ComingSoon.net has had many chances to interview director Louis Leterrier over the years, going back to his work on the Jet Li action-drama Unleashed, but never have we seen him as tired as he was on the day we visited the set of Clash of the Titans, having clearly been burning the candle at both ends to make the tight release deadline for the movie. It’s kind of surprising that he found time to talk to the group of journalists on set, but he took a brief break from filming the big Kraken attack scene, so we could gather around him on the steps of Argos City for a quick round of questions.
Q: What was your concept for your version of “Clash of the Titans” and how does it differ from the original?
Louis Leterrier: Well yeah, because I love the original film. Just like you guys, I grew up watching this movie. I think I saw it before “Star Wars,” so this was my first like ‘Wow’ experience. So I just didn’t want to do it the same but just different. The only way to make it mine was really to make it personal. Therefore to rewrite a screenplay to take the elements that I thought were really… I mean, I could incorporate in my vision of the film and then change the rest. Actually, inspire myself on more mythology and other ideas and stuff like that and then thinking about it as more than just one movie, as creating a universe, creating something that can expand and have small relationships that can bloom or get complicated, so that’s what I did here.
Q: We’ve seen some of the props and you have a lot of sets and locations, some animatronics, some CG. Can you talk about how you decide whether to do things practically or using CG? You seem to have a bit of everything.
Leterrier: Well yeah, but the movies I prefer, the movies like “Star Wars,” for example or “Lord of the Rings,” they work because it’s a a mix of everything. Where if you just have your talking scenes on real sets and as soon as you have any visual effects, it’s in the computer, then there’s no interaction and it feels like you’re watching two movies. Personally, it feels like I’m watching two movies so what I tried to do is to… I mean just like this (pointing to what’s going on set). This is four actors here, and this is a scorpion actually. Underneath is a scorpion. That’s a palanquin, so we could have had these two guys on the green screen doing this and not understanding what’s happening, whereas now I’m putting them up there and they look very happy. (yelling to the actors) You happy, guys? (laughter at their reaction, obviously not happy) So they know exactly what’s going on, and they feel they’re part of this scene and also, it just looks better. It just looks better.
Q: You have all these extras here doing anything you want. Is it like being the mayor of the village?
Leterrier: Yeah, no, it’s fantastic. It’s really great because you get to know each one of them. It’s really funny, like some of them have been in several of our scenes playing zealots, playing other people, and we see them and you get to know them. They’re really an amazing group of extras. I’m not saying this because they listen to me, but its true. They’re really amazing. They’re doing a great job. You should see them, once we start rolling, they throw themselves on the ground take after take after take and it’s fantastic. They really listen to me very carefully; they talk to each other. It’s funny, sometimes I walk through and they’re like, “No, it’s the Kraken coming. You have to understand, it’s a Kraken, it’s huge!” And they direct each other. It’s fantastic.
Q: You said this is personal. What did you mean by that?
Leterrier: Well, that’s the only way you can make a (movie), it’s personal. I rewrote the story. Travis Beacham and Lawrence Kasdan took a crack at it, and then after Manfredi and Hay, we each just said, “These are the pieces I want to tell. This is the story I want to tell. Like for example, re-watching again now and after my experience I didn’t think that this Perseus, this character, could go on a journey just because he falls in love with a princess. It really is a dangerous story, and also it’s a bit darker, it’s a bit funner. There’s more adventure. Really, we stretched it, that’s really what we tried to do and I think that’s what it is. I have so much respect for Ray Harryhausen and for the Desmond Davis film. I just couldn’t do the same thing. It’s just this is a really cool title, so I was like “Yeah, I want to keep the title” but we could have called it something else.
Q: When they said “Yes, you’re going to make ‘Clash of the Titans,'” what was the first thing where you were like “I can’t wait to sink my teeth into…”? Is it the Medusa, is it the Kraken or the River Styx?
Q: What’s the one thing where you think they’re going to go nuts when they see your version?
