All posts by IanW

INTERVIEW: CILLIAN MURPHY on ‘SUNSHINE’

By the very nature of their profession, actors are paid to pretend, but it’s not often – on film at least – that they have to make believe they’re looking at the Sun without it actually being there. But, when he says, “The Sun was all put in afterwards in post-production”, Irish-born Cillian Murphy isn’t joking.

“Like all stars, the Sun will burn out and it will implode and die. We’re just exaggerating that by a few million years for dramatic purposes.”

All becomes clear when you learn that his latest role is in sci-fi thriller Sunshine and the reason he couldn’t look at the Sun is because his character views it from an unusual vantage point – namely, on a spaceship that, a la Pink Floyd, has set its controls for the heart of the Sun. Why? To save the human race, of course.

“Like all stars, the Sun will burn out,” explains Murphy, “and it will implode and die. We’re just exaggerating that by a few million years for dramatic purposes.”

Set in the year 2057, Sunshine’s astronauts are heading towards the Sun, shielded from the worst of the Sun’s rays, on a spacecraft that is a “bomb the size of Manhattan Island”. With a premise as simple as it is compelling, Sunshine is fantastic, cerebral sci-fi in the mould of Alien or Solaris. On directing duties is Manchester’s own Danny ‘Trainspotting’ Boyle, while the screenwriter is Alex Garland, author of best-selling novel The Beach (the film version was directed by Boyle) and the screenplay for Boyle’s 2003 zombie hit, 28 Days Later. A surprise hit internationally, it made Murphy a star, resulting in lead roles in a number of films, including Ken Loach’s Palm d’Or-winning tale of the Irish Civil War, The Wind That Shakes The Barley. Like many an actor before him, Murphy, who turned 30 last year, finds himself beholden to a genre of which he’s not necessarily a fan.

“I did at least grow up absolutely loving Star Wars,” he insists, before admitting, “but I was never into the Star Trek movies or the series really. Like Danny [Boyle], my sci-fi tastes are along the lines of Alien, 2001, Solaris. I went to the ComiCon convention in San Diego which was intense. We did this press conference in front of like, 6,000 fans. It was mad, but you realise that they’re the people who buy the tickets. They’re the people who know these characters as well as you do so you have to make movies that they enjoy.”

Whether fanboys enjoy the movie or not (though I’m guessing they will – Sunshine really is the best sci-fi film in decades), Murphy and his co-stars had a hoot making it. To indicate the co-operation required for humankind’s “last, best hope”, the ensemble cast is deliberately internationalist and includes Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Hiroyuki Sanada (The Twilight Samurai) and Chris Evans (not our own carrot-top DJ but The Fantastic Four’s Human Torch). To help the eight ‘astronauts’ bond, they were forced to live together in student accommodation in London.

“It wasn’t supposed to be luxurious and it wasn’t,” chuckles Murphy. “A lot of the time as actors you come in on a Monday morning and the director says, ‘Right, you’ve known each other for ten years.’ And you can do it, you can do the job. There’s that classic scene in Alien where they’re around the table and they get an amazing sense of familiarity. You really believe that they’ve been travelling together in space for however long. We wanted to get that sense as well so the best way to do that, other than actually acting it is to live together and then let the experience inform the performance. We all lived together and ate and cooked and drank together.”

As well as recreating what sounds like a Thespian version of The Young Ones, the actors were all sent on an “astronaut bootcamp” which saw them attend lectures, go scuba diving (the nearest we can get to space-walking on Earth) and a trip in a light aircraft to stimulate zero-G.

“Humans are not meant to experience this,” says Murphy. “Nothing is, not monkeys or dogs either. It was sickening, horrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.”

Another vital piece of preparation for Murphy was hanging out with the film’s scientific adviser, Dr Brian Cox. Though employed at the Centre for European Nuclear Research, the world’s largest particle-physics laboratory, his varied CV includes a stint as D:Ream’s keyboardist. He doesn’t sound like your typical egghead.

“No,” agrees Murphy. “He’s not your quintessential physicist by any stretch of the imagination. But he’s so bright and so approachable. I hung out with him for some time and pestered him with idiotic questions about life, the Universe and everything.”

Boyle also used Cox to light-heartedly defend his casting of Murphy, rather than, say, some dweeby brainiac:

“For those who think [Cillian] is a bit good-looking for a physicist, the uncanny thing is that he looks remarkably like our science consultant.”

“He does have a certain boyish charm about him, I’d hand him that,” is all Murphy will bashfully say on the subject.

It was Cox who helped Garland and Boyle come up with their sci-fi vision that was “more NASA than Star Wars”. Indeed, Cox even pointed out that Sunshine’s posited scenario – the Sun going nova in the near future rather than in two billion years – could well be possible. The scary thing about scientists is, as Murphy puts it, “how much they don’t know.

“It’s terrifying, or wonderful, depending on how you choose to look at it. They know what five percent of the universe is, but 95 percent of it we don’t have a clue what it is. That’s amazing.”

Thanks to Cox, the science of the movie, which will no doubt make a great DVD extra six months from now, is pretty much watertight. As a result, the spaceship and attendant technology, all feels brilliantly plausible. Even its bomb is theoretically sound.

“While I have no authority to judge it,” Murphy cheerfully admits, “but from what Brian says the idea that you could fire a bomb of dark matter into a star and re-ignite it is possible. They have the equations for it.”

