Posted on Thursday, October 25th, 2012 by Germain Lussier
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final part of /Film’s interview with Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, the writers and directors of Cloud Atlas. Read part one here, part two here and part three here. The full interview will be published tomorrow, the day the film opens.
All of the major actors in Cloud Atlas play at least four roles. A few play as many as six. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae, Hugh Grant, James D’Arcy and Keith David all have multiple personalities to portray. Some significant, others less so, and they’re not always the same race or sex as the actor in the role.
So in the film, you’ll get to see Halle Berry as an Asian man and a white German woman. Hugo Weaving is a hulking female nurse; Jim Sturgess is a Korean crime fighter; and Ben Whishaw is a loving wife. In doing this, co-writers and directors Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer were able to visually display the movement and evolution of the human soul across eternity and also play against segregated acting conventions Hollywood has employed for years. They believe actors should not be pidgeonholed by their race or sex and, after the jump, the three filmmakers discuss not only that, but how the process was liberating for their actors.
After the jump, read the fourth part of my interview with the team behind Cloud Atlas.
To give an idea of what the actors had to do, here’s a quick video. Be aware, some of the below quotes are spoilers and marked as such.
/Film: The story of the movie starts in the 1800s, but these characters are eternal, so I was wondering what happened to these characters before that point? Maybe art wasn’t as prevalent in earlier eras, and that’s why David [Mitchell] chose to start it there, as opposed to going from the beginning of time to the end of time.
Lana Wachowski: Originally David had nine stories. It was actually longer and we were like “We want that version! Start writing it now! You can sell it to your producer in a second!”
Is that as far as that conversation went? Did you ever talk about maybe giving the actors more story about where these characters had been? It was complicated enough as it was, obviously.
Lana Wachowski: It was big, but the suggestion in the book, I’ll just say quickly, the suggestion in the book is that there is an ocean that is beneath our humanity that transcends all of these ideas of that time period, that potential future, that person, that tribe. There’s a humanity that is constantly dissolving those barriers and borders and boundaries and the book suggests a breath that I think expands the whole width of our humanity. Sasha Jamon says “Look, the main character in this movie is humanity.”
Tom Tykwer: Yeah, it was very nice for actors and Halle expressed it very concretely and profoundly, that usually… and she’s a particular one where it’s quite important for her to work on her backstory to fill her characters with life from imagined paths and possible futures. “What are they striving for? What are they looking for? What do they want to be?” So that can define how to act. She said, “This script is amazing, because my backstory and future is in the movie, so I can relate to myself or my future selves or past selves within the actual movie and I can even act them out myself.”
Lana Wachowski: Yeah, she would do a Luisa line thinking about her life as Jocasta.
[NOTE: SPOILER ALERT]
Tom Tykwer: It was very visible. You could very much sense that many of the actors were trying and were loving the fact that they could do this. I mean we were always relating to one of our favorite scenes in the film and Tom Hanks as Zachry at the very end,one of those insane moments that “Today we are going to shoot the scene where Tom Hanks slits Hugh Grant’s throat.” The whole concept of it, Tom Hanks, an actor that you’ve probably never seen cutting anyone’s throat and cutting the throat of Hugh Grant. You were never really looking for the close up of Hugh Grant in the makeup being killed…
Depending on how you feel about his movies… (Laughs)
Andy Wachowski: You certainly wouldn’t see his throat being cut in any other movies.
[Laughs] That’s true.
Tom Tykwer: And we love them both. We thought they were both… they’ve always been great actors and we felt like they were… It was so obvious when we offered them the possibilities how excited they got about this prospect of giving this kind of variety to their abilities, because they are not all the time asked to offer variety.
Lana Wachowski: Again, transcending a convention, you hired Hugh Grant to play this pithy charming guy and you hire Tom Hanks to play this affable goody goody guy and just like with Halle… Halle also said this beautiful thing about being able to play a white Jewish woman in the period peace. Tom [Tykwer] was like “Don’t you love these costumes in these types of movies?” Halle was like “Well Tom, I never get to wear these costumes in this period. If I’m going to be in a movie with this period, I have to play the slave or the servant.”
Tom Tykwer: Or the prostitute, but never the lady who lives in the castle.
Lana Wachowski: We always thought that was an amazing revelation, because you don’t think about it. It’s not so explicitly stated, but moviemaking remains segregated as part of history, like whites can play these roles, blacks can play these roles, and the very act of having Halle play this part enabled us to transcend this convention of segregation and likewise with Tom and Hugh Grant playing these roles. They brought a humanity that you associate with their kind of film identities, like Hugh Grant is just likeable when you see him and yet it was fun to then add a darkness to that likability and to contrast that and the same with Tom. It was fun to experiment with the charming Dr. Goose who’s a little goofy and weird and you think, “Oh, he’s a nice crazy goofy doctor” and then “Oh my god, he’s poisoning him!” That had, again, just a breaking out of a traditional approach to those.
Tom Twyker: And we felt, just to finish that little story about that scene when he’s cutting Hugh Grant’s throat, I mean the cannibal’s throat, we think it’s so amazing, because you see Tom really struggling with it. It seems like he’s really referring to all of the former incarnations you’ve seen of him. There’s this quite evil driven Dr. Goose. He seems to dissolve between all of these characters and struggle between what he’s learned now and he’s become a better person and he’s met this woman and she really made him think about things differently and he’s let go of that evil… Now he’s come back and he wants revenge and we want him to take revenge and we want him to kind of kill the guy and not kill the guy. We don’t know what we want him to do actually and he’s doing all of this and he’s been in all of these places in the movie already and that he was able to pull that all off in one close up… You raise with him through the entire movie in a way and through all of these existences and ultimately he takes a choice and it is of course the choice that is satisfying and incredibly upsetting at the same time.
Lana Wachowski: I think that was our best interwoven and interconnected CLOUD ATLAS answer.
And with that, my interview has concluded. Thank you to Warner Bros., Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Twyker for the generous time and honest, enlightening responses. Check back tomorrow for the full transcript, and see Cloud Atlas on October 26.