LOS ANGELES—Veteran filmmaker Wim Wenders has achieved international acclaim with the films "Paris, Texas," "Wings of Desire" and "Buena Vista Social Club," but when it comes to the opposite sex, he still doesn't feel in charge.
"I've learned one thing in my long directing career that as a man director, you don't want to impose your image of what the character should be on a woman," says Wenders, promoting his latest film "Don't Come Knocking. "With a man, you can tell exactly what he should do. But with a woman, you can go so wrong."
The characters in "Don't Come Knocking" reflect this philosophy. Protagonist Howard Spence (Sam Shepard) is a 60-year-old movie cowboy who takes direction on set, but has no direction in life -- except for hedonistic pleasures. He reevaluates his priorities and reunites first with his mother (Eva Marie Saint) and then with his old flame (Jessica Lange), both of whom have moved on after his nearly 30-year absence.
"If [Howard] dies tomorrow, nobody's going to shed a tear over it. And that's the worst thing when you're 60 and you realize that," explains the director. "It was so obvious that the women were so active and so important in the film. And the men were so hopelessly unable to deal with conflict. So I think those women characters were the real heroes."
Although Howard's mother isn't given a name in the film, her personality is distinct. She takes a practical approach to his overdue visit home: she takes him to visit his father's grave, puts Howard up in the basement bedroom with all his old stuff and provides him with a few meals and polite conversation. She doesn't scold him, even though she's aware of his decadent Hollywood lifestyle and that he'll leave again without a backward glance.
"She had the little shrine downstairs ... like with some people when someone in the family dies. Howard didn't die, but I think that she just didn't know if she'd ever see him again," says Saint. "He didn't even know his father was dead. They didn't talk about the father. It was just, 'That's it. You weren't here when he died, and he's gone.'
Because of Wenders policy about directing women, he knew casting would be especially important for such a self-assured character like Howard's mother. The Oscar-winning screen legend commanded such respect on set, even co-star Tim Roth maneuvered to have a scene with her even though the script didn't call for their interaction.
According to Wenders, it wasn't just Saint's reputation that helped him decide that she was the perfect person for the part. Instead, it was the bumper sticker on the actress' car reading, "Get off the phone or get off the road."
"That's my mission in life. People should not talk in the car," he says, addressing his star. "It was the first time a bumper sticker really spoke to me. And when you said you produced it and I could buy it on your website, that's why I cast you."
"Don't Come Knocking" opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, March 17.