Amelia director Mira Nair talks

Nov 4, 2009 at 2:55 a.m. ET

Mira Nair is the woman behind Amelia Earhart's onscreen flight. Nair's biopic Amelia starring Hilary Swank is garnering Oscar buzz and the Indian-born director takes a few moments to take SheKnows inside her Amelia.

Nair's filmmaking career has run the gamut from The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding to Reese Witherspoon's Vanity Fair. Her landing the gig of directing Amelia arose after a Johnny Depp project had fallen through and allowed her the gift of working with two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank, something she treasured.

Taking flight with Mira Nair

SheKnows: Mira, growing up in India, how aware were you of Amelia Earhart?

Mira Nair: In India I knew about Amelia Earhart, but just on a postage stamp -- the beautiful, androgynous, wind-swept being on a postage stamp that also had The Electra (her plane) behind her. She was wild one, but I did not know really about her until I came here to America 20 years ago.

Hilary Swank and Mira Nair on the set of Amelia

SheKnows: What most surprised you about the person behind the persona of Amelia Earhart?

Mira Nair: The first thing that hooked me was seeing the 16 hours of newsreels which were inevitably about her getting medals or winning awards or hoopla. It was her odd and consistent humility. She had an almost goofy humility. She tolerated all of the attention, but her eyes were always somewhere else. I really loved that. That's a rare American trait. You don't see it much (laughs) from where I come from, we are taught to be humble. It was that humility that got me – to make a biopic, you have to love the company you keep.

SheKnows: Amelia speaks to today's woman as well as any historical figure, wouldn't you agree?

Mira Nair: Oh, yes. Her beliefs are modern. They were modern then, but I think they're utterly modern now. If she would walk in now with her hair and her opinions, it would be, "really?" (Laughs) What interested me, and this is what I kept as my compass was this balance that she wanted to achieve. Maybe she did, maybe she didn't about this ecstasy of the sky. This passion she had and this responsibility on earth. Even on earth, which was often more confounding than when she was flying where it was peaceful, rather than the mess of the word. She wanted to be useful to the earth. How do you do that? How do keep that passion and the responsibility. That is actually her challenge and it is also my challenge. How do we do that as working women? In that sense, I didn't want to make a film that felt like homework.

From India to Hollywood across the world

SheKnows: Many of your films do celebrate your Indian culture. But, it is so evident that you are a woman of the world. When you look at a script, do you see story more than borders?

Mira Nair: I know people say I do Indian themed films (and) I'm really happy to be from there, but I also am a citizen of the world and I have lived in New York for almost 20, 30 years already. I don't look at it that schematically. Quite honestly I was making a film with Johnny Depp and Warner Bros and when that fell apart I never expected I would do anything of this scale so quickly. When they asked, as I said before, these qualities of her capture me and with Hilary, as interested as I became with Amelia, I was almost more interested in working with Hilary. We really became sisters in this endeavor. It's not about one's country as much as it about stretching one's muscles and never repeating myself and always to actually to a place I've never gone.

Hilary Swank is AmeliaSheKnows: What in your opinion after putting together this entire life story, did Hilary bring to Amelia?

Mira Nair: So much, she not just was physically able to create all the physical aspects of her that I was able to use newsreels to weave her in and out of them. But, that was an aside really. The main thing was she had imbued everything there was to know about the cadence, the look, the shoulder, the hair, the smile, the teeth, I would say, 'a little less Amelia, Please...

We laugh.

Mira Nair: ...not so much Amelia, Hilary, please. She would love that because, she was really Amelia. What she brought which I can't direct is adrenaline is the daredevil. She is in her bones a daredevil. She is someone who loves to fly. She loves to go to a place that scares her. Then, she has the talent and the craft to meet that fear and make it something.

SheKnows: The terror of flight of the day is so effortless captured by you in Amelia. You didn't shy away from taking audiences inside that risky effort Earhart and other pilots of that day endured?

Mira Nair: So much of that is true, The Friendship Flight, they actually fell out of the plane. It was that primitive. There wasn't even a lock on the door. That kind of feeling when it was a dance of death every time you went up in a plane -- I wanted to embrace the action by the throat.

Read on for more

Hilary Swank dishes Amelia
The SheKnows review: Amelia
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