Seeing Anthony Dod Mantle’s name on EnergaCAMERIMAGE’s guest list, I had some instinct we should talk. Few cinematographers in my (or yours or anyone’s) lifetime have rejigged what that job means, what it might do, and how people––in direct terms or on the most subconscious levels––think about it. Just a glance at his credits is dizzying: there’s the radical approach to visual storytelling in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, a movie people still try to even approach emulating; Harmony Korine’s Julien-Donkey Boy, which almost looks like The Celebration expect for the fact that it looks like literally nothing else; there’s mainstream cinema’s major introduction to digital images in 28 Days Later, the early stage of a Danny Boyle partnership that leads to Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire; somewhere along the way he shoots two Ron Howard films that suggest the director discovered experimental cinema; and, lest we forget, years and years in the trenches with Lars von Trier, a time representing (I think few would argue) the Dane’s peak.

Thus the opportunity to speak with him for 30-ish minutes seemed mandatory. What I wasn’t prepared for were his two other interviews cancelling that morning; and what I really didn’t expect was him allocating all his freshly available time. He eventually had to leave for an afternoon’s screening necessitated by on a competition jury, and I suspect if it wasn’t scheduled we would’ve just kept going––a feeling vindicated by us later spending a few more hours talking over Google Meet. What resulted is a sprawling, bracingly honest conversation about the demands, splendors, and heartbreaks of a life in cinema, compelled equal-parts by prepared questions, spur-of-the-moment pivots, and decades of personal admiration.

Anthony Dod Mantle: Did you see Glazer’s film?

The Film Stage: Back in New York.

I mean, this is a powerful film. But I’ve been there three times and it doesn’t ever leave you. Just awful, isn’t it?

You mean Auschwitz.

Yeah. This morning, when I woke up in my room––I was pretty shaken by the film, obviously. It’s got to shake you. I’d been drinking with Arri and playing around and meeting my other friends. I woke up this morning just to get air in the room, and I got the kind of humming of machines and air conditioning in [Mimes humming] and there were no shots, thank God. But I was transported immediately back into that film. So it’s obviously a very clever sound. The whole concept being so close. Yeah, it’s out-of-sight, very much not out-of-mind. Totally well-done.

So I saw your name on the guest list, and I thought to myself: I’ve never spoken to him before, but he’s one of the totemic cinematographers of my lifetime.

I love your word. Bless you, man. [Shakes Hand]

Not just kissing ass. Quick example: one of my best friends, his favorite film of all-time is Dogville. He has a Dogville poster that’s, like, the size of this wall.

Does he? Wow, how cool. I know that poster. It’s pretty cool to have an aerial. Bless him. Say hello.

And he’s currently in L.A. shooting a short with Siobhan Fallon Hogan.

Who I know, too. She’s lovely.

That’s what he says.

She’s lovely. That’s such a good place to start for him. I mean, I can’t believe she’s not still adorable because she was fun and warm. Heartwarming. I haven’t seen her since Dogville. She was one of the lights and, I mean, it was an amazing experience. Lars and I were very tight, very close––compatriots––and we tested things out. But on the morning of the first day of the shoot, I remember standing at the end of Elm Street. He was shaky then, and it was not as bad as it is now, but he was there and he had his little plastic kneecap protectors on. Just quietly Lauren Bacall came out and Ben Gazzara came out and Paul Bettany. They said, “Oh my God,” and I said to them all, “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay.” Because we were shitting ourselves. Because it is an experiment, really.

And I said, “It’s going to be okay. You know, we’re going to get…” That’s what he was then. I’m not sure what he is now. You know, we all change and develop and he’s got very sick now, I’m afraid, but I had a really important time in my life with him, and that was, kind of, perhaps one of the crescendos. Antichrist was still extraordinary to do with him. We didn’t fall out because of anything specifically. That’s where we stopped working. He was deeply depressed then. I know something on the DVD or the Blu-ray or whatever––the Criterion thing––it has a behind-the-scenes, and normally I’m helping him.

One of the few elements of me on the DVD is me talking about my lack of depression. In the mirror, looking back, I thought, “That’s quite interesting.” Because obviously he controls what’s in and what’s out. We weren’t at each other’s throats by then. It was being done and being edited by somebody else; he probably approved it. In a sense it’s quite interesting that most of the new background material on the DVD is about that. Perhaps at a time when he was at his most dire––and I had to get back to my family––he was probably feeling abandoned because he was so frustrated about everything. It’s that potential abandonment or fear of abandonment which was triggering something that is otherwise inexplicable to me.

We were capitulating with him. It has a section where I’m saying how much of a provocation it must have been. I’m saying to myself, to the cameraman, “how much of a provocation” it sometimes can be for Lars. Because if you’re in depression, there’s nothing worse than being close to a person who… I don’t know depression. I understand depression, but it’s so alien to me because I have this sort of eternal fire of optimism which I hang onto. I really do try to hang on. That’s a daily provocation for a person, even though we were really close together. I never really knew why we completely blew apart. But he does that with people.

Lars von Trier and Anthony Dod Mantle. Photo by Christian Geisnæs

I had wanted to ask about this. Maybe it’s not too ginger a subject.

No, no.

I associate you with him and him with you. I suppose I don’t recall seeing the credits for his last three films, because at the time I had just assumed you shot them; doing some five-second research revealed it’s been Manuel Alberto Claro since Melancholia.

I left after Antichrist.

I had wondered what the specific reason was, but seems like it was more of––

He’s such a provocateur, and then he was still pretty articulate. I think it’s pretty simple, actually. The closest people to him and me that know and respect and love us both… one particular person––he’s an AD and a director in his own right––he said, “It’s so Lars. He blows up at people who are closer to him.” I’ve seen him do it with other people. It’s kind of psychotic, to suddenly self-destruct. And we were a very tight family, but it was simultaneous to, for me––it’s a present but it’s not changing my life, you know, winning an Oscar. I think he saw that. He wants to own everything and control everything. I think he partially said, “Okay, I don’t own this person.” We fought to stay together a lot. We fought to find each other. We spent a long time together. So he was very important to me and I think I helped him liaise, come very full, out into the world.

