Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis on selfish writers and his new film ‘Third Person’


Here, writer-director Paul Haggis has a chance encounter with another person. (Maria Marin)

In “Third Person,” out Friday, writer-director Paul Haggis — who won two Oscars for his 2005 film “Crash” — weaves three stories together. Though the film’s characters live disparate lives, an undercurrent of mistrust, dysfunction and grief runs through all three storylines. It might sound similar to “Crash,” but Haggis is clear that he’s up to something very different this time around.

What made you come back to this idea of using multiple storylines?
“Crash” was a very different structure. There were nine or 10 storylines, and the conceit was you’d follow someone around until they bumped into someone else and then you’d follow them. With this I wanted to tell three stories in three different locations where the characters couldn’t possibly meet.

What did the change allow you to do?
I was intrigued by the questions I had about love and relationships, and if you tell one story you only have one outcome. It’s sometimes just too simplistic. There were a lot of questions I wanted answered, so I needed a lot of characters.

Michael (Liam Neeson), your main character, is a writer. Is he kind of a stand-in for you?
In a way. It’s really an exploration of what it’s like to be a writer and what we kill to create, how selfish we are in our pursuits. You think all writers are selfish? I think by definition that’s what we are. My kids paid the price for my career. We can say it’s for our family, but it almost never is. It’s about us. It’s just some of us can pretend better than others.

So if Michael is a stand-in for you, what’s your relationship with the other characters?
When I wrote this, early on I decided to allow the characters to lead me where they wanted to go, and they took me to places where I wasn’t comfortable and showed me things that I didn’t want to look at. I like exploring my own justifications, my rationalizations for why I am the way I am. The themes in each story are things I tried to work through in my own life.

Is that why all the characters are pretty messed up?
I am really drawn to damaged characters and I have a lot of sympathy for them. Making those complicated characters empathetic is something to strive for. It’s too easy to create a good guy, or a good girl.

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Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Kristen Page-Kirby · June 26