Exclusive Interview: The man who was Thursday

Balazs Juszt’s film, ‘The Man Who Was Thursday’ is a dark thriller based on a book by GK Chesterton from 1908. The film follows the demise of Father Smith (Francois Arnaud) who is re-called to Rome for a spiritual sabbatical following a series of unfortunate events at his local Parish. Upon arrival, the real reason for him being recalled is revealed to him by his mentor who inspired him to the join faith in the first place, which was to intercept a group of anti -Vatican dissidents. Father Smith accepts the challenge to find the true identity of the dissident leader but not before he is subjected to a multitude of hairy mind blowing experiences.

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Question: For the benefit of our audience who may not know you very well can you tell us about yourself and your profession? 

I was born in Budapest, and grew up behind the Iron Curtain and during the turbulent years of the fall of communism, but went to an international school, which gave me a unique perspective, allowing me to see things from a few steps behind, while still being on the frontline. My parents are both in show business, but I was set on becoming a banker or something equally mundane – no offence – and hence actually graduated with an economics degree from Royal Holloway. But I already was doing music videos and student films and then applied to UCLA’s Producers Program and got in, which is where I did my MFA with the wonderful Cathy Schulman and Barbara Boyle and the likes.

I absolutely love directing, I don’t think it’s a job and I believe the moment you start seeing it as one, you should stop doing it. If I’m in anything, I’m in emotional transportation, where – if I do what I do well – we can transport the audience to a place they wouldn’t otherwise reach and that is ultimately gratifying. It’s a collaborative art form, where you have to be a psychiatrist, an animal tamer, a teacher, a father figure, a little brother, a handyman and a scholar. The key is knowing when to be which!

 

Question: What was the inspiration behind the film – The man who was Thursday?

Our family friend and my personal mentor, Oscar-winning director of Mephisto, István Szabó, was the first to tell me about this book over lunch and the idea immediately stuck with me. It’s the premise every tyrant thrives on: installing fear into a group that wouldn’t otherwise exist, giving them the false image of a non-existent enemy they have to “fight”. It’s this common enemy that can summon the troops and by the time they realise they’ve been set up, there is no common enemy, there is nothing, but your own fear, it’s too late.

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Question: The film is another version of GK Chesterton’s masterpiece which explores a dystopian thriller roller coaster highly applauded and way ahead of its time. However, what prompted you to use a Priest as your main character and why Rome?

The book is a fascinating read, hands down one of the best pieces of literature ever written. But to watch a few gentlemen in top hats philosophise about poetry and anarchy for ninety minutes may be asking too much from the audience. So, I looked for a setting that lends itself better to action and also embodies Chesterton’s own crisis of faith and injects the Christian elements into the film naturally, without the need to say them. Whilst a crisis of faith and self doubt is relatable to the general audience, it’s very clear when a priest has one and you just don’t have to explain any more, you know? If a poet can’t pray: so what? If a priest can’t pray: we immediately know something’s about to go down. The use of the Eternal City was then evident, having made the choice of trailing a priest. What better playground then the source itself, but not the postcard Rome you know. We took him to a rather dark one…

Question: The film is beautifully shot with the holy city as its backdrop, how challenging was the shooting schedule and which other locations were used?

Our extraordinary cinematographer and my dear friend, Guy Livneh is responsible for turning Budapest into a beautiful Rome, with the collaboration of superb production designer Judit Varga. As Guy says, “the only thing small on this film is the budget”. That pretty much sums it up. We spent a lot of time in an abandoned mental institute in Budapest, because it had a chapel, large enough to double as our church interior. That was important, because no real church would let us near it. But we also shot in the Buda castle, at the airport, in a former beer factory and in Rome at Castle Sankt Angelo, the Vatican, you name it. We shot 28 days in Budapest and only two and a half in Rome. No one believes this, just like no one believes the budget. Then again, people have no problem believing someone turned water into wine. I think that’s why this movie was made, more than anything…

Question: I am told you studied Economics at Royal Holloway, what prompted the change in direction?

I was always set for this, I just didn’t know it. I got involved with music videos at Royal Holloway and took a course at the media department with Susana Capon, former BBC heavyweight and I just felt like that made all the sense in the world, whereas grey suits from 9-5 didn’t.

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Question: How do you end up writing speeches and what was the comedy element to that part of your life?

That began in high school, ought to my English teacher, Ms. McGhee, with whom we could not have been more different, but a mutual respect prompted a challenge where I wanted to one-up her: I can get a bonus, I can win the gold, I can tell one writer from another just by reading a paragraph. And she encouraged me, so it was fuel to the fire, but I’m ever so thankful for it. I had the opportunity to intern in the U.S. House of Congress for the late Tom Lantos, where I was allowed to write as well and then I ended up writing a comic biography of my time there, which was published in Hungary. One thing led to another and boom, there I was: a graphomaniac, encouraged to write. Who’d have funk it?

With the likes of Roger Birnbaum and Cathy Schulman as your mentors was writing producing directing a passion of yours growing up?

The first recollection of the fact that something was out of the ordinary dates to the first real movie I remember seeing on TV, a spaghetti western with Terence Hill and Henry Fonda, called My Name is Nobody and I was almost more interested in the credits, in what all those people could have been doing and why were they all written there? Then I started making little videos the first chance I got when I was about 12 or so, then made a whole James Bond sketch – or as we called it then, “film” – with my friends and I edited it with two VHS players and hooked up my walkman to add music. It was a lot of fun.

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Is it fair to say that having industry parents in you native Budapest, was the bench-mark set high in terms of succeeding in the business and was that seen as a natural progression in your household?

I wasn’t hell-bent on this, by any means! In fact, if anything, I rebelled by going to study economics, something my parents had nothing to do with. But, it seems like one cannot escape destiny, right?

Finally in MTM Mytrinitymagazine.com style can you coin a phrase or is there an inspirational message which may resonate well with our readers

The only autograph I keep is from iconic producer, Jerry Weintraub. I had asked him for advise on life, to tell me what’s most important. He just wrote: “Balazs, have FUN!!”

By: Sunday Olorunshola

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