Manuel, who’s a sweet guy, he was one of my colleagues and he took over. Lars talked to five cinematographers and three of them were my colleagues. They were all my close friends––it’s a small country, Denmark––and all he said to them was, “Don’t be like Anthony.” And they said, “Sorry. Anthony’s a friend and we all know you just spent 20 years with him.” Manuel’s got a good combustion that enables him, as a cinematographer, to take those blows. I can’t. I fight for my instincts; I really do hang onto them. I will always try and do what’s right for the director. Always. What’s right for the production. I always try to do that, but it’s more informed on the basis of why we’re there. But if I have strong feelings about something I’ll try and incorporate and express something, and that was becoming an issue regarding concepts such as beauty and aesthetics for us. And we were doing aesthetic things––like the high-speed moments in Antichrist, which are very, very beautiful. We adored it. I mean, we were mutually in awe about it; we were very happy.

When it got to the anthropological, sort of 360-naturalistic stuff––which is in a house, in a field where you can’t control lights––you have to do the best you can with lights, with cheats, and know when you’re cutting. You want him to go 360, where you go from back-lit to front-lit and it doesn’t cut. This started to give us slight problems that were basically based on technical issues. But simple, and he knows about it. He understands––he does understand everything in technique, from sound to editing. That’s when it happened and I, in many ways, saw Melancholia as a kind of, slightly more commercial… it’s about something else, but there’s an awful lot of Antichrist again in Melancholia––also some of the techniques we use, and it ends with an extraordinary little overture. As his films do.

But I felt it already when I was still working with him––his attitude of being left-handed about being a bit rough with the film, when cutting the film, and was becoming more and more aggressive and less… tangible. I felt I was trying to make his films more reachable. When you’re working with a director who wants to brutalize it, I understand, intellectually, where he’s coming from. There are many directors who think the same way. I was beginning to struggle with the ugliness. My own instincts felt it was slightly more damaging. Manuel supports him like I did; he does the operating. Sometimes I felt it was more intellectual than it was contributing.

So it was getting hard for me because I had to soften the blows a bit. I had to soften Lars a bit, make it the way he wanted it. But I understand his concepts of cutting hard and cutting in time, breaking the rules, etc, and always ending with some momentary beautiful, unforgettable piece of cinema. He’s still trying to do that. I mean, even if you think Nymphomaniac and The House That Jack Built… I find them very difficult films, you can bet. He is who he is. That’s what happened.

I actually loved Nymphomaniac, at least when I saw it a decade ago. The House That Jack Built is far from my favorite of his films.

Very, very disturbing.

But at the same time… what did you expect from the Lars von Trier serial killer movie?

He doesn’t seem to care about the audience in the same way. Something’s happened. I always say Almodóvar is such a great director and complicated person who struggles with things as well. But wherever he takes you––to the darkest place in life; you know, necrophilia––he always holds the hands of the audience. Do you know what I mean?

Yeah, absolutely.

I feel that I’ve known Lars for so long. I shot a film with his first wife, Cecilia, called Nonnebørn, and it’s actually a very biographical film about his first wife and mother to his two daughters; that was the first feature film I did with Lars’ production company. I then shot a lot of a documentary about his life, Transformer, which told everything I didn’t know about Lars. That catapulted us into a really intimate knowledge of each other. Up to Dogville and Manderlay and Dancer in the Dark––all these years up to Antichrist––he had this incredible humor as well. He has a shot of humor, and it’s still there, but it’s more… it seems to me it’s witty, but in House That Jack Built there’s a brutality that’s overriding the warmth.


And he’s the kind of person that, if he pushes a button he feels is hitting you––both as a cinema audience and when you’re working artistically––he won’t just pull back and say “I’m kidding.” He’s not playing games. He’ll force you into showing your colors. He’ll push even harder. He’s been that kind of person. It’s hard to talk about him. I do know him so well––as well as I can––and I’ve kept some knowledge of him, but I’ve lost touch with him and I hate seeing him so poorly as he is now. But that’s the way it is. It’s hard sometimes.

I’m sorry that’s happened.

It’s okay. Emotionally, for a year or two after, it was very difficult. Because I hang out, still, with Thomas and I was very close with Lars and Denmark’s a very small place. It’s like, you know, Brooklyn [Laughs] and it was hard, but at the same time––as the years go by––he was also possessive about me, I think. Danny was calling more and more. I was very close to Danny. Some people say he’s my nemesis––which I don’t think is very fair––but Danny and I have a very strong rapport which has lasted many years as well. And he knew all that was going to happen, so he just had to… push them out of the nest and let him fly himself. I don’t know.

Anthony Dod Mantle on the set of Antichrist

Where does that line about “nemesis” come from?

That’s a hard one, isn’t it? And it’s because of Chris Doyle. You can see him saying that. Chris is the advocate of the pure artist, isn’t he? So he’s always going to say that. Chris, you’re talking about a guy who’s always going to say something like that about me because, artistically, he’s seen a lot of elements in my work that he obviously has latched onto. We have a very, very close friendship, so subconsciously there’s all sorts of things going on in relationships between people––artistically, what you want other people to be––and it’s a big mess. [Laughs] It’s a conundrum.

That’s why, when you see cinematographers together, there’s all sorts of things coming out of their mouths. There’s also things coming out in conversation. I’ve looked in these faces: me, Chris Doyle, Ed Lachman, Rodrigo [Prieto], Chivo. There’s all sorts of other things going on where we’re artists in a circus of organization, we’re artists in a war machine. So there’s always going to be compromise. There’s always going to be conflict. Compromise especially.

Yeah, I interviewed Doyle in this hotel four years ago. We had very tall beers at 11:00 a.m., which was great.

I know––that’s how he is. Well, he’s still very close with me, as indeed is Danny. And I don’t think Danny is my nemesis, but he’s an extremely prolific guy and he’s intelligent. He’s a hard worker, which I respect. He’s a commercial filmmaker as well, and he’s very clever––even back to the first Trainspotting, taking some of these extremely edgy things, but then not commercializing it and making it appetizing. He’s just clever. In fact, looking back at Slumdog, which was a success but it was destined to go to cable––it was going to be binned, you know, until Peter Rice picked it up and then stabilized, saved the film. Which made a lot of money.

It also means you’ve shot one of my mother’s favorite films.

