Richard Zanuck: 'Chocolate Factory' and Beyond Celebrated film producer Richard Zanuck, whose latest movie is director Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, discusses his wide-ranging career and Hollywood today.
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Richard Zanuck: 'Chocolate Factory' and Beyond

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Richard Zanuck: 'Chocolate Factory' and Beyond

Richard Zanuck: 'Chocolate Factory' and Beyond

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are some of the headlines from stories we're following here today at NPR News. About 50,000 people gathered in Srebrenica on the 10th anniversary of a massacre. On July 11th, 1995, Bosnian Serb soldiers overran Srebrenica, killing some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. In Washington today, President Bush called on Congress to extend provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are set to expire at year's end. Some members of both political parties have criticized the law for undermining basic freedoms. Details on those stories and others later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION we'll focus on the debate over the extension of some provisions of the USA Patriot Act and talk with some members of Congress about the debate that's gonna be coming up there later this week.

And now, a pop quiz. We're gonna play you cuts from three different movies. You think of what they all have in common.

(Soundbite from "The Sting")

Mr. PAUL NEWMAN: Can't do it alone, you know. Takes some model guys like you and enough money to make them look good.

Mr. ROBERT REDFORD: Oh, I know plenty of guys.

Mr. NEWMAN: Not like playing winos in the street. You can't outrun a lot of them.

Mr. REDFORD: I never played for no winos.

Mr. NEWMAN: You got to keep his con even after you take his money. He can't know you took him.

Mr. REDFORD: You're scared of him.

Mr. NEWMAN: Right down to my socks, buster.

(Soundbite from "Jaws"; screaming)

(Soundbite from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory")

Unidentified Woman #1: Have you ever seen a single person going into that factory?

FREDDIE HIGHMORE: (As Charlie Bucket) There must be people working there.

Unidentified Woman #1: The only thing that comes out of that place is the candy. I'd give anything in the world just to go in that amazing factory.

Mr. JOHNNY DEPP: (As Willy Wonka) Dear people of the world. I, Willy Wonka, have decided to allow five children to visit my factory.

Unidentified Man #1: Five golden tickets have been hidden under the wrapping paper of five ordinary Wonka bars.

Unidentified Man #2: Wouldn't it be something, Charlie, to open a bar of candy and to find a golden ticket?

HIGHMORE: (As Charlie Bucket) But I only get one bar a year.

Unidentified Woman #2: Nothing's impossible.

Unidentified Man #3: You own Wonka's last golden ticket.

CONAN: Robert Redford and Paul Newman in "The Sting," assorted screams from "Jaws" and a cut from the soon-to-be-released "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The common thread: film producer Richard D. Zanuck. He's been behind some of the biggest hits in Hollywood, including "Driving Miss Daisy," "Cocoon," "The Road to Perdition," and there is no shortage of awards that accompanied those productions, including the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. That's only handed out at the Oscars. Richard Zanuck joins us now from NPR West to talk about his newest film and about his career.

Congratulations on the new picture, and welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. RICHARD ZANUCK (Producer): Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here.

CONAN: How do you pick your projects?

Mr. ZANUCK: I--there's no system. There's no principle that I use. I use--as corny as it sounds, I use my gut. I was told a long time ago by my father, he said, `Your gut is much more reliable in this business than your brain. The brain will tell you not to do it or find ways and reasons why it's not wise to make a certain project. But if you have that feeling in your gut to go ahead with it, that's the one that's the most reliable.'

CONAN: Richard Zanuck's father, of course, was the great filmmaker Darryl Zanuck. And you studied to some degree at his knee.

Mr. ZANUCK: Literally at his knee, at his toe actually. I was practically born and raised at 20th Century Fox studio, started to work there selling papers when I was around seven years old, and every summer vacation from school I would work in a various department at the studio. So I was an old-timer when I was 15.

CONAN: But it can't have been easy to be a great man's son.

Mr. ZANUCK: It was very easy.

CONAN: Really?

Mr. ZANUCK: I mean, all kinds of doors at the studio were open to me, and when I sold papers I got enormous tips which I had to give back. It was very easy. It wasn't easy once I started running 20th Century Fox. There were a lot of eyebrows raised, and it wasn't easy, that transition, because, you know, I had big fill--shoes to fill and I was very young, 27. But I think I convinced most people right off the bat with "The Sound of Music," which was the first major picture produced under my administration.

