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Interview with the Producer, Director and Cast of ‘Thor: The Dark World’

Posted in Film, Interviews
By David Heaver on 30 Oct 2013

In this sequel to 2012’s Box-office smash, The Avengers, Thor is fighting to not only to save Asgard but also London and indeed the whole Universe. Show the rest of this post…

Thor: The Dark World is the second film in the second phase of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, following hot on the heels of the success of Iron Man 3. This film promises to go deeper and darker, but with the introduction of Alan Taylor as director (Game of Thrones, Mad Men) promises to make this film much more relatable and tangible too.

We sat down with stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings, director Alan Taylor and producer Kevin Feige to talk about their thoughts on the film and discuss their ambitions and hopes for what promises to be a fantastic addition to the Marvel Universe.

FAN THE FIRE: So, Let’s start with a hard-hitting question – Team Thor or Team Loki?
KEVIN FEIGE: Let’s see, who am I sitting closest to? – Team Malakhi.
CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON: Oh definitely team Malakith.
TOM HIDDLESTON: Team Thor… I think I’m destined to lose, that’s Lokis fate.
KAT DENNINGS: Aw I’ll go with team Loki.

FTF: Alan, I think that gives you the deciding vote…
ALAN TAYLOR: Ooh, well in that case I think I’d have to say team Kat.

FTF: Chris and Tom – The subject of trust is prevalent in this film. Having worked together on a number of films now, are you free to experiment given your trust with each other as actors?
CH: There’s certainly a shorthand we have with each other. This is the third film we’ve made together now and you don’t spend that much time together without forging a great friendship along the way. We tend to be able to pick up where we leave off, but even from the beginning we had a great chemistry and the same enthusiasm for the characters.
TH: I love you man! It’s absolutely true, from the beginning of [Kenneth] Branaghs’ Thor through Joss Whedons’ Avengers and into Alan [Taylor]’s Dark World, it’s been an amazing adventure and the two characters define and need each other. All acting is about what happens in the space between people and the more you trust each other, the deeper you can go. That’s the joy of it for me.

FTF: There’s a big sibling rivalry in this film. Chris, you have 2 brothers who are also actors, did you draw on your relationship and competition with them to inform your interactions with Loki?
CH: Well neither of them have attempted to take over the universe just yet, but I think I’d have the same reaction if they did! At home we’re as competitive as all siblings are in everything from sport to who’s controlling the remote control. Within this industry, not so much – we all appreciate the frailty and inconsistency of the work, so we help each other with our auditions and scripts, it’s more of a team effort than anything else.
TH: I have 2 sisters, so it’s slightly different, but the thing about siblings is that they know you better than anyone and there’s that thing about always being bound together by your history. There’s something very honest about the interaction, that you can’t lie in front of your siblings. I love that in this film Thor is able to demand from Loki that he play his hand. Loki is someone who is constantly in control and will never show you how he really feels and the only person who gets close to him is Thor and that seems very true of sibling relationships.

FTF: Natalie, in the first film Jane was more of a spectator, but in this film you’re right in the centre of the action, did that excite you about coming back to the series?
NP: It was really exciting to come back and work with everyone again. This time because Jane went to Asgard, I got to spend a lot more time with Tom [Hiddleston], Anthony [Hopkins] and Rene [Russo] which was amazing.
CH: It was brilliant to have Natalie there to break up some of the Godly testosterone!

FTF: Chris you recently called Britain the new Hollywood. What do you like about in the UK?
CH: The interesting thing about Hollywood is that there’s not a lot actually shot there any more, it’s predominantly just sets and studios there nowadays. The nice thing about the UK is that there are incredible studios but there are brilliant locations to take advantage of too. I love the aesthetic this film has because not only do we get to see Asgard, but we also get to see London. Most of these films tend to have New York or American cities as the backdrop and I love the difference of having London, and I do love shooting here.
NP: I love working here, I’m very envious of British actors and crews. You can really have such a fulfilling and rich career between the theatre, TV and film all in London. It’s fantastic to be able to live and work in the same city.

FTF: Marvel have actually used London a lot, Kevin, what is it about the city which appeals to you?
KF: There’s a great tax incentive to working here, I’m not going to pretend that’s not the case! But what keeps us here, and keeps us coming back are the amazing crews. We’re starting our 4th film next year at Shepperton Studios and it’s been an amazing experience on all four films.

FTF: What do you think it is about Loki that people seem to love, sometimes even more so than Thor.
CH: I don’t know whether it was ever the plan to have Loki in this many films, but purely to do with everything Tom [Hiddleston] brought to the table in the first film and how incredible he was. The mixture of strength, villainy, mischief and vulnerability, it’s such an access point and allows you to relate to him. My hat goes off to Tom, he’s done such an incredible job on every film.
TH: I love you man! I think Loki is defined by Thor. They are Yin and Yang, the sun and the moon. The whole point of them is that they are in opposition. The whole popularity of Loki is such an amazing surprise, I never expected it. I find him a fascinating prospect, because he’s a mixture of playfulness and charm and mischief, but he’s such a broken character, he’s grief stricken, bitter, jealous, angry, lonely and proud. The cocktail of all of his psychological damage and playfulness makes him a really interesting character to play as an actor.

FTF: This film is very comical, was that a conscious effort?
AT: I’m so grateful that the audience seem to be picking up on the comical side of the film. I went into the film trying to darken and deepen the world, and eventually I realised that if we’re going to darken and deepen the world, maybe kill of some loved characters, we’d better make sure that it’s balanced on the other side as well. You have to keep it light on its feet so humour was critical.

FTF: Did the humour in the film help you all ground your characters in this fantastical world?
CE: I saw the film last week and I was actually really surprised at the amount of humour in the film because I’m such a miserable bastard! I was completely excluded from any of the joy!
My character was completely grounded in vengeance, he was like a maniac for revenge. The idea I think was to suggest that the Dark Elves were as ancient a race as the Asgardians and had a history, a culture but most of all a grudge which they had slept on for millions of years. Our job was to bring the threat and the jeopardy. My make-up call was at 3 o’clock and I didn’t get to set until 10 o’clock, so that helped channel my unhappiness!
TH: I think what grounds these things are the family relationships for me. We’re travelling through space and time and dealing with Gods and Monsters. The heart of the film from my perspective is a family – a father, two sons, two brothers, a mother and the fractious, intimate interaction they have.

FTF : Chris, we’ve seen a lot of great development in Thor through over his three films, how have you developed as an actor in that time?
CH: Every film I look back and go ‘Yeah now I get it’ and then I start a new film and think ‘I haven’t a clue what I’m doing!’ So it’s really nice to be able to approach a character for the third time and attack it in a new way with a new director. I think I’ve grown up as a person too, alongside Thor, so that always goes into anything you’re doing and it was nice to have a more mature character who was less petulant and arrogant compared to the first film.

FTF: Alan, how was the editing process on this film? It’s relatively short for a Marvel film – will there be plenty of extras on the DVD?
AT: There’s so many obligations to a movie like this – it has to be dark and emotionally engaging while and funny and earnest at the same time. Part of that process is condensing, tightening and making the film roll on as quickly as it can so that it’s fun. Naturally some things fall out which you wish wouldn’t, there are some things dear to my heart which had to fall away. Hopefully some of those will make their way to the DVD or Bluray.
KF: I think they will, I think there’s about 10 or 12 minutes which will be added.
AT: There was some rumour going around while filming about a running time argument, but I don’t think any of us, myself included ever had an idea of what the running time was, we were just focussed on making it better and more effective. Unfortunately that meant that some of my children ended up murdered and on the cutting-room floor… metaphorically speaking that is!

FTF: Marvel has had a very successful strategy so far with regards to phases of films and also now incorporating Television, with the release of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. How co-ordinated are the various outlets, and how far ahead are you looking?
KF: For the most part it is – we’re a very tight-knit group at the studios, so all the movies are very co-ordinated. We’ve announced through to the end of 2015, but we’re planning as far out as 2017. Some time next year we’ll be announcing what those films are for 2016 and 2017. The TV division is up and running now, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is obviously their first series. I know they’d love to bring more things to the TV screen but I don’t know what or when that will be. In terms of S.H.I.E.L.D, yes they sort of cue off what’s happening in the movies and check in with us and go ‘would it be ok if we play with this little aspect?’ so it is quite co-ordinated, but it’s such a small group that it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming task.

FTF: People say conflict is drama, and Malekith is the antagonist here. What’s the point of Malekiths story, what do you think it means?
CE: What is the point of my story(?!). That’s what I said to my agent and Kevin [Feige]! The point of my storyline is for me to get paid! The point of my storyline is vengeance – he is a maniac for vengeance. There were some scenes which, for understandable reasons, didn’t make the final cut which did explain a bit of a back story between me, my ancestors and Borr who is Odins father. But basically the Dark Elves, before the big bang, were humiliated in defeat and ground into the dirt by Odin. Malekith has slept on that and the theme of that element is vengeance. As the old Chinese Proverb goes, ‘He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself’ because it’s a pointless exercise. My job was to bring a dark element to the ‘Dark World’ – the Dark Elves are seeking to turn the light into darkness, it’s really that simple and that classic if you like.
KF: And we needed that in a movie where our villain [Loki] from Avengers, we wanted to be played in a more ambiguous way. In order to do that we needed someone to drive the storyline and give Thor something to fight against. Chris [Eccleston] and Malekith gave us that.

