Cast of Beowulf InterviewPosted by: Sheila Roberts
MoviesOnline recently caught up with Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover, Neil Gaiman & Roger Avary at the Los Angeles press day for "Beowulf,â€ a motion capture fantasy directed by Robert Zemeckis ("The Polar Expressâ€) that offers a captivating new take on a classic tale.
In the age of heroes comes the mightiest warrior of them all, Beowulf. After destroying the overpowering demon Grendel, he incurs the undying wrath of the beastâ€™s ruthlessly seductive mother, who will use any means possible to ensure revenge. The ensuing epic battle resonates throughout the ages, immortalizing the name of Beowulf.
Academy Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis tells the oldest epic tale in the English language with the most modern technology, advancing the cinematic form through the magic of digitally enhanced live-action.
Unlike anything you will see this year, "Beowulfâ€ represents a decade long quest for New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman (the graphic novels Mirrormask and Sandman), and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Roger Avary ("Pulp Fictionâ€) to see the myth adapted to the big screen.
With Real D, Dolby Digital 3D and IMAX 3D, "Beowulfâ€ delivers an unparalleled immersive experience that transports you to the age of heroes.
A stellar cast is led by Ray Winstone ("The Departed,â€ "Sexy Beastâ€) in the title role. Joining him are Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins as the cursed King Hrothgar, John Malkovich, Robin Wright Penn, Brendan Gleeson, Crispin Glover, Alison Lohman, and Oscar winner Angelina Jolie as Grendelâ€™s mother.
"Beowulfâ€ promises to be one of the most visually exciting movies of the fall. Hereâ€™s what the writers and cast had to tell us:
QUESTION: WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WORK WITH ROBERT ZEMECKIS?
MALKOVICH: For me, it was a great delight. Working with Robert, he's very enthusiastic, precise, and very clear. For me, it was a great joy.
HOPKINS: Yes, and for me ditto. It was confusing, at first, because we had to do these weird gestures, and stand up, pull faces, and all that. I wasn't quite sure what the purpose was because it was a room very much like this, with no costumes or scenery, or such. I think I was a little late coming in, maybe a day after everyone else, but there was so much energy coming from Bob Zemeckis. It was such a positive energy, it made it so easy, and everyone had a great sense of fun with it. I was just very pleased. I haven't even seen the film yet. I hear it's pretty good. [Laughs] I'm looking forward to seeing it on Monday with people [at the premiere]. Yes, it was all together a wonderful experience. I'm really proud to be part of this great movie. Thank you.
JOLIE: It was great. It was a great experience that we all had. I think that the nice thing about it was that we all do films these days, and so much of it has become a business, and so much of it is these projects where people want to rush through things, or you feel like you make a movie and you're not really sure. Youâ€™ve kind of lost touch with the artistic process and the fun of it. And, Bob is a real artist, and he loves it so much. He's so enthusiastic, and so original, and you really feel that you remember you're a creative person, and you have fun with everybody else. I needed that, as an artist, so it was really great. I'm really grateful for the experience.
WINSTONE: Am I answering that question? About Bob Zemeckis, I think every film that you watch of Bob's, you win some. He's one of these guys that's the reason we landed on the moon. That is where he takes film, in a way. Every film he seems to make is some new thing he's invented. It was great for me, and I guess everyone, to actually go and work and be in something that was going to be the first. And, it's going to get better, so that was that.
WINSTONE: Well, when I met Bob Zemeckis, obviously, I had to do a lot of training for the film. [Laughs] I had to watch my diet and do a lot of press-ups. People say it was very much like theatre, but I found it kind of like the ultimate cinema, in a way, without the cuts. You were there and you played the scene out. You were allowed to go, like theatre, where you carry a scene on and you become engrossed within the scene. I loved the speed of it. There was no time to sit around. You actually cracked on with a scene and your energy levels were kept up. There was no time to actually sit around and lose your concentration. So, for me, I actually really, really enjoyed this experience. I would love to do this again sometime because I think it's going to get better, and better, and better.
