Abel Ferrara has defied convention all his life.
A filmmaker whose influences include Stanley Kubrick and Woody Allen, Ferrara has never been bound by genre convention working on everything from horror (The Driller Killer) to gangster movies (The Funeral) and even political satire (Welcome To New York).
Born in the Bronx to parents of Italian and Irish descent, the gritty realism found in much of his work is a reflection of his inner city New York upbringing and a filmmaking education that included a stint both behind and in front of the camera on a pornographic film.
Now living in Italy, having most recently directed Pasolini – a drama focusing on the director of the same name – Ferrara caught up with loaded to share some memories from his varied career to date.
Recalling Driller Killer being banned
“The film wasn’t made for children. Where I come from, you can watch what you want if you are adult. I understood the decision at the time but it seems irrelevant. I made it for an audience that existed.
“Texas Chainsaw Massacre had just made $70 million so we just figured that was where it was at. Those were the films of the era – no holds barred. I stand by the movie – it’s cool.
“A couple of years back, I said about the idea of a sequel as a joke and then the next thing I knew it was everywhere – the return of the driller killer!”
King of New York, Christopher Walken and Trump
“It was the first time I had worked with Christopher and he was everything I hoped he would be. As beautiful on the set as he is off it. This guy was just completely committed to the character and helped everyone up their game.
“That cast – Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, Steve Buscemi, David Caruso – these guys weren’t just great actors they were my friends. We grew up together but I chose them for a reason.
“King of New York was a reflection of the time though – crack wars and pre-Giuliani gang violence. Years later, when I heard Biggie Smalls reference the movie on a track it felt nice to know he had watched it. You make these films to share your expression and it seemed to cross boundaries and connect to a lot of different people.
“We actually shot one scene at Trump Plaza. No one is usually allowed to shoot there but they let us because Ivana Trump wanted a picture with Chris. They still charged us. I met Donald back the – he didn’t seem as crazy as he does now. But that’s my country – any body can be president. I just wish a few different people would try it.”
Bad Lieutenant, Bad Drugs And Harvey Keitel
“Harvey is from the actor’s studio. He had a real process and did a lot of great work with his acting coach Penny Allen who was a real inspiration on set.
“It was just a matter of allowing him to be free and feel confident and like he could trust me. Like Walken, he was pretty open – these guys came to rock.
“The infamous masturbation scene is just your typical power game. The film isn’t just about the abuse of power in the police force either– it’s about everybody. Absolute power corrupts.
“I was drinking a lot back then and doing drugs. I’m clean now but it took me a while to get there. What was going on on the screen was playing out in real life – it’s always like that for me. Life reflected. That’s what you feel when you watch the movie.”
“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans…all that stuff was whipped up out of nothing. the movie is what it is. The main gripe I had was with the producers. They made a lot of money off that movie but didn’t pass the profits on to a lot of people who didn’t make a dime on the first movie.
“I love Werner Herzog though and Nicolas Cage is going to be in my next film. Werner didn’t even think it would be called Bad Lieutenant 2 but that’s a whole other story…”
Body Snatchers and big budget demands
“I did and didn’t enjoy making Body Snatchers. It was a chance to work with a lot of money. But that came with it’s own special agony. We were working in the Hollywood system. It was tough but I stand by the film.”
“What kept me from not splitting that gig was that it was the fucking great original short story. We had $20 million and were able to do things we never had before. Would I do that sort of film again? Maybe if we had the final cut.”
Memories Of Chris Penn and The Funeral
“Chris Penn’s work speaks for itself but so does his death. I wish I could have helped him but I was just as messed up at the time. We both had a disease and it was addiction. I managed to conquer it though. Well, at least for today.
“It’s hard to describe what he was like. You had to know the guy. But you watch the film and you see him, his personality and what he is, up on the screen. It’s a magic place where the character meets the person. You just need the camera right there to get it.
“When you do it it seems simple. He couldn’t be anything but real. Whatever the gift is, he had it.”
Welcome To New York and Dominique Strauss Kahn
“I was in New York when all that shit with Strauss- Kahn happened so I decided to make another film about power and the abuse of power.
“But I’m in court over it now. I’m under indictment for defamation of character as a result of it. From the man himself too.
“I’ve not spoken to him about the film and I don’t intend to – he can talk to my lawyer. It’s going to be a free speech trial. I’m glad that didn’t happen with Driller Killer. I didn’t have enough money to go there anywhere.”
The Limited Edition Dual Format Blu-Ray + DVD SteelBook, and Special Edition Dual Format Blu-Ray + DVD of Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.