FTF: As you touched on there, Malekith is the main enemy in this film so, although Loki is seen as somewhat of an enemy, he’s skirting the line between friend and foe. Do you think Loki is really evil deep down?
TH: Well that’s a question I’ve asked myself 3 times. I think every villain is a hero in their own mind and people make choices which they will always justify, no matter how misguided their motivation. The great privilege and thrill for me playing this character across 3 films is that he didn’t start out that way. The narrative that was afforded to me at the start of the first film was of a young prince who was brought up believing in his right to a throne, his Asgardian inheritance. His whole story was a lie, he was really adopted after being left to die on a rock. That’s what breaks his heart and all of his villainy and bad credentials come from something deeply honourable. That’s a gift for me, because it means across all of the films I can play a dynamic with Chris [Hemsworth], Anthony [Hopkins] and Rene [Russo] which is, to what extent is he redeemable and can he be pulled back towards the light. That’s a very fun fault-line to dance on.
CH: Yeah, what Tom said! That’s exactly right!

Thor: The Dark World is released in UK cinemas today.

Interview With Joseph Kosinski, Director Of Oblivion

Posted in Film, Interviews
By Sam Bathe on 9 Apr 2013

In 2010, Joseph Kosinski breathed new life into the TRON franchise and delivered a truly breathtaking digital world unlike anything seen before, and while it was his debut feature film, for those in the know, TRON: Legacy‘s successes didn’t raise any eyebrows. Show the rest of this post…

Having forged a hugely successful directing commercials including for video games Halo 3 and the award-winning Mad World spot for Gears of War, it was only going to be a matter of time before he took his talents into film. We talked to Joseph Kosinski about his new film, Oblivion, returning to sci-fi adventure and set 60 years into the future, with earth left ravaged by an alien invasion, detailed to maintain the drones extracting Earth’s vital remaining resources, comes into contact with a female from a crashed spacecraft, and sets in motion a series of events leaving him questioning everything he previously knew as fact.

Your background and schooling is in architecture, not the typical route of a Hollywood director. There is a growing trend amongst the new age of filmmakers to have not taken a traditional route into the industry. How do you feel your background has helped in your journey to where you are today?

I do think there are a lot of parallels between architecture and filmmaking. The obvious benefits are the design and production of a world in a film, it’s good to have a background in design and that part of the process I really enjoy. The blueprint in architecture is very similar to the script in a film. An architect can’t create a building by himself in the same way a director can’t create a film by himself. You need to choose a team of collaborators and set a vision that guides that group through the whole process in order to create something singular and unique. For me I just found that I was more interested in telling stories than building buildings.

What were some of your favourite movies growing up that really inspired you to want to change course and become a filmmaker yourself?

I grew up loving Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark was another big one for me just because I felt like the hero in that story was different from anything I had seen before; he had this dual nature, he was an archaeologist on the weekends but during the week he was a professor. That aspect of Indiana Jones I remember being really inspired by because you could be an action hero and be pretty smart at the same time. Back to the Future, Blade Runner, I love all that stuff too.

After working on such an iconic film franchise as TRON for your first feature, Oblivion is actually an original story of your own. It’s evident from your previous work that your huge fan of sci-fi, what gave you the idea for this particular story?

I wrote Oblivion eight years ago, before I made TRON, and I thought at the time that Oblivion would be my first feature, that’s why I purposely contained it to a small cast of characters and focused instead on big ideas and a big landscape. You could say the inspiration can from my fascination with the Twilight Zone TV series from the 60’s and also 70’s science fiction that was more character driven. I wanted to do something different and bring science fiction into the daylight and that was the inspiration for the visual look of the movie.

There are a number of exciting filmmakers such as yourself, Christopher Nolan for example, who are not only tackling big franchises but also demonstrating individual creativity in developing original ideas. Working on Oblivion do you feel you have more creative freedom to express yourself because it’s your own idea as opposed to perhaps working on an already established franchise?

Because it my story, you understand it, you have more control of it, I’m a producer on this movie as well. Being my second film having been through it you know what the potential traps are, you learn lessons from previous projects, I went in knowing what I wanted to do. There’s a certain amount of pride that comes from developing your own project from beginning to end.

Without a doubt, even so early in your career, you’ve already established yourself as a storyteller who really concentrates on creating amazing visuals that will leave a long lasting effect on the audience. You say that Oblivion is a character driven mystery, but just from the trailer you can’t help but to be overwhelmed and in awe of the epic look and feel of Oblivion too. When telling a story, what do you place the greater importance on; the look and feel of the film or the underlying story itself?

I don’t think you can say you’re going to focus more on one or the other; they have to work hand in hand. The visuals always have to be in support of the story; you can’t design a story around great visuals, working that way is an exercise in futility. What I like about this movie is that it started out as just a story, and then the visuals, the hardware all sprung into place from that. When selling a movie you’re going to lean into the epic shots, you’re not going to focus on the more small intimate drama; this film certainly has a mix of everything. I’d certainly describe it as a thriller/mystery, but it does have elements of drama, romance and some big spectacular action.

What would you say is your main takeaway from Oblivion as a project you’ve worked on from writing the first words in the script to shooting the last shots behind the camera? And what was the most challenging aspect of getting the movie made?

Getting any movie made is a challenge, an original story is probably the most challenging because there is no existing fan base, and it’s an even harder sell to the studio. It helps to have a big movie star on your side and having Tom Cruise attached to Oblivion from an early stage made huge a difference. Tom Cruise saw some images and an excerpt of the story from a small preview issue I did down at Comic-Con a few years ago and he called me to talk more about the project. It was a pretty surreal meeting; I had grown up watching his movies and the directors he’s worked with in the past are ones that I really admire and look up to.

Another Hollywood heavyweight in Morgan Freeman stars in Oblivion, was it always your intention to have him star in the film?

He was like the dream casting for that particular role, Tom and I talked about how great it would be to get Morgan Freeman and we sent him the script and he said yes; we were both thrilled. Morgan was excited too because had wanted to work with Tom for a long time and they were waiting for the right project, and this happened to be it.

After TRON and Oblivion, it’s fair to say that you are very particular in the type of visuals you want to bring to a movie. I believe you used a brand new type of camera for this movie that had literally just come off the assembly line for shooting. What made you so eager to use this particular camera?

The Sony F65 camera is a 4G camera and it has an 8K chip; it’s extremely sharp, has extreme detail and great dynamic range which are all the qualities you look for in a camera. For shooting in Iceland I needed all those qualities. We were lucky that Sony made it available for us in time for shooting. We are actually going to be the first film released with this new camera.

With the advancements in technology, the ability to visually tell a unique story has become increasingly possible. Do you see the landscape of the sci-fi genre changing in the near future?

Sci-fi is a genre that has no limits so these tools are going to allow filmmakers to create anything they want, obviously story is key but I think your already starting to see a lot of exciting films come out and the future of film is certainly going to be in the sci-fi genre.

In terms of future projects I believe your working on TRON 3 at the moment, what stage are you are currently at with the much anticipated follow-up?

Currently in the script stage of this project, it’s a really exciting idea that really delivers on the promise of Legacy. I’m also working on the Black Hole script with Disney. Archangel is in development at Fox but that’s further behind the other projects.

Oblivion is released in the UK tomorrow, April 10th

Interview With Kevin MacDonald, Director Of Marley

Posted in Film, Interviews
By Andrew Simpson on 20 Aug 2012

Scottish director Kevin MacDonald returns to the world of documentary with his new film Marley, a personal and touching exploration of the life and character of the Jamaican musical icon, who died from cancer at the height of his fame aged just 36. Show the rest of this post…

A director whose background is rooted in factual filmmaking – having made his name with the Oscar-winning One Day In September and the phenomenally successful Touching the Void – MacDonald has more recently been associated with punchy, performance led dramas such as The Last King of Scotland, State of Play and The Eagle. Whilst successful, those films lacked to compelling edge that had marked his previous work, and the return to his roots is welcome, especially given the manner in which he commits himself to peeling away the levels of mystique surrounding Marley’s image.

The most insightful portrait of Marley yet committed to film, MacDonald gained unprecedented access to the Marley estate, and the result is (aside from appealing to fans of Bob Marley’s work) one of the most compelling music documentaries of the past few years. Speaking about the film shortly before its UK release, an articulate and animated MacDonald sat down to discuss the perils of making a film about a cultural icon; the pitfalls of dealing with an artist’s estate; and the need to stay true to the most fascinating of subjects.

How did you come to make a film about Bob Marley? It doesn’t seem o be a natural topic for a Scottish filmmaker.

