(Claire Dwyer Hogg’s article appeared in the Observer, 11/30.)
You wrote the cult film Paris Texas 29 years ago. Why did someone who cares so much about language start the story with Travis, a mute?
It was a very conscious decision. As conscious as you can get. I had two experiences with very close friends of mine who experienced aphasia, the loss of language. It shocked me. With aphasia, oftentimes the symbolism of language is skewed and the names for things can be swapped around. The person speaking absolutely understands what they mean inside, but they might call a "door" a "dog". It's very easy to lose language – it can be shut off in a second. So, what about a character who can't speak, but has all this stuff going on inside of him? He's feeling, but it's not being expressed. That's where we started.
The director Wim Wenders pretty much kept the script as you wrote it; he said later that the actors were so faithful to your words, they'd shoot scenes from the top if they made a tiny mistake. That's unusual in film, isn't it?
Yeah, it was an unusual situation. I was lucky to be in that position.
Have you been in that position in the industry since?
Not really. I guess as an actor you tend to be very privileged – at least you have the impression you're being spoiled. They would like to give you that impression. Often, it makes you cranky, rather than feeling privileged.
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