Peter Weir, the Australian director, says he chose to write an direct ''Green Card'' because he felt it was time to ''dust off this wonderful and abundant genre.''
The ''genre'' is the Hollywood comedies of the '30s nd '40s, movies made by actresses like Irene Dunne, Barbara Stanwyck, Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur and Claudette Colbert.
''I didn't exactly grow up with them, but like all people who were raised during the '50s, the old Hollywood film was part of the decade. All those movies were being shown on television, in Australia, and I was taken by them,'' he said.
''I've always wanted to see if I could write one and pull off this different and dangerous experiment. What I needed, what I wanted, was a Spencer Tracy type, and I think I got him in Gerard Depardieu, who is known as the French Spencer Tracy.''
Weir wanted Depardieu to play the role of a Frenchman who marries an American woman to achieve possession of a green card, which will allow him to work in this country, but it wasn't easy getting him. There was a lot of intercontinental conversation, and Depardieu, who seems to star in every film that is made in France, finally agreed to take the job. Weir, however, would have to wait a year before Depardieu was free. He had obligations at home.
There was another obstacle. Depardieu didn't speak English. ''He does now,'' said Weir. ''He learned the lines for the film and went on from there. I just spoke with him, and he's almost fluent. The only time he reverts to French is when he gets tired.
''When he finally agreed to do the film, which was done in New York, his manager said, 'Here, take him.' It was as though he was lending me a national treasure.
''He's hardly known in this country,'' said Weir. ''Aside from a few people who go to the art theaters, he is not familiar to American movie patrons.''
Weir went the same direction when he was looking for the actress to play the girl. He chose Andie MacDowell, who had done very well in ''sex, lies and videotape'' but before that had done less well.
She was Jane in ''Greystoke,'' the Hugh Hudson version of the Tarzan legend, and Hudson was so displeased with MacDowell's voice that he dubbed her with the voice of Glenn Close.
''She was very sensitive about that,'' said Weir. ''She told me that she wanted to eliminate her accent for 'Green Card,' and I told her not to. I told her I loved it.''
Weir is the man who directed ''Dead Poets Society,'' ''Mosquito Coast,'' ''Witness'' and, before those, ''The Year of Living Dangerously,'' ''Gallipoli,'' ''The Last Wave'' and ''Picnic At Hanging Rock.''
The last two were done in the '70s when most Australian movie directors seemed to be caught up in a wave of films that bordered on the supernatural, all of them attempting to explore the mystique of the aborigine.
What was going on?
''Well, as you may know, most of the 20 million or so Australians live in the coastal cities, and at the time, we began to look inland, at the aborigines. We began to make contact with them. At the time, it was easy to make arrangements with them, and most directors took advantage of the opportunity. All that stopped, however, with the aborigine civil rights movement. The leaders of the movement became very angry with the white population. There was deep hatred of the whites. They wanted retribution and reparation, and communication with the aborigines simply ceased.
''It became almost impossible to bridge the red tape and the internal security. There was too much anger, and the leaders also began to insist that the films be directed by aborigines.''
There was a time when the Australian director also encountered resentment from his fellow white Australians. They resented the fact that so many of those who had succeeded in Australia moved on to Hollywood. They'd maintain their ties with Australia, but they wouldn't make any more films there. Weir, too, has made his second home in California.
''That's all changed now,'' said Weir. ''Most ordinary people appreciate a good film no matter where it is made, and it isn't all that easy to make movies in Australia. Not today. The government is no longer providing the subsidies it did. Some people are doing experimental films for around $100,000. It's a chance to make a name, but when it comes to big-budget productions, you have to go elsewhere.''
He doesn't know what he will do next, but whatever it is, he wants to do it with Depardieu. ''He's conquered the language problem,'' said Weir. ''He wants to do another English-language film. We're looking.''