Kevin MacDonald: It was a lucky opportunity. I had wanted to make a film that was tangentially to do with Marley about eight years ago, when it would have been his sixtieth birthday. I was going to do an observational documentary following some Jamaican Rasta’s, going from Jamaica to Ethiopia, where they were holding a big concert in celebration of Bob’s birthday, and I thought that would be an interesting way to talk about Rasta and about Bob, and even more how to see how these Jamaicans who had yearned for Africa from afar, what they made of the reality of it. For one reason or another the film didn’t happen, but I got to know them [people associated with the Marley estate] and two years ago I got a call from this producer in LA…saying “I’ve got the rights to make a documentary and Chris Blackwell told me you were interested in Marley, Would you like to talk about it? And I said “I would love to talk about it.” So it’s something that came back to me, in a way, many years later.

The film is structured in a very interesting way, in that avoids the usual testimonies of its subject’s cultural importance in favour of a more personal exploration of their character.

KM: I’m more fascinated in a way by Marley’s impact, and the legacy of Marley, who he is, who he was, rather than just making a music film. What I felt was that there had been quite a lot of books about Bob…and some documentaries. And I just felt none of them quite added up; I don’t really know who this person is from reading this, on an empathetic human level. So that’s what I became intrigued by: the person, the man behind the icon. I didn’t really know what I was going to do, I just knew that I wanted to go down that more intimate path, that more human path. I think it’s fairly obvious what Bob’s standing is, he doesn’t need to be bolstered by an interview with Bono. Therefore it has to be people who knew him, who knew him well and can tell his story for him because he’s not around to tell it. You look for other people to provide you with little insights and build up a sort of tapestry or mosaic of who he was. It’s a biography, a biopic, an oral history of Bob Marley.

So you always knew the film that you were setting out to make. Were there no surprises?

KM: I didn’t know how and what I was going to find. I didn’t know if there was anything to find. But like a lot of documentaries I had to start, and if it ends not being anything much then the film isn’t going to be that interesting. What I was surprised to find was that there was still a lot more to be said, a lot more to be found out. I think that rock journalism over the years has been quite lazy…I think about a third of the people in the film had never been talked to before, even though there’s been all these books written. Which doesn’t reflect too well on the books!

Marley didn’t give many interviews either…

KM: Well that was one of the challenges. There’s no film of him, performing or otherwise, up until about 1972. So for ten years of his career there’s nothing, which is tricky when you’re making a film! But that’s a reflection of the fact that he comes from this desperately poor country in which nobody had cameras… and even if they did they weren’t film Rasta bands, who were considered kind of scum, I don’t think he liked journalists; he would be really disruptive in interviews, or uncommunicative, maybe because he felt like slightly like “I shouldn’t have to explain myself…” and because he felt a little insecure when faced with these intellectuals or these very well educated people , because he was not well educated. But also people weren’t that interested. It grew, but it was really a cult thing until the last couple of years of his career. That was a big challenge, but in a way that becomes a part of the structure of the film itself.

You must have encountered some obstacles getting people to talk, and getting hold of material for film in that case.

KM: There were a couple of people that we wanted to get who we didn’t get but mostly, because we were pretty determined, we got everyone to talk. There was a lot of time spent on that and spent getting people to appear, and with getting photographs and archive getting people to agree to give us their precious photographs, and people wanting a lot of money for images. That kind of thing was time consuming and frustrating at times. There were a couple of that got away; I had wanted to interview Stevie Wonder actually, because Stevie played a couple of key gigs with Bob, and they were quite close towards the end of bob’s career, but he’s notoriously hard to on down so I could never pin him down.

Did you feel a certain amount of pressure relating to the access that you were being given by the Marley estate?

KM: You can’t make any film about any artist, whether they be a visual artist or a writer who’s still in copyright, without having permission from the estate. It’s as simple as that, and obviously there are always going to be strings attached. But I’ve had experience of making music films before where I have lost control and I haven’t been able to do what I wanted to do, and I was very straightforward when I came o be involved in this. I said if I’m going to do this you need to leave me in peace. I love Bob and respect him, and I want to make a film that’s positive, but I want to be truthful. And actually the Marley family and Universal Music, who all own the rights, were incredibly hands-off. They didn’t interfere and actually the children who control the estate, Bob’s kids, wanted to make a film like this. They wanted to make a film about the man, because they didn’t know the man particularly because they were so young when he died. And they’re the first ones to talk about Bob’s faults, the ganja smoking, the womanising, whatever. I think by having those things in the film you give the man shape because there’s light and shade to him. They had a very open attitude.

Even though the film doesn’t when it comes to exploring Marley’s character, the tone of most of the interview is still very loving isn’t it?

KM: That generation of people are probably more articulate, and have had the time to think about it very deeply, and [to contemplate] their experience. It’s amazing how many of the people who knew Bob are still somehow under his shadow: even with people who had met him briefly he’d made a huge impact. There was a very moving interview, which I had to remove as it was too long, with the doctor in Germany who had been hired just to fly out with Bob in the airplane back to Miami when he died. This doctor was with him for twelve or fourteen hours or something like that, and he started crying remembering the incident. He said “I’ve never seen anyone face up to their death as bravely as Bob Marley.” He was just incredibly moved by him and his brief encounter with him. He definitely had something.

Marley is out now on DVD and Blu-ray

Interview With Chris Hemswoth, Star Of Snow White And The Huntsman

Posted in Film, Interviews
By Andrew Simpson on 31 May 2012

Chris Hemsworth’s sudden and remarkably busy rise continues with Snow White and the Huntsman, debut director Rupert Sanders’ stylish gothic take on the much adapted fairytale. Show the rest of this post…

Starring Twilight’s Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen Ravenna, the film is mostly notable for its often stunning imagery and dark tone, as well as a whose who of mature British actors Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Ian MacShane) as the seven dwarves. Hemsworth gives an admirably muted and touching performance as the drunken huntsman initially hired to track down Snow White, before  deciding to defend her from  Ravenna’s pursuit. Sitting down in a London hotel to talk about the film, he offers a much more relaxed presence than one would expect, and seems keen to show that his latest film shows that he can mix action with emotional heft following the success of Thor and the recent Avengers film.

How did you end up taking the role, you auditioned presumably…

I didn’t audition for this actually, it was just after Thor came out, and things are being sent to me instead of having to audition, which was a first! My initial reaction was that I’d seen and read the story before and I didn’t think there was anything new to do with it. And then Rupert shot a trailer which he had shot in two days which looked incredible, and he showed me that. I’d read the script, and on each page I was being surprised. It seemed like a different take, a darker take. Rupert had this epic universe that he wanted to crate, rooted in a really strong reality of snow-capped mountains and forests, and that really appealed to me because I’ve done so much green screen. I’d never felt more in amongst a project than for this shoot.

So making this film was a much more physical experience for you?

Definitely. It was cold, wet and muddy most of the time, and it created a challenging physically, but it helped. It’s so much easier, because you don’t have to expend a big percentage of your imagination creating what’s going on, or creating what should be there rather than the green screen. There was one scene in the cathedral, and we just walked in and it was so peaceful and still and beautiful, and you just think, ‘Okay, we don’t need to do too much here’, because if you do too much you are getting in the way of something far more powerful and resonant.

How was it working with Rupert Sanders, this being his first film?

There’s an advantage to coming in less cynical or less effected by the previous way things are done. There was a fearlessness to him, and there were a number of times when he said ‘Look at the sun at the top of that hill, everybody run up there’ and he’d take the camera; and there’s a shot with the huntsman and the dwarves walking, it’s in the trailer, with the sun behind us crackling through the trees. With the light and the bugs it just looks beautiful, and that was done on the fly. This is just the way he worked in the past and this was how we will continue. It’s easier to be a visual director for the sake of it, but I felt that everything we was doing was enhancing the characters and the story.

How do you balance the emotional and action elements of a story like this?

It’s sort of all done for you in a sense. It’s out of sequence the way you shoot and whether you like it or not, it’s only once you start shooting that your character starts to grow. You get to the end of the film and you think, ‘Now I know the character, can we go back and reshoot that thing that we did three or four months ago?’ Sometimes it’s really good because you feel the vulnerability the first few days on set that your character’s supposed to feel, but often you shoot the last scene first, and you really have to monitor where you are in the story. The action stuff is a lot of fun, it’s nice to have some heavily emotionally driven scenes instead of just physicalising it all, they bleed into each other nicely.

Are you not tired of swinging axes then?

What  I feel is that no matter how much you think it’s solid acting and you are surrounded by great actors, Anthony Hopkins or Nathalie Portman or whoever, unfortunately the moment you take your shirt off or have a fight scene you become an action star. I got asked the other day: ’Did you always want to be the next Schwarzenegger? ‘ and I was like ‘That’s what you’ve got from those films I’ve done?’ Not everybody sees it like that, but in the next couple of films I do I’d like not be swinging any weapons! It just distracts from any acting you’re trying to get across, and it’s very easy to fall into the mode of  ‘That’s all he can do, that’s all it is.’