This article first appeared in The Big Issue In The North in 2005.

INTERVIEW: ROBERT PATTINSON, STANISLAV IANEVSKI and KATIE LEUNG on ‘HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE’

WELCOME THE NEWCOMERS TO THE HARRY POTTER UNIVERSE…


ROBERT PATTINSON
CEDRIC DIGGORY

Were you a Harry Potter fan before you got this part?
I’d never read any of the books and hadn’t seen the movies either, so I can’t really claim to have been a fan. I say I’m a fan of Arsenal and I don’t know anything about them – it’s kind of the same thing. When I got told I had the audition I read the book in, like, a day and knew that I’d love the part. I think there’s something really special about the books and I think people are going to watch these movies years from now.

Your character is part of a love triangle with Cho Chang and Harry – is he sympathetic?I think Cho wants to be with me more – I’m not standing between anybody! He should be a sympathetic character, but there’s a thing about head boys – a lot of people hate them for no reason, especially if they do everything right. But Cedric is just a quiet guy who instinctively doesn’t do horrible things – so hopefully he’ll be sympathetic. His main description is the ‘strong, silent type.’

Was it a thrill working with Mike Newell?
It was a thrill being part of Harry Potter – it’s like being part of the Bond Franchise. But Mike Newell – I loved Donnie Brasco. He’s a great director. I got on with him really well and I really liked him.

Did you get starstruck by any of the other actors?
With Alan Rickman I don’t think I knew what to say to him the whole way through. Warwick Davis, who’s Willow, I did a scene with him and I was, like, completely and utterly… ‘You know, because Willow was my favourite film in my childhood. He was the only person I asked for an autograph out of all of them.

What was your favourite scene to shoot?
The Maze scene. It was really fun, hopefully it’ll look really good, it was really exciting to film because it was all for real – it was just me and Dan and a Steadicam, so it was really, really exciting. That’s what all acting should be like!

What was the hardest scene?
Well – my death!

KATIE LEUNG
CHO CHANG

You beat 5,000 people for the role of Cho Chang. That must have been nerve-wracking…
Because I just went for a bit of fun, I was really relaxed about the whole thing! I’ve not really thought about it until people started saying ‘Well, you beat 5,000 girls!’ and that’s when I think, ‘Yeah. I did!’ I’m really surprised because I’d never acted before and didn’t realise I could act until I went to the auditions.

What made you want to audition, because your dad has said you’d never even acted in school plays before?
It was such a coincidence: he was watching TV and he was practically falling asleep when the advert came on saying ‘If you’re 16 and you’re a girl and you’re of Oriental appearance and you come from Britain – then you should try out for a role in Harry Potter.’ And he thought that sounded like me.

Did you have to lose your Scottish accent?
No I didn’t I got to keep it – yeah, it was great. The book doesn’t really mention what kind of accent she has so everyone’s going to expect an English accent so when I do speak I think it’s going to surprise a few people, which’ll be cool.

Do you get to kiss Daniel?
You’ll have to wait and see! But the scenes we had involved a lot of teasing – looking but no touching because I have a boyfriend in this film.

Is it true you’ve received hate mail from jealous girls?
No. I’ve received so much fan mail and they’re all so supportive, and it’s really encouraging. I mean. I’m sure there are a few jealous girls because Dan has so many female fans.

In a film dominated by boys, did you form a bond with Emma?
Yeah, we did, we had a good chat. Obviously she’s given me some advice and I was asking her about the premiere – what it’s going to be like and she was telling me to make the most of it. ‘It’s your day, it’s going to be amazing so just enjoy it.’ And she also said keep level-headed and stay grounded.

Do you see acting as a career now?
If it was the same with every film as it was with Harry Potter then definitely. I’ve had the time of my life doing this.

STANISLAV IANEVSKI
VIKTOR KRUM

Were you a fan of the Harry Potter stories before joining the cast?
I was a fan but I hadn’t read the books – I’d only seen the films. As soon as I got the part I read book number 4 and I studied Viktor Krum so I could bring him to life in the film.

What do you like about Viktor?
I actually like everything about him – he’s a superstar in Quidditch, he’s obviously the champion of Durmstrang, so he’s the best boy in the school! He’s quite a tough character – physically he gives an impression of power whatever he does, but at the same time he’s got a big heart. I like every aspect of him – he’s quite similar to me!

Acting’s in your family?
Yeah, well it’s sort of in the roots: my grandma acted in black and white Bulgarian films and my dad’s been in two films. He was spotted and asked to be in two films and my mother’s been in a couple as well but not professionally.

Did you want to go into acting?
Like everyone, when I was young I dreamt of being a Hollywood star but I never thought it could happen. A year ago I was a normal guy and now I’m sitting here having interviews!

Did you train for the film?
Well I’m always been training but during filming we have to do loads of specific training for the tasks. For the underwater scenes we had to learn how to scuba dive and how to take masks off underwater and there was a scene where Viktor dives off the Durmstrang ship so I had to learn how to dive for that.

And how were the ballroom dancing lessons?
We had a choreographer for the Yule Ball and I think we were training for about two weeks. We were supposed to be doing a Waltz but it’s actually a bit more than a Waltz because it has special music which everything is designed for – so it has to look magical. We had great fun and it’ll hopefully look good on screen.”

