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Asif Kapadia On The Duel Between The Icon And The Man In ‘Diego Maradona’ – Cannes Studio

Asif Kapadia

Completing the third part of an unexpected trilogy delving into the darker side of fame, Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona premiered last night on the Croisette, even if its subject, in ill health, couldn’t make it into Cannes. That Maradona is alive at all—that he has lived long enough to find his second —might be the miracle Kapadia’s film celebrates. After Senna and Amy, documentaries about two fast-rising stars whose lives were lost too young, Kapadia was fascinated by taking a look at what happens to after the fame—and the pressure it comes with—starts to fade.

And, as he explained at Deadline’s Cannes Studio, there’s a very specific reason he chose to title his film Diego Maradona—eschewing the one-name titles of his past works. The video is above, and the full interview is printed below.

Much like your last two documentaries, there’s a real sense in Diego Maradona of contrasting the icon—the public idea of this person—with the reality. When you put all those pieces side-by-side, a very different picture emerges. When did that picture start to emerge for you? Was it during this process, or, since you had read about Maradona years before, did you already know that there was something there?

It’s an interesting question because it’s almost like there are two Maradonas that I was aware of before this film. One was the player, when he was at his peak, and when he was playing against England and winning the World Cup. I was old enough to remember the international football from that time, but not a lot about the time when he was in Italy, or what happened to him afterwards. So I lost sight of him.

And then I became aware of him again when he was in the midst of his problems. I remember somehow out of the blue seeing a picture of him looking really big, and quite obese, and I think he must have been in Cuba then. So that would have been, perhaps, 20 to 30 years after his career. So there was a big gap in between. I didn’t really know or understand what had happened in the middle. And I’d read books about him, but it didn’t necessarily explain that section in the middle, maybe because no one knew.

I guess that was the reason for me to make the film. To talk to him, and to talk to people around him—family and close, close associates who might help me unravel it. We came to feel that, for obvious reasons when you see the film, the crux of his story was Naples, Italy, in that particular period when he rose to the top, but also the issues started to begin.

The film is called Diego Maradona. Perhaps based on Senna and Amy, I think many were expecting it to be called simply Maradona. There’s a reason you didn’t go that route, which becomes clear in the film.

Everyone assumes it’s just called Maradona [laughs]. And maybe there was a working title which was Maradona. But I don’t think anyone ever asked me what it would be called. They just assumed what it was going to be called. I’m not particularly original with my titles. I have form, so Senna and Amy.

But yes, now you’ve seen it, hopefully it’s motivated; the name of the film is motivated. There’s a specific reason why it’s not just called Maradona. It is Diego Maradona and there’s a reason for it. And the bad answer for that is I was doing a Q&A once and somebody asked, “When is your film about Madonna coming out?” So there’s one reason [laughs].

The second reason was that it’s about Diego and Maradona, I suppose. The way we’re looking at it is there are these personalities and different character traits. And the film tries to dig into how people deal with fame and becoming successful, coming from the background that he’s from, which is a really poor background, from a favela. He’s like a street kid who became huge. So there is this idea of different personas that one has to  create in order to survive.

This does feel like the third part of a thematic trilogy. What is the drive that makes these stories so fascinating to you?

It’s really unusual because there was never an intention to say, “I’ll make three of these types of films.” When I did the first one, Senna, I had never made a documentary before, and I thought it would be interesting to have a go at doing something about something I like. I’m interested in sport, I’m interested in Formula One, I know he’s quite well known. I knew there was a lot of drama in his life. I was watching it at the time, live. So, I thought Senna would be a one off.

It did really well, I was really happy with it, I’m really proud of that film. And then, off the back of that, I got a lot of offers, from other subjects. People contacting me directly saying, “Will you make a film about me?” I really turned them all down, and I wasn’t interested in doing another sporty film.

Then Amy came along. And Amy was different because I’m a North Londoner, Amy Winehouse was a local girl, she lived down the road. I didn’t know her, but that story felt very close to home. And I’ve made lots of films internationally around the world. But it was the first subject, an idea that I thought, I’m going to make a film about my city. I spent 10 years living around Camden, so this is a story about a girl who could have been on my street, could have gone to school with me, who became famous, and what happened to her.

And there was a bit of, almost, anger in that film of, I just remember at the time when she was alive, thinking, this doesn’t feel right, something’s wrong. Why is no one looking after her, what’s going on? That was the big question which I wanted to unravel in that film. And it was a really painful film to make.

This one, I suppose, came along at a time when I’m older, and it’s a film about someone who grows up. Amy and Senna tragically both died young, and Diego Maradona is about a man who is a genius, who’s brilliant, who comes from a really bad, poor background. How you deal with becoming hugely successful and having something in you, I guess, which seeks out the darker aspects of society and life? Because that’s where he’s from. So wherever he goes, whatever he achieves, I think he feels most comfortable with street people.

But it’s also: and then you grow up. What happens to you when you get older? I’ve got family and kids and parents who’ve passed away. So you’re looking at the world and life in a different way. I was interested, I suppose, with Diego looking at the fame bit, but also what happens afterward. And it can get messy. If you’re a child star, getting older is not easy.

Do you think of fame as an unstudied psychological condition? It results in so much anguish a lot of the time. Is that what you’re looking at?