Oh, good. It is a fair film. I don’t think it’s necessarily my best film, but I’m very fond of it. We had a wonderful time. All that happened, that was just putting more, you know, into the fire for Lars, I think; he just went silent. He’s very close to my wife. We’ve known each other in this small country. Very, very close to my wife––who I still live with––and he talked to her on the phone. We had a fire––a terrible crisis in our life. Our house burned down. We were nearly killed. People were looking after us all over the world. Amazing. I was nearly a goner. My wife very nearly died; I had to pull her out of the window to save her life. And then, you know, people came back, and Lars came back. I knew he was on the phone but he couldn’t speak to me. It was very odd. Very odd. Life is odd.

Your career is odd, too.

Yeah, I know. I don’t get locked into anybody, really.

In a way it’s the perfect DP career––iconic films, totemic filmmakers, an Oscar winner, personal favorites of mine and things I consider hidden gems, things I’ve frankly never heard of, movies where I go “wait he shot that?” Like Dredd, for instance.

Yeah, it’s pretty maverick filmmaking. Alex [Garland] is someone who’s very close to me. I was involved in the technical direction of the high-speed sequences; I had to be because it was so complex. I had people helping me. It’s a very weird part. And I’m very fond of Alex, who’s been working with Rob Hardy. I could have shot Ex Machina, which I didn’t want to do. I couldn’t do it; I just couldn’t get my head into it, and it was a good film. But I’m very close to Alex and I was there at the cusp of his directing career. I met him again, finally, at the premiere of Danny’s theater show, which is, like, a post-apocalyptic Matrix dance thing in Manchester, and I was there and met Alex and it was so nice to see him. He’s writing again and we got to talking.

There’s von Trier, Danny Boyle, Ron Howard––

Kevin Macdonald. Vinterberg.

I’ve talked to so many DPs, and there’s no profession whose career seems more variable in terms of how they end up on a film. I know that DPs, a lot of them, just take what they can because they have to work, or at least they like working.

I never do that.

There are others, like you, who can follow directors down the rabbit holes that interest them.


You’ve been working for decades now and it’s crazy to think that the guy who shot The Celebration, a benchmark in cinematography, also shot two studio projects for Ron Howard.

Yeah, yeah. [Laughs] And almost did the Bond with Danny; I was so close to doing the Bond. I’ve often thought about exactly what you’re talking about––if I can talk about myself.

Yeah, please.

Something stood out. My heart is with Harmony Korine, who I adore still, today. I’m very, very fond of Harmony and we’re close––compatriots, compadres, anarchy––and I thought, “Am I coming from that? My mother is a painter, an arty background, and could I be doing a Bond?” Which I actually would’ve loved. It’s a vanity, in echo of what you’re saying. It didn’t happen, but that would’ve been full-circle. I’m not sure I would’ve enjoyed it; Danny said I wouldn’t enjoy it. I’d go mad, actually.

They had written a script.

Yeah. John Hodge.

Even as a great fan of the series who knows they like to keep trains running on time, I was surprised how that played out. It’s crazy that you hire an Oscar-winning director with a story they want to tell, and…

He was always going to blow it up. He’s blown up films before like that. Michael Winterbottom does the same thing. I was going to do a film I was so keen to do in L.A. with Michael. Who I’ve known for years. I’ve done naughty things in the years with Michael, with Revolution Films––they were like the English Zentropa––and finally Michael and I were going to do a film with Will Ferrell on Russ Meyer. It was a super-funny, interesting, maverick script, and it was so Michael. Michael is like Rommel with his head out the tank, charging. And Will Ferrell playing it, and Meyer––who I’ve always been interested in. This is only, like, six or seven years ago. The shit hit the fan so he walked and the film just got lost with him.

But that happens and Danny––get back to what you’re saying––Danny can only go so far. I’ve said he’s also a very clever commercial thinker and strategist. He can only go so far in compliance, especially with studio films after, I think, The Beach, where he felt it almost got out of his control. He’s very careful and wary of studio involvement, and he’s one of the most producer-directors on it, whatever he does. If you step over that, then he’ll almost go even harder at it. I think that’s why Bond blew up.

Anthony Dod Mantle and Danny Boyle

No, that’s basically the narrative that got out right away. The news story was, “He wants to kill off Bond but they don’t,” when in fact…

Thank God they killed him off––let’s face it. It’s a good point. I think he was very much planting that seed and I think they liked that. There’s a slight, awful conventionality to some of the politics behind a brand like Bond as well. Danny’s not good at that. He’s a political soul, so…

Well, one of his first film credits is one of my favorite movies ever: Alan Clarke’s Elephant.


It’s one of the bluntest political statements ever put on film.

If you ever meet him, that’s where you want to go. It’s a permanent reference he has.

I’d talk about that.

And that time. He’s very passionate. Enormous respect for that man. In all our careers, whether directors or DPs, I get asked things like “what’s your most-important film” or “what’s the most-important film you’ve ever seen?” Stuff like that. I’ve now decided I know enough about myself not to know that, and I think it’s true of most people. There’s a period––partly to do with youth and partly to do with the size of your brain, how it’s working––you’re already past your peak. But there’s a point in your life, if you’re lucky enough, to develop philosophically and politically; things are coming to you. At that moment in everybody’s life it happens, and I happened to be fortunate enough to be in that process of developing as an artist.

Then you imbed yourself in certain things that become absolutely the foundation for the rest of your career. So for me it’s Nic Roeg, it’s Polanski, it’s the Russians––obvious examples––but I think Nic Roeg. I’ll take Don’t Look Now. Because it’s so close to me at a time I was unraveling as an artist, as a person, and Nic is just an extraordinarily creative person and man. It’s not because he was a photographer who became a director. It’s not because of him. It’s just his films, his first films: Bad Timing, Don’t Look Now, Walkabout––these films are extraordinary, maverick, brave, sexually challenging. Everything. I think Don’t Look Now, even if it’s wrapped in a commercial package with Donald Sutherland, it’s just an incredibly metaphysical piece of work.

But what commercial film today is like it?

I know. None. Same way with Lars. It was just early days in Denmark and I was doing my thesis––as part of my English B.A.––and I had a contact with Denmark, and I chose to do a thesis about pretty unknown territory––young, not-even-young Danish directors. And Lars, by coincidence, was one of them, and I sat in the editing room while he was doing Element of Crime. I think I saw that film in Denmark three, four times; I’ve never done that with a film since. It was such an in-from-the-left, rip-the-roof-off-everything, and then people––subconsciously and consciously––trying to copy him and they just can’t do it; people syncing their films black-and-white and yellow, and they just can’t do it. I was absolutely gobsmacked when I saw Lars’ early films, and that was the second wave of my uncontrollable fascination and enthusiasm for an artform that I didn’t realize could be like that. He was extraordinary.

