In addition to The Golden Compass (read set visit), New Line Cinema is also filming the fantasy-adventure Inkheart at London’s Shepperton Studios. Based on German author Cornelia Funke’s fantasy novel, the first of a trilogy, Inkheart centers on a young girl named Meggie (Eliza Bennett) whose father Mortimer “Mo” Folchart (Brendan Fraser), also known as Silvertongue, has a gift of bringing characters to life from books by reading aloud. When Mo reads “Inkheart,” he unknowingly brings the villain, Capricorn (Andy Serkis), and Dustfinger (Paul Bettany), a fire-eater who works for Capricorn, into our world. Mo is kidnapped by the characters he brought to life and he and his daughter have to try to find a way to make them return to their world. The film also stars Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Rafi Gavron and Sienna Guillory.
ComingSoon.net had a chance to watch the cast shoot a scene on a sound stage at Shepperton. The scene takes place after Capricorn has Meggie and Mo kidnapped and brought back to his castle. With a shaven head and dressed in all black, Capricorn wickedly confesses how he lied to Dustfinger about returning to the pages of “Inkheart.” While Capricorn prefers our world because of modern conveniences like guns and duct tape, Dustfinger just wants to be returned to the fictional world he knows. He thought that if he brought Meggie and Mo to Capricorn, he would finally get to go home. However, he learns that is not the case when Capricorn throws the last copy of “Inkheart” into the fireplace and laughs as it slowly burns. With the final “Inkheart” book destroyed, nobody can return home and Mo can’t get his wife back. Dustfinger, horrified and saddened by what Capricorn just did, runs over to the fireplace and desperately tries to save the book. Capricorn laughs while henchmen drag him away.
At the studio, we also talked to director Iain Softley, Fraser, Mirren, Serkis, Bettany and Bennett about the film:
ComingSoon.net: How would this film compare in scale to some of the other big films you’ve done – “The Mummy” films, “The Da Vinci Code,” “Master and Commander?”
Paul Bettany: My experience is that all film sets usually feel mostly the same.
Brendan Fraser: That’s true.
Bettany: So, I know that big films, small films, they all sort of film the same really and this one is the same. Usually you can hear sort of whimpering from the producers with the more money that they’re spending. You do sort of hear that, but this film set has been filled with so much joy and fun. I’ve said that on most movies that I’ve made and have usually lied. This actually is the first time that I’m telling the truth [Laughs].
CS: You’ve said that before too.
Bettany: Yeah, I’ve talked a lot of s**t about films, but this one actually really is fun. It’s so much that it’s a bit repulsive, the idea of us getting paid to be here.
CS: Were you familiar with the book beforehand and is that why you wanted to come on the project?
Fraser: I think that it’s a good book because for one thing in this age when we have so many different formats of media distribution does anyone read aloud to their kids anymore? I hope that they do. I have three small boys and I’m normally reading about shapes and colors right now because they’re really small, but we’ll graduate to a book like “Inkheart,” for instance, which is meant to be read aloud. It’s a story about a man who has an unusual ability to realize elements of the story that he reads aloud for better or for worse. But that’s the story within the story. I think that as a work of literature it’s a promotion of and I think it advocates literacy. I think that it’s something that can help people connect to one another again, and for that it’s gotten immense popularity. That it becomes something that you put on the screen seems to follow naturally. I think that we have a good adaptation and I think that we have a good movie on our hands.
CS: Was this character in the book? Did this author sort of have you in mind, that you were an inspiration for her?
Fraser: That’s what she told me. She’d be better at answering that question than I am, but I’m flattered that she said that. Shucks. What can you say? Yes is the answer. I’ll leave it at that.
CS: You were rumored for a while to take on the role of Lord Asriel in the “Golden Compass” movie. What are your thoughts on that?
Bettany: Not very manifold. Yeah, I was talking about it and then we stopped talking about it. That’s really something that happens a lot. You discuss things and you either go the same way or in different ways.
CS: You’ve played traditional heroes and traditional villains in films. Dustfinger here sort of walks that line. Is that more interesting for you to play?
