Breaking his Silence: Scorsese collaborator discusses film decades in the making
the 50 years that the writer Jay Cocks has been friends with Martin Scorsese, the two have collaborated on some films that were made quickly – The Age of Innocence took all of 17 days to write, and it went into production almost immediately – and others, such as Gangs of New York, which took decades to bring to the screen. Their latest collaboration is Silence, an adaptation of the novel by Shusaku Endo about two young Portuguese Jesuit priests in the 17th century (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who risk their lives and faith to travel to Japan to investigate rumours that their mentor (Liam Neeson) has committed apostasy. As the film enters the awards-season fray, we spoke with Cocks, 72, about how the film grew out of attacks by the Christian right on The Last Temptation of Christ, on working with Scorsese and on how to maintain enthusiasm for a project that takes almost 30 years to come to fruition. Let’s start with just the facts. How many drafts did you do on
I think at least a couple dozen. Have you figured out your hourly wage on this? I don’t get paid by the hour. But how many hours would you say you worked on it? Oh, a couple thousand at least. Not counting time seeing rough cuts and talking, stuff like that. You began working on it in 1989 or so. How long before you had a draft that really worked? Marty says in 2006 is when he feels we really got a lock on the structure.
What took so long? Do you know the story of how I came to be involved in this? Marty gets a hold of the book, he reads it as the dust is settling from Last Temptation, he says, does this sound interesting? And without reading it, I say, you bet! Because whenever you throw your lot in with Marty, you know that it’s going to be a great adventure, and a great film. So – without reading it, I said yes. And I read it and went: Ho-ly smoke. Why? The novel is, shall we say, challenging, for a couple of technical reasons. The translation is very poor, and sometimes confusing. I mean, there seem to be even proofreading problems with it. It’s a book told in several voices: Third-person narrative, first-person narrative, epistolary narrative and, at the end, an official document and excerpts from the history of a Dutch trader. So, you have to take all these voices, and the incidents they relate, and put them into some sort of dramatic structure. I embarked on doing that, and the producer at the time called me up and said, You should stop, there are money problems.