I like the film that did that at the same time, roughly, was Don’t Look Now; I think they’re partners like that. They devastated my perception of what film aesthetic is. They challenged everything. Nic, in Don’t Look Now––which is what the title correctly is about; it challenges the whole concept of time. Obviously illustrated in a back-to-front lovemaking sequence that is far more complex lovemaking and brilliant and emotionally serious. That’s why Danny and I love that, because we’re always talking about the concept of time. The market was open because you had the classic English, post-Lindsay Anderson, ‘60s, all the official sexiness––very conventional, well-made films––and the big films, Lean and all that. Maybe at that time it was easier to blow the roof off. I don’t know where we are now; I just don’t know.

There’s transgressive stuff for sure. I know, for instance, you used Leviathan as an example for In the Heart of the Sea.

The Russian one?

The fishing one.

The fishing one. That is an absolute masterpiece. I talk about that a lot.

Nothing looks like it, and it’s a movie you could’ve only made in recent times.

I’ve referred to that film. The small, immersive cameras that I’ve used a lot more than other people. I’ve used immersive cameras in films like Rush to get the speed and physicality of motor racing. I wanted to immerse the audience, in a special way, into the scene, which could have been rather more slavishly shot with a long lens––wide shot, close-ups. There’s people starving with dead bodies in a boat, and I wanted to get the camera and audience into the boat in the same way I wanted to get the audience into the racing cars. Leviathan was what triggered that. I saw a way to do that, and that’s why I pushed for it. I really, really encouraged Ron into that way of thinking.

On the set of In the Heart of the Sea

Nobody’s going to judge him for not knowing Leviathan.

Not at all. Ron’s a lovely, compassionate man. I’d done Rush with him. I kind of invited him into my part of the world and I had to get the American element, in financing, behind the way I was thinking, because it was a new turn in Ron’s aesthetic and I wanted, in no way, the suspicion to arise––among some critical or skeptical producers––that Ron is being led astray by some artistic maniac in some art school in south London. I had to––literally every day after work––spend two hours, three hours on the dailies so they were absolutely banged into shape and there was never going to be a discussion about how Rush looked. And I’m actually quite proud of the look of Rush. It was $80 million, it was Working Title, and even though they let me do what I want to do, I have more people down the corridor listening to what we were doing and wondering.

So I knew Leviathan and very quickly showed it as, “This is what embedded cameras can do.” If you’re in a rowing boat and you want to film this and you want a Life of Pi, which––with all respect to Claudio––there are amazing moments in it, but I never felt I was in the boat. I wanted to feel, “These people are about to eat me.” It’s very hard for a studio to make a film about cannibalism, which is one of the problems with it. But I used it as a statement of intent. “We’ll have a camera here, on aquatic heads, six miles out to sea, in tanks––we’ll do all that.” But I’ve seen it all before, and I don’t think there are many great films done at sea. I looked at Leviathan and I kept bombarding with paintings––Turner, many sea painters, Russians––where you can’t even see the transition between the water and the sky; it’s like a volume.

That’s what painting can do and what film very rarely does: you have this obligatory, annoying blue and a blue sky. There’s no [Rubs Fingers] emotion. I wanted to knock that to hell, so I said, “I want to control this at sea and in the studios, where I can control it.” It’s based on painting, and that’s what I had to do to get my oar in. And that’s why I say… it’s not like anger, “leave me alone,” but I want to get that. It’s my palette that we developed because I want to get the foundations [Taps Table] established and never slip up into mediocrity, which is the biggest sin of any film. I had trouble with Glazer’s film for other reasons, but it certainly wasn’t about mediocrity. It’s really inside me, that film.

It’s funny because I have my issues with it, but it genuinely felt like it was advancing an idea of how you put atrocity on screen.

You want to go over that fence, don’t you, and see it. As a film audience, as an inquisitive human being. Seeing is believing. The heads running through the grass when he’s on his horse. I’ve been to Auschwitz. Have you been there?

I haven’t.

You should go. You should go to Auschwitz. I’ve been there with people; I’ve been there on my own. I’ve been there three times. I’ve worked there. I broke down. Always you see, in the modern day, all the prosthetic limbs and the toothbrushes. Standing in there––the immensity of it. And now we’re doing it again in Gaza.

You’re not the first filmmaker to bring it up lately.

When I went to Danny’s opening––it’s about sound and dance, which are not my strong points––it’s a lot of dancing. Black street artists dancing. Incredible original music. Lighting is quite theatrical. I went to this premiere. There’s a moment in it where it’s kind of pandemonium and the end of the world, in a sense; confetti is falling down. There’s a figure swinging on a trapeze. It sounds like Cirque du Soleil, but I was weeping. I was with Mark Tildersley, the designer, and I was in tears because I was thinking of Gaza. Which is what art can do, isn’t it? You don’t know, when you go into the cinema, what’s floating around unresolved or unprocessed beneath the skin. I think maybe one of the reasons Glazer’s film resonated is because I’m so disturbed by what’s going on in the world. That Glazer film, the way they talked about taking the clothes… [Groans] That’s the essence of our problems: that ability we have, whether you’re not seeing it or just ignoring it if it’s just below the table. That’s the essence of that film and it’s beautiful.

I guess I wonder, when you’re on a jury, what is impressing you most in a general sense of craft, and if you have any tells that a DP and director know what they’re doing.

I’ll tell you what I do. I can tell you a little bit about how we work; I can’t tell you how we think. I’ve been president of a jury; it’s kind of weird. The only advantage of being president is you can suggest a strategy through which five or six people can meet and, somewhere, equate on how we can approach the complicated issue of agreeing. Which is why there are wars all over the world––because nobody can sit down and talk in agreement. So we’ve done this thing where we split it down to certain categories, whatever the film is, because they’re all so different. Mandy [Walker] and I talked about this. “Let’s do the lighting thing. Let’s do the overall camera composition. All these things we have to look at. Let’s go into a section we call ‘simpatico,’” which is the rapport you feel between the crew and how the production works.

