Were you disappointed that your Civil War movie didn't have any battle scenes?
No, I wasn't, because it's been done so much. There have been some wonderful films with beautifully done battles and gore and all that. But I was more interested in what the vibe was following the war.
You portray Lincoln's assassination, but you choose not to show his face. Why?
If you try to authenticate his face, you're just never going to win. There's no face like it except the real one.
How helpful or harmful to your career has it been to be known as someone who is passionate about politics?
I am passionate. I am political about my country, about what it is, how strong it is, how strong it remains. [My last film,] Lions for Lambs, got rough treatment, and I think it was because and I don't want to sound defensive but I think it was misperceived. I'm not a left-wing person. I'm just a person interested in the sustainability of my country.
Was there a point early in your career when you thought you could change minds through film?
I guess I did. When I was younger, naive. I thought, Maybe The Candidate will affect young people. The point of that film was that we select people by cosmetics, not substance. I thought maybe that point would get through and they would demand more of their candidates. But I've come to feel that [film] is not going to change anything.
Do you wish you had acted more in recent decades?
Yes. I segued into directing because I wanted more control of the story. But I started as an actor. I am an actor. I think a lot of people think that I don't [act] anymore or that I'm more involved in Sundance. But it's not true.
How has Hollywood changed since you got into the biz?
Hollywood as we once knew it no longer exists. It's just a street in Los Angeles. Studio systems still exist, but only under whatever security can be provided from a franchise film. It's becoming more open to independent films, but only because some of them have succeeded in making money.
Does the phrase indie film actually mean anything?
We're quick to label stuff. Suddenly, [everything's] an indie film. That made me nervous. I don't think of independent film in terms of the films themselves as much as I do the ideas of the artists behind them.
You're well known for being an environmentalist. How do you think the Obama Administration is doing on that front?
I've been doing this for almost 40 years, and it's always been tough because of the power of the energy companies. I think the Administration would like to do the right thing, but they're hampered by the extremism of certain elements within Congress.
Was it limiting during your early years in Hollywood to be perceived as good-looking?
Yeah. Because when I started [in TV], that's not the way I was seen. I played all kinds of parts killers, psychos. They were fun, real character roles. Then, when I went into film, it suddenly shifted. You're not given freedom to move out of that.
Are you glad you didn't come up as a star in today's celebrity-obsessed age?
Yeah. I really am. It's such a messy deal, such a distraction. Who knew it was going to come to this?
The Conspirator is the first movie financed by the American Film Co., a side project of Chicago Cubs co-owner Joe Ricketts