INT: Joe Johnston
Sneaking into theatres this week is HIDALGO,
based loosely on the life of Frank T. Hopkins, a Pony Express
courier who became the first American to win the worldís longest
endurance horse race, the Ocean of Fire in the Arabian Desert.
made you want to direct this movie?
Well, I could give you the silly answer and say I really needed the money, but...films like this are pretty rare, especially these days. To get a commitment from the studio to do it right and to really invest the time and money to make what feels like a sort of old-school, classic action/adventure film, was something that was pretty hard to pass up.†
I really enjoyed the cinematography. How were you able to achieve that look, given how difficult the conditions can me in Morocco?
Morocco is a beautiful country to start with, but when you go
to a place like that, not knowing what to expect, and you get out
there with a 2.35 format, a widescreen format, the country just sort
of presents itself to you. You
see chances to do things that you hadnít even planned to do, and
it really changes what you planned. What
I learned on this one is that you, if you have a vision Ė which is
ok Ė you need to keep it flexible because, when you get there,
things are gonna change. The hardest thing was, you could shoot in the morning, and
then you knew if you got a sandstorm in the afternoon, youíd have
to shoot something else and put aside what you shot in the morning,
hoping you could finish if the next day.
was that the most challenging part of making this film?
The elements in Morocco were probably the most challenging. We had a solid script Ė we tweaked it Ė but we had a story with a beginning, middle and end. And Iíve been on movies where we didnít know what we were shooting next weeks because the writer hadnít written the pages yet. Fortunately, on this one, we knew at least what we would like to shoot the next week. If we hadnít had a script, if we had a bunch of primadonna actors, and the conditions in Morocco, weíd probably still be there.†
This movie has the feel of The Rocketeer a little bit. Like an old-time adventure.
Well, it is an old-time adventure film.
And thatís one of the things that appealed to me about it.
Especially if you factor in that weíre going to take Viggo
Mortensen, Omar Sharif to some of these locations where they shot
Lawrence of Arabia, and 100 horses and all this great wardrobe and
this great story. You know, it becomes something thatís almost
impossible to pass up. I wasnít anxious to go back to work after
Jurassic Park 3. It had been about six months. I was still in
recuperation. [laughs] Casey Silver sent me a copy of this, and he
said, ďIíve got this great script I want you to read,Ē and I
said, ďI donít want to go back to work.Ē He said, ďIím not
going to pitch it to you, Iím not even going to tell you what
itís about. Just read it.Ē So it sat on my desk for about 3
weeks and I didnít want to look at it, because I was afraid Iíd
like it. And I started reading it and I, you know, I couldnít put
it down. I called and I said, ďDamn you!Ē [laughs] I didnít
want to go back to work but I couldnít pass it up.
seems like the movies that take your time are never made anymore.
Personally, I like to watch movies where I have to pay
attention. And I know that
some people donít like to have to pay attention. But I find that
when I know Iím going to be told something three or four times,
Iím not going to miss it. I get a little bit bored, and I feel
like OK, I know I donít have to pay attention. Theyíre going to
tell me again, and again, and again.†I think if an audience knows, ďIíd better watch this.†
Iíd better keep in mind who this guy is, how he relates to
the movie. Then people tend to stay a little bit more interested.
was it about Viggo that appealed to you when casting this film?†
Was he your first choice?
He was either my first choice or he was on a very short list.
I donít remember considering anybody else.
I hadnít seen the first Lord Of The Rings when we cast
Hidalgo, but the character Viggo played in Walk On The Moon, he
seemed to be hiding something Ė there seemed to be a darker, more
mysterious side to him. And
thatís Frank Hopkins.
about working with Omar Shariff?
I was pretty amazing, really. It was a little bit intimidating just to think about it, before I ever met him. We were going to Morocco with Omar Shariff, back to where they shot Lawrence of Arabia. But I met Omar and we talked about the character a little bit. Heís just the nicest guy, the warmest individual you ever met. And on the first day of shooting, he said, ďTell me what you want me to do.Ē Heís the most directable actor Iíve ever met. In Morocco, almost every night for 13 weeks, he would reserve a table for ten at the local restaurant. And he would never invite anybody to dinner, but he would order about six bottles of wine and put them on the table. People would walk by, cast and crew would walk by, and he would say, ďCome over and join me.Ē And within a few minutes he would have a table full of people and he would start telling a story about Lawrence of Arabia. And then other people would see the story in progress and they would pull up a chair. Pretty soon there would be 20 people at the table. And this would go on for hours. I had dinner with him 10 or 12 times, and I never heard the same story twice.
big part of the story is about people coming to terms with their own
identity and background.
Thatís the heart of the story. I mean, the story of Frank
is that heís denying who he is, and has been for most of his life.
And coming to terms and discovering who he is because of this thing
he goes through. I mean, thatís something thatís basic to human
nature and itís something we can all relate to, hopefully. That
story should work if you take it completely out of context and put
it in any genre, any kind of film. It doesnít have to be this big,
epic action-adventure film for that kind of story to work.
has gone from actor to star in the course of the making of this
Just donít call him a ďstar.Ē
to his face.
Youíll insult him. [laughs]
said that one of the scariest scenes with the horses was when all
the Arabians were getting ready for the race.
It was the most complicated, because we had just a couple of chances to get it right with 100 horses all starting at once. It was the most dangerous thing to do. And I didnít realize Ė and maybe some of the riders didnít, either Ė but the line of horses in front could see where they were going, but anyone after that was blind. They couldnít keep their eyes open. Even if they could see through the dust, they were pelted with so much. After the first take, we rode down there on our quads; you know, Iím not a horse guy. Youíd see a trail of, you know, head scarves and all the stuff that had been knocked off the horses; you can ever see some of it in the film if you look closely, but it was amazing. And if you think about it, horses donít ever really do that. They donít ride at full speed in that tight of formation. Itís brutal. Guys were cut and bruised and, and we only did a couple of takes.
has a reputation, especially on Lord of the Rings, for getting
really lost in his role. How much did he do that on Hidalgo?
He did it, I think, to the same degree. He went home in his wardrobe, you know, he camped in the desert with the horses and the wranglers, and I was amazed when I did see the Lord of the Rings films that not only did it seem likeÖ I mean, it was obviously a different character, but it seemed like a different person playing the different characters. He made a complete transformation. Now I know I him as Viggo Mortensen playing Frank T. Hopkins. When he takes on his next role, whatever that is, heíll probably become unrecognizable to me. Heíll make another transformation. But yeah, he really got into it. Heís also completely devoted to the project. He was always there. We worked him a lot more than we should have. He never complained, and he was there dawn to dusk and beyond. Heís largely responsible for making that whole aspect of this really work. Heís really amazing.
you going to be directing Jurassic Park Part 4?
Nobodyís made me an offer yet. I know that thereís a
story now thatís being written that is, that takes the franchise
in a completely different direction Ė away from the island and
away from the T-Rex and all this. Itís a great story, and I sort
of hope Spielberg will direct it.
havenít been involved in the development?
No, no I havenít. Iíve been told the story, but no.
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