Have you been surprised by the Harry Potter fans?
Yes. I’ve been on the internet becauseI want to see what they think of me as Viktor. He’s quite skinny in the book and I don’t quite look like that! They were quite positive comments. It was really funny reading about the hair – in the book Viktor’s hair is long but mine’s short in the film.

Are you looking forward to the premieres and having girls screaming at you?
Definitely, but I don’t know how much they’ll be screaming for me!

This article first appeared in The North Guide in 2005.

TRAVEL: ON THE GREEN TORTOISE…

“Day one on the Big Brother bus…”

I don’t know who started the Geordie voice-over first but, after the six thousandth time, it’s still funny. And we haven’t even cleared San Francisco yet.

We’re on a coach, one of several buses in the Green Tortoise fleet. A tour operator with a difference, the company, operating primarily out of San Fran, runs trips all over the US, as well as taking in Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Their main selling point is cheapness (our five day trip costs just $350) and the unique experience of crossing continents in a Tortoise bus.

 

Although, aside from being painted green, the buses’ exterior looks pretty normal, it’s the modifications inside that makes them special. Relatively spacious seating, with a good smattering of tables, converts into sleeping quarters. Coupled with the ‘luggage’ racks (too claustrophobic for some), each bus can sleep 36 people, thus cutting out the need to stop to sleep. While you slumber, your dedicated drivers rumble down the freeways, ensuring that you wake up at your next destination.

We’re on one of the Tortoise’s shorter tours, the Western Trail – a five-day loop beginning and ending in San Francisco. Happily, the trip is far from sold out, meaning space is plentiful. Even so, being in close proximity with strangers soon means that we’re chatting away. Before long we’re bonding over beer and ‘shithead’ – the backpackers’ card-game of choice – while the California coastline shimmers by.

Meeting fellow travellers is by far one of the best aspects to the Tortoise experience. In our small group we meet posh girls from Oxford, an Aussie electrician, a honeymooning couple from Manchester, a Korean student, a gaggle of young but fun A-level graduates, a couple of trainee doctors from Edinburgh and a financial consultant from Bedford. By the time we reached our first stop the group dynamics, Big Brother-style, were established.

The first night is spent, not on the bus (that’s backup should the weather turn), but camping in the forest. After collecting firewood, a mild hike up into beautiful tree-covered hills gets the appetite going and, as sundown approaches, dinner is served. Cooked by our drivers, it’s nothing special but hits the spot all the same. More beer around the fire finishes off the night.

We stop at Santa Barbara the following afternoon. It may have been the shittest soap opera ever devised, but as a town it’s scarily clean paradise, all palm trees and wide roads. It’s also home to the oldest roller coaster west of the Mississippi. Although built in 1917, it’s still a relatively hair-raising experience.

LA is the second day’s final destination and I wish I hadn’t bothered. We arrive so late, due to gridlocked traffic, that we only have time to stumble up Hollywood boulevard before hitting the sack.

Leaving LA’s smog behind, the bus thunders into the majesty of the Nevada desert along Route 66. Surrounded by Joshua trees and with the horizon rippling in heat-haze, it’s time to whack the air-con on full. We make one daytime stop, at a diner and museum where a vintage auto fair is taking place. Impossibly polished Chevrolets, Lincolns and Mustangs gleam in the blazing sun.

But on to Vegas. We arrive early, booking into the aptly named Sin City Hostel. Subscribing to the town’s “anything goes” ethos, we sign up to shoot handguns in a range for $16 before, with our ears still ringing, hitting the casinos. Ironically, our mixed-age group is split up here – the guns were fine but gambling and drinking is strictly for over 21’s. Still, when we crawl back to our hostels at 7am, wallets empty, who’s laughing? We’re back on the bus half an hour later.

By the time hangovers have dissipated, we’ve swung west again and are back in California. Desert has given way to the snow-capped peaks and, for our evening meal, we stop at a hot spring. Utterly blessed out after an hour in the volcanic water, it’s hard to find the energy to help prepare dinner. Then it’s back on the bus for beer and shithead, before hitting the hay. We travel through the night, the moonlight on the snow providing enough illumination to see the awe-inspiring, but precipitous, landscape.

 

 

 

 

Morning sees us arrive at Yosemite National Park. Despite warnings about bears, the place is full of tourists, most of whom are content to trundle around on electric buses. Being young(ish), we go trekking and soon leave the crowds behind. It’s truly spectacular – I promise myself that I’ll return here, possibly for one of the deep country two-week hikes. I especially enjoy jumping into a heart-stoppingly cold lake. For me, Yosemite is the trip’s highlight and most people concur. The only downside – monster mosquitoes. By the time we get back to the bus, blood is running down our legs. Should’ve taken that insect warning more seriously.

 

So itchy but happy, we head back to San Francisco where we bid the Tortoise farewell. But, for those of us who are staying in San Fran, we suddenly have a huge group of mates to hit the town with.

“Day One, not on the Big Brother bus…”

This article first appeared in City Life magazine in 2004.

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY on ‘PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’

“I must confess that I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.”
– Jane Austen

Almost two centuries after its publication, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice remains one of the world’s best loved books, primarily because its heroine, the young, feisty Elizabeth Bennett, is such good company; were she still alive, it’s doubtful that Austen would have her tolerance tested by many people. Keira Knightley certainly isn’t one of them.

