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INT: George Miller

11.17.2006

George Miller is one of the most diversely talented directors in film today. He has worked in an apocalyptic future in the MAD MAX franchise to the barnyard shenanigans or a pig named BABE. Add to that, the thoughtful and courageous LORENZO’S OIL and the wickedly fun THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK. He now returns with a little penguin named Mumble who can’t carry a tune, but can dance his little penguin feet off in HAPPY FEET. This is a surprisingly smart work of animation art and quite frankly one of the best films I’ve seen this year (this coming from a guy who loves horror films).

I had a chance to talk penguin with Mr. Miller at the Beverly Regent Hotel in Beverly Hills . Not only is he an incredibly talented writer and director, he is also a wonderful human being who truly cares about what he does and the people that surround him. He is also very good at not divulging too much information about upcoming projects (MAD MAX 4, for example). So after you check out CASINO ROYALE this weekend, make sure you catch HAPPY FEET as well, it’s one of the smartest animated films I’ve seen in a long time.

George Miller

Why dancing penguins? How did that come about?

I saw a documentary, I think about eight years ago called LIFE IN THE FREEZER done by the BBC and National Geographic.  And even though, you know, coming from that part of the world… what an amazing life they lead, the way they harness their energy to survive.  They’re half the size of a human, they’re massive really.  I didn’t know that.

I didn’t know that.

Yeah, an emperor penguin is half the size of a human…  And I thought, okay they live in the most harsh environment in the world, the way they live with a community, the way they share the warmth and share the load, it’s amazing.  And the way they gave up their flight in order to dive really deep.  The way they almost fly under water and in particular the way they sing to each other.  They all look the same, you may have twenty-thousand penguins but each has an individual voice, which we hear as squawking.  And that’s they way they talk to each other.  So that lead to the song, and a penguin comes along who can’t sing but he can dance and then came the musical.

Was Elijah [Wood] your first choice?

Yeah, Andrew Lesnie, the cameraman that shot the BABE movies… he would talk about Elijah and say how funny he was and what a great guy he was and I spoke to him about the film.  He was my first choice.  The way the whole cast came together I was really surprised, I mean I know that Robin Williams had some sort of falling out with Disney after ALADDIN and I wasn’t sure he’d end up doing this but he did and he did two roles.  He blew me away.  And then Hugh [Jackman], I knew he could sing and we needed someone who could sing.

Nicole [Kidman] we had done a lot of work with, she took on the role without even reading the script.  It was amazing.  You know, they are all good people.  And, you know we had a song, you know, Nicole sings the song “Kiss” by Prince and we wanted to change two words in the lyrics and Prince said no, no one changes my lyrics, which is fair enough.  And so the guys from Warner [Brothers] said, if he saw the movie he’d see how it fits.  And we said we’ll show him the movie, we [brought] it to Minneapolis where he lives and their showing him the movie.

And just towards the end of the movie he grabs a guitar and starts playing and I thought, oh, he’s lost interest in the movie but he was looking for the chords of the final song of the movie and he’s found it and he said, “Come back in two weeks, I’m going to write you a song.”  Not only did he let us change the lyrics, he was so taken by the movie that he wrote this great song which was directly in response to the movie.  Somehow the film just attracted these people.

One of the things I like about you’re work is that you always take these people that are having to fight oppression, LORENZO’S OIL especially, even THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK. What is it that attracts you to kind of the “little guy” fighting back?

You know it’s probably not conscious, it’s basically… completely unconscious but I’m always attracted to the hero myth; someone who’s an outsider who is basically the agent of change.  So people always say; what’s the common [factor] for Babe and Max, Lorenzo’s Oil and Happy Feet? It’s basically, amongst all of them in the subtext is the hero, the outsider who confronts all sorts of forces and somehow through courage or being true to themselves they come through.  That’s exactly what Happy Feet is.  And that’s not something… just as I never intended to make a musical, I never intend to make a hero story but in its own way it is.

Now you mentioned Mad Max; Mad Max 4, where do you want to go with that?

Well, we were about to do Mad Max 4 before Happy Feet, we were looking at three months of shooting and the Iraqi War happened. The American dollar collapsed against the Australian dollar and we lost twenty-five percent of our budget. And more importantly, we couldn’t get our vehicles because of security issues. The ports were held up and also we had trouble getting insurance. So that was held up and then Warner’s had the script of Happy Feet and said, okay, we’ve gotta move, one or the other  But I have the script done and I have another film to do after this and then hopefully…

What’s your next film?

It’s a small film I’ve been working on, I’ll announce it soon.

Okay.

I’m gonna have a break after this and then… it’s not an animation.  Not that I didn’t fall in love with animation but it takes a long time.

Is the going to be family oriented?

No, it’s a [dark], weird story.

Excellent, you do weird well.

Yeah, I’m always drawn to projects when I’m curious about the story.  And it doesn’t matter what it is, meaning that there’s not one particular genre.  Wherever the story is, is where I’ll go.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to jimmyo@joblo.com.

Source: JoBlo.com

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