When Merchant passed away in 2005, the future of the prestigious production company was called into question. But Ivory returns to arthouses once again this week with 'The City of Your Final Destination,' an adaptation of Peter Cameron's 2002 novel of the same name. James Ivory -- the thrice Oscar-nominated director of 'A Room With a View,' 'Howard's End,' and 'Remains of the Day' -- has created some of the most stylish and elegant films of the last 25 years. With co-producer and partner Ismail Merchant, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Ivory is the rare filmmaker whose productions -- literary tales set in different pockets of the globe and known simply as "Merchant Ivory films" -- are practically their own subgenre.
When Merchant passed away in 2005, the future of the prestigious production company was called into question. But Ivory returns to arthouses once again this week with 'The City of Your Final Destination,' an adaptation of Peter Cameron's 2002 novel of the same name.
'City of Your Final Destination' tells the story of a young grad student (Omar Metwally) hoping to write the biography of a reclusive author who has committed suicide. But first, he must travel to Uruguay and convince the writer's widow (Laura Linney), mistress (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother (Anthony Hopkins) to grant him permission, struggling with family secrets and temptations along the way. Ivory sat down with Moviefone to discuss shooting his first film after losing his long-time partner and the struggles that came with filming 'City.'
What drew you to the story of 'The City of Your Final Destination'?
All those one-on-one confrontations which were so wittily written. I like things like that. Secondly, the fact that it would need to be made in South America. The attraction of going to South America was really one of the big things.
This is the first Merchant Ivory film since Ismail's passing. He once referred to you, himself, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's relationship as a three-headed monster. Has the creative relationship between you and Ruth changed?
Well we don't have Ismail there to question, to reassure, he's not there to collaborate with. He was our closest collaborator, and he was the person needed and hoped to please with everything we did. We hadn't done anything since the time he died, except for the reworking of the scenes that we shot in Montreal, you can call them the American scenes. In reworking [them], it was really the first time that Ruth and I had worked together since Ismail died. But it all went quite well. There's no change in the way we worked.
Did you feel like your confidence level was affected in any way?
Absolutely. Some very mysterious things happened; things to do with banks and loans. Financiers just disappeared. He was used to dealing with those kinds of events, and I had never had to before. I felt able to finish off the film, do whatever I had to do as the director, and get the film done and out -- I had already done that on 'The White Countess.' But 'The White Countess' was a studio film, it was financed by Sony, so I didn't have those kinds of fears. This was another matter and I had to deal with a lot of stuff I hadn't dealt with before. Still having to deal with.
Anthony Hopkins sued Merchant Ivory in October, 2007, accusing you of failing to pay him for his part in 'City.' What is the latest on that legal situation with Anthony Hopkins?
He's doing press as we speak in Los Angeles. That all was taken care of. We couldn't pay him. Nothing to hide. When we left Argentina, we were beginning to run out of money, and he had come to work and finished, and naturally he wanted to be paid, but we didn't have any money to pay him with.
Even though you've worked with him extensively on multiple projects, has the legal drama changed your relationship with him at all?
No, it hasn't. Oddly. [Laughs]
How were your experiences filming in South America?
We were working out in the country, about 90 miles south of Buenos Aires, in what is really the Pampas. It was along the gigantic river between the two countries of Argentina and Uruguay. It was hot, I can tell you that. Both houses are right on the water. It was quite a relaxed shoot. Occasional car crashes. [Actor] Hiro Sanada was in a car crash, the car turned over twice and he was left hanging upside down; luckily he was all strapped in.
Have you already started planning your next project?
Oh yeah. There's an American project, that's set in Iowa, that's based on two books by [Pulitzer Prize winner] Marilynne Robinson. That's called 'Gilead.' And then there's another one, it takes place at the same time with the same people, called 'Home.' We're going to put those two books together and come up with a film. I'm also doing another project, which is a long-time project that I've been working on for years -- a film of Shakespeare's 'Richard II.'
Looking back, are there any projects of yours that you feel were underrated?
'Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.' That's one of my really all-time favorites and it was certainly very well-received but it didn't go down with the public I think; they probably didn't like to see Paul Newman play a part like that. Probably went against their idea of Paul Newman. And he was underrated in that film. I thought what he did was just marvelous.
You pull from a lot of literary and biographical sources. What draws you to that?
Let's say the literary and biographical sources are in themselves auto-biographical. I don't always know it at the time, but I wouldn't be choosing some of this material if it didn't already resonate me with on some unseen kind of way. When it's all done, I realize sometimes that I've been, or that we all have been creating our own three-part autobiography out of our films. They're full of our interests and the stuff that was meaningful to us in different kinds of ways, and in some cases deeply psychological. Sometimes it's just for the sheer possibility of enjoying making something . 'Howard's End' was something like that. I hadn't thought to make 'Howard's End' and Ruth said "OK, you've made two other E.M. Forster books, sort of minor works, why don't you do a great E.M. Forster book, and climb a mountain?" So we did. But years after I've made a film, for some reason watching it, I think "Oh, that's what it was all about. That's what I was thinking. That's why I made it."