Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing director Roger Donaldson. A passing glance at his résumé shows an eclectic and varied array of films that show a man not afraid to try out every genre. From Cocktail to Species, The Getaway to Thirteen Days, there’s something for everyone. We met up to discuss his new film, the fabulous The World’s Fastest Indian starring Sir Anthony Hopkins. It tells the true story of Burt Monroe, an obsessive biker who spends his whole life building an “Indian” motorbike with one aim, to break the land speed record. Thanks to Charlotte Greig for arranging the chat.
How was it returning to New Zealand to make The World’s Fastest Indian after years working in Hollywood?
That’s one of the reasons I made the film, I was looking for an excuse to go back and do something that was relevant to own history really. Because this movie started out as one of the very first films I ever made as a documentary on Burt Monroe. I was at the very beginning of my film-making career, I was in my early twenties so it just had a lot of personal stuff in it for me. In fact one of my daughters saw the film and said, “oh my God Dad, you’ve made a film about myself!” which probably I have in a funny way.
I saw the film last night and apart from trying to break the land speed record it was my Dad, the garage, the motorbikes.
You know, I think that’s what it was for me to. It was really, in its own funny way, a homage to my own father, who’s still alive. But I think everyone has that kind of relationship with his or her Dad. You know the little kid in the film in a way is me. I used him as a vehicle to ask those questions that I was asking as a young twenty year old. I remember being impressed with this guy. I can still remember what he had to say and what he did; he’s attitude to life and all that. When I look at the documentary I realise there’s a lot I actually took verbatim from the documentary and reworked for the movie.
Anthony Hopkins is fabulous in the film, how close is he to the real Burt Munroe?
Tony (Hopkins) took his body language, his speech patterns, his accent and he’s done an amazing job. But then also a lot of the movie is fictitious as well, even though it’s very true to the spirit of the sort of character he was. I was never there when he first turned up at the Salt Lakes, or what he though or what he said. I took things that he talked about and tried to put them into the context of a road movie.
How did you discover Burt Monroe?
I not quite sure how I discovered him other than me and my filmmaking partner Mike Smith, who lives up in Brisbane now, we both had motorbikes. I guess through our interest in bikes we heard about this guy on the grapevine because he wasn’t that well known really. Maybe if you were into racing motorbikes you would have heard about him more than we had. We were just casual motorbike enthusiasts. Anyway, I remember we wrote to Burt and he invited us to go down and see him. We lived up in Auckland at the time and he lived in the most southern city in New Zealand on the South Island. Anyway, I remember we got there at 10 o’clock at night and we had this address. We arrived in the suburban street, then we got to Burt’s property and there’s nothing there. It was just waist high grass and this shed. I was like “oh, we must have got the address wrong,” we checked and it was the right place. We knocked on the door of the shed and this crusty old guy emerges from the shed and he’s really fired up with enthusiasm. He had a sparkle in his eye and said “let me show you my bike.” He wheels it out and cranks it up and it screamed. I mean our bike (in the film) made a lot of noise but his was a 200mph monster. Ours was just a replica that was meant to go all day and everyday so it was a much more detuned version but his bike screamed! He was revving the guts out of her, the lights were coming on in neighbours houses and people were hurling abuse over the back fence and Burt was as deaf as a post as he is in the movie. He couldn’t hear a darned thing. We were just killing ourselves laughing and excited that we had really discovered a treasure here.”
A full version of the interview will be published soon, keep posted for details.