A Conversation with Spike Lee

Spike Lee, wearing bright red glasses, photographed in March 2006. i i

hide captionSpike Lee, photographed in March at the New York premiere of his film.

Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images
Spike Lee, wearing bright red glasses, photographed in March 2006.

Spike Lee, photographed in March at the New York premiere of his film.

Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images
Spike Lee with Clive Owen and Denzel Washington on the set of 'Inside Man.'

hide captionSpike Lee with Clive Owen and Denzel Washington on the set of 'Inside Man.'

Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

After making four films with Denzel Washington, director Spike Lee sums up their relationship this way:

"Not a lot of need for a whole lot of talk."

But Lee does talk at length with Scott Simon about Washington and their latest film Inside Man, which also features a star-studded supporting cast: Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Plummer and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

It's not the sort of Spike Lee film cinema observers have come to expect. First off, it's a thriller. And the $45 million budget shows just how far Lee has come since he produced She's Gotta Have It for $175,000 in 1985. That film made $8.5 million, and Lee has never looked back.

Lee has made a passle of powerful movies, from Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues and Jungle Fever to Malcolm X and He Got Game. Most bristle with commentary on race and other social issues. Inside Man doesn't ignore those themes, but it's not really a chin-in-your-face work.

But never fear: Next up for Lee is a documentary on the disaster in New Orleans. The working title is When the Levees Broke. It's being done for HBO. It should premiere around the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, in late August.

Lee's past documentary work is some of his best. Get On the Bus captured the spirit of the Million Man March. Four Little Girls told the story of the church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that left four young women dead and helped galvanize the civil rights movement.

Expect a piercing look at response to the floods, which he feels presented "one of the most important moments in American history." Clearly, he feels the government was found wanting.

"What's happened down there is unprecedented," he says. "This country has forever been going to the far corners of the earth to help other people in need... When this occurred here on U.S. soil, this government turned its back on its own citizens."

Issues of race, and social commentary. Sounds like a Spike Lee film.

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