Q: Were you already an "expert" on Caesar before becoming involved with this project?
A: I became involved with CAESAR through my relationship with Uli Edel. We had already worked together on The Mists of Avalon, and we had a good rapport. We would sit in each other's hotel rooms, acting out scenes. We're both shameless hams. And it was great fun, so we were interested in doing something else together. I was no expert on Caesar, but I had always been fascinated by Greek mythology and I earned a masters in Greek myth and tragedy. But I had never gotten as far as Rome, which was great because I didn't feel intimidated. I had already written a few Greek tragedies (I use the term loosely), and I had such reverance for the Greeks that it was not always easy to write them. But Romans were new to me,
so I could have a bit of fun with them.
Q: What sources did you use for your research?
A: The main sources were Plutarch, Suetonius and Uli Edel. I include the director because he has such an epic vision and is such a history buff - it has always been difficult to pull him away from his pile of books. He is passionate about getting everything right. We would also watch movies for inspiration - Ben Hur, Spartacus - and read plays and biographies and source material written at the time, such as letters written by Caesar himself. Was it historically accurate? Well, when your most dubious material comes straight from the source, you realize how much of a fiction history actually is. Caesar had motives for embellishing and exaggerating in his letters - the main motive being self-glorification. If his Roman army vanquished
25,000 Gauls, he might add a zero to the end of that and say they were 250,000. He was one of the greatest self-publicists of all time. He knew how to win the people over - and public opinion mattered as much then as it does now.
Q: What type of man do you see Julius Caesar as, after doing so much research on his life?
A: He was limitlessly ambitious, daring and flawed. No one who could climb from languishing in obscurity to running the greatest empire in the history of the world could be expected to be a perfect father, a model husband or a nice guy. His behavior was obsessive and his ethics compromised. He had the soul of a poet and could hold a crowd in the palm of his hand. He was larger than life - half angel, half devil. He didn't walk on the same ground as most of the rest of us. He was a phenomenon, and he was a man, swinging from ecstasy to despair to vision to rage. His commitment to politics compromised his personal life, needless to say. But that's natural, I think. You have to choose the volume of your own life. You can't live at all volumes at once.
Q: What makes historical epics such great entertainment?
A: I recently saw a great Indian film that is very popular here in France, called Devdas. It wasn't historical, but it was epic (more than three hours), and it was about so many things. It showed you profound romantic love, unfathomable betrayals, curses and vengeances and promises broken and promises kept. It was enormous - like a Shakepeare play. And audiences love it! People love big stories. The emotions are enormous because the stakes are so high. No one is wondering who to call to have their couch reupholstered. They're wondering how to feed thousands, conquer nations and bed queens. The
decisions of a single man will affect the future of a race. The Greeks said a tragic hero had to live somewhere between gods and men. To represent an average man could be done only in comedy. The historical epic is one of the few modern forms in which one can explore the character of a person who was, in a sense, half-human and half-divine.