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Stephen Lang, Leila George & Robert Sheehan Interview: Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines is a post-apocalyptic adventure where entire cities are motorized and seek out to destroy one another hundreds of years after civilization is destroyed. A mysterious girl named Hester is the only one who can stop the predatory city of London from destroying what’s left of the world. Based on the novel by Phillip Reeve, Mortal Engines is written by Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens and Peter Jackson, and is directed by Christian Rivers.

Stephen Lang has starred in well over 100 films, including Gods & Generals, The Girl on the Train, and Avatar. He portrays Shirke, a reanimated, undead soldier with mechanical parts, who takes in Hester. Actress Leila George (Mother, May I Sleep With Danger), plays Katherine Valentine. Robert “Robbie” Sheehan (Geoestorm; Genius), is Tom Natsworthy, a low-class London historian who is tossed off the predatory city and tries to survive with the help of Hester.

Screen Rant: What's up guys? Welcome to New York Comic Con 2018. You guys had a huge panel earlier today, a huge turnout show. Twenty-five minutes of footage, which I haven't seen yet, but already people are raving about it on social media. What got you guys attached to Mortal Engines? Because I haven't read the book. Did you guys read the read the novel at all?

Stephen Lang: I was sent the script. I had not read the novels. I read the script was totally enchanted by it. So then I made it my business to read the books.

Robert Sheehan: Yeah, same, same, same.

Leila George: I'm not the same. I read the book after my first audition, so I auditioned in London and then I live in L.A. So I went home, and had a call back, and read the first book for the callback. And then it was a while before I got the role, like a couple months even, and then I read the script.

Screen Rant: But that point you're already into the book so I’m sure it didn’t matter.

Leila George: I haven't read the book since that first time, just because, I didn't want to get confused about what was going on.

Screen Rant: Sure. Now this film looks like a huge, epic production and it's the scale of it, it's just a ginormous. I don't even know if ginormous is a word, but it's huge. And Peter Jackson's involved obviously. Can you talk to me about how it was working with Peter? Because he's such a visionary.

Robert Sheehan: Well, Christian was directing and Peter would occasionally shoot/direct second unit and he directed some reshoots that we did. But really Christian was in the driver's seat for this one. Christian was directing. Christian Rivers, who was Peter's right hand guy for many, many years. He started off storyboarding for Peter and then went on to win himself an Oscar for visual effects for the movie ‘King Kong’. So he’s had a long relationship with Peter and the team. And so I think Peter [had] just come off the back of ‘The Hobbit’, the hobbit mountain and was I think was kind of ready to kind of go ‘right. You should step the seat here in direct this baby.’ But yeah, Peter was around, you know, he co-wrote the script and you know, he was there creatively, but it was very much Christians movie.

Screen Rant: Awesome. Um, what jumped out to you guys when you guys first read that initial script? What was the thing that really drew you in?

Robert Sheehan: Well, I'll be honest, I had a Skype with the creators and he script was still quite amorphous at that point. It was still taking shape. So they were kind of encouraging input, you know, with the character and stuff. So the script sort of came into focus later on down the line for me. I was incredibly eager to sign up from the first chat that we'd had because of course, you know, they have a medium to good track record in the past, these folks. So I was just dying to work with them in some capacity and I was very honored that they wanted to work with me. So I put faith in them that they were to say we're going to write a great script.

Screen Rant: For you guys?

Stephen Lang: I liked the part. From the minute I read the part I thought, ‘oh, that's a tough part’. And so I wanted to play the part. I liked it. And so that's how it worked. And I actually did do quite a lot of work with Peter on this. As Robbie [Robert Sheehan] points out, he [Peter Jackson] did direct second unit. I have a feeling Peter Cherry picked some scenes as well. But you know, the relationship between Christian and Peter is very, very organic. They’ve worked together a long, long time. And so it was never a question. There were never any problems at all. But Peter is very amusing to work with as well. I play the only performance capture a role in the film and so and so everyone else is dressed in their wardrobe and I'm dressed in, you know, essentially a diving suit  So Peter would feel no compunction about saying ‘would you mind carrying a camera? You know, let's put a camera on you too.’

