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ROBERT SIEGEL, host

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Many movie directors have a genre they return to again and again. For Alfred Hitchcock, it was suspense. For John Ford, the Western. For David Fincher, it's not so much a genre as a tone, and that tone can be summed up with one word - dark. For starters, he directed "Seven," starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as cops hunting serial killer Kevin Spacey.

(Soundbite of movie "Seven")

Mr. BRAD PITT (Actor): (As Detective Lieutenant David Mills) No!

Mr. KEVIN SPACEY (Actor): (As John Doe) She begged for her life, Detective.

Mr. MORGAN FREEMAN (Actor): (As Detective Lieutenant William Somerset) Shut up!

Mr. SPACEY: (As John Doe): She begged for her life -

Mr. FREEMAN: (As Det. Lt. William Somerset) Shut up!

Mr. SPACEY: (As John Doe) - and for the life of the baby inside of her.

Mr. FREEMAN: (As Det. Lt. William Somerset): No.

NORRIS: There's also "Zodiac," another serial-killer movie, and "Alien Three," about an alien - an alien serial killer. On a lighter note, Fincher directed this little movie about men who beat the tar out of each other as therapy.

(Soundbite of movie "Fight Club")

Mr. PITT: (As Tyler Durden) The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

NORRIS: That was Brad Pitt, who teams up with David Fincher again on his latest film, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." The film was a curious change of pace for Fincher. It's a love story.

(Soundbite of movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button")

Ms. CATE BLANCHETT (Actress): (As Daisy) You were born in 1918 - 49 years ago. I'm 43. We are almost the same age. We're meeting in the middle.

Mr. PITT: (As Benjamin Button) We finally caught up with each other.

NORRIS: Brad Pitt plays Benjamin Button, who's born an old man and ages backwards. The love of his life is Daisy, a fetching redhead played by Cate Blanchett. The two struggle to stay together, even as he gets younger while she grows older. It was this complicated romance that first got David Fincher's attention.

Mr. DAVID FINCHER (Director, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"): I just thought it was beautiful. I thought if you were going to make, you know, a Hollywood romance, this was the one to make, because it just sort of had this great tragic riptide.

NORRIS: You know, it's interesting when I hear you talk about Hollywood romance, because you have…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: You probably know where I'm going with this. You've directed some pictures that are visually stunning. But they're really, really dark. Have you always been a closet romantic?

Mr. FINCHER: No, it's not - I don't know. You want to do stuff that's different. And this was certainly something that was different. But it wasn't as though I was looking for, you know, a pallet cleanser. You read the script and you think, I'd love to see that movie or own that DVD. It's not a refutation of everything that's come before it, it's simply a step sideways.

NORRIS: Was this something, though, that grabbed you from the outset, just the concept of this - a man aging backwards?

Mr. FINCHER: Well, it's funny because the gimmick of the movie is, in some ways, for me, the least interesting part. You know, I think, if you said, it's about a man who ages in reverse and becomes Brad Pitt. I don't know how many people can relate to that. So, for me, this material and the script that I really was moved by was kind of the mundane nature of his experience and how putting him in these scenes that were suddenly made, you know - the first kiss and the first hangover and the first job - made you look at it in a different way.

NORRIS: Now, I know that you say that the gimmick was the least interesting part of the film for you. But a lot of filmgoers are going to wonder, how in the heck did he do that - the way that Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchet are aging in opposite directions? So, if you would engage in a little bit of show and tell, how did you do that?

Mr. FINCHER: Oh boy. You know, for the most part, it's silicon prosthetics that are glued to the face and painted. And then, you know, obviously for Brad's character, when Benjamin is five, he looks 85 on the outside. So, we did that with, you know, a number of different tricks including, you know, replacing his head with the CG head that Brad basically performs.

NORRIS: CG? For us civilians, what does that mean?

Mr. FINCHER: Oh, computer generated. The geometry of the face is all based on what we projected Brad would look like as an 80-year-old. And the eyes are modeled after Brad's eyes, and all the movement and all of the facial behaviors are stolen from high resolution facial capture data. So, it is him. It's just - it's him with very sunken cheeks and extra turkey flesh under his chin and wrinkles and less hair.

NORRIS: And someone else's body.

Mr. FINCHER: And someone else's body.

NORRIS: David, I understand that your father passed away while you were developing this film. And since this film is so much about the loss that comes with life - losing parents, losing friends, losing partners…

Mr. FINCHER: Yeah.

NORRIS: Losing a sense of self in some way. How did that present itself in this film? Was this exercise in some way cathartic for you?

Mr. FINCHER: No, I think it was - you know, we started looking at the possibility of making this movie before my father even knew he was sick. But - I mean, originally in the script, Cate Blanchett's final scenes took place in the Nolan(ph) house, in the same sort of old folks home that - where she had met Benjamin, where Benjamin had grown up. And, certainly, based on my experience of my father's illness at - and certainly his last night at Kaiser - a lot of, you know - I wanted to take that scene out of this idyllic place and put it in this place that I think a lot of people can identify with, you know, which is the final mundane, you know, professional environment where people go when they're terminal.

NORRIS: The hospital room.

Mr. FINCHER: Yeah, yeah.

NORRIS: Without all the lace.

Mr. FINCHER: Yeah, exactly.

NORRIS: Did you start to think about aging differently in the course of putting this together?

Mr. FINCHER: No, I think I thought about aging in a different way when my father was dying. You know, because don't think of your parents as being fragile until all of a sudden they are. You know, I would take him to chemotherapy or whatever, and you would see just how difficult it is to be ravaged by illness when you're in your 70s. But there are also, you know - I mean, I remember going to dinner with Helmut Newton. I think he was 82 or 83 at the time. And I couldn't keep up with them. I mean, he was - you know, he's just so alive and so - so, I mean, it can go either way.

NORRIS: I have one last question for you.

Mr. FINCEHR: Sure.

NORRIS: In early January, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is screening several of your films alongside movies that you've hand-picked as special influences. And you're going to be screening "Mary Poppins."

Mr. FINCHER: Oh, that was a big movie for me. I was -

NORRIS: David Fincher loves Mary Poppins?

Mr. FINCHER: I did as a child. I saw it many, many times. I think it was the first movie my parents took me to. My subsequent, you know, music video work, when I was in my 20s, you know, had a lot of rooftops and sunsets and stuff that was - in a lot of ways based on my early overexposure to Mary Poppins.

NORRIS: Oh, I hear a music queue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FINCHER: Chim-chiminey.

NORRIS: David Fincher, it's been wonderful to speak to you. Thanks so much for coming.

Mr. FINCHER: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "Chim Chim Cheree")

Ms. JULIE ANDREWS (Actress): (As Mary Poppins) (Singing) Chim chiminey, chim chiminey chim chim cher-ee. When you're with a sweep, you're in glad company.

Mr. DICK VAN DYKE (Actor): (As Bert) (Singing) Nowhere is there a more 'appier crew…

NORRIS: David Fincher, director of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

NORRIS: You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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