We worked off those and people are putting signs down on a piece of paper. That’s working, and a day in I said, “Hang on. I’m already self-conscious now because I’m going to hit a wall. This is going to get complex. It’s not quite sufficient for me. I think you have to account for courage or bravado or necessity.” That’s why nominations are much more important than winning. There’s a lot of luck in an award, but we put in this extra category. I think it helps me, and it may not, but take it as a hint if you get stuck.

You’ve worked on films that cost essentially $0 and films with unbelievably huge budgets. Thus it makes sense that would be a metric for you.

It’s part of my DNA now, and it helps when I’m on a jury. It’s very difficult and it will get personal. Towards the end of the week… we won’t get nasty with each other, but some people will be more categorical than others, and there will be a certain degree of discussion and polemic and conflict. Of course––it’s bound to be. I was president of the jury four years ago for debut directors. I found myself, as a president, putting points down, but we got quite conflicted because we come from different places. As you say: you see me as a certain kind of cinematographer and I’m perhaps hard to place, but you can see the diversity and I’m happy you can see that much. I do have strong opinions about most of the films I’ve ever done, and the reason I chose them is because I had strong opinions about what they could be. That’s the process through which I go to decide whether I can do a film or not.

I just walked away from a massive series which would’ve helped my family; I’ve had a sparse year of doing commercials. It’s fine, but I could slam my economy back into really good order but I’ve said no. Because I’d become part of an industrialization process. Photographers, DoPs get really industrialized. Some of them never leave that. Some of them grow up loving the light meter and pieces of filter and being photographed with baseball hats on the front of American Cinematographer; I’ve never been like that. There’s something ticking underneath the epidermis. I do interviews about that, and I’m very… rude with the American Cinematographer, but I let them do articles. I feel it’s the same personality. They’ve got to support their patrons. “Light meters.” It’s all fine, but for Heaven’s sake. It’s why we’re different. We’re all craftsmen. We all have to have a certain standard with what we’re doing, but it’s not the paragon.

I didn’t really understand what a cinematographer was until I started talking to them.

It’s interesting, isn’t it?

There’s an uncoupling process from the idea of the director as––

The God. Some of them are––for good reason. Some are overpowering. Fincher, for example: super-talented, super-bright. You can see how they place things. There are literary directors who actually have absolutely no idea, but they’re brilliant. That’s where the rapport comes; where producers have to understand the designer and the DoP are so essential. I’ve found it to be testing, sometimes, when you talk about operators. I’ve generally operated myself. I grew up, like Raoul Coutard, with a camera on my shoulder. A lot of us are like that, but a lot of us aren’t. It’s the industrialization again: have this, have that, union this and union that. It’s American films as well, but in Britain very much so. As much as I love a good operator––and my body’s going to be happier if someone’s operating for me––Ed Lachman’s the incarnate example of that: he’s sitting in a wheelchair and the director’s operating. Ed’s a genius and his films are masterful in their own way.

But the downside of operating is: it’s yet another pollution of an idea as you go down from the writer––who has something, and that’s already betrayal when a director gets hold of it––then it goes to producers and money, people like me and a designer. It’s all a process, if you look at it that way, of [Laughs] betrayal. I see that as a problem where you’ve got people who will come forward as operators and they’re actually putting the boards down, saying how to do it. In my genesis and character as a DoP, I dream pictures before I make them. I think about them for hours and months on end and in prep. I think the real DoPS––the ones that are kind of masters of originality––they think a lot more invisibly than you can imagine, way before the thing is made. You have to be on the floor and engineer, socially engineer, people. For me and my process, before I have little drawings in my script that I form and create in my script––nobody can understand them but me. They’ll be in a museum on some shelf after I kick it. They’re kind of beautiful, actually. Chris Doyle is like that. There are other DoPs who come here and… do you know what I mean by “industrial”?

For sure.

I almost started on a film. They were speaking to many DoPs, and I knew I was among the last few, and I was probably the “art” card, the “danger” card. The guy who got it––apart from being a very competent DoP––he’s in the studio backyard, L.A.; he’s on that planet. It’s easier. It often slips back into that for good reason, and there’s a lot of those kinds of DoPs here. It’s just not about being American or British. I consider it a degree of industrialization affecting the artistry in all walks of filmmaking.

I talk to a lot of cinematographers here and often ask them the same question, which is the distinction between getting hired by a director who’s very autonomous––one who knows exactly what they want––versus those who say, “I want you to be the visual architect of the film.”


It’s kind of a big dichotomy. How often would you say there’s getting hired for an “Anthony Dod Mantle look” vs. getting hired by an autonomous director who needs somebody to light the compositions that they already have in mind?

I think, regarding the latter: I could be hired for that, someone who wants to work with me or something like that. But they have an awful lot of other potentials. It’s a bit back to the industrialization: there are an awful lot of other people who fill that bill and can do it, you know? That’s fine, and I won’t take anything away from those people who probably can do other things as well. But you have to nurse that gene in you––that daring to delve into parts of yourself that you’re actually not sure you know why you’re doing it, but you believe. It’s why you do these drawings, and they’re weird––these germanic things––because I’m trying to get Ron Howard or Oliver Stone or whoever. Equally intelligent people in very different ways. Or Lars. Whatever they come with, I’m trying to dig deeper and poke around and create levels, which I think ultimately become the metaphysical potential of the film.


Not disregarding the script in its natural habitat. You know what I’m saying? Certainly my early career, I was learning and I did a lot of smaller-budget, independent, but they were visual. I was being hired. I came out of documentaries and drama documents that had very little resources, but I made it look visually poetic, I think there’s a lot of poetic energy to what I think––associative, sort of the way poets think. And I said this the other day: as a kind of visual artist, I think I got one foot––given my background growing up with people like Don McCullin as a mentor and stuff like that, and still photography––I think I’ve always got one foot in the filthy puddle of mud like in the First World War trenches. But my head is not the clouds, but I’m waving the other arm and trying to grab a poetic thought that’s flying in the breeze.

Your head’s above the trench.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Very much so. And I’m reaching out for other things. Symbolism, the association. That’s what poetry does. It’s what Sassoon and the First World War poets do; Wilfred Owen. Very much so. They’re in the trenches and they’re dreaming. So I think I’m more that, and when I think about the early directors––definitely they were hiring me to help. They’re inexperienced like me. Can I go into Thomas Vinterberg?

