With their blend of historical action adventure and modern sci-fi, the Assassin's Creed games have always boasted interesting environmental designs: the rich, colorful past contrasted with a more clean, sterile, monochrome present. Nowhere is this more true than at the heart of Abstergo Industries, the 21st century front for the Templars, where the architecture was all built around shades of white, grey and blue, and strips of fluorescent lighting.
This aesthetic has carried through into the production design of Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft Motion Pictures and New Regency's adaptation of the games, which was directed by Justin Kurzel (Macbeth). Screen Rant visited the set of Assassin's Creed at Pinewood Studios in October, 2015, and one of the core set pieces was the main communal area of Abstergo's Animus testing facility. On one side is an area for gardening and crafts, and some exercise machines - all means of keeping the patients' minds healthy and distracted. On the other side is an observation room filled with computers, its windows slanting forward and partially looming over the room, to emphasize the intrusion of the Templars' watchful eyes.
Squarely in between these contrasting areas is a set of tables and benches with games and other distractions laid into the middle of them, and it's at one of these tables that star Michael Fassbender sits, wearing the plain grey uniform of his modern day character, Cal Lynch, a Death Row inmate who is plucked from the moment of execution and smuggled away in secret to become a part of Abstergo's experiments. Fassbender also plays Callum's historical counterpart - a 15th century Assassin called Aguilar de Nerha. And on top of these dual performances, Fassbender also co-produced the film through his production company DMC Films. Having been involved with the project for years, he had a strong hand in steering it into existence.
You’ve been involved from day one. what was it about Assassin’s Creed that made you so passionate about this project?
Michael Fassbender: I just thought if you are doing a fantasy film… the first thing about it was to have something that was seated in some sort of scientific world. What I mean is, basically, the idea of DNA memory. I just thought that was a really interesting catch. And I thought that it was a very plausible theory. I think if you can bring something like that to a fantastical world, it hooks the audience in even more and it makes the journey even more immersive.
So I thought that was the first thing. and then I just loved the idea of Templars versus Assassins - this idea of an elite group of people sort of struggling with more sort of the idea of free will and these sort of rebels, if you like, to that sort of elite force trying to sort of struggle for humanity, essentially, and the idea that the original assassins were Adam and Eve when they picked the apple in the Garden of Eden. I thought that was really interesting.
Also, what I liked about it is it’s not like Star Wars where you have the dark side and the light. Both of these factions... they contradict themselves all the time And they are hypocritical, as well, of their beliefs. I thought that was cool. So, morally, you’ve got a very gray area that both of them are working in. I thought that was unusual for this sort of film, and also just a lot more interesting.
What was the development process like for the different iterations? What was the one iteration you found that was ready to turn into a movie?
MF: We’re still, you know, working. These sort of films, you are always sort of working on them. We got Justin. We were lucky to get him onboard, and then, you know, with some of the cast. The script is something that we’ve always been working on. But we definitely got to a place earlier this year where we felt like we had a structure and we had something that was simplified. As you all know, this is a very dense world. Trying to bring it to the cinematic experience is different.
And so, just to try and simplify it as best we could and really sort of get the important aspects of the game across, because there’s a lot for an audience to take on board. So to really find a format where we could get these things across and keep it a cinematic and dramatic experience, that was really the challenge.
What’s also interesting about this blockbuster is you are the main character where you are playing two characters. Could you talk about, besides time periods, how are you able to differentiate these two different personas for the film?
MF: Well, one doesn’t say a lot and the other does. [laughs] Basically, in this story, we have somebody who doesn’t realize where he’s coming from. He doesn’t have a lineage that he can feel a belonging to. So that’s one modern day sort of protagonist, Cal. He doesn’t realize he’s an assassin. He’s a bit of a sort of lost soul. He’s always sort of been drifting in and out of correctional facilities.
Then, of course, Aguilar is very much somebody that belongs to the Creed. He has a cause. He’s sort of been following that cause. He belongs to it. So there are the two different very standpoints to the character. Hopefully Aguilar will teach Cal from the regressions that he does belong to. That’s essentially the main difference between the two characters.