I said ‘sure, Peter put a camera on me.’ So I was at one point I had four cameras. I had a camera in each hand and two on my head and I thought ‘I need to join the guild if I'm gonna do this‘. So I was filming the scene and then I thought, well why am I filming them? I'm going to start filming me! So I started just turning a camera on myself.

Screen Rant: That's great! Speaking of characters, chat me up about the characters. Each of you play like a brief synopsis, obviously without giving spoilers away.

Leila George: Katherine is a young girl of the highest cloth in London. And with that she is mature and kind and generous and she has a huge heart and she has a long journey full of strengths and, and very emotional times and very difficult discoveries. But she comes through having gone from a girl to a young woman and that's really exciting to see, that point in someone's life. And that's actually what I jumped on when I first read the script and the book. Actually, that's what excited me the most about her. That we’re finding her at that moment in her life, where she is suddenly leaving childhood, leaving adolescence and becoming a woman, and everything that goes with that. I just connected so personally with that and liked that a lot.

Robert Sheehan: You know, that thing about going from girlhood to womanhood, boyhood to manhood, I think you could say that about Tom, my character as well.  Because he lives within a system of indoctrination. You know, because resources are so scarce and everything, and they're so intimately dependent on the engines not failing. And essentially the city is perpetually moving and perpetually hunting and being successful. They have to spin a narrative so that people will get up in the morning and they'll keep the engines going. And a part of that narrative is that anti-tractionists are barbarians and they should be found and executed and all that. And you know, Tom, when we meet him at the beginning of the film is completely under the bewitchment of that indoctrination because he was born and raised in the city like everybody else. And he's had, I suppose, a relatively sheltered upbringing, you know, within the context of the entire world, compared to Hester, for example, who had to basically, you know, grow up under the big scary yet quite sort of General Shrike there, and somewhat in the swamps and badlands.

But Tom Basically matures. Kind of through baptism of fire, he figures out what he's made of, you know, when the chips are down.

Leila George: So that's very interesting actually, the idea of nature versus nurture. We were all, as characters raised so differently. I mean, Tom Loses his parents. I have what seems like would be the ideal upbringing. I mean, I lost my mother when I was younger, but my dad gave me everything I needed and, and you as a resurrected men raised an eight year old girl. So it's like, you know…

Stephen Lang: …after my own fashion, I raised her, I feed her, I play Shrike. He's a resurrected man, he's a stalker, I'm a bounty hunter. He has a no a no heart and yet possibly the biggest heart in the story. He finds a little waif of a girl who's injured and he brings her to his home, his lair as it were, and he keeps her alive. He knows that humans have to eat. And so he feeds her, and he begins to form an attachment to her that he can't quite understand.  And so when she leaves, he's devastated by it. And so he has to go off and search for her. So it's very poignant.

Screen Rant: You know, I'm excited to see these predators cities come to life. And I'm sure everybody out there is excited as well as. As well as the panel room; very energetic in there. But as sci fi goes, these kinds of films are cautionary tales. What do you hope audiences take away?

Leila George: The adventure of it. Mainly. It's such an adventure though from beginning to end. It's go, go, go and it's, you don't know what's gonna happen, and what's going to happen next, and what's going to go right next and what's going to go wrong next.

Robert Sheehan: Be nicer to be nicer to the environment. Recycle, for God's sake, and always wash out your litter before putting it in recycling bin. Because the recycling plant people have to take out dirty stuff at the bottom of your chicken packets, because this basically this takes place in the world has been destroyed because of human complacency.

Screen Rant: Well, I'm excited to see it. Guys, thank you so much for stopping by and enjoy the rest of Comic Con.

More: Watch The Mortal Engines Official Trailer

Key Release Dates
  • Mortal Engines (2018) release date: Dec 14, 2018
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