“I think she’s one of the best roles in literature,” Knightley says, speaking to Leeds Guide from the suitably grandiose surroundings of London’s Dorchester Hotel, “so there’s a huge pressure. It’s terrifying because when you read Pride and Prejudice, you feel like you own her. I know I did. Everybody has a very clear idea of who Elizabeth Bennett is. It’s terrifying but a really exciting challenge.”

A challenge Knightley brilliantly squared up to – her Elizabeth Bennett is perhaps her strongest performance to date. Whether exhibiting defiant independence or melancholic heartbreak, she perfectly captures Austen’s heroine. Except in one regard: Elizabeth is supposed to be rather average-looking – her sister Jane is the real beauty – and Knightley, well… Just look at her.

It doesn’t detract from the film, however, especially as Jane is played by Rosamund Pike, former Bond Girl to Pierce Brosnan, an English Rose whose beauty does outshine Knightley’s. We don’t get into that here, of course, and Knightley gives the impression that, far from being rivals, the two actresses were as close in real life as they appear on screen.

“Jane Austen’s own critique of her book was that she felt it was too light-hearted,” says Knightley. “She felt the relationship between Jane and Elizabeth wasn’t realistic enough. We took heed of her comments and tried to bring some realism to the movie, bringing out the idea that these sisters are two girls who have lived with each other and slept in the same bed for so many years now. They have annoyances and such, but they love each other.”

“Yes, we’re both in the Johnny Depp club.
I’m a bit jealous of Rosamund because
she got to kiss him and I didn’t.”

The only fly in the ointment of sisterly affection is Johnny Depp. Both actresses have worked with him, Pike on 2004’s The Libertine and Knightley on the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

“Yes, we’re both in the Johnny Depp club,” coos Knightley, before admitting, “I’m a bit jealous of Rosamund because she got to kiss him and I didn’t.”

Knightley might have missed out on locking lips with Depp but, as Elizabeth, she was required – eventually – to get amorous with the dashing Mr Darcy, played by Matthew MacFadyen. While he doesn’t quite manage to banish the wet-shirted spectre of Colin Firth, MacFadyen is undeniably a handsome chap. Knightley very obviously approves.

“Matthew’s sexy in the mode of Richard Burton, with a bit of Alan Rickman,” she gushes. “You need to see that kind of rugged beauty in Darcy, knowing that here is a man who walks across fields, climbs trees and manages his own estate. With Matthew, you can see that etched across his face, yet he’s also got this extraordinary vulnerability.”

Knightley’s admiration isn’t limited to Mac Fadyen’s looks. He is, as anyone who’s caught him on TV’s Spooks, a terrific actor.

“When I went in to read with Matthew, I was so blown away that I virtually couldn’t get my lines out,” Knightley confides. “I just kept staring at him thinking, ‘What the hell happened between you walking in as Matthew and you starting to read?’ Because he actually did turn into Darcy. On the page, Darcy reads as being very cold, but Matthew is so vulnerable through his big manliness that he gives Darcy extra qualities.”

The other man in Elizabeth Bennett’s life is her elderly father. Although a small part, Mr Bennett’s cantankerous but loving personality permeates the story, requiring an actor blessed with incredible presence. With Donald Sutherland, the production got that in spades.

“He was completely amazing and such a sweetheart,” says Knightley. “I think he loved having six women fussing over him all the time. We went out to a party and he wore a mask because he hates smoking.”

Knightley evidently loved every moment of making Pride and Prejudice – even the costumes were less onerous than in other period pieces she’s starred in.

“The Bennett girls are supposed to be quite active,” explains Knightley. “It’s really important that you get a sense that they could run around and walk for miles in their clothes. The corset I wore was very mild compared to the thing I wear on Pirates of the Caribbean.” She pulls a face, recalling the discomfort. “It comes all the way down and pulls in the stomach and everything and you can’t breathe at all.”

The costumes also helped Knightley and her co-stars get into character, particularly when it came to reacting to the opposite sex.

“When the men in the cast stood around in their normal clothes, we Bennett girls could chat away to them,” Knightley says. “As soon as they wore their costumes, the sisters, myself included, were suddenly faced with these sexy creatures and we turned into giggling idiots. They were so well-costumed!”

Period costumes have been a feature of Knightley’s career, with many critics – conveniently ignoring films such as Love, Actually, Bend It Like Beckham and forthcoming bounty-hunter actioner Domino – accusing her of becoming typecast. Knightley brushes such accusations aside.

“What excites me about acting is changing as much as possible from character to character,” she enthuses. “I don’t want to become typecast but, if I read a script that has a fantastic story, a fantastic character and a fantastic director, not do it just because it’s set 200 years ago would be foolish.”

There was, basically, no way Knightley could or would turn down Pride and Prejudice.

“It’s a book that I’ve been obsessed with since I was seven years old,” she confesses, “so the opportunity to play Elisabeth Bennett was a dream come true. I just pounced on it.”

This article first appeared in The Leeds Guide in 2005.

WALTER HILL — DIRECTOR’S CUT

The Warriors (1979)

“We made it on the shoestring, shooting almost entirely on location during New York’s wettest summer in 75 years. And we were in some very rough neighbourhoods. It was controversial when it came out in ’79 but, looking at it now, with all these kids running around wearing masks, you’ve got to wonder where the national peril is. But the main problem was that the film didn’t critique gangs. For my protagonists, the gang is a positive, protective force. I think that upset a lot of people.”

“John Candy… A terrific guy. I miss him.
He was a friend.”