Bettany: Well, what’s interesting to me is that he’s sort of an opportunist, but who desperately wants to go home. He didn’t ask to be here and sort of every moment in the film that we see him he’s just trying to get home to what you realize later on in the film is his family. That’s how I often feel when making films.
CS: There is an inherent sadness to the character as it’s written and he has a little sadness to him as he’s written as well.
Bettany: Yeah, and he doesn’t sort of state what he wants. You’re like, “What does he want?” And he’s sort of intense and what is it he’s after, and then you realize that he just wants to get home to his kids in exactly the same way that Mo wants his wife back.
Fraser: It’s about reuniting families.
CS: You mentioned that you’re a new father. Does that change how you approach material now? Do you pick something like this thinking that you’ll be able to take your kids to this at some point?
Bettany: “Gods and Monsters.”
CS: It’ll be a while before they see “Gods and Monsters?”
Fraser: I think that the answer is that I like to work, to be frank. I think that you can make films that have broad appeal and satisfy a commercial appetite and at the same you can do more thoughtful pieces that might please your artistic sense, or you can just get on with it, roll your sleeves up and get to work. Lets be frank, it’s difficult to get films made nowadays and personally I’ve traveled three different continents just to keep myself busy. I’m not complaining, mind you, but the point is that I think with less and less material out there to choose from you must be very selective what you can see and what you can do.
CS: Are you going right into “Mummy 3″ after this?
Fraser: I’m still waiting for the call on that.
CS: Do you think that it might be new characters, not with you?
Fraser: No. The structure is the same, the same family structure. However it has a different setting and I actually might be stay tuned. What else can I tell you?
CS: Helen Mirren, can you talk quickly about the scene that you were just shooting and what your costume is and the X’s?
Mirren: Oh, that’s not costume. That’s me, but for once I can actually show my tattoo. I think it’s the first role I’ve ever actually used my tattoo.
Iain Softley: Yes, and it’s totally appropriate to the character Elinor.
Mirren: And is totally appropriate to the character.
CS: How many tattoos do you have?
Mirren: I actually only have the one. Do you have any tattoos?
Softley: I don’t, no. I thought for a bit about one. I did have a misspent youth. I don’t know how I managed to escape without any tattoos.
Mirren: We were shooting the wonderful scene where the group of our friends are taken in to meet Capricorn for the first time. It was brilliantly played by Andy Serkis. Absolutely amazing. It’s a wonderful scene because you see the whole sort of “Inkheart” world and then these elements get read out of books and so you see that all happening as well. So it is a great scene.
Softley: A lot of things falling from the sky.
Mirren: Yes. A lot of things falling from the sky.
CS: Is there a special effect involved in reading people out of the book? What is that going to look like?
Softley: Oh, I can’t give that away. It’s not really a visual effect, in terms of a complicated visual postproduction film. I mean, a lot of the things that we tried to do are more to do with optical illusion, the sleight of hand and we’re doing a lot of things for real on the set.
CS: It seems that you have a very practical approach in terms of your set and in terms of location and that’s unusual these days with these types of films.
Softley: It is, yes.
CS: It makes it feel very organic.
Softley: It feels very organic and very real, and I actually think it makes the magic more effective because I think that there is a sort of discounting that goes on in the minds of an audience when they know that it’s sort of a computer world or a digital world. It’s like, “Oh, they can do anything. They can press a button for however many weeks they need at a machine.” Whereas if you actually get the sense that it’s something more like the craft of illusion, I think that it’s more magical actually.
Mirren: Absolutely. We have very, very little, hardly any blue screen or green screen. We’re always acting within a real context. We have the most incredible location in Italy.
CS: I saw some of that this morning. It was beautiful.
Mirren: Yes, just brilliantly found. When I walked into it my jaw dropped. It was just like walking into the book. It was amazing. To have that real as opposed to something fantastical, it’s just great.
CS: Does that make a difference for you?
Mirren: It’s a huge difference, all the difference in the world, and the same with walking onto a magnificent set. So it’s a great pleasure for all of us actors.
CS: How does it compared to doing something like “The Queen” which is so based in reality, and then to switch gears and come into a fantasy world?
