Artscape: Talking With Oscar-Winner James Ivory

Mar 29, 2018

The American director James Ivory has been a filmmaking success story for more than 30 years, mostly with his company Merchant/Ivory Productions. Now 89, he's still going strong.

At the 2018 Academy Awards on March 4th, he won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay, for the movie Call Me By Your Name. A week later, he was in Newport for a screening of his classic film from 1993, The Remains of the Day. RIPR's Chuck Hinman hosted a Q & A with Ivory in front of the audience at the Jane Pickens Theater:

James Ivory (right), Chuck Hinman at Jane Pickens Theater
Credit Loren King

James Ivory's first Academy Award nomination was for Best Director in 1987, for the Merchant/Ivory production Room With a View. He was nominated two more times for Best Director, but never won. Speaking in front of the audience at the Jane Pickens Theater in Newport, he said the fact that his eventual win was a writing award, for Best Adapted Screenplay, was a bit of a surprise.  

“Yes it was,” he said. “I’d worked on plenty of our screenplays before, but I’d never done one entirely on my own. Naturally I was exhilarated and thrilled, but amazed also.”                                                             

Ivory’s Oscar was for writing the adaptation turning the novel Call Me By Your Name into the movie with the same title. Ivory told the Jane Pickens audience that he had one main thought as he made his way to the podium to accept the award.                                                                           

“That I would mess up giving the speech,” he said. “I’m a terrible public speaker. I’m just the world’s worst. I just wanted to get the damn speech out of the way.”                                                                                 

Ivory is now regularly referred to as the oldest ever Oscar winner, almost as if that’s an award in itself. He said he found that amusing.                   

“You know,” he said, “long after Call Me By Your Name has turned to dust, and my own films have turned to dust, the one thing that will be remembered about all that is that the oldest person ever got an Oscar. That’s the kind of fact that goes down in history.”

Taking questions from the audience, Ivory was asked about the new development in Hollywood, the “MeToo” movement fighting sexual harassment and empowering women. Ivory said he saw the movement as “the tip of the spear” that was launched years ago, when women began agitating for the vote. That spear, he said, “has now come down and everything that’s happening should happen.”

This was Ivory’s third visit to the Jane Pickens Theater within the past year, and he promises to return soon, with another of his films, likely 1995’s Jefferson in Paris, a movie he feels was unfairly criticized for exploring the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his teen-age slave Sally Hemings, at a time when many historians did not believe there was such a relationship. DNA evidence has since confirmed there was.