GLOVER: Thatâ€™s right. I worked with him one time before, on the first Back to the Future film, about 20 years prior to working with him on this. And, it was interesting working from one technology to this different technology, in terms of the style. Of course, he was a 20 years younger man, and myself as well. But, I remember everything was very particularly storyboarded and there were very exacting things that had to be done, for working on Back to the Future, which was all excellent. And, I noticed, though, a definite change in the style of how the direction was done because things were not so necessarily exacting, but I liked more this way of working, where you were finding it as you were going through it. You kept going further into the thing and finding more as you went along. But, itâ€™s rare that Iâ€™m in a film that I actually like, that Iâ€™m in. I guess I shouldnâ€™t say that. [Laughs] Itâ€™s true. But, Iâ€™m really excited about this film. I just saw it the other day, and it feels like a strange hallucinogenic experience. It has been an excellent experience.
GAIMAN: We wrote the first draft of the Beowulf script in May 97.
AVARY: Ten years in May.
GAIMAN: Ten years in May. And then, started working on it with Bob at the beginning of 2005. Originally, he wanted to produce it, and then he contacted us and said, â€˜I really want to direct it,â€™ and talked us into it. Whatâ€™s Bob like? Heâ€™s very mysterious and secretive. You may be wondering why heâ€™s not up here, but if you actually look around to the person next to you, that could be Bob Zemeckis [laughs], just brilliantly disguised. It was really easy. The process of working on the script was basically me and Roger and Bob, sitting in a room, and Roger and I read it out loud.
AVARY: I wasnâ€™t prepared for how collaborative he would be with us, and how he drew us into the process, and how excited and childlike he is, and how heâ€™s constantly inventing new technologies to support his ultimate dream as a style of directing. We would walk into the editing room and heâ€™d be like, â€˜Oh, look at what we just made.â€™ It was the Z-cam, which was a virtual camera that you could move around the editing room, and as you moved it around, you would see what the camera angle would be, on the screen. I think what excited me was the amount of passion that he had.
JOLIE: I try not to think about my public life. I focus on my private life, and that's just the best way to live. But, as for this character, I was excited I got a call that I was going to be working with Bob Zemeckis, and I was pretty much saying yes to anything. Then I was told I was going to be a lizard. [Laughs] Then I was brought into a room with Bob, and a bunch of pictures and examples, and he showed me this picture of a woman half painted gold, and then a lizard. And, Iâ€™ve got kids and I thought 'That's great. That's so bizarre. I'm going to be this crazy reptilian person and creature.' I was very excited. And then, I met with Crispin and we had a great time, and just amazing scenes. And then, I saw the poster, and saw a few other things, and I realized I'm not just a lizard. [Laughs] But, I'm very excited about it. It was just great. She's one of those fun characters. She's evil and she's temptation and she's very fun to play. Again, we had a great time, and I got to work with great actors.
JOLIE: I suppose. I suppose she is.
JOLIE: I'm not the only one on this panel with children. [Laughs] This was a two and a half day shoot for me, and I was three months pregnant. [Laughs]
JOLIE: You wouldnâ€™t know. Well, we did the mapping of my body before. But no, it was a pleasure. But, yes, the fact that it was short, it was that much easier to not have to work too much.
JOLIE: You just try to balance and try not to work too much, and take turns working. It's not that hard.
QUESTION: FOR THE SCREENWRITERS, WHAT WAS THE MOTIVATION FOR THE CHANGES TO THE ORIGINAL BEOWULF STORY? THERE WAS NO RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE MONSTER AND BEOWULF IN THE ORIGINAL STORY, AND THE QUEEN IS BARELY EVEN MENTIONED. SO, WHAT WAS THE MOTIVATION FOR MAKING THOSE CHANGES?
