John McNaughton stands apart from other rising directors in that before his shocking 1990 release, "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," he led a true blue-collar life. The Chicagoan, 49, is now balancing Hollywood--the new thriller "Wild Things" and its relatively big names (Kevin Bacon, Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell) and budget--and a project closer to his roots: an upcoming documentary on New York artist George Condo.

REAL LIFE: "I sort of took the novelist's route--learn about life. Filmmaking you learn as you go. Working in offices in corporate towers to assembly lines to switching boxcars or in a steel mill you get a pretty good feel for the human race."

REEL LIFE: "I find it funny when I see the working class portrayed with big bellies, stubble, drinking beer. You'd be surprised how many people who swing hammers go home and listen to opera."

STRANGE EPIPHANY: "A couple of years ago I went to see a Steven Seagal movie. In one sense it was an abomination, but after my last movie, 'Normal Life,' about what it's really like to be in blue-collar hell, I can understand why everyone didn't rush to see it. If you want to see how horrid the world is, you can walk out the door."

BUDGET CRUNCH: " 'Henry' I made for $100,000, and people said no one would go see it, but I knew it would make money. Now when I spend $30 million of someone's money [on "Wild Things"], I feel a responsibility. It was intended to be much more akin to entertainment, though I think there are some interesting ideas at work."

SMALL WINDOW: "Been working on 'Wild Things' now for two years, and you have one weekend to make an impression. Kevin Bacon said, 'I'm worried now that we'll go to war.' During the Gulf War, I went to rent a laserdisc and it was like an old movie about nuclear attack--nobody on the streets of Chicago."

TRAGEDY TONIGHT: "Because there is a revenge tragedy [in "Wild Things"], I reread the old 'Medea' and then started reading other Greeks, Euripides. Talk about dark! Brothers feeding brothers their children at dinner, cutting each other's hearts out. That's drama! Any time anyone accuses me of being sensationalistic, I laugh."

TUNNEL VISION: "George Condo and his wife came to L.A. to visit me from New York, and what do we all talk about? The movies, the project. This town doesn't see the rest of the world. . . . Chicago gives me both emotional and artistic distance and perspective."

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