Brewster’s Millions (1985)

“Richard Pryor wasn’t a terribly happy guy at that point but I liked working with him. I think he was in a horrible dilemma – he felt that if he didn’t use drugs he wasn’t funny, and if he did use drugs, he would die. That’s a hell of position to find yourself in. I thought this was one of his finest performances. John Candy was a great talent, too. A terrific guy. I miss him. He was a friend.”

 

 

48 Hours (1982)

“I originally wanted Richard [Pryor] but that never happened and then we tried to get Greg Hines but he couldn’t get out of another project. Eddie Murphy had a very clever agent, who later became my wife, who knew of our dilemma. She sent me a bunch of tapes of Eddie on Saturday Night Live and I thought he was terrific.”

“Was [Southern Comfort] written as a Vietnam allegory? No. But did we understand that it would inevitably be perceived that way, and in some ways was? Sure.” 

Southern Comfort (1981)

“Was it written as a Vietnam allegory? No. But did we understand that it would inevitably be perceived that way, and in some ways was? Sure. I said to the cast when we started shooting that I didn’t think we should mention Vietnam. Our job was to tell the story within our characters, within our time, within our premise. I’m proud of the film and I think Ry Cooder’s score is fabulous. I thought he’d respond to the surroundings and the unique atmosphere, and he did.”

 

“Other than when [Arnold
Schwarzenegger]  played the
robot, I would say Red
Heat was his best
performance.”

Red Heat (1988)

“Working with Arnold [Schwarzenegger], I certainly didn’t imagine he’d become our governor. He’s almost a mythic figure to audiences. Other than when he played the robot, I would say Red Heat was his best performance. I think the best part of the film is the first 15 minutes. If I had to do it over – I thought this while I was doing it but by then it was too late – I’d send the American cop over to Russia. That would have been a more interesting film. The stuff over there had a freshness to it that perhaps the rest of the film didn’t have.”

 

 Crossroads (1986)

“It was kind of messy. The movie was supposed to be about a black kid reaching for his roots but the studio wanted to do it with Ralph [Macchio]. He’s a fine actor but he was too identifiable as the Karate Kid. I think it was a mistake not to do the film with a young, black actor. It’s a domino effect. You do something wrong and it all goes wrong. The film has some nice moments but I think it’s a miss.”

This article first appeared in Hotdog Magazine in 2005.

INTERVIEW: TERRY GILLIAM on ‘THE BROTHERS GRIMM’

“I was always drawn to the Grimms for the primal nature of their stories,” says Terry Gilliam, adding with a grin. “I like the darkness.”

No kidding. The latest movie from the maverick director, a fantastical account of how the Brothers Grimm (played by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger) came to know so much about fairytales, is full of supremely dark moments. A horse swallows a child, a scary wolfman goes on the rampage, a cute kitten gets liquidised and a young girl has her eyes, nose and mouth erased by a mud monster…

“I was always drawn to the Grimms for the primal nature of their stories.I like the darkness.”

“It would have been nice if we could’ve got a PG in the States,” says Gilliam. And he’s not joking; he’s genuinely puzzled that adults deem the film too scary for children. And he’s got a point. Yes, the film is macabre but, as is often the case with Gilliam’s work, it’s tempered by a warm-hearted sense of ludicrous. It’s frightening in the same way that, well, the best fairytales are.

“I got a lot of notes saying that it’s too rough for children,” Gilliam recounts. “That’s false. The movie plays brilliantly for kids. Somehow people think fairytales are things with tinkly music and lots of people in pink but Grimm’s fairytales were dark so that was really important for me  – not to do some modern, PC, bland version of what fairytales were about. Fairytales scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. They also gave me immense pleasure because you go to dark places but, at the end, you come out alive.”

With its unique combination of nightmare, whimsy and dark humour, The Brothers Grimm is unmistakably a Terry Gilliam film, bringing to mind his other ‘family’ oriented movies such as Time Bandits (1981) or 1977’s medieval romp, Jabberwocky. This will be joyous news to his fans, but those who prefer him in more conventional mode (Twelve Monkeys, The Fisher King) may well be perplexed and frustrated as they were by the love-it-or-loathe-it excesses of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988).

Of course, the root of Gilliam’s aesthetic can be summed up by a certain dread adjective: “Pythonesque.” As the only American member of legendary comic troupe Monty Python, Gilliam was initially brought on board by John Cleese to provide the TV show’s inimitable cartoon inserts. Still friends with the surviving Pythons, Gilliam is sanguine about his inability to shake off his roots.

“According to some of the reviews of Grimms I obviously haven’t,” he admits. “It’s always going to be there because I’ve got that same sense of comedy. I love it. I love over the top performances.”

And The Brothers Grimm has them in spades. Not only does Peter Stormare (seen recently as Satan in Constantine), chew the scenery as an idiotic Italian mercenary, but Gilliam is once again reunited with Jonathan Pryce. Having starred as a beleaguered bureaucrat in Brazil, here he pops up as a general in Napoleon’s army, complete with silly French accent, in many ways reprising his role as Baron Munchausen’s unimaginative bean-counting nemesis to. This triumph of the fantastical over rationalism is another key theme of Gilliam’s films.

“We’ve let that side take over to much,” Gilliam opines. “Everything has to be explained and understood as opposed to allowing for the mystery wonder that’s possible in life. The Grimms are connected to this because it’s important to remember that they didn’t write the fairytales, they collected them. With the Enlightenment sweeping in and putting pressure on the old prejudices and superstitions, they were afraid that Germany’s old traditions were disappearing.”

