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What Rodrigo Cortés Learned From Sigourney Weaver and Robert De Niro

Her intense preparation, his Zen energy in 'Red Lights'

Español | Rodrigo Cortés both directed and wrote the screenplay for Red Lights, his second English-language feature. The Spanish native, now 39, has been making films since he was 16, and has worked as a director, producer, screenwriter, editor and actor. In Red Lights, Sigourney Weaver stars as a researcher whose specialty is discrediting people who claim to have paranormal powers. Her biggest challenge turns out to be Robert De Niro, who plays a famous psychic who resurfaces after years of retirement.

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Cortés recently talked with AARP VIVA about the film, slated to open July 13.

Q: You've been involved in two films about the paranormal, Red Lights and the 2011 Spanish film Apartment 143, for which you wrote the screenplay. What makes you so interested in the subject?

A: I am not that much interested in the subject, but in people's beliefs. It's interesting as a background because it's so allegorical in so many ways, but not as a place to find answers from. I needed to find answers from the skeptics and the rationalists, and I found they behaved in a very similar way: They confirmed their previous theories and rejected everything else.

Q: In Red Lights, you worked with Sigourney Weaver and Robert De Niro, two iconic actors in their 60s. What did you learn from them?

A: I learned many things from them. I wanted veteran characters. I wanted a very strong woman with the wisdom of life. And Sigourney is warm, she has this sweet energy, this honey [that] as a woman she has been making for decades. Sigourney needs to understand everything about her character and the environment she lives in. If you have a scene in a kitchen, she has to open every drawer. 

DeNiro is very relaxed. He is the most Zen guy I have ever met; he is never rushed. He is not focused on any goal, [but] on just being, staying there; he doesn't push anything. He plays with words — as if they were clay — until something happens. You learn all those things from them.

Film of Rodrigo Rodrigo Cortés: Red Lights. AARP VIVA Radio

Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment

Director Rodrigo Cortés (at right) talks over a scene with Cillian Murphy

Q: How did you get interested in filmmaking?

A: It's hard to know. You first are an audience member, fascinated by things you are seeing, but don't think it's possible to be a director. And little by little you cross the line, you end up believing it, you think of it as something possible. The moment I felt I had to do something was when I saw A Fish Called Wanda. I felt, "I am not a spectator anymore, I have to do something."

Q: What are the key differences between making films in the United States and in Spain?

A: You have less money in Spain. Filmmaking is the same, the cameras, the equipment, but you have less money. But you have creative control in Spain. In Europe there is something cultural that has to do with that; filmmakers are respected as authors.

Q: What's your feeling about the opportunities for Spanish and Hispanic directors and actors in the American film industry?

A: I feel it doesn't have much to do with nationalities. The world has become a smaller place. As a director, no one cares where you are from. If you have an interesting voice, there are always possibilities. With actors, it's different. If you have a certain face or accent, you might not be able to do everything; you have more restricted options. If you're a black person, you might not be able to play certain roles, but on the other hand, if you're Robert Redford, you can't play Nelson Mandela, either.

Q: Do you mentor or work with younger talent?

A: When I produced and wrote Apartment 143, the director had never directed a feature film, and I was interested in taking advantage of that energy. I am interested in young directors. And I give lectures [to film students]. They ask for a key, a solution, a formula, and life is never that way. It's not having something unveiled. So you try to explain why they should not look for formulas.

Q: Any advice for Spanish talent coming to the United States?

A: I don't give advice, for every case is different. The one that applies to myself is that there are no guarantees about anything. So you should do what you believe in. Only do things you can put your blood, skin and muscles into.

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