Q&A with Richard J. Lewis, director of ‘Barney’s Version’

A scene from 'Barney's Version'. Courtesy eOne Films.

Richard J. Lewis has had a long career behind the camera in the Canadian film and television scene, but nothing has been as prominent as his latest film, Barney’s Version.

Based on Mordecai Richler’s novel, the film tells the story of the hard-drinking, cigar-smoking, self-righteous bastard (and Montrealer) Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti). With a solid script and a cast that includes Rosamund Pike, Scott Speedman, Minnie Driver, and Dustin Hoffman, Lewis has delivered a great adaptation of this this “sacred” material.

Criticize This! spoke with Lewis about the film, what he hopes people get out of it, and what his next project will. Read our Q&A below.

Brian McKechnie: Were you a fan of Richler’s novel before signing on?

Richard J. Lewis: Huge fan. As a result I chased the producer [Robert Lantos] to let me direct it for years before I decided to go ahead and do the adaptation on spec before handing it to him.

BM: Was it nerve-wracking working with this “sacred” material?

RJL: People have asked me that before. I think it’s easier and I didn’t feel it was nerve-wracking working on the material. I wanted to make a good film and the fact that it had already been a good novel helped more than it hindered. I think more nerve-wracking would be trying to make a good film from something that sucked.

BM: The casting is perfect. Were these actors you had in mind or did they just fall into place?

RJL: Paul [Giamatti] I always had in mind. From the time I was writing I had him in mind. Minnie [Driver] was always in the mind of Robert, and I loved that idea. There was a number of actors that felt like they were always meant to play the characters, like Bruce Greenwood. Between the script and Paul we seemed to be able to wrangle the actors that we wanted. Which was a bonus.

BM: What was the hardest part of the production for you?

RJL: Getting it started correctly in Rome was pretty hairy as I remember.

BM: How long were you actually working on the film?

RJL: I started writing it in 2006 and then there was a little lull and then Michael [Konyves] brought his draft in. We started casting early in 2008 and went into production in August of 2009.

BM: You’ve worked a lot in TV as well as film, do you have a preference over one of the mediums?

RJL: I like both. They are different animals, yet they are also the same. It’s just a matter of deciding what your pace is going to be and how quickly you have to make decisions. You’re still trying to do the same thing which is tell a story on film with great acting.

BM: Are you happy with the response Barney’s Version has received so far?

RJL: Yeah, I’m really happy. I still think we could have done better in the States if we had been marketed differently, but that’s in the past.

BM: What do you hope people get out of the film?

RJL: I always feel like a man’s life story is an opportunity to reflect on your own life. If someone walks away having felt something or thought about something that they hadn’t before, then I think the film has done its job.

BM: Do you have any dream projects?

RJL: I’d like to [adapt] another one of Paul Quarrington’s books. Galvaston, Civilizations, or King Leary… those books always stick out to me as books I’d like to make.

BM: What are you working on next?

RJL: I’m about to start working on a very cool television show for J.J. Abrams. Person of Interest with Jim Caviezel.

Barney’s Version is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

If our interview made you interested in Barney’s Version, support Criticize This! by purchasing the DVD, Blu-ray, or book from Amazon.ca:

Brian McKechnie

About Brian McKechnie

Brian McKechnie is the founder and editor of Criticize This! Email him at brian@criticizethis.ca.