Leterrier: I would never say that. I just was truly excited. I was not like, “Oh, I’m going to do the best Medusa sequence.” No, no. I really was like “This is going to be really fun.” The same way I approach each one of my movies… from the audience’s seat. I just read it, conceptualize it, read it and just think about it as a ride and how you get moved by it, grabbed by it, moved by it, thrilled by it, scared by it, and that’s how I conceived it and there was no… every day is like this. Every day is complicated… Every day is fun.
Q: Because you also have March [Now April] deadline so you must be shooting and cutting at the same time.
Leterrier: I’m shooting, cutting and doing visual effects. Yeah, I’m working 20 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Q: How is that going?
Leterrier: You know me. I’ve aged a little bit.
Q: I think people are surprised that we haven’t seen anything, and that we didn’t see you at Comic-Con with this.
Leterrier: We were shooting, we were shooting. The last movie I saw was “Star Trek.” I haven’t seen anything since then. I was like “Oh please, I just want to see a movie!”
Q: Are you shooting to have anything done for a teaser/trailer so people can get some idea what you’re doing?
Leterrier: I think November will be a teaser and December will be a trailer.
Q: Can you talk about your collaboration with Sam? He mentioned that you were a little shy coming off doing the Hulk so you got over that already?
Leterrier: Oh really? Well, I mean first of all, I didn’t know who Sam Worthington was. I mean, everybody was buzzing, Hollywood was buzzing about Sam Worthington, all this stuff and everything. I really hadn’t seen any of his movies, and I saw “Somersault” and I really liked his performance in “Somersault,” but I hadn’t seen the big movies, and then I met him and he was down to earth, very humble, had really good ideas and there was something really interesting and sort of broken about him that I thought would make an amazing Perseus. The first Perseus I had written was more like the Harry Hamlin, a little wide-eyed, candid, surprised, but knowing Sam, now you’ve met him and he’s a little bit darker and I was like, “This is it, this is good, and this is like an interesting starting point for the character.” So really, I was like, “Okay that’s good, I have my Perseus.” We really like each other, we sent ideas back and forth. And yeah, every actor questions anything I do but that’s a normal reaction too. Some directors are like it’s their… nothing can change, nothing can move. I like collaborating, even when an extra has an idea, I like to bring to really have collaboration. I think it’s much, much more interesting, because any good idea is welcome so it could come from anywhere. So I just welcome this. I think maybe that’s why he was saying, coming off of “Hulk” I was shy. I don’t know if I was shy. No, I mean, I was just, you’re respectful. It’s tough, it’s like you don’t know the people. You don’t have a relationship with them. So if you’re like, “Yeah, come on dude, let’s do this, let’s do that,” and you’re like “whoa, my method is this.” You get to know the people. I guess that’s that. With Edward Norton you have a certain method and Sam Worthington a different one and Jason Statham a different one, Jet Li a different one. Every actor is different so you just have to, you cannot become best friends on Day One. You just have to learn to know each other.
Q: One great thing about the original movie is that the creatures aren’t just throwaway special FX, they’re characters. Can you talk about doing the same thing here?
Leterrier: It’s good you’re saying “creature” and not “monster.” Good, good, I hate that. Yeah, trying to, and we’ll use CG but we have amazing artists bringing them to life and, and, and the creatures are not just here to start an action sequence. No, they’re here throughout the movie. You have creatures throughout the movie being mingled with the real characters. You saw Sheik Solomon, the big wooden character. So, this is part of the world we’re creating where it’s mythology. Its not history, its not fantasy, it’s an in-between. That’s what I liked when I went to school. I loved when we were studying mythology because that was the only history where there were creatures and they were talking about that kind of interesting stuff. So now they’re really part of the story so far, and the future will tell if they’ve come to life and they are heartfelt.
Q: Is Sheik Solomon based on anything from mythology or was this a new creation for the movie?
Leterrier: It’s based on wood. (laughter) No, no, I mean, it’s a Djinn, Arabic spirits. I mean they’re like nomads. You’ll see what purpose he serves in the movie. This movie is about opening your eyes, just, you know, widening your world, not being afraid, not being trapped in a box. It’s all about this, so he serves a purpose in this matter. Yeah.