GAIMAN: The biggest motivation was creating a film that would be satisfying as a story. Beowulf is a remarkable, powerful story. Itâ€™s the oldest story in the English language that we have. But, itâ€™s always been considered incredibly problematic, from a literary and critical point of view, in that it starts with young Beowulf coming in and rescuing [the Kingdom] from Grendel and from Grendelâ€™s mother, and then we cut in 50 years later, and he fights the dragon and dies. Thatâ€™s the poem. What we were trying to do was keep the events of the poem while giving the events a reason to have happened. As we wrote it, we tried to be very faithful to the poem and to the characters in the poem, whilst assuming that maybe there were things that were happening off stage, and that maybe some of the things that were being told had eroded over time, or sometimes people had lied.
AVARY: Iâ€™m not entirely sure that our version of Beowulf wasnâ€™t the original version.
GAIMAN: Oh, I am. [Laughs]
AVARY: If you read it, keep in mind that it existed as an oral tradition for maybe 700 years before it was written down, and when the Christian monks put it down onto the document, they added their own flare to the storytelling, and they added their elements of Christianity to it. What we did was look at the existing translations and realized that there were hints and elements of the story [that were left out].
GAIMAN: For example, when Beowulf goes off to fight Grendelâ€™s mother, he heads down into that lair, all on his own, disappears, is gone for eight days fighting her, and comes back with Grendelâ€™s head. Eight days is an awful long time to fight a monster, and why didnâ€™t he bring her head back. And so, we are actually very faithful to what happened. Weâ€™re just implying that maybe there was other stuff that happened as well.
GLOVER: I just think it was very playable. In the story, Grendel doesnâ€™t speak, and he speaks in the film, so that helps. But, on top of it, psychologically, theyâ€™re delving into the characters. And, I do think theyâ€™re being faithful to the original story structure, but theyâ€™re getting into the depth of it, which really isnâ€™t a violation, I donâ€™t think.
WINSTONE: Well, I told Robert Zemeckis that I knew the story, but I didn't. [Laughs] Where I went to school, we read about Al Capone and things like that, so Beowulf was very, very new to me. All I knew about Vikings was Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas. In a way, that was a good thing because I read the script not knowing the story. It seemed to me that, when I read it, and I spoke to the boys about it when it came down, it's kind of a modern story as well. Itâ€™s about ambition and greed and hate, and then love, at the end, and that finding what you really wanted was there all the time, right in front of you, your son. It kind of reminded me of Hollywood, in a way, and the ambition in people. And, that's exactly how I approached it, from the off, really. When I spoke with the two guys, that's how I pitched it. They went 'That's exactly what we thought.' You were lying as well, werenâ€™t you? [Laughs]
GAIMAN: Actually, the very first thing that Ray said to us was, â€˜You know what I like about this script?â€™ And, we said, â€˜No.â€™ And, he said, â€˜All the swearing.â€™ [Laughs] And, we said, â€˜We just had to take that out.â€™ [Laughs]
HOPKINS: No, I hadn't read the original because I'm very lazy. I tried to read it, but I think I'm a little dyslexic sometimes, and I fall asleep very quickly. [Laughs] I tried to read it, but didnâ€™t. But, I read the script and I liked it very much. So, I was called into Bob Zemeckis' office, maybe because I was living out here, and I just went in and we had a chat. He said 'What sort of accent do you think you would use for Hrothgar?' I said 'Well, I'm Welsh, and Welsh is a pretty old language.â€™ Itâ€™s Celtic. And, we were the Irish who couldn't swim. So, I said 'I'd like to play it Welsh. I've played Welsh before.' He said 'Can you give me an example?,' so I did a little bit from Hugh Griffith, who played that horse dealer in Ben Hur. 'How dare you treat my horses like animals?' I sort of stole from that a bit, and Welshed it up a bit, and it felt comfortable because it's my own language. And, I can understand those fighting, drunk Welsh people because I was one myself. [Laughs] Can't go outside and fight now, when I'm in a temper. So, I felt comfortable playing this drunken, lecherous man.
