Merchant Ivory Productions is housed in a nondescript office building in Manhattan's Midtown. There was no main-floor shakedown or snippy receptionist instructing you to wait -- just a knock on the door and James Ivory presented himself with the familiarity of a distant family friend you haven't seen in a while.
His tendency to speak in the plural seemed reflexive. Clearly, he doesn't see himself as a one-man show. And any mention of his longtime partner, Ismail Merchant, triggered vivid recollections of their escapades in India or elsewhere. Ivory laughed as he recalled how Merchant was in the habit of saying, "Shoot Jim, shoot," but added, "Not that I wasn't ready to shoot. Perhaps it wasn't the right moment."
Benevolent as he was, Ivory answered questions sometimes sparsely, though he provided more details when pressed. Private? Dignified? Polite? Perhaps all three. In any event, his discreteness seemed counter to the legions of others who will say whatever is necessary to get some ink.
Ivory only truly seemed to loosen up once the interview was over. Then he chatted about various things, including how he and Merchant were decades into their friendship with Paul Newman before the actor pegged Merchant as a backstage stalker from one of his first Broadway appearances. Ivory admitted he's not crazy about promoting films -- or himself for that matter. He just wants to make them. But interviews are all part of the process of filming these days, as much as casting and writing a script.
So Ivory does the p.r. drill. But given how understated he is, you get the feeling he has a lot more to say through his work.