But it’s also true that films like Snow White have an emotional edge…

I think the films that seem to be working at the moment are ones that are combining digital effects and action with humour and heart. They tick a lot of boxes, more so than ever. You see Charlize [Theron] in a  movie like this or Hopkins in Thor, it attracts real actors. That’s why I would do more films like this, for those reasons, because those kind of people are there.

Snow White is much darker than one would perhaps expect as well.

It is isn’t it, and even Charlize’s motivation in being the villain and what leads her down that path, with what she has been through as a child… not that it justified what she did, but you can’t help but understand why she’s pissed off! That moment at the end where her and Snow White, there’s such an understanding that they’ve both been screwed over in one way or another… there’s such a message under there of beauty and physicality which has been pushed and dictated from the male section of the world. I really like that moment at the end where she says ‘You can’t have my heart. Sorry, I know you want it, but no.’

You already have a height advantage on Ray Winstone and the other actors playing the dwarves, was that fair do you think?

[Laughs] Yeah, especially when they put me up on that platform! It’s funny how practically we got around making them even smaller, but most of the time it was sitting on a seat this high an they sit on a  seat that high. They’re iconic on and off screen those guys. The characters in this film have all been plucked from various gangster films that they’ve all been a  part of at one stage, and they’re dirtied up and covered in prosthetics. It was such a treat watching them work, you would think that  they’ve only got a few lines, but they had more in depth discussions of who these characters were… and they heavily shaped those characters and rewrote scenes because of how passionate they were. They could just stand there and I’d be impressed, but their work ethic was hugely impressive.

We probably have to wrap things up by talking about Kristen Stewart…

She’s great. I loved the fact that she had such a strong version of who this character was, and there was no wavering about where she was going to take it. That was good, because you don’t want someone sitting on the fence not brave enough to commit to something and to play it safe. She really went for it: physically in the battle sequences, I thought I was going to squash her because she’s tiny! But she came out unscathed.  Just because of Twilight, the novelty of that world overshadows you as an actor. It’s not something you complain about because it’s got you to where you are and it’s a brilliant opportunity, but you can see her just really not sitting back and riding that wave. Rather she’s showing that she can prove something and that she deserves to be here. It was great; I loved that commitment and passion. She’s fantastic.

Snow White and the Huntsman is out now

Interview With Meghan Markle, Star Of Suits

Posted in Interviews, TV
By Andrew Simpson on 30 Apr 2012

Suits, the latest in a long line of American legal dramas to find major popularity in the UK, is not the most obvious of success stories. Show the rest of this post…

A flash, familiar stab at the crime-fighting buddy template, it’s tale of a dropout genius snuck into the upper echelons of a major New York law firm after acing an impromptu interview survives chiefly on the strength of its two leads, Patrick J. Adams and Gabriel Macht. Playing reformed pothead Mike Ross and legal hotshot Harvey Specter respectively, their chemistry and easy charm raise a tired formula into the realm of snappy entertainment.

Meanwhile, the show’s other coup arrives in the form of Meghan Markle. Her performance as Rachel, the sharp paralegal who guides Mike through his early adjustments to life at the top of the legal profession, provides Suits with some much needed variety and emotional heft, not to mention some difficult romantic entanglements as one of Mike’s two onscreen love interests, a progression hit by the revelation that Mike is in fact not a graduate of Harvard, and that he previously earned a living by sitting exams for less able students. Speaking recently while in the midst of shooting Suits’ second season, she cites her own easy chemistry with Adams and a playful atmosphere on set as being key to the programme’s success.

How did you get involved with the show?

MM: It was just like any other audition. I was sent the material and was asked to go and read for the producers. I had just gotten back from vacation, and it’s funny because I’m normally completely ‘off book’, meaning I know all my lines and I’m completely prepared, but I walked in and this was not the case for my audition for Suits, which was called A Legal Mind at the time.  I thought that I just blew it and I left the audition and called my agent to say ‘I have got to get back in for this audition,’ because I loved the part. He said ‘It’s my job to get you in the room and then it’s your job to do your job, there’s nothing we can do at this point’. Then a week later we hadn’t realised that all of the wheels were turning and that they had really loved my audition, and they had asked me to come in to test for the role, which was a huge surprise and I was so excited.

Your onscreen relationship with Mike is our way to getting to know your character isn’t it?

MM: When I found at that Patrick Adams had the role as Mike Ross that was the icing on the cake, because he and I had done a project for a different network several years before and had had great chemistry. Working with Patrick is so much fun and we’d known each other for years, so it’s very easy and it makes work a bit more like play when you can laugh at the same jokes and have a shorthand with each other which we really do. I’m sure that resonates in the Mike and Rachel dynamic.

Your character’s relationship with Mike changes dramatically over the course of the first season…

MM: At the onset Rachel is one of the strongest characters there, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the firm, and her Achilles heel is not being able to test well, which has kept her in the role of a paralegal  for so long. She had become so used to having these young hotshot associates come in and just be rather obnoxious, and turn her off personally and professionally. But as they spend so much time together and as the season progresses and they work on cases together, one of the largest shifts is this trust that she begins to have in him, which of course is thrown a little askew when she discovers his secret. We start to see Rachel, who started off as such a strong, independent and almost disinterested character, soften quite a bit towards Mike Ross, and you definitely start to see more of that in Season Two.

Working as an actor, what is it like working with the uncertainty surrounding whether a pilot you work on is going to get picked up?

MM: I have done probably five pilots that haven’t gotten picked up, and ones that the industry, the buzz, the cast, we were all so certain they were going to get green lit. So the time that Suits came around, because I had felt so disappointed in the past when other projects hadn’t been picked up, I was really able to let go. When we eventually found out there was a communal ‘Oh my God!’ To have a second season on top of that, and great ratings, and to have people really respond to the show, it’s unbelievable.

Is an atmosphere of letting go the key to the show’s success then?

MM: Well, because our dynamic as a cast is so close knit, and because we all have such specific personalities both on and off camera that mesh so well, we are really lucky because we’re able to improv, be silly between takes and just loosen up a bit, so that the amazing writing that our writers give us is able to have a lot more life to it; because we’re able to take more chances.

In the last episode you your character interacts a little more with some of the other cast members. Do we see you broadening out of your character continuing next season?

MM: How it was conceived initially was that Harvey and Mike are the two pins in the middle of the wheel, and so each of the rest of us in the ensemble are the spokes that some off of them. So in all of Season One you don’t see any of us outside of the context of the office or out of relation to Harvey or Mike. Season Two is exciting for us as an ensemble because you do get to see more of where we come from what we do after work, our relationships with each other.

Patrick and Gabriel have a very snappy, likable rapport as Mike and Harvey.

MM: I think that they just have this really easy chemistry and banter. I think s somebody in Season One has said they were sort of like Clooney and Matt Damon in Ocean’s Eleven, they have that energy together which is easy and cool. You can tell that they get along, and they are both such good guys, I think it does help the dynamic that we all have such a solid friendship outside of the show. It definitely reflects on the two of them.

There is a great scene towards the end of Season One in which Mike is surprised at the revelation that Rachel hasn’t seen Casablanca. Have you?

MM: You know what I haven’t! And the creator Aaron Korsh hasn’t, which is why he wrote it into the show. Life imitating art!

Suits Season One is out on DVD today. Season Two arrives on both US and UK screens in June

Interviews: Denzel Washington And Daniel Espinoza, Star And Director Of Safe House

Posted in Film, Interviews
By Andrew Simpson on 24 Feb 2012

Safe House arrived in UK cinemas today billed as one of the newer brand of action thrillers. Show the rest of this post…

Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, the lowly guard of a CIA safe house in Cape Town, whose normally mundane existence is turned upside down by the arrival of new prisoner Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a devious ex-spy turned mercenary who is in possession of valuable information. When the safe house is compromised, Weston is forced to flee across the city with Frost in tow, with dangerous enemies in pursuit.

Safe House many of the grainy, handheld camera techniques of the Bourne films, and like them is also a tale of moral corruption at the head of the US secret service, revealing Weston’s employers (represented by the reliably terrific Brendan Gleeson) to be not all that they seem, beginning with an early scene in which Frost is waterboarded by US agents. With a series of spectacular chase sequences across Cape Town’s poorer neighbourhoods, it is a solid, enjoyable action romp, with Washington on charismatic form. Washington, and the film’s Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, who makes his Hollywood with Safe House, sat down in London recently to talk politics, fight sequences and the decision to shoot in the Southern Hemisphere.

Safe House makes a strong point about the line between heroes and villains in the war on terror being blurred, especially when your character is water boarded. What was your reaction to that?

Denzel Washington: What is it over here, MI5, MI6? Who knows what they do? We don’t know what they do; we know that we want to be protected. We claim we want them to be fair and don’t torture people. I think that on 9/11 everybody was for torture, or they wanted to get to the bottom of whoever it was [responsible]. I think everyone wants their country to play fair. I don’t think it would have made sense for President Obama to come on the air and say, ‘Oh by the way, next Tuesday we’re going to shoot Bin Laden’. They are going to do it, the way they’re going to do it. It’s a dirty business.

People involved in that line of work advised on the film didn’t they?

