Oliver Stone On Castro, Cruise, Kilmer and More

He's the democratic Director that Hollywood and the neo-cons love to hate, here he talks about the cast of characters who have illuminated his life and work.
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Robert Downey Jr

"Sometimes you give somebody a call and it pays off, and that's the way it was with Robert. My films are like laboratories. You take people and put them up against situations and just see how they react.  That goes for the characters, but it goes for the actors and crew too. I like to use people I'm initially not sure about. Can they do it? It adds to the excitement of making the film. Stars seem to like it because it makes them work harder. And Robert was terrific for Natural Born Killers. He has the charisma of a Jim Morrison, and he obviously feels a lot for people... he's very sensitive to the life of his character. With him it worked, but it doesn't always, and I wondered if he might screw it up."

Fidel Castro

"I spent some time with him for the documentary film, Comandante. It was strange. When we met there was this same energy there always is, where you don't know how it's going to work out, and then he just leaned over to me and made some lewd crack, and that was it. He was fun. I mean, he struck me as a straight up guy. And that's not to say I don't think he lied some, or even a lot of the time. But, hey, he's a politician eventually. Is he lying? You tell me. I just operated the camera."

Tom Cruise

"He said to me, 'You should be glad that the Hollywood establishment don't like you. Because when they like you, you know you're doing something wrong.' There was not a lot of enthusiasm for Born On The Fourth of July in Hollywood. And then Tom said yes, and when Tom said yes, things became easy. That's the power of the star in Hollywood. Even then, there was some criticism, because to them Tom was just a film star, not an actor. But he is. There's a lot of depth to him. It was a brave choice for him to make."

Pamela Morrison

"How I co-wrote with Jim Morrison, ha ha! Actually, this sends chills up my spine. Something strange happened to me, and Jim's wife Pamela was at the centre of it. When Jim was alive, I wrote a script which I sent to him in Paris. I dreamed, as you tend to at that young age, my idol might play the lead role. Then I heard, pretty much the day I thought it would have got to him, that Jim had died. I was shattered. But then years later, when I was preparing for The Doors, I had a meeting with Pamela. She just walked into the office and threw this folder on the table. It was my script that I'd sent Jim, with his annotations and scribbles on it. He'd been going over it, and it was one of the last things he read before he died that day."

Val Kilmer

"When I got him to do The Doors, I didn't realise just how much Val wanted to get inside Jim Morrison. We'd sit and just listen to records together, partly to get them right but party because there was something we shared that moved both of us. We worked through the way Jim sang, the way he looked, the way he moved, and I really felt this was something we connected on. People criticised the film because they felt I wanted to be Morrison, to tell it from his viewpoint, but that was a just a by-product of the way he haunted us. You see Val when he's there onstage in the film, and I don't care what anybody says, that is not just 'acting'. There's something deeper going on there... whether he wanted to be a rock star or he was sort of hypnotised by it, I don't know. But on set, he was... possessed."

Castro struck me as a straight up guy. And that's not to say I don't think he lied some, or even a lot of the time. But, hey, he's a politician eventually. Is he lying? You tell me. I just operated the camera.

The Doors

"The guitarist, Robbie Krieger, and the drummer, John Densmore, were good people; they visited the set of The Doors and helped out wherever they could. Ray Manzarek, the keyboard player, was... I don't even want to say that word. He did everything he possibly could to disrupt things. First he wanted to rewrite everything in the script. Then he wanted to write the script period. Whatever was being done, he wanted things doing differently. It was all I could do to be polite. We would hope that he just wouldn't turn up because we all knew that if he showed, the whole day would become The Ray Fucking Manzarek Story. In the end I actually had engineer ways of distracting him, trying to keep him away from the damn script. "Look over there, Ray!" Ha ha!"

Ron Kevin

"The inspiration behind Born On The Fourth of July, and the bravest guy I ever met. When he and Tom Cruise and I held the Academy Award up the night we won, it was really for him. I mean, I know a lot of critics don't like my films. I wish it didn't get to me the way it does. Some people say it doesn't affect them - and good for them - but they must have a core of steel. So I guess the Academy was also the forces of conservatism rewarding Ron's bravery, belatedly. Nobody would touch that movie at first. But we fought hard to get it made. We felt like it was two lone swordsmen at times. We became close through standing up for it together."

Yasser Arafat

"Like all politicians above a certain level, he's open and not open. There's a lot of people surrounding Arafat, a lot of people you have to get to know and work with and hope they trust you. You can be right on the point of getting access to him and then something happens - you won't ever know what it was - and it's off again. I interviewed him in Ramallah for a documentary on world conflicts - not looking for a scoop, just looking for the human side - and he'd heard I'd already met with a series of Israeli leaders. He was... well, strangely, very similar to Fidel Castro in some respects. He's easy to talk to. And he's approachable once you're with him. These leaders you meet, like him, like Castro, there is always a similarity about them. You believe they are sincere, yet you also know that they have their agenda. He wasn't talking to me because he likes talking."

Senator George McGovern

"The man who stood, and lost, against Nixon in '72, written about by Hunter S Thompson, and something of a Democrat hero. I met him when I went to a conference to speak on human rights and he was on good form. He gave me another perspective on some problems I had with JFK, the way the forces of conservatism - some call it The Man, I used to call it The Beast - lined up against the making of that film. People agreeing to talk, then clamming up. People leaving town when they hear you want to meet them. We laughed a lot. He said to me, "Christ, people criticised JFK because they didn't feel any sympathy with the hero, they did the same with The Doors. So what do you do next? You pick Richard Nixon! The public really like him!" It's strange being him... the Democrat President-in-waiting who was expected to win but didn't. And if he had, America would never have known Watergate."

Anthony Hopkins

"An incredible person and a true gentleman, although there's a slight disturbance about him that people find intimidating. We got together for Nixon. I was getting a difficult time from the establishment and he just exuded this remarkable, quiet strength on set, as did his co-stars, like James Woods. He told me he takes the historical view. 'We're not speaking to these people,' he said. 'We're speaking to future generations.' I took strength form that. I'd like to believe that one day, people will look at my films, from Salvador to Nixon to JFK, and see a sort of alternative history."