NEIL MARSHALL:CENTURION INTERVIEW
Writer and Director Neil Marshall came onto the scene with his fascinating take on the werewolf myth with DOG SOLDIERS. Since then he made the Lovecraftian, DESCENT and the heavily MAD MAX influenced, DOOMSDAY. I was given a 20 minute opportunity to interview him for his upcoming movie, CENTURION.
"Besides the blood, the gore, of course, there was no makeup. Mike (Fassbender) and the others were really that cold."
ECM: Hi Neil. it's a pleasure talking to you. I came onboard with DOG SOLDIERS. I love that movie.
NEIL: Really? Well thanks.
ECM: It's a fresh riff on the werewolf myth.
ECM: It's known that you were inspired by Stephen Spielberg's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
NEIL: I went to see Raiders when I was 11 years old and that was it. I knew I wanted to be a director. I didn't know how, but I was going to do it.
ECM: Did you already have stories in mind? Your own stories?
NEIL: I began making Super 8 films, so I got into all of it. I wrote the story I set up the shoot, the actors, the editing, everything, I did it. Being a kid, I just immersed myself in it.
ECM: Because of Spielberg's inspirational movie, you consider yourself an action director first.
NEIL: Yes. People call me a Horror director, but really I've only done two Horror movies, DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT. I'm not sure I want to be a Horror director, a genre director. I know I don't only want to do those things, though directing action movies might be in my blood. I like watching non-action movies but for me, I enjoy directing (action movies). Very much.
ECM: You bring a real sense of place in your movies. I'm a caver/spelunker and in THE DESCENT, I was impressed enough that I didn't realize the cave was really a set.
NEIL: I have this fantastic production designer, Simon Bowles (DOG SOLDIERS, THE DESCENT, DOOMSDAY). He's just fantastic in the way he creates the realism in a movie. When we made the set to THE DESCENT, he wanted all of these tight spaces, these crannies and uncomfortable angles and edges. We wanted our actors to crawl through and be uncomfortable like a real cave. We wanted the cave to LOOK like a cave, and when Simon designed it we thought, why would anyone build it any other way?
ECM: Well you fooled me. I thought I was looking at the real thing.
NEIL: That's great. Thanks!
ECM: With CENTURION you brought out all of these minute gritty details from the exteriors and interiors of the Roman forts right down to the interior of Arian's home (played by Imogen Poots). Tell me about the effort that goes into this.
NEIL: We really work hard on it, providing the little things, taking our time with it. As much as the budget will allow, we want to build it all right there.
ECM: So no cgi then?
NEIL: No. Blah! Green screen! I can't stand it! I'll use it only if I have to, if there's no other way. But if I can, I'd rather find it in the world somewhere or build it myself.
ECM: Well it looks it. There was never a moment in CENTURION where the background or foreground looked fake.
NEIL: Thanks. It was a lot of hard work, especially in that weather.
ECM: Tell me about the weather.
NEIL: On some days or nights it got down to 15 below, blistering cold! But I had a great team and we loved it. Maybe we loved not liking it (laughs). We liked the toughness of it.
ECM: There were a few times in the movie where I was sure I was seeing real cold red cheeks and noses instead of makeup.
NEIL: Yeah! Yeah. Besides the blood, the gore, of course, there was no makeup. Mike (Fassbender) and the others were really that cold. I'd tell them, "Okay, in this scene I need you to look really cold!", and they would look at me like, "Oh, shut up!" (laughing).
ECM: Yeah, there are a few close-ups of Dominic (West) where he looks like he's just going, "Brr-r-r-r!"
NEIL: Yeah. And I'd say, "That looks great Dom, great! Do that some more!" or I'd tell Mike, "Fantastic! You look like you're really cold! Now in this scene, you all jump in the water!" (laughs).
ECM: (laughs) So you have Michael Fassbender and Dominic West from 300 in CENTURION. 300 also used an action Horror ethos to tell the story. But where that was fantasy surrealism, CENTURION adheres to a gritty realism. Was CENTURION as realistic to the period it tells? Did you slip in fantasy elements?