Daniel Espinosa: What moved me was not so much the practical expertise – I always like having these experts there because I want to direct my movie. What got to me was when we were shooting certain scenes I could see that he [the ‘interrogation consultant’] was emotionally moved. We talked a lot about how this work had affected his personal life and how it affects you as a human being. These people who go into that line of business go there for ethical reasons at the beginning, but what they’re forced to do for their country is sometimes a highly unethical act. How does that affect you as a human being – that’s nothing political; that’s something that’s human. How do we live with compromising our own ethics? For me, that’s the core of the movie.

Denzel, what was your reaction to the material?

DW: I just took it from the opposite angle; I just think that Tobin Frost was a sociopath. When I thought of ‘sociopath’ I thought of violence. I didn’t realise that they say 85 per cent of sociopaths aren’t violent, but they are manipulative; they’ll lie, they’ll use charm and wit, pity – you know, I’m not as good as you. As soon as you say, no you’re alright. You’re a nice guy; I’m starting to manipulate you. I think Tobin Frost had the skill set that the CIA appreciated, but they didn’t necessarily know he was a sociopath. I think his blood pressure goes down when there’s murder and mayhem. I think he was interested in winning; every day I wrote in my script or in my journal, how am I going to win today? What am I going to win? When the guys talk about ‘water boarding’ I said ‘You don’t even have the right towels. How stupid are you?’

You are also a producer on Safe House. How did that happen?

DW: I can’t do it any other way. When I saw Snabba Cash [Espinosa’s previous film], and I was fascinated by this young filmmaker. When I met Daniel we talked about his life, where he grew up, what his father did, I was in, as far as Daniel was concerned. I wasn’t in as far as the script was concerned – I didn’t think it was good enough. I’d been in the habit of helping develop material for a long time – I’ve been doing it for 20 years or more now – so my agent said hey, you’re doing all this work, you should get credit for it, so we’re going to get you a producer credit… I enjoy helping to develop material; it’s a way for me to get into the part. We’d sit in a room day after day and we’d work with two or three different writers for five months.

Why did you decide to set the film in South Africa?

DW: We had talked about the fact that not wanting to be too similar to Man On Fire, but Daniel went to South Africa, and he liked South Africa. And that was it. I think just practically, aside from the look and all that, for my character’s perspective, it was going to be easier for me to blend in in a Black country than in a Brown country.

You have been quoted as saying that you don’t see Safe House as an action film. That’s surprising given the physicality on show.

DW: I didn’t think this was an action movie. I’ve been hearing that but it didn’t read like one. I don’t even know what an action movie is. What does that mean? I think it’s a testament to Daniel’s vision. I think it’s intense – I just saw the finished product about a week or so ago, but it plays more intense than it read. One thing Daniel talked about from the start was how funky and dirty he wanted these fights. So I don’t know if that’s an action movie or it was a little uncomfortable as to how real it was.

DE: I don’t think you can direct a movie like an action movie – you can make a movie. I never saw it as fighting; I saw it as struggling. I think that’s how you should perceive something not a set piece but a scene. I think all scenes that are in the movie move the character, and if you perceive it as an action movie, maybe that’s a testament to thinking it’s intense. Then I’m happy.

Do you ever tire of more physical parts?

DW: I went through a phase where I was sick of acting. I was tired of it; I didn’t really want to do it anymore. I was bored with it. Then I tried directing a movie, and I was like shoot, I’ll get back over here. It made me appreciate acting more. When I turned 50 I looked in the mirror and I realised, hey, this ain’t the dress rehearsal; this is life. I don’t know how much more that I’m going to have, and even if I have 50 more years, I probably won’t remember the last 20 or 30 of them anyway. In the last three or four years, especially after doing this play on Broadway with the great Viola Davis [Fences]… I recommitted myself being thorough as an actor. I want to do good work. I want to do good work with people I want to work with – that’s why I mentioned the screenplay [for Safe House]; I wasn’t that impressed with the screenplay. If I hadn’t met Daniel I probably won’t have done this movie because it didn’t interest me that much. I didn’t think it was that good. But I liked Daniel and I liked the way his film was. So when you get the chance to work with people you like and people who are talented, that’s rare. I don’t know how many more movies I’m going to get the opportunity to make, and I don’t want to look back and go, man I just kind of floated through that one, or I just did that one for the money. I want to be able to say that I’ve worked as hard as I could and I did the best work that I could do.

Interview: Sean Durkin & John Hawkes, Director And Star Of Martha Marcy May Marlene

Posted in Film, Interviews
By Andrew Simpson on 2 Feb 2012

A dark psychological portrait of a young woman’s unravelling psyche, Martha Macy May Marlene is released in the UK on February 4th powered by incredibly strong word of mouth. Show the rest of this post…

Having won Sean Durkin the director’s prize at the Sundance Film Festival last year, the film has benefitted from rave notices, most of which focus on another debutant in the film’s lead, Elizabeth Olsen. The younger sister of the Olsen Twins has generated huge levels of attention for her performance as a girl on the run from a dangerous cult, thankfully doing so for the sheer convincingness of her performance rather than for her appearance in a film completely at odds with her sibling’s cookie-cutter image.

A disturbing, elliptical take on a woman teetering on the edge of insanity, Martha Macy May Marlene sees Olsen’s Martha arrive at her sister’s plush lake house having been missing for two years. Unfolding in two time periods, Durkin jumps back and forth between Martha’s increasingly disturbed attempts to reintegrate into the world and her life on a strange communal farm. Run by Patrick, a quasi-Buddhist cult leader played by the excellent John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), the scenes on the farm mirror those in the present, underlining why Martha felt the need to escape polite society in the first place, and the reasons behind the fear, paranoia, and warped sense of reality that now drive her. Durkin and Hawkes, sitting down to speak about their experiences making the film, were full of praise for Olsen, as well as being keen to discuss how they went about creating such a disturbing vision of warped alternate living.

What was it intimidating directing your first feature film?

Shaun Durkin:  I think thinking about things like that is really dangerous, because I could get nervous about someone like John coming to set. If anything like that ever crosses your mind you’ve got to put it away because it’s all just fear and that will eat you up. You can’t make a movie if you’re scared! It was an amazing experience overall, just so collaborative.

How was it working with a first time director and a first time leading lady?

John Hawkes: I didn’t have to dumb it down, that’s for sure! I learned from whoever I work with, some more than others, and I was certainly able to learn a great deal from Lizzie and Shaun. They both seemed fully formed to me. I felt as if I was among equals, among peers, and so I never gave a second thought to how much experience or not people had. If they show up and they know what they’re doing, and these two did, then it’s just another experience telling a story.

Do you see the character of Patrick as reprehensible?

JH: I tend not to judge who I’m playing particularly. I don’t think people spend the day thinking ‘I’m so evil, I’m so reprehensible, I’m scum!’ I think that it shows that it felt more alive for me to think of Patrick as someone who believed that what he was doing was vital and right and best for those around him. I wasn’t at all interested in approaching him as an evil person. Certainly the story would be really poorly served if the moment we meet Patrick he’s the devil incarnate, or if he’s some kind of easily identifiable charlatan or con man, because the story isn’t about Patrick. We’re going to follow Martha through the film, and the more interesting and subtle and nuanced and complex she can be, the better it is for an audience. If on some level we can believe or sympathise or understand why she might fall in with this group of people and this guy in particular, then I think we’re more apt to be interested in her trip.

Were you conscious of the stories behind the various famous cults when you were making this?

SD: We tried to stay away from a lot of those things and approach it in a different way. I’m sure some things stick, but we quickly got away from that stuff and became focused on creating our own group, and learning from the experiences of people that I met, making it emotionally specific to them and to the time, and to the farm. The farm really came first, and the characters and the way of living grew out of that. We have this abandoned farm, what will they do if they take over? What kind of life will they live? It really came very naturally out of that.

You manage to create a very particular atmosphere and feel to the group’s life on the farm. How did you go about creating that?

SD: I spent a good amount of time there. For a couple of weeks I lived there when we were preparing the film, just walking around and finding good locations for scenes. And then my production designers came and it really started to take shape. It definitely felt alive when we were there too… it’s actually my producer’s family’s farm, so we’ve been going there for a couple of years.  It really just feels like the land gave the story. It really grew out of that naturally.

JH: for my part I don’t think we saw the farm until we started the shoot. That was more out of my hands, it was just a great gift to show up and have this place be some kind of character in the movie. You just look around there and try to pretend, and try to use that to our ends as much as possible. The fact that there was no cell phone reception or no internet really helped us. You couldn’t wander away like everyone does with their device. We were there together, and that really informed us a as a community in a really fantastic way.

Were you trying to draw parallels between how these two very different ways of life trap Martha?

SD: No, not really. There are definitely a lot of actions that are mirrored, but that just came from a place as opposed to comparing. What do people do when they’re on vacation at a lake house, and what do people do when they work on a farm? There happen to be things that overlap, that are very similar only because they are things that you would do. What’s real for her to be doing and trying to stick close to that, rather than making it some kind of social commentary. It’s like a puzzle, you give a  very specific amount of information in every frame, and every little detail is very carefully placed. Some of that is open to interpretation, and whatever an audience member takes from the screen is good. Each experience in watching the film is the right experience.