Yes, and again, it was not a conscious decision, but if there’s a theme running through them I suppose that’s the theme, they are films about people who are super successful and famous. But also, in my mind, I’m interested in people who are slightly on the edgier side of the story. Maybe there are lots of people who’ve been hugely successful and really rich and famous who are great and have a great life. I don’t know why I don’t find them so interesting. What’s the movie there, I suppose? So I’m more interested in the slightly more edgy, diversive characters. And I do feel, yeah, in a way, our three films are different aspects of fame.

Senna is a man, Latin American hero, the one thing that country felt they could be proud of, coming out of a dictatorship, and so many problems, and taking on the wealthy Europeans. But he’s a bloke, and he was treated a certain way.

Amy, this is what happens if you’re a young woman, this is how people treat you and judge you when you get famous, and make fun of you in tabloids. It was very much about the tabloid media and society came out at her peak of fame. And her album, Back To Black, came out just when newspapers went digital, like what we’re doing now. Suddenly, you’re after more and more content. “Give me stuff for the website.” So you had tabloid newspapers arguing over how to get attention, and how to suddenly become international. So the easy way to do it is, show people looking really awful and people keep clicking, and commenting. And that’s become a thing. It wasn’t a thing before then.

Diego’s a whole another ball game, in that he’s like this worldwide mad star. Who a lot of people think they know, and my hope is the film will explain what’s really going on. As soon as we even announced that we’re making a film about him, you split the audience. In the UK the people think one thing about him. There are people who will make jokes. He’s got an addiction issue in his life, has always had. But it becomes a joke for certain people, and not necessarily taken seriously.

So that is all part of these stories as well I guess, and I think that’s what I’m trying to look at. That’s all, how different people have tried to deal with fame. And a lot of the time, sadly, if you’re not from a really tough, secure background, then alcohol and drugs and various other things come into your life, because somehow that makes you feel worthwhile.

And to return to the theme of the title, there are moments when Diego feels frightened by the fame that surrounds him, and moments in which he embraces it and allows his ego to be puffed up.

Absolutely, I think that’s the whole thing. On one hand, it’s great to be powerful and when you click your fingers, you get everything you want. But actually, it’s the worst thing ever because no one ever says no. And therefore, who’s going to look after you and stop you when things are getting out of control? Yeah, that’s definitely a part of his life. And if you’re not from an educated background, if you don’t have a support system, the psychologist’s line is often, the minute you start earning more than your parents, then no one can tell you what to do. And if that happens when you’re 11/12/13/14, then you’re still a child and you almost get locked into that age mentally. You don’t grow up, because you don’t deal with rejection in a certain way.

I mean these are all issues, it’s an interesting thing to talk about. That idea of, being a god, you can see how people use that term, particularly for Diego, but actually, what people who cared about him said, it was the worst thing ever.

You show the press conference announcing Maradona’s signing with Naples, and a journalist asking about the organized crime in the city. He clearly had no idea that question was coming. But of course, getting involved with those guys was to be his undoing in the years to come.

It really is innocence at the beginning. He doesn’t really know where he’s going, doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into. And when we spoke to him, he didn’t know anything about Naples. They were willing to buy him, so he went. It just happened to be, at the time, a pretty tough, rough, poor, violent system. In the ’80s in Naples, the Camorra were at their peak. He didn’t, I think, know what he was getting himself into.

Was he reticent to talk to you about the Camorra, or anything?

I don’t think so. I mean I think in interviews when I met him, and when we did our research, dealing with that period that we chose to focus on, I can’t recall something that we didn’t discuss or cover in the film. There are a lot of incidents, a lot of other stories, because he was there for seven years. So then the issue more becomes repetition; you can’t tell every story, or every incident, or everything that happened. And there’s always a balance, with the kind of way I make these films, of the stories versus what you can show. So there’s an element of that.

I mean, I did save up when I was going to ask those questions. Maybe not the first interview or the second one. “Let’s just kind of get the meat of it done. Maybe on the third one…” “OK, we’ve got to do it now, now let’s just go through it one by one.” And sometimes we’d go off on a tangent, and it’s like, “That’s great, that’s really interesting. Just going back to the question, which is actually this…” and then we’d go off over there. And you’d say, “That’s fantastic, that’s fantastic, but we haven’t got long, shall we just talk about this…” So that was interesting.

He’s a master, he’s been doing this press thing for a long time. From when he was a kid. And he even said it, he knows, when he’s doing an interview, you ask a question about one thing, he’ll just, “drop a bomb,” as he would say. “I know you’ve got your headline, you’re happy, I’m happy,” but it’d be about something else entirely. So a lot of journalists would go, “That’s great, I’ll write that up, that’ll be on the front page.” But when you’re making this kind of film, you know we’ve got to deal with the issues, we’ve got to deal with the personal stuff.

In the end, I think he did answer. The issue is whether we, when we’re editing, have time to get it all into one movie. It’s quite a life. And the challenge was always the classic thing I had on all the other films. We had a four-hour cut, with a lot of stuff in there, and it’s just like it can’t sustain. So, we’re going to have to cut it down. And then we have to make it a two-hour film, and you have to make some really tough choices. So there’s a lot of stuff that we had, that he talked about, that I asked him about, which has to get cut.

The Deadline Studio is presented by Hyundai. Cameras provided by Blackmagic Design.

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