When I ask Paul Haggis, the Canadian-born but Los Angeles-based writer-director, if he considers himself Canadian or American or perhaps a cross-section of both—Camerican—he laughs and says, “Snowback is what I’m called down there,” before adding, “I feel like an outsider in both countries which I think is really good for me. I’m a bit of a misanthrope and a loner, even though I’m a social loner. A social hermit. I can work a party like nobody’s business but if you really know me and look in my eyes you’ll see how uncomfortable I am.”
Today then must be a tad uncomfortable for him. In Toronto to promote his latest film, he’ll submit to a dozen or two interviews and later tonight, a Q&A in front of an audience. It’s a long day but par for the course when you are chatting up a big budget thriller starring two Hollywood stars. In the Next Three Days, Russell Crowe plays a man desperate to get his wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of jail for a crime he is convinced she didn’t commit. When he all his legal avenues are exhausted he turns to an illegal one and plans an elaborate jail break.
Based on a French film, it takes the original’s premise and adds star powder and high-action wattage. “ I saw the film Pour Elle,” he says, “It was brought to me by my head of development. She’s Parisian. She’d seen it and I thought it was a lovely story. It’s very slight. It’s only 86 minutes long but it had what I call really good bones. Really lovely structure. I thought there were questions they asked that they didn’t get to explore. The nature of trust and belief and what you would do for the woman you loved. I thought I could expand upon it and make it, perhaps, more exciting and search the characters and the depths a little deeper.”
Comparing The Next Three Days to his best-known film, the Academy Award winning drama brings out a curious response from the director.
“Every project is different. Oddly directed Crash was more of a thrill ride than directing The Next Three Days because I had to shoot it in so few days. Thirty-five days for Crash versus fifty-two days for this. Everything was on a panic on Crash. This we got to think it through and really plan it. It was a lot of fun doing this. There were many more scenes. There are 394 scenes in this movie so you really had to move to accomplish it. This was scene, scene, scene all the way down the page. Ten scenes per page often. There is a lot of cutting back and forth.”
After the fast pace of shooting The Next Three Days I ask if he would consider coming back to Canada to make a movie.
“I’d love to,” he says. “There is a book I really, really loved, I shouldn’t say what it is, but it was set on the east coast. I really wanted to do it. It was a beautiful book but I couldn’t figure out a way to make it into a screenplay. Struggled with that. Love to.”