Shaun, you have been quoted as saying that you don’t like flashbacks, which is surprising as half of the Martha Macy May Marlene is made up of scenes that take place in the past. Can you explain that?

SD: I can’t think of a film that has flashbacks  that I like. And I never thought of these as flashbacks. For me it’s a completely linear story, because it’s Martha’s emotional journey, and it’s linear to Martha’s emotions. There’s a little bit of this Buddhist based thing in the cult, which was in the first draft of the script. One of the basic principles I thought would be appropriate for their way of living, in terms of just focusing on the moment and living off the land, is that there’s no future, and there’s no past, there’s only the present. Then for Martha leaving there she’d be in a  state of confusion and fear, and she’d be carrying over this feeling that everything happens in the present. In addition there are no clocks or calendars, and that’s really common in groups like this. No one knows how long they’d been there. So to me that seemed to make sense, that she’s experiencing it all at the same time.

Structurally it’s a very difficult balancing act, having two time periods running side by side. Was that difficult?

SD: The whole process was very difficult to balance, rewriting and rewriting and trying to get the script as close as you can. Then you shoot it and you realise what you don’t need, in the edit you realise what you don’t need, and it’s an ongoing puzzle piece. The key transitions were scripted, so we knew what we were going to do and storyboarded and shot that way, whereas others you find in editing. You put two scenes together and you find a transition you never thought was there. Even five days before we finished the film you think ‘Is this working?’ and then suddenly you have this breakthrough where you put these pieces in place and suddenly you’ve got the middle hour of the film working.  It’s a really crazy process.

Did you foresee Elizabeth Olsen being such a revelation? She is being talked about as a future star after this, for obvious reasons.

JH: I guess I was struck by the light she threw off. She felt like an irresistible person to all of us. I didn’t realise until  a couple of days in who her family was, that she was related to the Olsen Twins. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t know in advance, and at that point I was already completely bowled over by her. The very first scene I shot was the scene where I name her Marcy May. There was a relaxed sense, and a sense of wonder about her, a sense of vulnerability. I had worked with Jennifer Lawrence a year and a half before [on Winter’s Bone]. I was blown away by her and I never thought that that would happen again, that there would be some sort of out of nowhere kid, who was already so skilled in their craft. There’s this weird feeling when you start working that ‘this can’t really be happening.’ It was unnerving and joyous, all in a piece. I can’t really think of one moment, other than just knowing that this was somebody who was formidable and would be an excellent dance partner

SD: I felt it in the audition, and I had a really strong gut feeling from the beginning. As soon as I spent five minutes with her I knew she was it. One moment quite late in the shoot…. she’s outside and she’s looking up at the house, and she turns round and looks at the lake, then she looks at the house and the woods, and then she sees the car for the first time. She steps into frame in close-up and her face is just transformed. It doesn’t look like that at any other point in the film. At this point we’re done talking about the character. There’s nothing I can tell her. In that moment she captured fully who Martha is, the state of mind she’s in, without saying anything. That is just her becoming the character, and being it and feeling it. It’s one of my favourite moments in the film.

Interview With The Cast Of War Horse

Posted in Film, Interviews
By Andrew Simpson on 13 Jan 2012

Steven Spielberg has been busy. Show the rest of this post…

Just two months after the release of Tintin, he unveils another take on a children’s classic in War Horse, an adaptation of the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo. More recently known as an award-winning West End play, Spielberg has used the story of a Devon farmhand searching for his horse on the frontline of World War One to craft a sweeping, old fashioned epic. An ensemble drama  featuring some of Britain’s finest acting talent, it is a film that has already made headlines for its lead being played by Jeremy Irvine, a twenty-one year old actor who has never previously had lines. But the film will ultimately be remembered as an ode to a horse that spectacularly makes his way across the front line, even if he does so in a way that may be too sentimental for some audiences.

“I actually had come to London on a family vacation” says Kathleen Kennedy, Spielberg’s long time producer, when discussing how the film came together in just two years. “Our girls are thirteen and fifteen, and we just went to the play because they both love to ride horses. I was so taken with the story…and I started to explain to him [Spielberg] what it was and I went on YouTube to find a couple of little excerpts. As the two of us began to talk more about the story, he said ‘this is something very much along the lines of what I’d like to do’”.

“Steven said right from the beginning that he wanted to make a discovery” Kennedy says when discussing the casting of Irvine. “We met with Jeremy and it was pretty clear that Steven knew right away that he was Albert” Irvine for his part says that the experience of being cast is still sinking in. “I have to explain where I was before, which was in a theatre show with no lines having nearly had no work for two years, and playing a tree!” he says laughing. “So to go from that to a movie is insane; to go to a movie with lines is even more insane; and then to be in a Spielberg one and to be playing the lead is just so beyond anything that I could begin to comprehend”.

If that sounds as though Irvine may have been a little daunted by the experience at first that would be a fair reading. “Tom Hiddlestone [who plays Captain Nicholls, the cavalryman who takes Joey to the front line] told me ‘It’s just a job. You turn up to work every day, you do the best that you can, and then you go home. That’s when you can freak out,’ says Irvine when recounting how scared he was when first on set. Unsurprisingly, it is an experience that has completely changed his life, and career prospects. “Well I can get work, that’s new! And I’m very, very busy. I’m just about to start my fourth movie” he says, speaking of having moved onto major adaptations of Great Expectations and The Railwayman since shooting the film.

As well as impressing Hollywood casting directors, he also has a number of fans among his War Horse cast members. “I was a spear carrier on stage, like Jeremy, for two years” says Emily Watson, who plays Albert’s mother. “I was on the dole when I got Breaking The Waves, so I had to go and sign off the dole at the DSS and say ‘I’m starring in a movie.” Of Jeremy she says “I think that he has got everything that it takes. Real talent, and he’s beautiful, charming and personable. The camera loves him, but he also has an integrity to be a good actor. I’ve worked with actors who want to be on the front of magazines, and who want to check themselves out in the mirror before every take. He’s the opposite of that, and I think that’s a very good start.”

Irvine is not the only actor in War Horse who was stunned to be working with Spielberg.  “I didn’t audition in person. I received the script and put myself on tape, and I sent the tape off, and the phone rang and it was my agent saying Steven wants to meet you,” says Hiddlestone, who has gone from British independent films to starring in Thor and War Horse this year. “He was very nice and then he asked me to do it.” He is a little more forthcoming when he is reminded that Spielberg has gone so far as to call him a modern day Errol Flynn.“It goes beyond my wildest expectation,” he says. “What has happened to me in the last two years has gone beyond what I thought myself capable of. The lesson is that you should never let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do”. Co-star Benedict  Cumberbatch who, like Hiddlestone, is stepping onto the international stage with War Horse, agrees. “It’s a work environment where 99% of the population is unemployed. We are the most oversupplied workforce. It’s not about just desserts in this business. The point is this: we’ve all come from different routes. It’s just that when your time is right, your time is right.”

The real stars, though, are ultimately the horses, and all of the cast have fond memories of working with the animals on set. “Part of my process was helping to train them”, Irvine says. “I spent hours standing outside their stables until they were used to me, then hours and hours spent in the stable with them, and eventually you can touch them. From there you can go to teaching them to play hide and seek…I was very sceptical about building those relationships, because I’m not really an animal person, but by the end of it I was as bleary eyed as anyone else They are incredible creatures”.

Hiddlestone can only agree with Irvine’s awe for the horses on set. “We had six weeks of training,” he recounts when speaking of the rigorous training he had to go through to convince as a cavalryman. “We were drilled like soldiers; to walk, to trot, to canter, to charge in formation, to charge one-handed.” Of the horse he rode, he says “He was known as the safe pair of hands for the actors. Some have more buttons that you can push, and he is like Ferrari. I just had to think about cantering or galloping, and he was off.”

Cumberbatch, who also plays a cavalryman in the film, chimes in. “They have longer CVs than us!” he jokes in reference to the huge number of films in which the animals have performed.“They are brilliant animals,” he says. “You go there emotionally, with your heart and your mind. That’s the same with all the mediums the story has been told in, as it’s told through this vessel of a horse who shows the extraordinary idiocy of what human conflict is.”

All are similarly complementary of the experience of working with one of the world’s great directors. “His crew are so quick” says Watson. “They’ve all been together for a couple of decades now, and they really turn on a sixpence. There’s an unspoken language, so things happen very quickly, going from major setup to major setup in a very short space of time. As an actor it doesn’t intrude on your process, and it felt very intimate.”

