The following Q&A appeared in Screen International, the weekly, on March 3, in the run-up to ShoWest where Minghella was awarded director of the year.
British writer-director Anthony Minghella began his career in radio, television and theatre in the 1980s before making his first feature, supernatural drama Truly Madly Deeply for the BBC in 1991. He followed this with the romantic comedy Mr Wonderful for the Samuel Goldwyn Co in 1993. However, it was not until The English Patient, Minghella's adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's novel, won a host of Academy Awards in 1997 that the film-maker was propelled into the world spotlight.
Minghella's most recent film, The Talented Mr Ripley, a look at the dark side of the human soul adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel of the same name, has been nominated for five Academy Awards. Backed again by Miramax and Paramount Pictures, it stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Cate Blanchett. The film-maker's third literary adaptation, Charles Frazier's US Civil War love story Cold Mountain, is set to shoot later this year. It will be his third collaboration with Miramax, partnered by United Artists. Here the director tells Natacha Clarke about the art of adaptation and why he has chosen Cold Mountain as his next project.
Screen International: How did you become involved with The Talented Mr Ripley, which I understand was set up before you did The English Patient'
Anthony Minghella: I found it so difficult to get the financing together for The English Patient. I was nervous that the money would never appear and then Miramax got involved. But then there was a period where I knew I had six months on my hands [before starting on The English Patient] and Sydney Pollack asked me if I wanted to work with him. His company, Mirage Enterprises, had acquired the rights to Patricia Highsmith's book and he asked me if I wanted to write the screenplay. Within a few weeks [of working on it] I didn't feel comfortable giving it away to someone else, so I called Sydney to see if he'd wait for me to finish The English Patient.
You began in British radio, theatre and TV. Are there any circumstances under which you would return to them'
I would go back under any circumstances. I do not believe there is a vertical ladder to film. There is a lot to be said about writing for television and radio, and if I found a radio project that I was passionate about, I would do it tomorrow.
Your adaptations of Highsmith's book and Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient have both won Oscar nominations. What's the hardest thing about adapting somebody else's work'
It's hard to talk in generalisations, but basically you're trying to serve two masters: the spirit of the novel and making the movie on its own terms. There is no simple way of turning prose into a film even if the words may make perfect sense on a page. [Film and prose] are not mutually compatible and it is all about trying to reconcile that conundrum.
Your next film, Cold Mountain, is also taken from a novel, by Charles Frazier. What made you choose to direct a third adaptation in a row rather than work from an original screenplay'
With Cold Mountain it is a testament to how extraordinary the novel is, [because I had] vowed not to do another adaptation. It is a profoundly cruel, moving and courageous story and I am delighted to be doing it. I don't quite know how to do it, which is exciting. Part of the adventure is about going to the edge of yourself. I had never thought of myself as wanting to find the darker side of Thomas Ripley, just as I don't feel it is natural for me to go to the mountains and snow for Cold Mountain. In terms of the scale of the films I've been making, I love the idea of keeping us [the regular production crew] all together and coming up with challenges for everybody, not just me.
At what stage are you with Cold Mountain'
I am still in the writing process. The most important thing at the moment is to assemble the same crew and to see when we can all work together again.
So are you planning to write another original screenplay in the future'
I would very much like to. As I said, I made a vow after The Talented Mr Ripley not to adapt another novel, and I want to write my own film. Also I do not want to exile myself from London [having shot The English Patient and Ripley in Italy and preparing to shoot Cold Mountain in the US]. The problem is I have a very slow metabolism for making films and so it is hard for me to think beyond Cold Mountain. But if I came up with an idea that would bring me back [to London] I would be thrilled.
As a director, are you looking for a new way to tell the story or the way to tell the story the best you can'
For me I think it is really about being passionate [about a story], becoming the most entertaining messenger I can with an audience and telling a story as profoundly and richly as I can.
What kind of films do you most admire'
Italian cinema, particularly [Federico] Fellini, [Luchino] Visconti and Vittorio De Sica. I have been drawn to it more than any other type of cinema. There is a whole roster of Italian film that has had an impact on me, largely because of the sensibilities of their work. I also love Krzysztof Kieslowski. While I was working on Ripley, I thought that he would have been a good choice to direct it. I am also going through a big Akira Kurosawa phase at the moment.
Which acting talent would you like to work with'
There is a whole collection of American actors I'd love to find a project to work on with, including Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. It's hard to come up with a theoretical list of people you would like to work with - in the end, it's about finding the right project. The truth is I would be more than happy to work with any of the actors I have already worked with.
Which recent films have you enjoyed'
I am a big fan of [Kimberly Peirce's] Boys Don't Cry. It is a very touching and honest film. The problem with having just finished working on a movie is that you have seen the same one a million times. I also liked Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother. I've been watching a lot of Kurosawa and I've just watched The Seven Samurai.
What film do you wish you could have directed'
I would have loved to have directed any of the Godfather movies, Raging Bull, Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy, or any of Zhang Yimou's films, such as Raise The Red Lantern. I would be happy to claim responsibility for any of those films. A couple of years ago someone came up to me to congratulate me on [Ang Lee's] The Ice Storm - which I would also like to have directed.