MALKOVICH: Where I went to high school, it was required reading, believe it or not, and we had to do recitations from it in Miss Berkhart's [sp?] English class. [Laughs] I'm sure they were splendid, but I don't remember.
JOLIE: Yes, I had read it years and years ago, and I hardly remembered it. I think I read it half asleep as well. But, ditto. It's one of those great stories that you know the themes of it. You take away the themes and you never forget. But, when I read the script, it wasn't fresh enough in my mind to compare it, and it wouldn't be at this moment, even.
JOLIE: I feel it is tough to ask me because my character is certainly not restricted by her time. She was quite powerful and capable, even though she was stuck in a cave. [Laughs] Sheâ€™s quite a different character, certainly not a woman of the period, so that would be better handled by someone else. I would certainly love to do more. I wouldn't call this animation because we were physically doing all of these things. And, every single gesture is ours. Everything is acted out, exactly by us, even where our eyeballs move, because this is a new thing, were exactly where we looked. They were mapped exactly. It is our performances, and we had these scenes together. So, I do think that is important to state because it's exciting that it's not and it's different.
QUESTION: MAYBE JOHN, YOU COULD JUMP IN ON HOW THIS PERFORMANCE CAPTURED TECHNIQUE AND HOW IT LIBERATED THE ACTORS, IN MANY WAYS?
MALKOVICH: Well, to me, it was remarkably reminiscent of doing plays because you go in the morning and you put on all your things, but that doesn't take very long, and really no longer than normal make-up takes, and then you act all day. And, a lot of the things that might have come into play in normal filmmaking, don't come into play there. You don't wait for lights, you don't wait for camera, and you don't wait really for anything. Continuity doesn't matter too much. And, you just act all day. It seemed to me, and speaking with the other performers I worked with, that everyone loved that part of it because you came in and that's what you did all day, and then you left. It's a very good story, very good text. That, for must of us, is quite liberating because, at times, the process of making a regular film has remained quite medieval, in some ways, especially with the amount of time it can take.
HOPKINS: Yes, John said it. It is freeing, and paradoxically it opens you up. I remember the first day I was working, it was an entrance and I had to be sitting in a throne, being brought in, completely smashed out of my mind. You don't have to have a beard or costume because they have done all that in the computer, so what you see up there is what they photographed in a previous few days before. They take all the information about gesture and facial expressions, and you do feel a bit of an idiot, standing there with these helmets on. [Laughs] I thought the only thing to do was just jump in the deep end, just jump in and do it. Sometimes, on film, I think the most mind boggling thing is when you have two weeks rehearsal before you start a film. To me, I would rather have my fingernails pulled out than do that because it's so boring. I really don't like rehearsing. And, on this, you just had to be ready. What you throw out there is what theyâ€™re going to put in the camera, so you have to have a pretty good idea of what youâ€™re going to do. You are on the set and youâ€™re actually confronting each other, youâ€™re actually there, and you are virtually so naked. You don't have any of what a movie set is usually like, or a costume. You have no references. In a way, having no references, you have no mask, so you have to create this performance, as you go through. It's really quite electrifying. You think, 'Oh, I'm free. I can do whatever I like. What are they going to do, put me in jail?' [Laughs] To find out that it's going to take another two years before they get it all up there on screen is really something else. I can't even remember what we did much because it was such a long time ago, but I'm so excited to see it, I really am. Thatâ€™s an overused word -- excited -- but I really am looking forward to seeing it.
GLOVER: I didnâ€™t know, when we were performing it, if it would have nuance when I watched it, or if it was going to feel like I was watching myself, or not. And, itâ€™s a very strange experience watching it because you can feel yourself, in all the performances, and you can feel that itâ€™s good acting underneath it, as well. Thatâ€™s what surprised me, and whatâ€™s very exciting about it, at the same time. I just wanted to address that.
