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Anthony Minghella  (Director - 'Cold Mountain') Anthony Minghella (Director - 'Cold Mountain')
'The English Director'

Anthony Minghella is a British writer-director, born in the Isle of Wight, England who, after writing for TV, turned director in 1990 and took the world by storm six years later with his version of 1996's 'The English Patient'. Minghella's directing skills, in fact, very soon outstripped his writing abilities and, although, partly due to his meticulous preparation, his film output looks likely to be restricted to one movie every three years, he looks set for a high profile film career.

He first came to prominence as a playwright, voted most promising writer of the year in 1984 by the London theatre critics. He won the best new play award two years later for Trade in Bangkok and, hoping to see it filmed, turned it into a screenplay. When nothing came of that, nor of other aborted collaborations for the cinema, Minghella decided to direct his own material and, with the help of Channel 4, did just that in 1990 with 'Truly Madly Deeply' (1991), a romantic and funny ghost story which received huge critical acclaim.

Minghella then made his first Hollywood movie, 'Mr Wonderful' (1993), which kept a fairly low profile at the box-office, despite some good reviews and sweet-natured performances from a strong ensemble cast that includes Matt Dillon, Annabella Sciorra, William Hurt, Mary-Louisen Parker and Vincent D'Onofrio. The balding, beaming and bearded Minghella then moved forward to an adaptation of the same Patricia Highsmith novel, 'The Talented Mr. Ripley' in 1999.

Following that, his latest film is 'Cold Mountain', starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law as a pair of lovers separated during the American Civil War.

How did you first encounter the novel? "I went on record as saying that I would never do another literary adaptation. A week later I was flying to Toronto to spend some time with Michael Ondaatje, who wrote 'The English Patient'. He handed me a novel called 'Cold Mountain', so I put it in my bag and I went home and when I got there, there were two FedEx parcels waiting for me and they were both 'Cold Mountain'. Then I got a call within a few days with somebody asking if I wanted the galley proofs of 'Cold Mountain' sent to me. So I assumed that this was some kind of augury."

The film is set in North Carolina but shot in Romania. Was that because Romania has the feel and look of another age? "I was heartbroken when we had to leave North Carolina because it's a book whose soul is about a particular place. But the reality is that if I could have gone back to North Carolina I wouldn't have done. What we found in Romania was something so consonant with the film and so beautiful and untrammelled. You drive past fields full of people scything the harvest. It really was like time travelling."

The romantic tension between Nicole Kidman and Jude Law is sustained through very few scenes, but was this an easy thing for a Director to accomplish? "When I was researching 'The English Patient' I kept reading about wartime romances and war brides. There's this strange thing that happens when death is close at hand - life becomes very urgent. It accelerates relationships. People cling to each other, they cling to life in the face of so much cruelty and death. It feels to me that in these periods, all of the volume controls are turned right up."

Nicole Kidman manages to look great even when she's at her lowest. How did that happen? "The thing that's so infuriating as a filmmaker is whatever you do to her she still looks beautiful. The costume designer Ann Roth came up with this idea that when Donald Sutherland's character dies, she simply gave the rack of Donald Sutherland's clothes to Nicole and said this is what you have, make them work. So for the rest of the film Nicole's using the remnants of her own clothes plus all of Donald's. As soon as she put them on, though, she looked as though she'd just stepped out of Prada! It was absurd!"

Interviewed by Jamie Russell

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