By setting the Brothers Grimm in a historically accurate setting of Napoleonic Europe, Gilliam is able to explore this theme, albeit with full-on fantasy elements. An added bonus for the director, if his mischievous cackle is anything to go by, seems to be that he gets to mock the French.

“It opens with a caption saying ‘French occupied Germany’,” he laughs. “I love being able to say that because it’s wonderful and it’s historically accurate. It’s good to remind us that the Germans have not always been the aggressors. The perverseness of showing the French as the bad guys was too good to not deal with.”

Evil witches and enchanted forests notwithstanding, The Brothers Grimm is a gritty, bloody and muddily authentic version of history, typical of Gilliam. This extends to some gruesome scenes in which Angelicka the hunter, played by Huddersfield-born Lena Heady, is seen skinning and gutting a rabbit. Not only did this contribute to the film’s PG-13 certificate, but it caused Heady, a strict vegetarian, much consternation. Predictably, this is a source of great amusement to Gilliam.

“We booked Lena Heady a week with hunters to train her how to skin a rabbit. They only got to show her once. But she saved a rabbit’s life. I was preparing little bunny for the shoot and she ran off with it and kept it.”

“We booked her a week with hunters to train her how to skin a rabbit,” he chortles. “They only got to show her once. But she saved a rabbit’s life. I was preparing little bunny for the shoot and she ran off with it and kept it. In the film it’s a plastic rabbit with lots of condoms full of blood and guts, but it was really hard for her to do that, even with the plastic one.”

Bemused disapproval of Heady’s principles aside, Gilliam is full of praise for the Yorkshire actress.

“She’s a good actress,” he says, “and she worked very hard because she’s not normally a horse-riding, bow shooting kinda gal. She just got into it and I think the end result is fantastic.

“We did terrible things to her, though,”  he continues. “Like putting her into a room with no light to get her used to living in a cave so could escape from being a modern girl and become a kind of feral creature.”

The thought of Gilliam bundling Heady into a dank cell brings to mind his turn as the feeble-minded gaoler in Life of Brian (most quotable line: “We’ve got lumps round the back”) which, of course, brings us back to Monty Python.

“It’s very bizarre,” he says of the show that launched him. “We’ve each done a personal best that’s coming out on DVD soon and looking at the episodes today it’s shocking how bad it is. It’s so cheesy, it’s so cheap and yet it’s still really funny. Nothing’s come along and matched it. I don’t know why. The League of Gentleman I loved because I thought they captured a similar grotesqueness. But that ‘ex-Python’ thing will always be there. It’ll be on the gravestone, depending on what I do next. Maybe,” he chuckles, “it will say ex-Bond Girl…”

Now that really would be a dark fairytale.

This article first appeared in The Leeds Guide in 2005.

INTERVIEW: RACHEL WEISZ on ‘THE CONSTANT GARDENER’

“I loved being pregnant,” says Rachel Weisz.

This wouldn’t be an astounding statement if it wasn’t for the fact that Rachel Weisz has never actually given birth. She’s talking about Tessa, her character in her latest movie, The Constant Gardener, who spends large portions of the movie sporting an enormous belly. A mixture of prosthetics and computer-generated imagery, it’s so convincing that many people have asked Weisz if she likes motherhood.

If she has had a baby, then it certainly doesn’t show. Now 34, the London-born actress is still one of the most beautiful actresses in the world. She’s fiercely intelligent, too, and her plummy but alluring accent betrays the fact that she attended Cambridge University.

“It was made by Christine Blundell,” says Weisz of her prosthetic belly. “She’s a top chick who works with Mike Leigh a lot and won an Oscar for Topsy Turvy. She’s brilliant at making things look utterly real although she did get annoyed with Fernando [Meirelles, director]. He told her that I’d only been seen from the front but, because we improvised so much, we ended up seeing me from all angles. That had to be sorted out with CGI in post-production.”

The improvisation is clearly something Weisz relished. The film begins with Justin, a British diplomat in Kenya played by Ralph Fiennes, being told that Tessa has been killed. As he investigates her death, their life together unfolds in flashback. It is in these moments that Meirelles, best known for his superb debut, City Of God, encouraged the ‘lovers’ to improvise.

“Some actors don’t like it,” she says, “but Ralph and I both like to experiment – we both share that desire to play around. Fernando likes to work with complete freedom and spontaneity. Obviously it’s a thriller so there were plot elements we had to retain. But Fernando allowed us to have freedom in some scenes. Like when Ralph’s in the bathroom pretending to be Jacques Cousteau – that wasn’t in the script. That was just him having fun.”

Ralph Fiennes, as with women the world over, evidently made an impression on Weisz.

“I love that the love story and the thriller are completely dependent on one another… it’s about two people who are complete opposites. She likes to rock the boat and he’s a diplomat who’s more reserved. As Justin investigates Tessa’s death, so he falls more deeply in love with his wife.”

“I’ve wanted to work with him since the beginning of my career,” she confesses. “And, having worked with him on [1999’s] Sunshine, I was very privileged to work with him again. He’s an incredible actor. Really, he’s a complete joy to work with. I loved every moment of it.” She finishes gushing then adds, laughing, “And he’s the best husband!”

The love affair feels thoroughly believable, a fact Weisz is extremely proud of.

