The writer of Drive's 15-year pet project

Oscar-winning screenwriter Hossein Amini scraps the scripts to direct his debut feature The Two Faces of January

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“Someone has to give me at least a million dollars to do something, if they don’t then I can’t make another movie!” asserts Hollywood’s writer-in-residence and first time director Hossein Amini. He’s being realistic here, as it took him 22 years in the studio’s waiting room to make the jump from Oscar-nominated screenwriter (DriveWings of the Dove) to rookie director for his debut thriller The Two Faces of January. “It’s a bit of a leap trying to persuade people,” he says coyly. “You're constantly being knocked. You’re at the bottom of the food chain where you’re expected to take dictation sometimes, so artistic integrity is something that’s really hard to hang on to.” He has every right to be nervous. If it’s a box office clinker he may never again see the right end of the director megaphone. “It’s scary!” Amini says.

He needn’t worry. After having written dialogue and direction for all of Ryan Gosling’s silent brooding scenes in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, Amini was well prepared. “I’m not a huge dialogue fan,” he confesses. “I would prefer scenes to play silently if they can, and so with (Drive) I felt really happy.” Following Studiocanal’s blessing, he got the budget ($30 million) and the talent (Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac) for his 15-years-in-waiting pet project. “She never made me feel like a first time director,” he says of Dunst. “Kirsten was very encouraging and in retrospect I wonder if some of that was making me feel better about myself so I’d be better at what I was doing.”

Was there a lot to learn? “I very quickly learnt that once you talk too much, (the actors) start to think too much and the performance becomes very self-aware,” he says. “That taught me to occasionally leave them space and just let them play with it.” The film is an adaptation of psychological thriller queen Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name and centres on a con artist and his wife who get in a spot of trouble after an accidental homicide. Amini’s flick is already being compared to other Highsmith adaptations like The Talented Mr. Ripley. “It’s always hard when you’re being compared to something that’s come before, because it’s very rare that you get a remake that is better than the one before,” he admits. “I don’t think you ever go in knowing how it’s going to turn out. Every movie when it starts out thinks it’s going to be a potential Oscar winner at some stage.” Does he think he’s got an Oscar in the bag? “No!” he laughs. “I just hope in ten years times someone goes, ‘That Highsmith was much better!’”

The Two Faces of January is in cinemas today

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