Others simply praise Spielberg for his innate understanding of the emotional heft of the story. “He’s a kid who loves stories” says Morpurgo when explaining why he was ultimately so happy that it was Spielberg adapting his prized creation. “He’s very emotional, and utterly not spoiled by the success that he’s gained for himself. I found him to be a very genuine human being, and I should have guessed it, because in all the films I’ve ever seen, from a man who made E.T. and Schindler’s List in the same lifetime, he brings to each this integrity of seriousness. It’s not sentimental; people get Spielberg completely wrong. I don’t find him sentimental, I find him emotional.” Kennedy agrees. “I think many of those things that drove him as a filmmaker all those years ago are still driving him now”, she says. “The strongest thing for him is story. It doesn’t matter if he’s doing it through animation or on film or through television, you’re still telling a story”.

Hiddlestone sums up Spielberg’s unique blend of spectacle and emotional intimacy with a story about filming the charge duing which his character dies. “He took me to one side and said to me,” he relates, ‘that the camera will be on you, and I don’t want you to do shock, or surprise, or fear, or terror…at the top of the shot give me your war face, the face you’ve been doing all day. You’re triumphant, you’re a noble office, and it’s all going well. And then I’m going to say guns, and when you hear me say guns I want you to de-age yourself by twenty years, so you’re twenty-nine and then you’re nine. Strip away the man, and show me the boy’. I thought that was one of the most heartbreaking pieces of direction I’ve ever received. It was so acute, in the middle of this action sequence; this grand, epic, exciting, dramatic piece of cinematography with one-hundred-and-twenty horses going at forty miles an hour, and he had the space in his filmmaking head, and in his heart, for something very intimate. I thought it was amazingly impressive.” War Horse’s stand out moment, it is emblematic of the fact that even when Spielberg is turning in less impressive work, there is not another filmmaker quite like him.

War Horse is in cinemas now

Interview: Steven Spielberg, Director Of War Horse

Posted in Film, Interviews
By Andrew Simpson on 13 Jan 2012

Steven Spielberg arrived in London this week in relaxed mood. Show the rest of this post…

In the UK to talk up War Horse, his new adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s beloved children’s novel, the director’s conversation was littered with enthused talk of family, the English countryside, and the triumph of the human spirit. Best known until now as an award winning stage play, War Horse is Spielberg’s second release in little more than two months. But unlike his recent motion captured take on Tintin, War Horse features almost no computer animation, instead serving up a grand, old fashioned family epic tale about a teenage boy who leaves his Devon farm to volunteer for service in World War One in a bid to find Joey, his beloved horse.

The film has made headlines for its use of the previously unknown Jeremy Irvine as Albert, its lead. But as well as featuring an all star cast, all of whom come into contact with Joey during his often nightmarish adventure on the front line, War Horse is a film that makes a noble animal its central character, and refreshingly does so without the use of CGI. If it may be a tad sentimental for some, it is a story that has no shortage of admirers, and Spielberg  seemed driven to talk about his emotional connection to the story, as well as how War Horse represents his first genuinely British film.

What is so special about the story of War Horse?

Steven Spielberg: It’s a love story, and that’s what makes it universal. It was that way in the book and it was certainly that way on the boards, and that’s what we really tried to do in our adaptation, to really create a bonding story where Joey basically circumvents the emotional globe of the Great War. Joey has a way of bringing people together, especially people from both sides of that war.

How much responsibility to history do you feel when you make a film set during World War One?

SS: We feel responsible if we make a movie that even touches on historical fact that there has to be more than a kernel of truth in the history, and especially the First World War. So we did a lot of research, and the thing that really struck me was the vast numbers of casualties among the horses, not just the men who died on the on the American, British, French and German side.

So does that mean you wanted to tell people something about World War One?

SS: This [the First World War] was the death knell of the horse, the end of the horse as an instrument of warfare. It was an era… where the machine, the tank, the aeroplane, chemical warfare it all kind of converged on the First World War, almost an experimental that was the war to end all wars, or at least that’s what they thought.

Why do you think you’ve done so many war films?

SS: I don’t see this really as a war story. This isn’t Saving Private Ryan, this isn’t Band of Brothers. In the movie there’s only about fifteen minutes of combat, from the cavalry charge to the fighting in the Somme. I wanted families to see this picture together: there’s hardly any blood in this movie at all, and unlike Saving Private Ryan where I was trying to acquit the actual testimonies of the young men who actually fought in France on D-Day, when I was trying to make the movie as brutally authentic as I possibly could, I took a different approach to this story.

But you do seem to have an interest in war, even if you are exploring it in a very different way in War Horse.

SS: I’m not ashamed to admit I was not a good student [in school], but I loved history. My dad fought in World War Two and he’s turning 95 this month. He was based in Karachi which is now Pakistan. He fought in Burma against the Japanese, and he told these stories, so I grew up hearing these war stories. My first 8mm movies when I was 13, were all war movies , World War Two movies. Also war throws characters into chaos and there’s no better way to test who a person is than to put him in the middle of a war. That’s really going to show you what kind of a character you’re telling the story about.

So War Horse has something to say about courage in combat, spurred on by Albert’s love for his horse?

SS: Albert shows tremendous courage in pressing forward on the Somme, when he’s crossing No Man’s Land, and it’s almost blind fear that makes him race forward, and that so often happens. But he also has a reason to be racing forward, he has a goal in his heart of finding a horse he’s hoping to find amongst the millions of horses in France he actually is audacious enough to think he may find the one, and in fact the one finds him instead.

What made you cast an actor who had never had any speaking parts in the lead…

SS: What made Jeremy stand out was that ineffable quality that certain exceptional people have that just stand out and rise above the rest. There were hundreds of very interesting actors and newcomers and nobody had the heart or the spirit or the communication skills that Jeremy had. And I’m accustomed to working with actors who have no experience. You can just look back into my career at E.T. and Drew Barrymore. Christian Bale from Empire of the Sun and had never made a movie before, and that’s a very similar history and career that could be in store for Jeremy.

But was it ever a concern asking someone with no experience to carry a film?

SS: I really trust the authenticity of real people, and my job is get them to be themselves in front of the camera. Often what happens is that when you get a newcomer in front of the camera they freeze up or they imitate actors and other performances that they’ve admired, and they stop becoming themselves. So my job is the director is to always return them to what I first saw in them. I didn’t want Jeremy to be someone he wasn’t, I simply wanted him to be the person he is today. He did a wonderful job playing himself.

Scarcely has the British landscape looked so good on film. Could you talk the Devon and Castle Combe locations?

SS: Castle Combe looks like Hollywood built it! It doesn’t look real. The Devon location has some of the most natural wonders in all of England, with the tours that are so beautiful. There’s nothing like the landscapes of Devon, we couldn’t believe it. The original script didn’t have the budget that allowed us to go to Devon. We stretched the budget a bit to afford to go there and it was worth every penny.

Were the horses hard to control on camera, and were you ever concerned for their safety during such tough shoot?

SS: The most difficult shots of the entire film is where the British soldier and the German soldier are trying to free Joey [who is caught on barbed wire on No Man’s Land]. You can get a horse to lie down but it’s very difficult to get a  horse to kneel down on its forelegs and its back legs, it wants to get right up. So we had very little time to get those shots and to have the actors giving it their best. But the important thing about that was Bobby Lovgren who trained all the horses. He was the one who guarded the horses, who kept them safe, who protected them, and if I had a crazy idea he would say I can do that safely or I can’t do that safely…but you have to understand that these horses were really smart.

War Horse once again features a score from John Williams. How important is his music to your films?

SS: We started working together in 1972 on Sugarland Express, so this is year forty. John is the most important collaborator I’ve ever had in my career. He’s made me look good, he’s made my work look better. I get a lot of credit but it really should be going to John. But I’ve kept the people in my career who I feel are my family: Kathy [Kennedy, Producer] has been with me since 1978, Janusz Kamińsk my cinematographer has made every movie with me since Schindler’s List; Michael Kahn has cut every movie I’ve made since 1976 when we made Close Encounters together; Rick Carter has done fifteen of my directed films as a production designer. I really believe in the family of collaboration. But John certainly has the most considerable impact because he immediately bypasses the brain and goes right to your heart, and that’s how it’s always been with him. He’s an amazing talent.

What is your decision process when choosing a script?

SS: How do I choose my movies? They choose me. That sounds glib but it’s true. I don’t go through a tortuous intellectual process to decide what to direct. I know when I want to direct the second I read something and hear a story, I just know when it grabs me in a certain way I want to direct it. It’s just an undeniable feeling I get, and it’s not the same feeling I get when I wind up producing something.

What was the turning point in your career?

SS: The turning point in my career was Jaws. It was a turning point because I was a director for hire before Jaws and after Jaws was such a  big hit, I could do any movie I wanted and Hollywood just wrote me a cheque. I wanted to make this crazy movie about flying saucers, and nobody wanted to make it before Jaws, and I tried to get them to make this crazy film about flying saucers… people thought I was crazy and they wouldn’t give me the time of day. And the second Jaws was a hit everybody said ‘Do you still want to make that?’ So Jaws for me was the turning point.

What do you see as the ups and downs of your career?

SS: Well I think the perceived downs in my own career are just managing my time, and not feeling that I have enough time for my family and my friends…that usually happens when I’m away and I can’t physically get there because I’m in the process of shooting a movie. But those are the real downs, everything else you just have to take with a pinch of salt. The movie does well or the movie doesn’t do as well you would have hoped. Some movies get great reviews, some movies don’t. That’s just part of what I do for a living.

