Alejandro G. Iñárritu: Hollywood’s King of Pain
Late one afternoon in November, only two days after wrapping up final post-production tweaks on his sixth film, The Revenant, the director Alejandro González Iñárritu walked into a screening room at the corner of Alfred Hitchcock Drive on the Universal Studios lot in Universal City, California. He was dressed entirely in black, his typical uniform – today, a couture-looking hoodie with extraneous silver zippers, worn over black jeans – and he greeted the assembled audio crew with fist bumps and apologies for his tardiness. He’d driven up from his production office in Santa Monica, where he also lives, and hit traffic, which he normally avoids by zipping around town on a Vespa. Somebody got him a Coke.
Iñárritu, 52, moved to Los Angeles from Mexico City, his hometown, after the wholly unexpected global success of his first film, 2000’s Amores Perros, which in English roughly translates as “love’s a bitch” – U.S. distributors eventually decided to stick with the Spanish title – and which convinced him to leave the safe confines of the Mexican film community, where he’d spent years as a highly successful director of TV commercials, building a production company with more than 100 employees, and make the move to the big leagues, to Hollywood. When would the timing possibly be better?
He landed at LAX with his wife and two children four days before September 11th, 2001. “All the neighborhoods started getting all these flags,” Iñárritu says, speaking in heavily accented English. On two occasions, walking his dog, he was stopped by police officers. The cops told Iñárritu, whose swarthy complexion had earned him the nickname “El Negro” back in Mexico City, they’d received calls about a suspicious character in the area, that he needed to show them exactly where he lived.
Today, Iñárritu is listening to audio mixes of The Revenant for theaters outfitted with Dolby Atmos surround-sound. “Every time they invent a new fucking system, we have to do a new test,” Iñárritu says with a sigh. “Pretty soon we’ll have sounds coming out of our asses.” The day before, he’d been to a similar test for the IMAX version of the picture. “Sitting too close to the screen, it’s almost disturbing,” he says. “They’ll need to give the audience bags to vomit.”
Iñárritu, we should note, utters all of these lines quite cheerily. He still curses in English with the mirth of a non-native speaker testing unfamiliar idioms, all of his “fuckings” pronounced with more care than other words and delivered with an unjaded relish. When Iñárritu smiles – perhaps because his smiles always seem tinged with irony – his face, thin, with pronounced cheekbones, a mustache and a slightly tufted goatee, assumes a sly, devilish cast. With minimal wardrobe and makeup adjustments, he could play the heavy in an after-school special about the dangers of Satanism.
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