Close-Up: Lasse Hallstrom on 'The Hoax'
by Scott Holleran
April 5, 2007


Lasse Hallstrom on the set of The Hoax with Richard Gere
hile in town to work on his new Fox television pilot, New Amsterdam, about a New York City homicide cop who happens to be immortal, director Lasse Hallstrom took some time to discuss his latest motion picture, Miramax's The Hoax, starring Richard Gere.

Box Office Mojo: Would you have fallen for Clifford Irving's Howard Hughes hoax?

Lasse Hallstrom: I'd have to look at the time. If I'd been at the publishing company, I may have believed it. If I'd been on the CBS News [60 Minutes] crew [present during an interview with Clifford Irving], I may have doubted it. So it depends on which position I'd been in. I can think of ways to look through the scam, but the fact is that [Clifford Irving] had the skill to imitate [Howard Hughes'] handwriting. [Irving] also knew so much about the details, having obtained [a draft of another author's] biography. I think that's the key to why he succeeded in making it so credible.

Box Office Mojo: Are you pleased with the picture?

Hallstrom: I am—very much so—it was fun for me to be more free form. It was an editorial feast and it was fun to be ironic and playful and clever with storytelling. I think it's a smart script.

Box Office Mojo: What do you think motivated Clifford Irving?

Hallstrom: In reality, I think it was partly money and partly an attempt to do a hoax on the Establishment, which was sort of part of the times. I think he was inspired by meeting the art forger Elmyr de Hory [while writing a book about art forgery]. I think they hung out and fantasized about hoaxing and tricking. I think he was reaching for a new art form, like a type of happening.

Box Office Mojo: Like performance art?

Hallstrom: Yes, like a happening. And I think it was a part of the early Seventies—which was all about finding a cool way of needling the Establishment, of questioning the Establishment.

Box Office Mojo: Is anyone honest in this movie?

Hallstrom: [Pauses] No one that I can think of—I can't think of one completely good person in the movie. [Pauses] No, I don't think so. I may have met a few Clifford Irvings in top positions. You meet a few people like this who desire to push ahead beyond decency and honesty and they manipulate to pursue their own egotistical goals. I don't think it's too uncommon. It borders on what defines a psychopath—people who don't shy away from any means of pursuing their goals.

Box Office Mojo: Did you co-write the script?

Hallstrom: No, I didn't. I gave my notes on it and I may have added some to it, such as adding the footage of the period.

Box Office Mojo: Bob Yari (The Illusionist) is credited as a producer. Did he contribute to The Hoax?

Hallstrom: Creatively, no. But producer Joshua Maurer [Introducing Dorothy Dandridge] knows everything about this [story]—he was very early to develop it. He specializes in true stories.

Richard Gere plays Clifford Irving in The Hoax
Box Office Mojo: Did Clifford Irving feel remorse about having committed fraud?

Hallstrom: In the end [of the movie], he does have some empathy and he's feeling a little guilty. Being in the limelight and having fun was falling apart and people were actually pointing out the consequences of his betrayals and, from that, he was humbled; he had a streak of guilt. He did plea bargain. But, no, I don't think it was a turnaround of his personality.

Box Office Mojo: You were still in Sweden in 1971. Do you remember the Howard Hughes autobiography hoax?

Hallstrom: I don't. I didn't know anything about it at the time. I did know about Howard Hughes—what was known to everyone—that he was a recluse, a billionaire and a former aviator. I knew that there was someone unable to use all that money and he was stuck in his home, shut off from all those possibilities of having a great life. The idea that money could not give you freedom was compelling, at least to all Swedes.

Box Office Mojo: Do you really believe Howard Hughes had those papers sent to Clifford Irving?

Hallstrom: In reality, Clifford Irving's father knew Howard Hughes and that adds confusion to the whole story. How that came into play, I don't know, and how Irving came up with the idea of the hoax is not a straightforward story. I spoke to Clifford Irving and he couldn't remember why he did it. I think he wanted to get attention and it was hip to question the Establishment.

Box Office Mojo: In recent press interviews, Clifford Irving challenges the movie's version of events. Do you want to comment on his latest claims?

Hallstrom: We're taking dramatic liberties with his life. The fact that he loved the movie the first time he saw it was interesting—and there were witnesses. He must be very torn by this, but I'm guessing he loves it because the focus is on him. Many things [in the movie] are different and I can see why he had a problem but he speaks with such authority and conviction and credibility from contradictory standpoints. He is very articulate but he's not a reliable source.

Box Office Mojo: Are you concerned that you're promoting a charlatan?

Hallstrom: No. It's certainly clear from the film that the hoax has consequences. It's not glamorizing the fraud. But hopefully he'll get something out of that—after all these years. He served time [in prison] and people are interested in his story.

• Close-Up: Lasse Hallstrom on 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape'
• Close-Up: Lasse Hallstrom on 'An Unfinished Life'
Renaissance Man: An Interview with Lasse Hallstrom
More Interviews by Scott Holleran

• Review - The Hoax
• Review - Casanova
• Review - An Unfinished Life
• Review - What's Eating Gilbert Grape on DVD

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