CONAN: I think it may have made a dollar or two. You say you make--you pick your projects based on your gut. Well, every once in a while, of course, your gut responds to something like "Driving Miss Daisy" and Oscar-winning picture results. What--is there--what's the worst idea you've ever heard pitched?

Mr. ZANUCK: The worst idea? I...

CONAN: The worst idea.

Mr. ZANUCK: I'm the pitcher. I pitch ideas to other people, so you'd have to probably get more accurate information from somebody who's sitting behind a studio desk today listening to ideas. I think there is--I can't nominate the worst idea. You know, there's all kinds of bad ideas as well as great ideas. They're just flowing out there like a waterfall, and you just have to be selective and see what your instinct tells you is right and wrong.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Well, looking back, I mean, obviously, there have been many tremendous successes, but looking back, have there been times when you've said, `Well, you know, maybe that wasn't such a great idea?'

Mr. ZANUCK: But it's always in retrospect. It's al--when you're doing a film, it's your film and it's, you know, your blood and--is in it along with everybody else's, and it's the greatest picture ever made when you're shooting it. It's only after the critics and then the public say you were wrong that you realize that you were wrong. But, you know, we don't have crystal balls, so it's not that easy to know what an audience is going to enjoy a year from the time we make the decision.

CONAN: We're talking with legendary Hollywood producer Richard Zanuck. If you'd like to join us, (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. E-mail us:

We have a call from Fred in Philadelphia.

FRED (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hello. You're on the air, Fred.

FRED: Hello?

CONAN: Yes, you're on the air. Go ahead.



FRED: It's so wonderful...

CONAN: And again, if you'd like to join us, the number is (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK, and the e-mail address is

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" comes out later this week. Of course, it's the follow-on to a--well, how is it related to "Willy Wonka"?

Mr. ZANUCK: It--"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was the title of Roald Dahl's classic book. A picture was made called "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," which used the basic idea of Roald Dahl's book, but strayed away to a large extent. They made a musical out of it, where actors were singing to one another. And we've gone back--Tim Burton has gone back to the original material and to the original title of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

CONAN: And it's obviously not singing in this regard, but you're also talking about two really interesting actors. The first Willy Wonka, if you will, a man everybody's come to love, and Johnny Depp as the second. How did the different visions of that role come through?

Mr. ZANUCK: Well, I can't speak for Gene Wilder's vision. He was wonderful in the picture. He was the picture as far as I was concerned. And Johnny Depp puts a whole new interpretation on the character, a fresh interpretation. He didn't want to copy Gene Wilder, who was so wonderful. He wanted to do his own Willy Wonka and add his own personality to it, and you really have to see the picture, appreciate the talent of Johnny Depp and the courage of Johnny Depp of taking a part that is a very eccentric one and pushing it right to the edge, as he does in many of his parts. And it's a lot of fun.

CONAN: How has technology changed--I guess you could question whether this is a remake or not, but nevertheless, there's a whole lot of kids in this country who have videotape or a DVD of the old "Willy Wonka." They've already seen it 800 times. This is the same thing true with, I guess, "Planet of the Apes," which you also were involved in, the originals and the remake of that. How has technology changed that?

Mr. ZANUCK: Well, it's not so much technology as it is scope. Our picture has enormous scope. We have a chocolate river flowing that is real. It's not a blue screen that actors are standing in front. It's a real river, a real active waterfall. We pushed, you know, tons and tons of gallons of chocolate substance through this waterfall. It's all real. So it's not really technology so much that has changed in terms of this picture as much as it is the scope and the size of it. We have real squirrels that we trained for five months in a squirrel training school, if you can believe that.

CONAN: You're kidding.

Mr. ZANUCK: No, no. And when you see the picture, all of the tighter shots as close-ups are trained squirrels, and they're amazing. So this is a whole fresh, new, much larger, more entertaining in my estimation, than in the first picture. Anybody who--any child who saw the first picture who reveres it is gonna like this more.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail talking about remake or sequels: `I can't think of a movie'--this from Sue Lewindowsky(ph), by the way. `I can't think of a movie I admired more than "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting." Why was there never a sequel to either? The ending left it to our imaginations with the two leads going out in a blaze of glory in "Butch Cassidy," but maybe they didn't get blown away. Now that Paul Newman and Robert Redford are so much older, maybe there could be young stand-ins. The story could be told in retrospect.' Any idea of following on either of those pictures?