Q: Any direct nods to the original that fans will see?
Leterrier: There’s a couple, there’s a couple, but I think the original is such a… I mean, there’s a couple things. Yeah, it is a remake. It’s not like when I was doing “Hulk”–I was doing winks to the TV shows–it’s different. This one really is a remake so yeah, the whole movie is an homage to the original one, I bow down to the creators of the original one. You’ll see some stuff that’s a little bit more geared towards the fan but not that much. I didn’t want to do a “Hey fans! Hi! Please love me!” I just wanted to make a properly good movie, and not beg for the love of the fans.
Q: Can you talk a bit more about the clarification you want to make between creatures and monsters and what you see the differences are?
Leterrier: Well, talk to Ray Harryhausen about this. Don’t ever say “monsters” in front of Ray Harryhausen. No, I think it’s just everybody is afraid of a monster, a creature is different. Either it can be friend or foe. That’s it, that’s a creature. It’s the way you approach it and that’s what it is. Monsters is negative from the get-go and these are not monsters.
Q: If this movie were to be a success, would you want to follow it up with a sequel?
Leterrier: Oh yeah, I would love to. I mean, even if it’s a moderate success, I already have the sequel in my head because when we started the movie, I always thought that this was a little bit too small for a single movie. There are so many characters and they’re so intriguing, and I wanted to know more about it, so I wrote a big, long storyline. Yeah, I mean, its not ready but it’s…
Q: But would you want to jump onto that or do another project and come back to it later?
Leterrier: Ah, well, I’m tired. But yeah, yeah.
Q: Can you talk about Bubo, because from the original movie, that can be one of the love or hate things. If you’re a kid, you might love it, but if you’re older, maybe not, and we’ve seen him but no one has talked whether he’d be in the movie or not. Can you talk about your own personal feelings about Bubo?
Leterrier: My own personal feelings? (laughter) “My relationship with Bubo is…” Bubo came on set one day and it was quite tense between him and Sam. I must say this. I begged Sam not to destroy Bubo. (laughter)
Q: You mentioned that Lawrence Kasdan took a crack at this and he wrote some of the greatest adventure films of all time. Did any of that make it through or was it a matter of his sensibilities?
Leterrier: No, I mean there were so many versions of “Clash of the Titans.” I don’t know how many screenplays there were; I read seven. Kasdan wrote a couple of versions, Travis Beacham wrote a couple. Yeah, they all brought something to it. What I did was to really look at everything I liked, everything, but Manfredi and Hay, I mean, I loved them so when they came on board really they transformed it. Everything was okay, it was good, but it was really different. I mean, it was so close to the original it was trying to make the original. It was like a very, Kasden and Beacham, they’re the two ones that really twisted it. Otherwise, it was just the original with bigger, bigger special effects and a big battle. I mean, it was the original a la “Lord of the Rings.”
Q: When you have actors like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, how do you convince them to be in this while negating their worries that they will look like a bit of a prat?
Leterrier: Well you have to promise them on your grave and on your head that you will not put them in a toga. That’s the first thing. “No, I promise you, you will not wear a toga.” And that’s the first thing, and the second thing is once again keeping them involved, just you know talking to them, talking to their people about, when you’re writing, “That’s how I’m thinking.” Just getting them excited, telling them and sending them drawings of what you think they will look like. I mean you saw some, what did you see?
Q: The sizzle reel.
Leterrier: Yeah, you see their armor. It’s like, “Okay, that’s what I want.” It was very important for me to have like a set of rules. Gods wouldn’t wear fabric. It’s boring for a God. God takes, takes raw earth and raw metal and just molds it into an armor and that’s what he wears. Once you have a precise set of rules for them, they really like it.It really gives them a nice frame too play with. And you know, throughout the project, just really keeping them involved. I mean, Liam was here for a week. Ralph was here more like three weeks, one month. Once again, it’s very different. When you deal with Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson, it’s not the same way you deal with Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton…
Q: You had some pretty challenging location shoots like in Tenarife and how difficult it was to get there every day.