NEIL: I tried not to. 300 was all about that green screen again and it worked there, but that wasn't the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to be as realistic as possible. Of course, nobody really knows about the Picts because they had no written record. We only have a few of their possessions. Most of what we know of them is in history books written by someone else, usually the Romans.
So I studied as much of the period, a lot on that period, as I could. I compared, sort of, to other tribal people of the area at that time, and tried to come up with the best, I guess most accurate version of what the Picts must have been, that I could.
"... I wanted her to be sympathetic and right. I don't like villains who are bad just to be bad."
ECM: You have your wife, Axelle, in CENTURION.
NEIL: Yeah. Now she's the Horror fan. I love movies in general but she's the Horror girl. She's crazy about them.
ECM: She's really built up a strong marketing for you, with her MySpace and Facebook friends list.
NEIL: Yeah. I tried it, but she's really at home with the Network, the Social Internet thing. She has lots of friends online.
ECM: And its a great resource for your movies.
NEIL: Well she writes about a lot of things, but sure, yeah.
ECM: You seem to be a great team.
NEIL: We are, yeah. We share so many interests. That keeps us talking, enjoying each other's company.
ECM: How is it working together on the set?
NEIL: We love it. And I have to say that about the whole crew. I've been fortunate to work with some really wonderful people. We've become friends and many of us work together on one movie after the next. So all day we're making a movie and I'm with my friends. Then after the shoot, Carolyn and I will drive to our hotel or whatever and just enjoy each other's company.
ECM: Just hanging out. A solid friendship AND a solid working relationship.
NEIL: Yeah, really. It's nice.
ECM: Olga Kurylenko's character of Etain never says a word onscreen, but for me, because of her backstory, she was the sympathetic silent heroine throughout the whole movie. Tell me about directing Olga through her character.
NEIL: Olga is very good and she had her character right where I wanted her. On the one hand, I wanted her to be sympathetic and right. I don't like villains who are bad just to be bad. And the Picts were conquered by invaders so the story really is about shades of grey where there is no real good or bad, just people.
ECM: That's one thing I really liked about CENTURION that you rarely see in a war movie and that's where, at some point in the battle, it stops being about this or that cause and becomes a story about people on both sides just wanting to survive, wanting to stop killing, be done with it.
NEIL: That's what all battles become about I think. Soldiers go in fighting and killing for a cause, but as the battle drags and the casualties mount, eventually the cause gets put aside in favor of survival. Self-preservation.
NEIL: Magnolia has reinvented the distribution model and it seems to be working for them. We'll see. I just want my audience to find the movie and enjoy it.
Of course I'd like it to be in theaters on the big screen but we'll see how this works.
ECM: As a comic book fan, I also like the way you had Simon Bisely do the first poster for CENTURION.
NEIL: We had many posters but yeah, Simon's stuff is great! So when they asked me who I'd like to design the poster, I asked for Simon. It's just wild! Incredible work!
ECM: At the San Diego Comic Con, the comic fans were all geeking over it. They hadn't seen the movie but they wanted to because you had Bisely do the poster.
NEIL: That's great! I love the comic fans at these conventions.
ECM: Thank you for doing this interview with me. Last question. What has nobody ever asked you in an interview that you'd love to talk about?
NEIL: Here's something that nobody seems to have noticed; nobody has brought it up. I acted in CENTURION.
ECM: What? No way! Where?
NEIL: Near the end. I was the Roman soldier who shot (BLANK) with an arrow.
ECM: Holy crap! I didn't realize that was you with the helmet and all.
NEIL: (laughing) Yep. Well I wanted to play with the toys!
ECM: Plus, as a director, you got to shoot an actor.
NEIL: (laughs) Yeah. Who was the most trouble? I'll shoot him!
ECM: You guys! You gave me the most grief on this set! Now draw straws and see which one I get to shoot!
ECM: Well Neil, I know my time is up and I want to thank you for yours. I really appreciate it.
NEIL: Is it already? Aw! Okay, well thanks for interviewing me, Eddie!
Magnolia Pictures will release Centurion on August 27, 2010; the film is also currently available VOD, VUDU, Playstation Network, Xbox Marketplace and Amazon.
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