“I love that the love story and the thriller are completely dependent on one another, “ she says. “It’s very original because it’s about two people who are complete opposites. She likes to rock the boat and he’s a diplomat who’s more reserved. As Justin investigates Tessa’s death, so he falls more deeply in love with his wife.”

The love story, enjoyable though it is, is only a small part of Constant Gardener’s rich tapestry. While in Africa, Tessa becomes obsessed with the nefarious machinations of a multinational pharmaceutical corporations and it is her crusading that ultimately leads to her murder. Weisz experienced many real life parallels while shooting in the shantytowns of Kenya. The plot of Constant Gardener may be fiction but it is based on depressingly real corporate exploitation.

“I hope it raises debate,” says Weisz. “I mean, it’s just a film but if it means you articles in newspapers about what these pharmaceutical companies are doing then that’s great.”

The production has had a more direct impact on the area used for shooting.

“Every single member of the crew was deeply affected,” Weisz explains, “but emotion doesn’t really help the people so Simon [producer, Channing-Williams] has created this trust for the area and I’ve recorded a commercial for the World Food Program that will be released with the film. They’re an incredible organisation. The food drops you see in the movie are them.”

Such altruism is admirable but does she worry that any attention the film draws to Kenya’s plight will be short-lived? She’s philosophical.

“Media attention may surge and fall but there will always be individuals out in Africa like Tessa. Whether they’re efforts are publicised or not, these incredible people will continue to devote their lives to others.”

This article first appeared in The Leeds Guide in 2005.

INTERVIEW: ROBERT DOWNEY JNR and VAL KILMER on ‘KISS KISS BANG BANG’

As you’d expect from Shane Black, the man who created Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a buddy movie. This time, though, it isn’t tough-guy cops but a gay movie producer and a petty criminal, thrust together in a complex comedy-noir set in present-day Hollywood. Black, who also makes his directorial debut, has penned possibly his finest script ever but it’s the chemistry between the buddies – Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jnr – that makes the film.

Both stars were something of a gamble for the production, Downey Jnr because of his epic battle with drugs and drink, Kilmer because of his reputation for being an egomaniacal tosspot. City Life meets both men on the same day in different rooms of London’s Claridges Hotel. For the record, Kilmer is genuinely charming and Downey Jnr, though overly effusive and hyperactive, is, simply, a lovely guy.

“There are a lot of mean, twisted, tortured people in our business but Robert didn’t do any bad things to other people, he did them to himself. He always had a lot of love and support in the community and Hollywood does so love a comeback.”

“He’s just so happy he didn’t die,” is how Kilmer affectionately describes his co-star. “Doing this was just so much fun because it’s a wonderful thing to see someone as loveable as him make it back. There are a lot of mean, twisted, tortured people in our business but Robert didn’t do any bad things to other people, he did them to himself. He always had a lot of love and support in the community and Hollywood does so love a comeback.”

Downey Jnr himself isn’t keen to talk about his addictions, mainly because “it’s all I seem to talk about sometimes” but he does wax lyrical about the two things that have helped keep him straight: kung fu and marriage.

“I’m about halfway to black belt,” he says shyly, “but I know nothing. I can defend myself against practically anybody but, in terms of hurting somebody… Well, I wouldn’t want to. The headlines! ‘His hands were registered as lethal weapons!’ I don’t want a martial art that’s aggressive. I’m angry enough as it is. I want to be like Neo at the end of The Matrix.”

His wife, Susan Levin, is a film producer and it was through her that Downey Jnr first heard about Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

“She’s reading this script and laughing,” says Downey Jnr, “and that’s unusual so I ask her what’s so funny and she’s, like, ‘Oh, nothing, just this Johnny Knoxville project.’ She keeps reading and laughing and she tells me, ‘The just had his severed finger that he had on ice stolen by a dog.’ ‘What was his finger doing in an ice bowl?’ ‘His girlfriend cut it off.’ ‘Why didn’t he go to hospital?’ ‘He did but it got pulled off again by these two bad guys called Mr Frying Pan and Mr Fire.’ When I heard that I just had to be in this movie.”

While Downey Jnr landed his first lead in years, for Kilmer the film was a chance for him to remind the world that, despite Alexander and Batman Returns, he is a fantastic actor.

“It’s a finicky business,” says Kilmer philosophically. “There are rules in Hollywood. You have to do certain things, even if you’ve just made a billion dollars. But, despite making some wrong choices, I think I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’m still working. I’m like Robert in that respect.”

That the two men obviously like one another translates into some crackling on-screen chemistry and some inspired improvisation.

“He’s Val goddamn Kilmer,” says Downey Jnr. “He’s amazing. The stuff he came up with on the spot was great. Like when he’s supposed to tell me to put my cigarette out and I ask him where and he just deadpans, ‘Throw it in that clump of dry bushes, you moron.’”

“Having Robert playing a dumb guy was really fun,” laughs Kilmer, “because he’s actually very smart but because he’s acting dumb he can’t say anything back to me.”

Though they evidently loved riffing, both men are keen to reiterate the importance of Black’s script, even if they sometimes forgot that on set.

“Improvisation is something he encourages,” says Downey Jnr, “but sometimes he’d get pissed. ‘Guys! Before you improvise all over my dialogue can you at least learn it!’” Downey Jnr breaks into a cheeky grin. “He did have a point.”

This article was first published in CityLife magazine in 2005.

