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Q&A: Peter Jackson, Master of Middle-Earth

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Do you think audiences were just a little freaked out, because it was so lifelike?
No, no, no. It's gonna be cool. When you see it playing, your initial thought is "Wow, it's different," and different is always something we have to get our heads around. But I've always been a guy who's had faith in myself. This isn't a decision that's driven by what audiences want. It's not driven by anything other than what I think is cool. If I think it's cool, the chances are, hopefully, that other people will too. I've always been happy to take a gamble on myself.

It's interesting that you say that, because you did gamble on yourself. Your path to being a director was an unusual one. You left high school at a very young age to go to work. Is this a course you'd recommend to other people?
I've always had a philosophy that if you want to be a filmmaker badly enough, there's nothing to stop you going out and grabbing a camera and making films. In my day it was a Super-8 camera, but obviously now it can be an iPhone. I've never really been one that's had much appreciation of film school. Obviously everyone is different, but I had a lot of kids coming to talk to me about wanting to be an apprentice, and people saying, "I badly want to make films. I want to direct films. Can I come and make tea for you?" And I'm saying, "Well, why do you want to make tea for me? You should just get a camera and shoot a film." It's almost a Darwinian kind of thing. Only the strongest are going to survive. If you really want to be one of those lucky ones that get to be filmmakers, you just gotta show how determined you are. You have to show how you're not gonna ask for anything. If you've got the talent, you're gonna manage to fight your way to a career, but it has to be a fight. If you don't have that fight, you shouldn't even be thinking about doing it in the first place.

So what keeps you motivated? There's no white whales for you anymore.
I just get excited about stories. I've always felt that I make movies for myself. I'm not somebody that has a great deal of interest in what the world wants to see. I have to get excited about a project myself and to the point that it becomes a film that I desperately want to see. So therefore I start the process of trying to make it so I can see it. It sounds a bit simplistic, but that's the heart of it. That's the truth.

Who do you enjoy as a filmmaker?
I get inspired when I see great films. It drives me. I love Spielberg's films, Scorsese, Jim Cameron. I've got pretty commercial sensibility. If I could meet a single filmmaker, it would be Buster Keaton. He's my favorite because he wrote and directed and obviously acted in his best films. I can watch Keaton films forever and still laugh.

What's it like working so closely with your wife, Fran Walsh? If I worked with my wife she would probably kill me. . . .
She's the only person who I ultimately, totally trust and believe would make the same decisions as me. Fran does an enormous amount of work that I can't do. She's a producer on the film as well as a writer. She's my partner in all sorts of ways. And I totally trust her instincts. Everything she chooses and decides is exactly the same as the decision I'd make. She's the only person I've ever met that I feel that safe with.

This story is from the December 20th, 2012 - January 3rd, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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