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Spielberg says he made movies to teach his kids history

Oscar-winning director takes audiences back to the dark days of Cold War espionage with ‘Bridge of Spies’

'Bridge of Spies' director Steven Spielberg (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
'Bridge of Spies' director Steven Spielberg (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

After tackling the horrors of World War II in “Saving Private Ryan” and the Holocaust in “Schindler’s List,” three-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg shows yet again that he can take on mature content in his latest masterpiece, “Bridge of Spies.”

Set to be another Oscar favorite, in “Bridge of Spies,” Spielberg goes back to the Cold War where lawyer James Donavan — played by Tom Hanks in his fourth collaboration with the legendary director — is tasked with negotiating a prisoner swap between an American pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) held in the USSR and Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).

The drama-thriller is based on a true story.

During a recent conference call, Spielberg spoke with The Times of Israel about how he started making historical dramas after years of blockbuster hits à la “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and many others.

In this image released by Disney, Tom Hanks, from right, Mark Rylance and Billy Magnusson appear in a scene from the film, 'Bridge of Spies.' (Jaap Buitendijk/DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 Pictures via AP)
In this image released by Disney, Tom Hanks, from right, Mark Rylance and Billy Magnusson appear in a scene from the film, ‘Bridge of Spies.’ (Jaap Buitendijk/DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 Pictures via AP)

“When I started having kids it made me look ahead and then that forced me to look back,” he said.

“I’ve always said to my kids you can’t go forward unless you know where all of us collectively have been and so I’ve always had this interest in historical subjects, in biographies, but I never really turned to that until I got serious about being a parent.”

While the intrigue of Cold War espionage and U2 spy planes serve as a compelling backdrop for the movie, the core of “Bridge of Spies” is all about the characters – the idealism of Donavan, the complexity of British born KGB agent Abel.

Spielberg said he has always been drawn in by characters and as the years have gone by, they’ve gotten bigger while the concepts have gotten smaller. He asserted that the iconic movies that defined his career were getting praised for their big concepts. But it was the characters who made the stories believable.

‘I’ve always said to my kids you can’t go forward unless you know where all of us collectively have been’

“You know, dinosaurs, aliens landing in Wyoming, sharks, haunting the waters of Amity Island. I mean those were, you know, big broad movie concepts, but none of those films would have succeeded without the characters that populated them,” he said. “I’m much more interested in focusing my attention on really interesting people.”

Spielberg said he hopes his new movie will serve as a lesson on how people need to change — even if the threat of mutually assured destruction is no longer looming.

“I just find that Donovan, the real James Donovan played very authentically by Tom Hanks, is a great example of what we need more of today, not only in the diplomatic world, but on Capitol Hill,” the director said.

“We should be more patient with each other in trying to figure out or trying to celebrate what makes us different and not being so quick to judge someone who is not the same as us.”

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