INTERVIEW: AMELIA WARNER ON ‘ALPHA MALE’

“Please don’t mention her ex…” is the gentle warning from Amelia Warner’s people. This being Hotdog and not some scurrilous tab, that’s no hardship; besides, there’s much more to the talented Ms Warner than her four-month marriage to Colin Farrell.

“What’s expected of you is just bizarre,” she says of the Hollywood treadmill. “To sell a film you’re expected to do whatever the film company tells you. I think some actors” – and here, it’s impossible not to think of her ex – “give up their lives to it. For me, it’s not worth that kind of sacrifice.”

Today Warner, 24, is promoting Alpha Male, a film about a wealthy family coping with the death of its patriarch (Danny Huston). As reclusive teenager Elyssa, Warner is outstanding.

“She’s eight when her dad dies,” she says. “My mum’s dad died, actually, when she was that age. She said the script really captures it. When something that traumatic happens to a child they get frozen in that time. So Elyssa, at 19, she’s very child like. But I didn’t have to draw on anything from my own life – I had a really clear idea of who she was from the brilliant script.”

First time writer-director Dan Wilde seems to have been a hit with Warner.

“Oh yes,” she admits. “He’s amazing. And lovely. And he’s very smart, very clever – he’s got a degree in philosophy.”

Warner herself recently graduated with a degree in Art History (she has a penchant for German Expressionism), although she sounds rather despondent when asked if she’s pursuing anything connected with it.

“No, but I go to galleries and stuff. I’m always at the Tate Modern.”

Along with Alpha Male, in the bag she’s also got psychological thriller, Gone – a claustrophobic three-hander that takes place entirely within a campervan in the Australian Outback.

“It was a fantastic opportunity as an actor,” she says. “It felt like the three of us were going a bit mad. And it’s beautifully shot. I’m really excited about it coming out.”

As for the future, Warner cheerfully announces that she’s got nothing on her slate.

“I’m just being really lazy,” she laughs. “Last year I didn’t work all year until I did Alpha Male, but the longer you leave it, the more precious you get about what you do next. And I only want to do something good.”

This interview was first published in Hotdog Magazine in 2006.

TRANSFORMERS

Director Michael Bay
Cast Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Jon Voight, John Turturro

“I’m hear to make sure it’s LOUD!” booms Michael Bay, introducing the London press screening of Transformers. Boy, does he get his wish. From the opening sequence – a robot attack on US troops in the Middle East – the Dolby thunders through the auditorium at brain-meltingly high volume. And did it improve our viewing experience? Hard to say because, even though this reviewer (and others around him) was forced to jam fingers in ears during the louder moments, the film’s problems would be apparent even if you were profoundly deaf. It is, in short, unwatchable trash.

Bay is famous for knuckle-headed movies but Transformers makes Armageddon look like Solaris. There’s a scene in Bay’s last effort, 2005‘s The Island, that sums up his approach to filmmaking – he has a mildly interesting sub-Logan’s Run sci-fi plot but, as soon as he can, he gets our heroes onto the expressway and starts throwing huge dumb-bells at them from the back of a lorry. Transformers is that scene writ large.

You don’t expect much in the way of subtly from a movie about warring giant mechanoids but this plumbs depths of dumbness Hollywood hasn’t visited since Tomb Raider. The filmmakers’ first mistake was to take it too seriously; there’s far too much po-faced pseudo science and portentous witterings about ancient civilisations – all to explain why alien robots should make the implausible decision to disguise themselves as motor vehicles (all, this time round, designed by General Motors).

Not that the film is totally devoid of humour. Coen Bros. favourite John Turturro provides decent comic relief as an officious government operative (“They’re NBTs – non-biological extra-terrestrials. Try and keep up with the acronyms.”) and there are a few lines from the robots themselves that raise a titter (“The boy’s pheromone levels suggest he wants to mate with the female”).

The plot is, of course, utter bilge, centring on the two robotic sects need to capture the mythical cube called the AllSpark. The clue to its whereabouts are etched on the glass of a pair of spectacles belonging to teenager Sam Witwicky (LeBeouf), who inherited them from his great-grandfather. When he auctions them on eBay, robots good and evil come calling. The AllSpark, by the way, turns out to have been found by the US government (they built the Hoover Dam specifically to hide it, apparently) so the map’s importance becomes irrelevant.

But you don’t watch a Michael Bay flick for story, character development or emotional resonance – he’s all about action. For all his duds (Pearl Harbor, The Island) he’s made some fantastic popcorn chompers; The Rock (1996) is a classic of the genre and even received an Oscar nomination (for Best Sound, which must have pleased sonic-obsessive Bay no end). But Transformers even fails as an action movie.

Though it begins well, with doughty US soldiers attacked by an unknown foe from beneath the dunes, it degenerates as soon as the robots have revealed themselves. The CGI might be state-of-the-art but the cuts are so fast and the narrative so jumbled that it’s impossible to get a handle on what exactly is happening, and to whom. Come the final battle, complete with collapsing skyscrapers and a risible homage to King Kong, audiences are liable to be in a state of utter bewilderment.

Verdict

Die-hard fans of the toys or the animated TV series will get an initial thrill from seeing their heroes on the big screen but even they won’t be able to escape the niggling feeling that this is a disappointing load of old poop – The Phantom Menace for the Transformers generation.

This review first appeared on the FilmFour website in 2007.