Mr. ZANUCK: Not by me. I'd love to work with Newman and Redford. As a matter of fact, I've sent them something rather recently to play at their age. It's very fun and very telling, and I'm waiting to hear back. But they're a great combination, those two, and they worked--actually in many respects I considered "The Sting" a sequel in a way with--to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" because the personalities of those characters were very much attuned.

CONAN: We're talking with producer Richard Zanuck. His new picture, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," opens later this week. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get a caller on the line. This is Mark. Mark's calling from Jacksonville.

MARK (Caller): Mr. Zanuck, it's an honor to talk to you, and I kind of have something negative to say, so please forgive me. But I know whether--and this is regards to the "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" movie, and it's a movie I really, really have wanted to see. I've been listening to all the stories about it for the last year or so. Just started seeing the previews in the theaters here in the last month or two, and I know other companies usually do your trailers and previews, and I'm not the only one to have brought this up. Actually someone pointed this out to me. But every time I've seen a preview and Johnny Depp is on the screen, he looks like he's doing a really bad Michael Jackson impersonation, and it really turns me off about wanting to see the movie. Now I'm gonna go see the movie regardless, but have you noticed this? Was this intentional? Is this the tone of the character he plays? Is that the--it's just really odd.

Mr. ZANUCK: No, not at all. You know, if you take that one step further and really think it through, Michael Jackson loved and loves children. Willy Wonka in the book and in the movie really doesn't like children at all.

CONAN: No, he doesn't.

Mr. ZANUCK: He's just invited them to the factory, and when you see the movie, when they go touch him or anything, he's almost repelled by them. And it's only through the course of the movie that we find that his heart really goes out to Charlie, who's the most innocent of the five kids. There's no--other than a physical resemblance, there's no resemblance in character. And physical resemblance really--the whiteness of his face--he's been in the factory for 15 years, never come out, dealing only with the Oompa Loompas. His hair is curled. We knew that he had to wear a hat most of the picture, so we didn't want to pull his hair straight back like he did in "Pirates of the Caribbean." But the look--I never once--nor did Tim--ever speak to Johnny about Michael Jackson. That look has come out, and once you see the picture, you'll appreciate it's a totally different character.

MARK: OK. Well, I wish you every success. Thank you.

Mr. ZANUCK: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Mark.

E-mail question, and this from Craig Cashell(ph): `There are so many movies being remade these days. Are there too few new ideas or are organizations not willing to back new ideas?'

Mr. ZANUCK: Well, I think you're right. I think you're absolutely right. I think the executives at the studios today realize that it's easier and safer to go the--to some known territory which is a remake of a successful film. It's less chancy than taking a fresh idea. As a producer, this disappoints me because most of the stories that I do are original ideas and they're smaller ones, not big summer spectaculars such as "Charlie," which I do adore. I think it's a wonderful, wonderful picture, one of the finest I've ever been associated with. But there is a paucity of original thinking, and the easiest way out is to, `Let's do that again.'

CONAN: Hmm. What does a producer actually do?

Mr. ZANUCK: Everything. He hires everybody. He is, like I'm doing now, selling the picture. He's the first one on with the idea in most cases. He hires the director, hires the writers. They all work together and make sure that a team is surrounding the director that will give him the support, build the sets, cast the picture properly. He's involved in every aspect of the film from the beginning until the very end.

CONAN: And I suspect may talk to a couple of bankers involved.

Mr. ZANUCK: The studios are the bankers and I'm, you know, constantly in touch on bended knee with them.

CONAN: Obviously you used to run a studio. It's a very different relationship, isn't it?

Mr. ZANUCK: Totally different, and I think one of the things that makes it easier for me is that I was there. I ran 20th Century Fox for nine years, so I know the mentality and the thinking that goes on on that side of the desk, and now for many years I've been a producer so I understand both sides, and it makes it easier for me and makes it easier for me to deal with directors and studios alike.

CONAN: Well, good luck with the new picture. Appreciate it.

Mr. ZANUCK: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Richard Zanuck joined us today from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, California. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" opens, as they say, at a theater near you later this week.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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