Mirren: Well, you know, the whole business of film is to try and transform something that is very technical and very unreal into a reality on the screen that the audience believes and can engage in. Whether it’s a story like “The Queen” or it’s a story like this there is really no fundamental difference. You’re just trying to deal with an intensely technical way of making something. You try and make the technique of something seem as unapparent as possible. So, it’s really no different in essence. Of course, Iain has far greater demands on his technical and also his world of imagination.
CS: You put together a really rich cast in this film, in all the roles and not just the leads. It seems like you’ve really cast this up. It’s a really smart cast and a very classically trained cast. Was that important to you in order to pull the book off?
Softley: I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. I’ve been lucky that I’ve always worked with wonderful actors, and that makes my job easier. So, I feel very blessed with the cast that we have. To work with Helen is an ambition that I’ve had for a while and we have other, very wonderful actors and they’re all very different with Paul Bettany and Brendan [Fraser] and Jamie Forman and Eliza [Bennett] who is wonderful. There’s a new actress Rafi [Gavvron] who is a great kid, and one of the things that appealed to me about the story was that it was this very sort of dysfunctional group of people who were fighting the good fight. We have all these characters and different actors, and everyone really melds together in the way that the story requires them to.
Mirren: Very much so, and I think also the guys that you don’t see here today who are the guys playing Flatnose and Cockerell are just brilliant.
CS: We watched those transformations though.
Mirren: Oh, they are just brilliant. They’re fantastic actors. They’re not sort of bumped up extras. They’re really incredible extras.
Softley: Yes, and that gives so much texture and so much quality and depth for everything that we do.
Mirren: Yes, absolutely.
CS: Andy, that tape line was hilarious. Does that occur throughout the film?
Andy Serkis: No. I think it should though. It’s a nice little thing.
CS: It’s actually a sinister thing.
Serkis: It is, absolutely.
CS: Is that a line that you see in the script and go, “I can do something with that?”
Serkis: Yeah, exactly. It was a nice little moment, for sure, because what he loves about this world are the material gains. How he gets them is another thing and that is very dark and sinister, but I suppose that’s the tension of the characters. He likes all these kind of fine suits and fine living and he’s just pleased to be out of it.
CS: This is a great change for you. We’ve seen now with “The Prestige” and this back to back, it’s you, and you’re not hiding behind the digital characters. I’m sure it’s a nice change of pace for you as an actor to actually be on set and interacting, right?
Serkis: Well, the thing is that people always tend to forget is that before “Lord of the Rings” and “King Kong,” that was the big banana curve. That career curve was there and going off and doing those extraordinary things. So it’s nice being here. I’ve never drawn any distinction between playing a digital character though.
CS: We’ve seen other actors step and do it. Bill Nighy did a great job this year with it.
Serkis: That’s right, and “Beowulf” is coming out next year. Robert Zemeckis and Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich.
CS: Have you ever had another actor, as they were getting ready to get into this process, come to you and ask you about it?
Serkis: About motion capture?
CS: You seem to be one of the more experienced guys with it now.
Serkis: Well, I’ve been directing some motion capture this year for a PlayStation game, PlayStation 3. So I’ve sort of taken a load of actors that I really love and have taken them into that world.
CS: What is your advice for that and is there a difference?
Serkis: No, not in terms of preparation, process, psychology and embodiment of character, or any of the acting processes it’s exactly the same. It’s just that you don’t have any stimulation from costume or real environment. So you do everything that you can to provide that. But really, in essence, it’s just working off another actor and it’s what happen between you and those other people.
CS: Eliza, talking about working with actors, is this your first film?
Eliza Bennett: No it isn’t, but it’s the biggest one yet.
CS: This is quite a cast to be playing opposite.
Serkis: And boy, does she hold her own. God. You really do.
Bennett: I mean, it’s great. When I heard about the film the only people that I knew were going to be in it was Brendan [Fraser] because he said like three years ago that he was going to do this because he’s friends with Cornelia, and so all I heard about was Brendan and I thought that he was so perfect for the role. So it was really, really exciting.
Stay tuned for more on Inkheart as we get closer to its 2008 release.