Of course.

Thomas and I didn’t go to school together, but I just saw him one day, walking down the street, and I said, “You’ve got one of the most beautiful smiles. It’s like God’s giving you that.” He smiled and said, “We’ll have a coffee some day.” And within six months I was shooting his first film, The Greatest Heroes, which is the film before Festen. It’s a road movie––fun film––and we just explored together. There’s no designer––we just did all the location work ourselves––and it’s not a bad film, and then Celebration. So we start to become an act, Thomas and I, and we do a lot of films––with Lars, without Lars. Dear Wendy. All About Love, which is very dear to Thomas and I. It’s faulted; there are problems with it. It’s a poetic film about a couple played by Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes. It’s not a great film, but have a look at it one day if you haven’t seen it. It’s failed, but it’s also adored by Thomas and I for what it is.

I guess I’ve been employed for the way I developed during the course of the process. Danny, I know, grabbed me because he saw Celebration and left two messages on my phone––which I ignored. I thought it was someone teasing me. I thought it was a friend saying, “It’s Danny Boyle.” I ignored him and he kept saying, “Excuse me. It’s Danny Boyle. You don’t know me. It’s Danny again. I just, I left a message. I don’t know if you got it.” And he’d seen Celebration and we bonded. He said, “I’ve never seen anything like the emotional placement and movement,” which is what he’s all about. Danny’s very, very excited about how the camera moves. He knows light and stuff like that, but movement is the bloodstream for him––why it moves––and I’m very particular about why the camera moves in every single film I do and everything I watch here. That bonded us. He’d just come off The Beach with Darius, who is a master––a beautiful, beautiful master of many, many aspects of cinematography––and what Danny saw, at that time, he wanted to react to. That became two short TV productions utilizing multiple digital cameras––they thought I was some digital genius, which I’m not––and then it became 28 Days Later. Which became a historic film, right?

So it’s all these weird… it’s partly talent, yeah. It’s also maybe having a conscious, intelligent understanding of what is going on around you, why it’s happening. I tell students, “Have faith.” Because I do think if you keep true to yourself, things do happen. There is space for most of us. But I’m now in my situation, my career––I know I’ve got a massive, fast, high-speed role where I’ve been privileged and lucky and worked hard for it, but that’s been going on for the last ten or 15 years. My life has just gone bang. My kids are grown-up and talking with deep voices. But I’m actually not being overrun by things. I’m sitting here for a week because I can––because normally I’m working––and I’m beginning to think, “Okay, so does that mean I’m dead? Is that one nail in the coffin in London?” And I got a lifetime achievement award last year––won’t be long then! But I don’t know. So that’s, I think, the humble, vulnerable part of our jobs that, for me, has kept me respectable for other people, but also kept me inquisitive and willing to learn and explore all the time the new or the different or the alternate.

Not to only be new and alternate, but just to question how you do things so it doesn’t become a conformism. And that’s one of the things that, I think, is a reason that you see in my career––perhaps––a kind of reboot. Danny’s like that as a director: rebooting. There’s no clear pattern. It’s just like adventure. I think it’s because I want to reboot and rethink the alphabet every time I do a new film.

But it also points to the weird way film history evolves. You shoot a movie like The Celebration, and if you put that movie in front of my family they would think the TV was broken.

[Laughs] Exactly.

But then that leads to 28 Days Later, which I watched when I was, like, ten years old and thought was one of the coolest-looking movies I’d seen––honestly still do. That’s you working with Danny Boyle, and not so long after you both do Slumdog Millionaire, which is basically my mom’s favorite movie and the Best Picture winner. Then you almost make a Bond together. It’s kind of what you’re saying about there’s the industrialization and the commercialization. Now you’re turning down a big TV show.

Just literally last week.

I assume you and Boyle had talked about how you would shoot a James Bond movie.

Yeah. Well, you have to be very careful because I’ve worked so much with Danny, and I said no to something. I was with Working Title doing Radioactive and Danny wanted to do something else, and he called me. “Can you help me? Can you help? Can you do this?” And I said, “I can’t, as much as I want to, because it’s the same producers and they’re going to know. I’m in prep, so it’s very hard.” And then Danny was getting so busy there––he tends to snowball into things––and he had set up a crew. People were calling me all over the world: “I think Danny is going to do the Bond.” Some just wanted work, but some were saying, “It’s so exciting you’re going to do a Bond with Danny.”

I actually wasn’t on it. I never spoke about it because Danny was trying to force that continuation of the team that was working, and I just––again: it’s the only other time, like with Lars––had to reach out to Danny about it. We had a very good conversation about it. I said, “Why do you need to do it? There is something in this, isn’t there?” And we had these very honest conversations. It would have been fun, but I don’t think it was ever going to happen.

Around this time, mid-2010s, you get involved with Oliver Stone.

Oliver came. Oliver tried to get me to shoot Savages, and then we did Snowden. Oliver is a very important man in my life––not only politically, because I just got such respect for a man who’s such a patriot as he is. And I was extremely affected––I still am––people like Assange, who you could deem the messiah or the devil; I choose the former. Oliver led me into two years with Snowden and, ultimately, Putin. Rodrigo was there––we shared his Putin documentary, and we spent hours and hours in conversation with him.

And it’s very hard to meet a person who has extraordinary qualities as an individual and was no fool––obviously is not just a monster. The war is terrible, this one. I do see it. We knew, during the making of the film, all that was going on in Ukraine, and the west has been working on that for, you know, a century. Again: Oliver said he wanted to work for me for a long, long time. He tried to do Savages and he almost instantaneously got me to Snowden. I adore working with him, I do, and I’m now on a file as an NSA detainee. I have both an Oscar on my file and detainment from the NSA, FBI, whatever. So I’m in the airports being quizzed and they laugh, and I can see him reading the screen. My wife gets stopped sometimes, too, because I was artistically involved with something that triggers those keywords, you know, in the Snowden-established programs that are all over the world today.

Is there another film you want to do together?