So you don’t you see yourself retiring any time soon?

SS: Well I have no plans to quit. I’ve always said, and Clint East wood is one of my best friends, I’ve known Clint for 40 years and we have a great, almost a jokey relationship about retirement, and Clint is 81 now, and I always say ‘Clint are you ready to retire this year?’ and he says ‘No, are you?’ and I say ‘No’. I’m waiting for the phone call when Clint says he’s hanging up his spurs. That’s never going to happen, if it doesn’t happen for Clint it won’t happen for me!

Do you ever think of your children when making movies?

SS: My daughter Destry had a lot to do with me directing War Horse. She’s fifteen now and she’s been competitively riding for eleven years. We live with horses – we have ten horses at home – and we’ve been living with horses for almost eighteen years. Destry, when she heard that Kathy [Kennedy, Spielberg’s Producer] had found this book and this play and I was about to go to London to see it play for the first time, even before I saw the play and came back to report that it made me cry and that I loved it so much, my daughter said ‘You have make War Horse, you have to make it for me’. So I did.

Does the horse represents us in some way?

SS: It’s something that I have thought about and talked about, and has been part of my thematic rasion detre for being involved in War Horse. What I have been saying over the last two years… is that Joey represents common sense. If more people had a common sense, a common horse sense like Joey, we wouldn’t be having wars. That was there the real underpinning for this entire endeavour.

War Horse is in cinemas now

Interview With The Director And Cast Of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Posted in Film, Interviews
By Andrew Simpson on 15 Dec 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, arrives in UK cinemas on 16 December to high hopes. Show the rest of this post…

The first instalment, featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as a ragtag, all action incarnation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creations, proved to be a pleasant surprise on its release two years ago. Its stylised vision of Victorian London combined with Guy Ritchie’s kinetic direction was a good blend, even if the film eventually threatened to go off the rails as its director became more concerned with set pieces and style at the expense of plot. The second instalment sees the duo travel across Europe in a bid to stop ultra-villain Moriarty.

Aided by a gypsy fortune teller played by The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’s Noomi Rapace, and with Mad Men’s convincingly sinister Jared Harris as Moriarty, the film certainly has more dramatic talent at its disposal. It’s a shame, then, that Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows favours bigger, better set pieces over any deeper exploration of its characters or in telling a good detective story. While the central relationship retains all the charm that made it so attractive in the first instalment, what ultimately emerges is an entertaining if unmemorable action adventure. Stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Noomi Rapace recently sat down with director Guy Ritchie in London to talk about the film, and what they had to say confirms the suspicion that those involved were as interested in having fun making a globetrotting adventure as they were in creating a fitting take on one of literature’s most enduring detectives.

A major attraction of the films is the chemistry between the two leads. Could you talk about that?

RDJ: People will talk about chemistry, and it’s really great that it comes across that way. You work really hard, and you have immense respect for each other. We’ve all seen, and some of us have been in , sequels that sucked, and we wanted to really avoid those pitfalls.

What are the bad sequels you have been in?

RDJ: I must have misspoke!

So you were concerned about the possibility of the sequel not living up to the first film?

RDJ:I think there’s  natural inflation that occurs with success, and until it happens you can’t know it. So I guess the danger is that you take the audience for granted  when you presume they’re with you because you are with yourself, and that’s not true, and so i guess that’s the thing. What do we expect, and what could we get wrong the second time because we were thinking about how to spend the money we made from the last one.

JL: I think no matter how happy everybody was having created the first film as a group, it’s always the case that 20-30% of the film is taken up at the beginning getting to know each other. You end on a high and you end up learning how each other works, so we never felt like we dropped the ball from the first to the second [film]. A lot of energy carried from the first into the second, and a lot of enthusiasm for the relationship that worked, and we wanted to flesh that out.

How important was the work of Arthur Conan Doyle in shaping the films?

RDJ: When we first met we cracked the books and we started getting chills. Watson was never this chubby old doofus with his foot in a wastepaper basket. He was dynamic and he was in the army, and Holmes never wore a deerstalker cap and we felt that we had the chance not to rewrite the history of Holmes, but in some ways to extrapolate from the actual history.

JL: You can compare Watson and Holmes in a way to Shakespearean characters who have been played by hundreds of actors over many years, each one is a different interpretation, and the fact is that source material can take that kind of interpretation. I think one of the reasons the books have survived the test of time and have been explored by so many people is because they’re incredibly rich. So first of all we had  a tome of work that we can use by Conan Doyle, to investigate how to keep these characters rich and alive, and secondly to create an environment in which we are free to keep structuring and trying new ideas.

What is so special about this interpretation of the characters then?

RDJ: I love his dependency on Watson, and we found a way to make the audience not judge him for driving a wedge between him and his wife!  I think he’s somebody who needs to be taken care of so he can do what he does best.

JL: I think the reason they’ve been popular for so long is that they symbolise characters that we all know and that we have in us, the side that’s very down to earth and reliable, and the side that can be imaginative and creative and eccentric and anarchic. There’s a lot there to play with.

How did the film come together?

GR: First of all there’s a creative team . Everyone has an equal part in creating what we think is exciting. It’s a powerhouse of creativity, and no creative individual trumps another creative individual: it’s a case of harnessing all of those ideas and I don’t think any one of us can take credit. It became a living organism, this creative mind.  The script was so rough, which some of us found quite frustrating at times, we didn’t think it was the film we wanted to make. But it got broken down and rebuilt, and broken down and rebuilt, by this creative mind.

RDJ: But any moment in the film that touches you, moves you, makes you laugh or makes you cry, that’s mine, and the rest is the creative mind!

The film also has a new cast member in Noomi Rapace, from the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

NR:  I met Joel [Silver, producer] and Robert in LA and it was a very quick, intense meeting, and we didn’t really talk about Sherlock. I came out from that meeting and I was smiling, so it was very emotional. It started from a very honest conversation about movies and what kind of movies we wanted to make. It felt like I was invited into an amazing opportunity to work with people I’ve been admiring and whose films I’d been watching for many, many years.

What was the hardest aspect of the role?

NR: the biggest step for me was to move into the English language, because I didn’t speak English two and a half years ago. I was afraid I was going to be caught up in feeling that I need to translate everything from Swedish into English, and not being able to improvise and adlib, and feel free to live in the language. But what surprised me so much was that thanks to how they work and the way that everybody took care of me, it felt like everybody grabbed me and pulled me in, and I forgot that I was nervous. Everything else faded away.

Was there ever a discussion about whether to do the film in 3D?

GR: Well I like 3D movies and I’m a bit of a film geek: I like the technical aspect of filming a lot. So I did try to push this for 3D but the reticence was that there was a lot of 3D coming out, and it felt tired at the time that we were embarking on this. But I am a fan of it and I think it’s innovative. I think that if we’d gone that little bit earlier I would have pushed harder.

RDJ: Also I think when you’re shooting in 3D you can’t have the alacrity and swiftness of movement. Sometimes Guy would be doing really innovative shots, and the movie leans on being able to go guerrilla style here and there. It’s not just a question of beautiful frames. Sometimes I think that as it stands right now 3D can be really inefficient, but I’m sure the tech is catching up with the needs of filmmakers.

Guy, do you feel constrained by making mainstream films, originally coming from a very indie background?

GR: I don’t at all. Filmmaking has changed as we all know, and indie movies have been somewhat muscled out in conspicuous fashion. Who’s responsible for that I don’t know, but at the same time I still see myself as an indie filmmaker. I certainly got no resistance from the studio in trying anything we thought was innovative, they really encouraged it. Filmmaking in the blockbuster  sense has absorbed the influence [of independent film], and I think that’s the upside of the position we found ourselves in. Big movies are becoming increasingly more interesting. So no, I don’t feel constrained at all.

It’s quite a physical film, with a lot of heavy action and stunt work. Was that tough?

JL: It was another important element that we wanted to push further. We were pushing the dialogue, pushing the banter, pushing the characters and the relationship, but we also wanted to step back and say ‘let’s really elevate the physicality’, because going back to our original idea it was to take these guys out of Baker Street. You see them talking about their adventures and we wanted you to see them running with them and living them, and surviving them, and so that bar was pretty high. I think we got into certain things knowing what we were doing, and then somebody would come up with something that would add another 20%, so we’d be working at 150% all the time.

GR:  Some of these action scenes went on for 2 weeks, and these guys were working  8 hours or 10 hours a day. No one asks a professional athlete to do that in their work, and consequently these three were constantly on a  diet, constantly on an exercise regime. The warm up goes on for an hour, the cool down goes on for an hour, and an then there’s 10 hours in-between.  It’s almost  impossible to appreciate the demands on them physically.

NR: What’s really impressive about these guys is that they do their own stunts. A lot of actors will do no stunts, but these two do everything. There are some things that the insurance companies won’t let you do, but they did everything else. It was amazing to see.

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