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In Oliver Stone’s America, the documentary included with the DVD box set of your films, you say, “I’ve always admired Alexander because of the momentum and the speed with which he traveled and conquered. In my small metaphoric way, I would say the countries were films, and I moved through them like him . . . he’s striking everywhere. I think it was great. We had a great run. But it’s definitely a new phase.” Is Alexander the figure you most closely identify with?
I am a Method director to a certain degree. I do become part of what I shoot. And I think with Alexander, the perception is of hubris, certainly — “Alexander the Great? Who the fuck is he? He thinks he’s Alexander.” I could see that coming. But I always knew who Oliver Stone was. I never lost track of that. And I made the film humbly, in 94 fucking days on three continents. I ran the crew like I always run the crew. Nothing changed in my habits. I walked in the deserts, we shot in a sandstorm once, and it was the same old Oliver who did Salvador. Hubris is taking 110 days on some stupid comedy. That’s an insult to filmmaking the way I was raised. I’m sticking to NYU principles, and I still do to this day. Movies are a tradition; we didn’t invent it — we take it from somebody else and pass it on.
But with Alexander, you faced a challenge like you’ve never faced before, because no matter how bruising the attacks on JFK and Nixon, your core audience was always still with you. For whatever reason, Alexander failed to connect with an audience.
Yeah. In America.
In America. I don't wish to judge it; this is an empirical observation.
No, it didn't connect. Alexander is the high point of my life, and it always will be. I’m not asking for universal love on that; it’s just impossible. It’s not paced to the American style, nor is he a conventional hero. He’s filled with doubts. But Alexander is a beautiful story, and I think I did him well. I mean, I wouldn’t have released it [otherwise]. But I can’t give up; I would never give up. I would be all wrong in my assessments of myself as I work. You have to hear your own self, follow your own drama, or whatever Thoreau said long ago at Walden Pond. [“Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour.”] Alexander was a huge setback for me, and it certainly hurt me in this business. But you have to understand that people have been saying bad things about me for years. I don’t listen; I have to try to keep going.
I don’t want to make specious connections, but you’ve had several high-profile drug arrests in the last few years. Before that, you were making supernihilist films in an edgy, frenetic style. I'm wondering if these are all moving parts of the same phenomenon.
I’ve smoked dope and drunk alcohol most of my life, okay? Getting pulled over and arrested is a fault, it’s a mistake — a wake-up call. I did get busted a couple of times. One was at a roadblock, so it’s not like I was endangering anybody’s life. The other time, I got pulled over by a civilian cop; I was actually busted for driving too slow. And when the tests came back, I was below the intoxication level. Nobody knows that, because it never got published that way. I should get a chauffeur is what I fucking should do. [Laughs.]
But nobody cares if you smoke pot. They care if it affects the work, if it’s part of a larger problem.
Okay, but I don’t feel bad. I got heavier, physically, at certain points, and I think that gives the appearance of degradation, like Jim Morrison. But I did have a pre-diabetic condition through my mother, and I was on too much sugar. Any Given Sunday, I love that movie, but it was more effort than you think — it was like a three-ring circus, to make five football games in five stadiums work. It took so much energy. There were some problems with the crew on that film. So by the end of that movie, my doctor said I was too stressed, and at my age it was dangerous. There were some issues of medications and stuff, no question about it. But sports people love that movie. With Alexander, there’s a fan site where there are people who have seen it 50 times. They go to the sites in Macedon. They love the romanticism of it. So it’s confusing to me. I’ve tried every fucking time to get it right, even if I haven’t been in my best physical shape. I will get it right. Not everyone is going to agree with me, but I’m going to get it right.