There’s a film that Oliver’s written probably ten years ago, which I have in print here. It explains a lot about who Oliver is. It also explains a lot about masculinity and stuff like that. I would love for him to do that. I spoke to his producer, Moritz Borman, who I know from Snowden; I met Moritz in Germany this summer because I was shooting there, on a commercial. We were having dinner and I said, “Can you do it? Can you get him out?” And he said, “I don’t think you can get him out. He’s so busy getting life achievement awards, doing documentaries, and writing,” and I said, “But he’s got another film in him.” When we did Snowden he was getting tired, but he was still fun––very fun, appreciative, and incredibly creative. Engaging to be with. You’re sitting there with a force to be reckoned with, without a doubt. That doesn’t disappear. He could be sitting there in a wheelchair like… what was that guy who did The Dead?

John Huston.

Yeah. He’s sitting there in a wheelchair, isn’t he, with drips in his arm? It’s an incredible film. He was on his deathbed. I’m just saying Oliver’s got one more in him. I would love to do another film with Oliver. I’m not very good at approaching directly. I approached Danny about the conflict we had about Bond––I’ve approached Danny a couple of times about things like that––otherwise Oliver is one of the few I would approach and say, “Are you up for it? Because I’d love to do another film.” There’s not many I can either be bothered or feel I’m in a position to do that, but I feel he’s so important; I think he’s such an important storyteller. He’s one of the only big ones for me. I will write him and ask.

Is this airport trouble the furthest it’s gone?

Yeah, never any worse than that. I mean, I got detained by the NSA. First by the FBI, and they said, “We’re not done yet.” Now the better-dressed boys are coming in––the young, super-intelligent, Prada-dressed––and they quizzed us. I really found them quite interesting, actually, and I understand what they’re doing; they’re security. They just need to know who we were, and you don’t lie to them because they know everything, right? By the time they get to the car, they know who’s in the car––who I am, who my mum was. [Laughs] You don’t lie––you just have to be honest––and I may be paranoid, but I don’t think I am. There’s a trigger that goes “ding” in the airport sometimes. They haven’t body-searched me or anything like that. I’m not running guns and dope. I was traveling a lot in Russia, obviously.

These are the creative people I attract. I hope to continue to attract them. But, you know, I’m still in touch with the ones that are important to me––like Danny and Kevin [Macdonald] and Thomas. I supported Harmony, too. I’d love to do another film with Harmony.

Have you seen AGGRO DR1FT?

I was going to ask, because I imagine you see those films. Have you seen it?


I know a lot about it. And Harmony and I were talking a lot about what he’s doing. Because we write and we care for each other. I love him to death, and he’s got a very good thing going with Benôit, unfortunately. [Laughs] But I might do another one with him one day, and Benôit is a wonderful DP.

Oh, of course.

Benôit did not do this; it’s this young kid [Arnaud Potier]. But I haven’t seen it. I’m looking forward to seeing it. I don’t know what it was being called––a film or feature film. It’s just a thing. That’s what he does.

I think it’s more a film than his press cycle was letting on. I think he also needed to gum up attention for it.

Yeah. He did that well.

He did. It got a lot of people very annoyed.

Yeah. That’s what he does. He’s so entertaining.

I mean, his Letterman appearances.

Yeah, I know. I was there once with him and, I mean… there’s a story about that which isn’t quite true––checking someone’s handbag. I can’t remember who it was.

Meryl Streep.

I was there with him, with Chloe [Sevigny]. It was with a bunch. Julien-Donkey: Werner, Chloe, Bruce LaBruce––all these adorable, ridiculous people. Harmony was, as always, a riot. I wouldn’t call him “clean” but he’s so full of joie de vivre.

AGGRO DR1FT is an older man’s movie, for sure––partly it’s about the anxiety of being a husband and a father.

Really? I’ll check him out. I must see it. I don’t know where to see it. Maybe I’ll just get him to get me a copy.

So the story of Korine going through Meryl Streep’s handbag isn’t true?

[Pause] Harmony is a master at generating these things. I’m sure it’s as much Letterman concocting these things. I don’t know if we got thrown out or left. I was there. We got bumped because Meryl’s story went on too long. Harmony was agreeable. We were sitting in a little green room, and there was a very proud person coming in––like a scene in Pistol. You may not have seen Pistol, but it’s a series I did with Danny about the Sex Pistols. There’s a scene where they’re just ushering people from the green room to the stage and they’re poking things, turning pictures upside-down. And he’s a bit like that. We left. We never got on, and I was going to go on with him. I was really excited. But we have a lot of memories.

You were involved with one of the unmade films that haunts me most: the third installment in the Dogville trilogy, which I’ve alternately seen called Wasington and Washington.

George Washington.

What do you remember about that film, what it was going to be?

I’ll tell you what I remember about it, and I know it was important to us. I wanted to do it. Manderlay, which is the sequel, is an incarnate stepping stone to what was going to become a… kind of culmination. Lars is always thinking ahead about this––super-literary and gifted and all these channels. He gets whims––I don’t know. So we had, definitely, clear ideas about what George Washington could be about. The problem was always in traveling or not. There were other problems at that time as well. We were good––we were comfortable together––and I really said, “Let’s do this.” Lars wouldn’t travel. “Maybe you could direct it.” He might’ve said that to me. I think he was flirting. “What do you mean––you stay at home?” It was that stage where he started to prefer being in a bunker and talking to people remote. The same thing happened on Dancer in the Dark: at one point in time I was asked to be the voice of peace between Lars and Björk, at the point where they were in conflict. Thank God it didn’t happen. But he’s capable of that, working remote, as one of the pioneers of thinking like that. He will not fly, but he can sail so he can travel.

I said, “Well, why don’t we”––and I don’t think anybody’s ever heard this, and he probably can’t remember, knowing him now––but I said, “Why don’t we build the set in a boat, on a boat? On a massive, stable, safe container and shoot going across the Atlantic? And you come; you can sail. Shoot it as a set, like a studio––have a studio set exactly like we do on Dogville and Manderlay––and shoot it. So we create everything we want with the actors and do it in a compact space. It takes 17 days to get across the Atlantic. We never took much more than that to shoot the others. Then at the end, just cinematically open up to Manhattan. Open up. The towers are still there.” This is in my own arrogance. As you can see, I was obsessed with it. I’m not a director, but I have ideas and I thought, “This is a truly fantastic concept. And the trio could be America as prescribed by Lars. That’ll be an enormous, you know, enigma for the film.” The whole legacy of Dogville was, “How can a man who’s never been there…” There are great examples of writers who’ve done that. Kafka.

