IN THE COMPANY OF MEN has been praised for its novel treatment of the classic love triangle. What were the origins of the screenplay?
"Let's hurt somebody." That line of dialogue was the first idea in my mind. I was attracted to the notion of premeditated agony conflicted on someone. I believe that you can kill characters only once, but you can hurt them every day. My model for the screenplay was restoration comedy. The script has a five-act structure and is centered around wealthy, blasé characters who do unspeakable things just because they feel like it. It's a simple story: boys meet girl, boys crush girl, boys giggle.
It's difficult to classify IN THE COMPANY OF MEN into a traditional genre. How do you feel about referring to the film as a black comedy?
The film does have a lot of laughs. Then the situation turns vicious. I love the idea of pulling people in and then turning on them. For instance, seducing them into thinking that the character of Chad is amusing and even charming, only to leave them shocked when they discover later just how much of a viper he really is.
Do you think that the retro-sexism seen in the film is becoming increasingly more present in today's society?
I don't think that sexism necessarily ever went away at all. Of course, during the past 20 years we've started to overcome those archaic notions about a "woman's place." But at the same time, I think it is ludicrous to think that people who are better educated are likely to be less sexist or racist. Old tricks die hard. An education often refines hatred. A lot of people in the 80's and 90's have picked up a couple of diplomas, but it hasn't changed their overall moral structure.
Did you have particular reasons for choosing the business world as the environment for IN THE COMPANY OF MEN?
That sort of nameless, faceless corporate environment seemed to me the ideal setting for Chad and Howard to pull off their scam. Modern offices can be so compartmentalized with those horrible, carpeted half-barriers which seem to turn workers into numbers.
Were you trying to paint a portrait of an amoral, uncaring contemporary society?
In the corporate world, people tend to adapt a siege mentality. Today's business philosophies are comprised of just a few catch phrases -- 'take control,' 'watch your back,' 'go for it.' After a 16 hour work day, it's hard to shift gears and become a person again, to realize things like 'love' are not commodities and 'it's okay to lose.'
It always seemed more potent to let Chad get away with everything. That gives the film a punch at the end that some people are taken aback by. We live in a "cause and effect" world. We tend to carry this idea over into movies. For many viewers, it's just not fair that Chad gets away.
Has the scene in which Chad forces a young African-American intern to literally show that he "has the balls" for the job received controversial reactions?
Yes, some viewers have been taken aback by how Chad's desire for humiliation and control actually force the intern into doing what he does. I think most are surprised by the degree to which the scene goes. It keeps notching itself up further and further. It starts with the general degrading of someone on a cultural level and then moves on to a sexually-specific humiliation. I wanted to show the breadth of Chad's anger, hatred and need to control in every scene and with every kind of person. Chad's venom is not limited to any kind of person.
What kind of reactions to the film are you receiving from women?
Well, first of all, their reactions have been as varied and unpredictable as those of men who have seen the film, and they really run the gamut. It would be ridiculous to say that women who have seen the film have some sort of blanket, uniform reaction to it. Although one woman who I spoke to really despised the characters to the point that her reaction to them carried over to her reaction to the film as a whole, another told me it was the most feminist film she had ever seen. It's not really my place to say who's "right" or "wrong" in what they feel the film is trying to say. The film is not a soap-box lecture on the current state of anything. I think it's more of a cinematic inkblot test. Everybody watches the same images and listens to the same words, but what people get from it differs wildly and depends entirely on what they bring to it. People seem to love analyzing other people's reactions to the film, but many people would be just as well served by analyzing their own.
Do you think that the character of Chad reassures men by making them feel they're not as bad as he is?
Possibly. But not everyone is completely turned off by Chad. His character is not without charm. Some might even admire him for the audacity of what he does. So much of that has to be credited to the performance and steely assurance of Aaron Eckhart, the actor who plays Chad.
What was the purpose of making Christine deaf?
Words are weapons for both Chad and Howard. For that reason, it was more interesting for Christine to have a difficulty with the power of speech. By being deaf, she's not just being preyed upon as a woman. She's a sympathetic character, but she never asks for any kind of pity. That seems to put people off guard. They think just because she's deaf that she's going to be more fragile. In fact, she is outgoing and strong.
Although Howard becomes a victim of Chad's plan to "restore dignity" into the two men's frustrated lives, isn't his character just as despicable?
I personally have more disgust for Howard. He gets into a situation that he could have avoided. There are moments where he could redeem himself and he doesn't. He ends up saying far worse things to Christine than Chad ever does.
What messages were you trying to send out about the film's issues?
I never set out to make the film a statement about any one particular theme and hopefully everyone will carry away something different. A film like this would have done itself a disservice if it had tied things up in a simple package. The film is certainly meant to raise more questions than answers. I feel no obligation to answer any of those questions.
Isn't that a dangerous stand as a filmmaker?
It can be. If a writer-director decides not to reveal and simply to present, he runs the risk of being questioned on his personal ethics and moral base.
It's difficult to place the film in any particular year. How do you explain this?
I'm intrigued by minimalism and I wanted the look of the film to have an antiseptic and timeless feel. The business world has looked relatively the same since the 50s, turning it into a bit of a cliché, so I tried stylistically to be very timeless. The men wear nondescript white shirts and ties. I didn't use a lot of outdoor shots. I shot about 75 percent of the interiors in the Lincoln Tower, an art deco building which was a model for the Empire State Building. It helped add to the film's timeless feel.
What was your primary concern during the shoot?
I just wanted to tell the story. For my first feature, I had no intention of trying to include everything I ever thought of doing in film. There are no complicated camera moves. I prefer visuals driven by the story. I like actors and I like long takes. I like the idea of just sitting back and watching, almost voyeuristically, what's going on between the characters.