also.”