It’s a criticism that’s aged really, really badly.

I know! [Laughs] I know.

If it ever was useful. But it’s aged so badly.

It really has, hasn’t it.

Really embarrassing.

Well, it’s arrogance. It’s a country saying, “We’re us. We’re not part of the planet. Screw it.”

Well, I watch the movie now and just recall coming of age in America at that time––post-9/11, around the Iraq War. People were so scared and angry.

Snowden wanted to be a marine.

Yeah, exactly. I would say that movie never stood a chance but it doesn’t need the approval of the people who said it.

No, no, you’re right. That was his thing about it, and that’s all I can recollect. I was very excited by it. And there were notes about George Washington. He’d had an idea of what he was going to do; I can’t remember it now. Clearly I’ve subconsciously repressed it. I still think about him often. Anyway, that’s what I remember of it and I would have loved it to be completed, and I don’t know where it would have gone politically. I mean, obviously he would have steamed in the same way Oliver Stone does when he knows more about your political constitution. He can quote Presidents; Oliver’s a lexicon. They’re so different, the two of them and Harmony––that epitomizes what you’re saying. I know Lars was preparing a completion to the trilogy, and what that would’ve been as far as America. He would have built on what happened. Manderlay was more the massacre and the racial thing. Obviously, Dogville planted a seed of hypocrisy and Bible-bashing––all that goes on everywhere. Shooting people with a Bible under your arm. I don’t know who would have played George; I’m sure Willem would have liked to. [Laughs]

And I don’t know––it’s hard. I mean, as a good example of my relationship to Lars: I remember when I was shooting with Vinterberg in Sweden, and he was shooting Breaking the Waves. I had to do a lot of research, location work, for Breaking the Waves. I joined the Presbyterian Church as a member and I recorded, secretly, ministers talking about the most obscure things, sometimes in people’s back kitchens and stuff like that. And on the last night there, in Glasgow, I recorded an interview with a minister who told me a story. I don’t know if you remember the film. There’s a scene where a guy’s being buried, and he’s being sent into the ground in front of his mourning family: “Anthony Dod Mantle, you’re a sinner.” It’s basically because he won’t credit anybody else. I gave him this real-life scenario as a potential springboard, a diving springboard, for the film––you know, this world that Stellan represents and Emily represents. Like Ryan’s Daughter, which has similarities between the two impossible worlds: the new, modernist worlds of the oil workers and the local society. You know what I mean?

There’s this obscure man in front of the family in the windswept Scottish graveyard screaming, “This man was always a sinner and he’s going to hell.” I said, “You’ve got to put this in the film.” Lars said, “No, no, no.” And then a week later he says, “I’ve been thinking about incorporating this scene into the script, but I can’t credit you.” He would never put my name on the script. “So can I just use your name?” And I thought, “Of course, Lars. We’re friends. It’s a laugh.” I didn’t think about it. Then along comes three pages with the five coffins with “Anthony Dod Mantle.” And my wife, at his side on set as a makeup stylist, crying because he’s deliberately tormenting her. He said, “Let’s do it again, Robby.” Robby Müller was the DoP. Robby said, “I think we have it. I think we can move on.” The designer, all my mates, they were there. They’ve just met each other. Sanne and I were just in love. He’s holding her there. “No, I think I want it one more time,” and another coffin with “Anthony Dod Mantle” comes in and gets sunk down. He’s tormenting.

That’s the truth of his life. The final of the five coffins was used at his 50th birthday party as a fruitbox. He showed it to me with pride. And there’s actually a direct link between behaving like that naughty boy and blowing me out of the water after Antichrist. It’s the same thing: it’s this complex equation of an extremely gifted, bright extraordinaire brain––and a bit of OCD and all the genius things on the edge––and it’s also a little boy who obviously has had problems as a kid, and he stands on his heels and says, “I’m going to do that.” He’s a complex mix of that.

This ship idea is as far as you got?

That’s as far as we got. It never became a production. I was just so close to him, and so we talked about everything possibly and I said, “We’ve got to do George Washington. We’ve got to complete this. It would be so interesting to do it,” I thought. He definitely burned-out––in the same way he had an immense difficulty completing The Kingdom. I just wanted to fire him up. We spent a lot of time together and messed around and laughed and drank and talked about it, and he was wondering what to do. What he did instead of that would have been Antichrist. So depression was on. The depression was looming. The anxiety was massive, and always has been.

Whatever your relationship with any one filmmaker, again: it’s so wide-reaching in so many ways. You, Doyle, and Lachman are serious artists who’ve made art that exists outside a mainstream temperament, but a lot of the stuff somehow seeps into the larger culture.

Yeah. Chris got right in there.

I mean, McDonald’s put Fallen Angels on their bags. Or SNL does a spoof of Carol. I don’t know how you feel about the stuff seeping into the mainstream, albeit diluted? It never hits as hard.

I think even favored and applauded, established cinematographers suffer occasionally from being the eternal, semi-invisible, anonymous being. However influential and however much effect, influence we have on the final result, we are what we are. You marry yourself off to that; you have to. Most of the time I’m very joyous. I can go off to the back, through the side entrance. That said: I think we’re actually really happy––and I’m more than happy––if it comes out and finds a place on the shelves someway or other, Criterion or wherever, as long as it doesn’t get diluted and polluted into something that it’s not. Then the product speaks for itself.

Even people who don’t know much about film, they suddenly realize they might have seen Snowden, they might have seen 28 Days, they might have seen Festen. I’m fortunate: I have a few of these ones that stick out. I still think about that even now, up in my 60s. In that respect, if they turn up anywhere––are lauded or recorded or celebrated in any format.

I generally do have an incredible, enjoyable life and I’m privileged; I’ve seen things that other people don’t see. Putin: this man who… is just a man. We go to the most extraordinary places and extraordinary domains and you visit condos above Central Park which people never go to. 

We’re so privileged. Important to enjoy that. Oliver would call it “the evening of my career.” He considers himself “in the evening of his career”––he likes to use that sentence. I actually want to do another film with him. I’m slightly… not at ease, but I’m aware of the fact that I’m not just out there, the #1 choice all the time. I am who I am and I’ve done what I’ve done. I won’t be retiring and teaching––I don’t think so. I’m made to tell stories.

Collage by Anthony Dod Mantle

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