Director Tarsem Singh’s epic tale of mortal heroes and legendary Gods, Immortals, opens in theaters today (read our review). The film tells the tale of Theseus (Henry Cavill) a mortal man chosen by Zeus (Luke Evans) to lead the fight against the ruthless King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who is on a rampage across Greece to obtain a weapon that can destroy both the Olympian Gods and humanity at large (Read our interview with Cavill and Evans).
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the visually gifted director to talk about his approach in crafting the film, working with Mickey Rourke and the comparison between 300 and Immortals.
“A lot of it was just trying to figure out what the script was going to do because I kind of decided on a style before I decided on the film. I just said, ‘Action flick. They want sword and sandals. I’d like to do a renaissance style painting. One that happens to be Greek. It doesn’t matter to me. The story of Theseus is mixed with Gods. Theseus had nothing to do with the Gods in the original,’ and so already you’re waiting for a bashing. I just said, ‘Go with that choice,’ and started with that.”
How closely did you work with the writers in bringing the script to fruition?
“I work in a strange way with writers. [The script may say] ‘Theseus enters this gate and there’s a hundred headed monster and he’s fighting with Theseus and he kills a couple of heads and then the gods come down and help him.’ So, I said, ‘What you’re saying is that Theseus comes in and he goes for the door?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Okay. Just leave one line that says Theseus goes for the door and he has a problem.’ Then I usually sit down to say what the problem will be.
[In another portion of the script I may say] ‘Well, I need something nasty to make him not think straight. What’s nasty? I don’t know. Maybe boil some girls in a bowl.’ So I’d just come up with things like that. Usually I just look at their structure and say, ‘Take out how you’re saying that happens,’ and that’s how I work with the writers.”
How did you approach the 3-D?
“It’s just a technical thing. It’s a cart that doesn’t necessarily ever have to be put in front of the horse which happens in a lot of cases. There are certain styles that lend themselves to 3-D. I just think anything from [Tim] Burton to my stuff and lets say, not Paul Greengrass whose stuff I love, but handheld stuff, shaky stuff is not made for 3-D. So, my style lends itself to it because I don’t like fast cutting stuff. I like slow moving and static stuff. So, 3-D helps you see that more.”
Can you talk about casting this film because everyone does look like a god.
“All of America will disagree with you. I’m with you. I made that decision very consciously. I had just decided that they were all going to be young. The philosophical answer that I went with was if you want to live forever would you want to look like Mickey [Rourke] or Henry [Cavill]? If you had to live and you had to have a physical appearance what do you want to live as? The renaissance painters resolved it very easily. They have this wise old man’s face and [put a young man’s] body on it. That’s what you got in the paintings. I decided no. This was going to have a lot of action and the action I didn’t want to do CGI. I said, ‘All the guys need to be young for the fighting.'”
“There’s a lot of stuff in Greek literature that makes a lot more sense when you’re reading it than if you’re seeing it visually. There’s so much incest in those things which [didn’t work in] our film. So, there was a lot of flirting between Zeus and Athena which unfortunately people went, ‘Eh, eh, eh,’ and so it had come out. ”
Can you talk a bit about working with Mickey Rourke and casting him as the villain specifically?
“Usually, I pick one person who I think is like a cat; that’s un-corralable on a film. Either it’s like a Romanian girl or J-Lo by default. With Mickey, when I got him, everyone had fallen in exactly where I wanted them. I just wanted one person to be edgy; in a sense that you don’t know where he’s going to go and he’s going to fight with everyone on different things. Mickey’s the perfect guy for it. He’s scary, he’s creepy; you can tell him where things go and he’ll play it. Mickey can’t do more than one line together. He won’t do the next line. So I have to take all that in. It’s just like having a child on the set; a very big child.”
Speaking of archetypal villains, you just wrapped ‘Snow White.’ Did Julia Roberts relish being the evil queen?
“She would be this person and come down. She would be mean to Lily (Collins) [in character] and then say, ‘that’s like being nasty to Bambi.’ People deal with it differently. To a person like Mickey, Bambi steak might sound good.”
One of the outstanding aspects of the film is the fight sequences and especially the final climatic one in the tunnel and outside where you have three different fights essentially going on. How crucial was the editing and working with the editors?
“Well, we had to go reshoot that [sequence] because Mickey, when we cast him, showed up with one broken arm, and one week before shooting, broke the other arm. So, I had no fighting with him. Four months ago, we went back and his arm was fine. This guy [Hyperion] that was so bad that you wanted to do a UFC style, fingers in the eye, pull out the ear kind of fighting and everyone was missing that. We knew it was missing, so we cut the other stuff but fortunately we ended up getting him back and when we did, it’s just so different from the other fights, one is collision and the other one is God fighting (which was very difficult to define for me). The third one was UFC. There are three styles and I was very aware how the editing would work.”
You sustained an injury as well we hear.
“I know and it had nothing to do with the film. I wish I could tell you that. We went to this wrap party two weeks before we started and I went on the floor and thirty seconds in I felt like someone had cut my foot off. My tendon was gone. They sort of said, ‘You can go away and come back and we’ll keep the sets for you,’ and I could tell from the way they were speaking that it was a lie. I’d come back and it would be ‘do you really need this fight and do you really need that?’ So I said, ‘no, get a wheelchair.’ That was the most difficult part. There was no pain. Just the frustration. I just realized that an injury that stops me from walking will end my career.”
300 is probably the mass audience main frame of reference, so can you talk about how you wanted to use that to your advantage, but then also break that open and do your style?
“Well, when they asked me to do this, I said I didn’t want to do a comic strip movie, and the middle stuff is like that, and that’s what was excellent about it. I also remembered the technique of speeding up and slowing down. When I saw that, I had been doing that for about 18 years, and when I saw it, it’s like the zooms of the 1970s. I thought the fighting sequences can’t be that simple. That we’d just speed it up and slow it down. Twelve years ago, the advertising world would have said that it was tacky. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the world hadn’t seen that kind of action and work so well for ‘300’ and it was gorgeous, but I just came and said that I don’t have an intention in making comic strips. But for selling it, that’s what’s needed to get people in the seats, and when the film was unfinished. And when you finish it, it turns into ‘why are you selling this as ‘300’? It’s so much more than that.’ But with the audience, you can’t particularly tell them that it’s from the idiot that made ‘The Fall’ but from ‘The producers that made ‘300.’ That’s what they want to say and I welcome that. Next time, on some other terrible film, it’ll be, ‘From the guy who made ‘Immortals.’ Whatever sells.”
Immortals opens in theaters today.
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