It sounds fairly close to the first game in the sense that Desmond Miles was out of the Assassins for about eight years. And then Altair is obviously very much embedded. Would you consider this to be part of the same universe or an extension of the same universe or just an adaptation?
MF: It’s all part of the same universe. We really want to respect the game and the elements to it, but we also wanted to come up with our own thing. one thing that I’ve sort of learned from doing other franchises, like X-Men, audiences, I think, want to be surprised and to see new elements of what they already know and different sort of takes on it. Like I say, we’re really respecting the very core elements of the game, but then we wanted to bring something new to it as well. So that’s why we have these new central characters.
Could you talk a little bit about the redesigned Animus?
MF: Yeah. We just didn’t want to have something where I sit into a seat. Number one, we’ve seen it before in The Matrix. And it’s also just not a very dramatic experience when we’re doing the modern day version of the regression. We wanted to have something where the character is actually physically involved in it.
And so, I think they’ve come up with… Andy and Justin have really come up with something very interesting. Talking to Ubisoft I think they are thinking perhaps of sort of adopting some of these ideas. But definitely just not have it not so much as Cal being a passenger in a chair, basically. We wanted to have something more interactive for that character in the present-day stuff.
Have you ever been a gamer?
MF: A little bit. When I start playing video games I kinda find myself at 8:30 in the morning still playing.
Which is your favorite? If you had to say, “My favorite gaming experience…”
MF: I always liked racing games. I would sit there and try and sort of perfect the track or get the fastest I could around the track, trying to get the times down. But since obviously joining this I’ve started to play the game. And it’s amazing to see how things have come on since I was last playing. It’s extraordinary, I mean the detail. And I know what a lot of gamers really sort of are fanatical about this stuff is the detail, and the great sort of educational benefits of it, sort of the history elements of it.
I was talking to a friend of mine who said, to his son, who is like 15 or 16, he said, “Let’s go away on a trip together. You can pick wherever you want to go.” His son picked Florence because he played it in the game and he wanted to see if all the elements of the city were as they were in the game. So that’s been a real education for me, sitting down playing the Assassin’s game. You can just see a 360 view of the city of that time period. It’s pretty exceptional.
This is obviously a very physical role. We’ve heard a lot about the free running that’s going to be involved in some of the fight sequences. What’s been the most exciting part of the training process for you, or the most challenging part?
MF: Not having enough of it. It’s just trying to get those action scenes as… We’re trying to play them out in sort of wides as much as we can, in one run-through. So we’re not using a lot of green screens. We’re doing it on actual location. We were out in Malta a month ago and stunt guys falling off real buildings, off real lights without a lot of green screen. It’s a bit old-school like that. And that is very much Justin’s vision. That’s exciting to see it done that way because nowadays you just don’t get that anymore. It’s usually done in the studio with the green screen.
Just looking at this set, the way it all flows together, I imagine that has to help the process as well.
MF: Yeah. I mean this helps for sure in this element. But really, in terms of those action beats, you just don’t get that, people jumping from one building across to another building and falling off whatever it be, a 30 meter drop, into the old part of Valletta and Malta. It’s pretty special.
What’s your experience been like working with Ubisoft? I know it’s almost unprecedented for a video game company to get this involved in an adaptation of their games, and you’ve had people from Ubisoft on set.
MF: I think they just want to protect their franchise and protect the wonderful fan base that they’ve build up through their games. I think they’ve had experience before in films being made out of their video games and maybe didn’t get the results they liked. So they’ve been more hands-on here, which has been great. Thanks to them I was introduced to this world. Like I say, I didn’t really know much about it.
You seem sort of fearless. You have a period drama. You have a comic book movie. You have Shakespeare. This is a fantasy based on a video game. Is there anything that does scare you?
MF: Trust me, all of them scare you. I just feel like while I’m in this opportunity I might as well try as much as I can and try and learn as much as I can, really. But there is, trust me, healthy doses of fear.
Are you scared right now?
MF: Right now at this point in time? When you say it to me like that, yes!
Assassin's Creed arrives in theaters on December 21st, 2016.