Leterrier: Oh, yeah, it was long but it was actually quite good. Wales, that’s terrible. (laughter) Wales, Wales, it rains (every day) it’s like Forrest Gump for us. One more direction, it’s everywhere. It’s like down rain, side rain and up rain. I’d never seen that, it was insane! Wales was tough, but that’s why its real. You have to build a city like this, you have to go to locations, you have to do all that stuff to make it really exciting, to make it fun.
Q: You’re actually flying into a war zone to shoot some stuff?
Leterrier: Ethiopia? I don’t think I’ll go because I have to edit, but they will do that, yeah, yeah, absolutely. I believe that these movies need to be shot somewhere else than Burbank. I feel that you need to go places, you need to travel the world and get people excited about… I mean really it’s a new world for our characters. They go further than you know the obvious. It’s the furthest outreach of man. There’s a line in the script that said, “They reached the end of the known world.” I would like for the audience to really discover something that they’ve never seen before. And Tenerife gives us this. Wales to a certain extent gives us this. If you frame it right, Wales is amazing. And Ethiopia, I’ve always dreamt of… I’ve seen a documentary about these wonderful, amazing acid lakes, and how they interact with nature and it looks amazing. Without any visual effects help you have amazing, amazing stuff.
Q: They mentioned that when the actors needed something to act off of, because it would be an FX, that you were doing, that you were jumping in to be the Medusa or be the Scorpiok, has that been fun?
Leterrier: It’s fun, it’s fun… except when you have to wear the green suit. (laughter)
Q: Did you put on the green suit?
Leterrier: Oh yeah, it was a full on skin-tight green suit. Horrible.
Q: How did you come up with the look for your Calibos? He looks more like a burn victim?
Leterrier: Once again, it’s a set of rules. Everything is a set of rules. You understand why… he’s a burn victim because he’s punished by Zeus and the way Zeus punishes him is by sending lightning to earth and he’s been split by lightning. That’s what it is. It’s a set of rules. And Gods do this because they… it really it was very important for me, and for Sam, that nothing was left for granted. If you have a question you need to know the answer, because fans will have questions and they’re very smart about that stuff and we just want to have an answer. So that’s what we did. We didn’t want to give him a tail. We didn’t want to do a weird curse and all that stuff. But I just wanted to still pay homage to the original one. Somewhat of a horn but its just his skull that’s fragmented so that’s the homage to the original one but still it looks different.
Q: You said fans want something a little more serious but this sounds really fun too. How do you balance the fun and also sort of make it more serious and modern?
Leterrier: No, it’s not serious. It’s just an adventure movie. It really is an adventure movie. It’s not an action movie, its not a sci-fi movie, it really is an adventure movie. Take some of Kasden’s amazing action-adventure movies. If you take “Raiders,” you’ve got ghosts flying at the end and you don’t question it. You’re like, “Oh, yeah, it’s happened,” and that’s what I want to do. It’s a world that’s sort of part of… at one point in history there were different gods than the gods that we have today so there were different gods and there were a different set of rules and they were doing different things and the creatures came out of this thing and the gods have flaws and the creatures have flaws and it’s all about shades of gray also. Nothing is black, nothing is white, either the humans or the gods. But anyway, I’m explaining it this way but in my mind, my secret wish would be like one day in a classroom somewhere in New Jersey somebody says, “Kids, we’re going to study Greek mythology today and to introduce you to that, here’s Clash of the Titans.” (laughter) That would be so exciting. Yay! That’s the best thing is like really, you get excited about something. Imagine a world.
Q: So many movies are aimed at people who are 19 to 35 but you’re going for the full range?
Leterrier: The full range. It really is the family movie. It’s exciting, it’s thrilling, it’s a little scary and it’s fun but it’s for kids and it’s for adults at the same time. There’s romance, there’s horses… and Bubo. (laughter)