WINSTONE: I think, going back to what Anthony was saying about feeling an idiot at first, playing it, the first day I came onto set, I was standing there in this wet suit, with this crash helmet thing on, and you stand there and you do feel naked. You really do feel vulnerable. It's a question of going, â€˜All right, are we going to do this or not?â€™ I remember the first take I had done was with Brendan Gleeson, on this mechanical ship being thrown around, trying to hang on, and do the lines. We came out talking like good guys. We were in a storm, and it was just that fear of actually letting yourself go. You had to do a little T-pose before every take, and you felt really stupid. I'm a 50 year old man, you know, and you got these geniuses all around you, looking at you, smiling and saying, â€˜Okay, do a T-pose, lift your leg up, and do a little dance, so the computer gets you.â€™ And then, all of a sudden, you go to work and you go, 'Oh, Jesus I can't do this.' And, I think I'm like that on every film. I never know whether I'm going to be able to do it or not. You become a little bit scared, and then you have to find something deep down inside you that goes, 'You know what? Fuck it, I'm going to do it. Let's have it.' Once you get over that barrier, you do really start to enjoy it. I really didn't know what to expect, when I saw the film. I saw it two days ago, in 3-D, and I just sat there with my mouth open for the whole film. It just blew me away. And, I think what I really loved about the film was the fact that, without the effects, without the 3-D, without all the gizmos and all that, it's a great story. The story holds up. Very rarely, do you see films, or special effects movies, that have a straight story that will live forever. I think that is what I'm very proud of the film for, for me, and being part of that. It is the initial thing of the nakedness. You feel really kind of like you donâ€™t have anything on, and everyone is looking at you. But, it's really freeing, once you have done it. I would love to do it again.
GLOVER: I didnâ€™t know, until I watched it, if there would be nuances, or if youâ€™d be able to feel stuff that came across. And, I was very pleased that I was able to feel that, especially with the other actors, whose faces I could recognize more readily. But, in terms of just the initial thoughts of what I was playing, Robert Zemeckis had good thoughts, particularly about the violent scenes, in terms of what I was going through, that everything that I was dealing with was painful. I had terrible problems and it hurt me very much. Of course, when youâ€™re acting, youâ€™re not necessarily thinking about what youâ€™re looking like, as much as what youâ€™re going after. And, I had intentions of getting rid of things that were bothering me, and then I had my own bodily problems that were causing me other reactions. That was that.
JOLIE: I got a little shy. [Laughs] I didn't expect ourselves to come out as much. I didnâ€™t expect it to feel as real. Because of, especially, the type of character I play, it was kind of funny at first. There were certain moments where I felt actually shy, and called home [laughs], just to explain that the fun movie that I had done, that was this digital animation, was in fact a little different [laughs] than they were expecting. I was really surprised that I felt that exposed.
JOLIE: I love my tail. [Laughs]
WINSTONE: Yeah, I loved it. [Laughs] There is nothing really more to say about it. [Laughs] It's really weird because, obviously, he's 6'6, or something like that, with an 8-pack. My wife loves it. [Laughs] She thinks itâ€™s great. It's funny because you just look at a picture and go, 'I'm the only one who kind of don't look like me,' until you see the film move. And then, you start to recognize yourself. The big thing for me was movement. I'm 5'10, and I'm an older man now, so itâ€™s playing a warrior who is 6'6, and the way you move with that kind of bulk on you. That was something I really think about, before the film. And then, I had to get older without becoming too old because you still have to be a warrior and fight a dragon. There was that kind of thought. My wife pulled out a picture of me, when I was 18, when I was boxing, and I didn't have the 8-pack, but it looks like me. And, they had no pictures of me beforehand. I don't know how they brought that out. I'm probably lying about it. It doesn't quite look like me. [Laughs] But, it's great. It opens so many doors. You can play someone who is five years of age. You can play anything you want to play. You can, anyway, as an actor, I always think. But, this opens a hell of a lot more doors, in a way.
