Exclusive Interview : Roger Donaldson


Director of “The World’s Fastest Indian”

In “The World’s Fastest Indian”, Oscar Winner Anthony Hopkins earns his racing stripes playing New Zealander Burt Munro, a man entered his self-made 1920 Indian motorcycle into the land-speed race at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967. CLINT MORRIS talks to the films director, Roger Donaldson.

Cocktail, Species, Dante’s Peak…..you’ve done some great chill-out no brainer films. Love ‘em.
Whatever movie I do, I go for it; I’m never cynical about the kind of movie that it’s going to be. I try and do them as well as I can. I only pick movies that I am interested in. You might say “We’ll what the hell was it about Species that interested you?” – well, it was a great opportunity to explore the whole Search for Extra Terrestrial Project, that Carl Sagan kind of started, and it was a chance to work with great actors like Ben Kingsley, Mike Madsen, Forest Whitaker and Marg Helgenberger.

The Recruit is another film of yours that is highly underrated.
Thank you. The Recruit is a film that I had a lot of fun making. Pacino is one of my all-time favourite actors. You look at every film he’s ever done – and he’s just brilliant as the characters he plays. Even if you don’t like the movie, you don’t get bored because of what Al’s doing in them. It was a very convoluted story, so it was a bit hard to follow, but if you sit through it twice it seems to come together a bit better than it did first-time round. I also enjoyed just researching that movie – I went to the C.I.A.

Dante’s Peak?
I started out as a Geology student in Ballarat so I was always interested in geology, and that was the character’s (Pierce Brosnan played in the film) passion too. I enjoyed making it – just playing with those special effects was great fun.

The World’s Fastest Indian marks the second time you’ve worked with Anthony Hopkins. How was it working with him again?
The one thing about Anthony is that he puts so much effort into the characters he plays, that he starts to become the character. We had a tough time making The Bounty, it was hard going, and we were ready to kill each other. In retrospect, it’s a film we’re both proud of and we’ve both mellowed somewhat. The experience of making this movie was the complete 180-degree of the last one.

It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Burt
It is. It was just a joy watching Tony reading out these words that I had written down – it was very satisfying.

Where did you discover the story?
Many years ago I was crazy about motorbikes and I had heard about this guy, so me and my partner – who I had a business with at the time – tracked him down. We went with him to America and shot a little documentary with him. The guy was just such an eccentric. He was naïve on one hand, and on the other hand, he was as wile as they come. He was genius with what he could do with a bit of metal – he made his own pistons and did fill in the cracks with boot polish – but he was a true eccentric.

How on earth did he ride that thing?
It was very hard – much harder than the one we built for the film. His was very high gear. All the things that happen in the movie like when he crashes it and when he gets third-degree burns – they all happened.

Did Anthony have to ride it?
Oh Yeah. He never had to really ride it as a bike, because it was unrideable really, but he was in there – we just towed him along with special rigs. I couldn’t get in there, let alone ride it.

How was it filming out in Utah?
Incredible. The Salt Lakes, where the land speed races take place, are really quite impressive. You’ve got to go and see speed week – it’s a spectacle. If you’ve got any interest in machinery, you’ve got to front up to see it. When you see cars doing over 400 mp/h – it really is incredible.

The supporting cast were great too.
The one thing you’ll notice about all of my films is that they all have great supporting casts – I make a big effort in casting those parts. I’ll see a hundred actors for one small part, even if he only has five lines in the picture, because I want to have the right guy.

Who played Jim Moffat in the film?
The guy that played Jim Moffat in the film is an old friend of mine is Chris Lawford, son of Peter Lawford. His uncle was JFK. He has just written a book about his life, he’s a great actor, and he was in Thirteen Days too.

You’re working with Anthony on something else now, aren’t you?
I don’t think that’s going to happen [now]. Instead, I’m working on a film that’s set in Ireland and I’d really love to do a film that’s set in Australia. I will put some effort into making that happen.

The Australian Film Industry seems to have found its legs again doesn’t it?
Yes, it does. There have always been good Aussie films out there, they just haven’t travelled. The Dish, for instance, is a film I love – I thought it would have travelled better.