Q: Has an actor ever surprised you?
A: Well, I was waiting to meet Harrison Ford for the first time and show him the storyboard drawings for Blade Runner. And I wanted his character to be like Philip Marlowe with a kind of a trilby, a fedora with a slightly wider brim. Very sharp. Heíd been shooting Raiders of the Lost Ark, so he arrived at this posh piano bar in London wearing a leather jacket, khaki shirt, and baggy khaki trousers and a hat—fully dressed from the set. I said, "Thereís our hat!" He said, "No. This is why I came like this—this is how I am as Indiana Jones. Letís think again." We did.

Q: You became the father of the directorís cut with Blade Runner. And then did a few more versions—including the final cut. Stuff didnít work out. Did it?
A: You know, it went off the rails, but not hugely. Frankly, I look back on it and think, Actually, it was pretty normal. The only two things about the film that were marred were the voice-over and the ending. When we finished, I really thought I nailed the motherfucker, and I did. But then somehow it didnít test well, and then Harrisonís not happy, and if Harrisonís not happy Iím not happy, because I like my artistes to be happy about what they did, right? Yet Harrisonís wife at the time, Melissa Mathison—she was the writer for E.T.—she was the one person who took my side and said "Fantastic movie. This will stand up the way it is." So sheís a smart lady and she got it, but the rest of them ... Everyoneís in the room with their opinions, including the financiers, and my problem, being a well-brought-up Northern English boy, is always being respectful of the money thatís been put into my expenditure. So I changed it.

Q: The dark, industrial look of Blade Runner—it sort of seems like the Northern English steel mills and chemical plants near where you grew up.
A: It does. I had a quite unconventional childhood, in the sense that I traveled a lot and I went to 10 or 11 schools. I was completely confused academically, but wherever I went, I could paint. I painted an inordinate amount. Ended up I went to the Royal College of Art. If you ever have a kid who doesnít know what to do, stick him in art school. Itís amazing what evolves. For the first time I was absolutely focused, passionate about everything. My parents couldnít tear me away from the art.

Q: I heard you signed on to direct Gladiator after seeing a painting.
A: Walter Parkes called me, saying, "I donít want you to read the script. I want to pitch you an idea." I was defensive, because swords-and-sandals films have, over the years, been downright cheesy. So he flipped out a reproduction of a Jean-Léon Gérôme painting, To Those About to Die. It was a detailed representation of an andabatae, an armored gladiator with a pitchfork, standing over a victim heíd netted, looking up for permission to slaughter, and thereís a lunatic with his thumb down—"Kill!" It was so vividly expressive that the penny just dropped, and I went, "Iíll do it."