AVARY: I grew up with the Arthurian legends, read to me by my father. And, after being given Beowulf in high school, and looking at the cover, I said, â€˜Itâ€™s a guy with a sword and thereâ€™s a dragon,â€™ and cracking open that cover, 25 years ago now, I suddenly realized I couldnâ€™t understand what I was reading. It wasnâ€™t until many years after high school that I realized it had to be read out loud. Beowulf is, in some ways, the progenitor of so many other myths that came after.
GAIMAN: Not to mention Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was hugely influenced [by Beowulf].
AVARY: And, was probably the first great defender of Beowulf.
WINSTONE: For me, growing up in the 60's, I was born in '57, so it wasn't so much books for me, it was cinema, at the time, like 'Jason and the Argonauts' and films like 'A Man for All Seasons' and 'The Lion in Winter.' I love history, and I really got history, in that way, and stories. So, my books were cinema, and cinema, to me, was great -- films like 'Zulu.' I think one of the greatest films ever made was 'A Man for All Seasons.' It's not much action. It's a great script and great words. That's when great films can be books for kids that don't read that much. I wasn't a great reader as a kid. My stories came through cinema, really.
JOLIE: 'Treasure Island'. I'm sitting here trying to think of some brilliant answer, like everybody else has, but I really don't have one. I loved 'Treasure Island'. When it comes to film, I love 'Lawrence of Arabia'. I loved 'The Traveler.' I loved reading Winston Churchill's works. I love his stories of his early life and his adventures, and the history in that. So, those are mine.
HOPKINS: Well, a book I read very early, when I was 12 years of age, was Kenneth Grahame's 'Wind in the Willows,' which was a great Victorian novel of the time. It was kind of a legend and fable, and a beautifully written novel. When we were doing Beowulf, I thought what a great power this technique of making a movie has become. For example, I mentioned some of the great Shakespeare stories. I know that makes people yawn, sometimes, and I know that people are scared stiff of Shakespeare, but it would be interesting to take some of those great plays like 'Lear' and â€˜Macbeth,â€™ which were fables and epics of their own kind, because you can do limitless things with those. I've got an idea that they could be very powerful in this kind of medium. I think there are all kinds of possibilities.
MALKOVICH: I remember quite a few things that I read when I was very young, like 'Peter Pan' or 'Our Town.' But, for some reason, I can't remember that time so well, so I couldn't say more.
JOLIE: Bob will make you do weird things. I think for swimming, we had to figure out something I could be attached to. My waist was attached. I was attached to something. I had a harness, but it was on something with wheels. It was bizarre. It was day one, and I had to suddenly swim, and we were trying to figure out what that would be, in this new way. So, I was swimming with my upper body, being rolled around Crispin, and trying to pretend I was swimming. Same with the flying. We hooked me up with wires and flew around. I had something where I flew around [Crispin] for a bit. So, I was hooked up and being moved.
JOLIE: It's Old English. We had more of it. It was actually great, but I think it went over a lot of people's heads. But, it was fun to learn and it was beautiful.
GLOVER: My character speaks only in Old English. We had a professor that we got to sit down with, who helped figure out what was actually said in Old English. It was written in modern English, and then it made sense for Grendel to be the one that speaks in complete Old English. And then, Grendelâ€™s mother speaks a hybrid of modern and Old English.
QUESTION: ARE YOU TAKING SOME TIME OFF?
JOLIE: I have one more month on 'The Changeling,' and then I'm not doing anything.
JOLIE: I don't know. We are talking about maybe New Orleans. Brad [Pitt] and I both have some work to do there. We don't know. We're leaving it open still.
JOLIE: Yes, always. There are many different things. There is a lot of traveling I want to do, and continue to work with this education program we started for refugees, and many things. And, I travel when I can.
"Beowulfâ€ opens in theaters on November 16th.