INT: Marcel Langenegger
Marcel Langenegger has directed a film. It is his first time out, after stepping away from his work in commercials, and he has a pretty impressive cast to show off. I’m talking people like Hugh Jackman, Ewan McGregor, Michelle Williams and the lovely Charlotte Rampling. It is a tale of sex in a world where names are unimportant, it is all about the thrill of casual encounters to relieve the tensions brought upon these strangers in a society ruled by money. But sometimes, this sort of money and power lead to murder… and yes, DECEPTION.
You'd think that there would be more talk about a stylistic noir thriller with top-notch talent. But there seems to be very little. I was offered the chance to talk with the director, but was not able to see the film beforehand. This is oftentimes a bad sign. But after getting a glimpse of a few scenes, and speaking frankly with Marcel, I’m really looking forward to seeing what DECEPTION has in store. This looks like it could be a stylish, smart and intriguing thriller, the kind we haven‘t seen done well in years.
When I spoke to Marcel about the film, he shared insight into the history of a troubled shoot. Fighting producers, a nightmarish schedule, and a tragedy befallen one of the films stars. But through it all, Mr. Langenegger was able to stand his ground and make a movie that he is proud of. And of course, with all the bad, he did get to work with Charlotte Rampling… and even be a hero to Natassia Kinski when looking to cast the film. He is such a genuinely kind man who stuck by a project where the word “challenging” is an understatement. I plan on going to see DECEPTION upon its release this coming Friday, and if you are looking for a more adult type of thriller, you might want to do the same.
Marcel, you know what surprises me, is how little I have heard about this film with Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor?
You know, it surprises me too [Laughing]. It was a little… well first of all, when we were doing this movie we had a huge media interest and we were still called THE TOURIST. And then, there were some other movies called THE TOURIST but in the beginning it looked like we could keep the title. But in the end, a couple of months ago, either they wanted a lot of money and they didn’t want to pay… in the end it just didn’t work out and they had to change the title. That was one big thing, why all of a sudden people had never heard about DECEPTION, you know, because you might of heard about THE TOURIST and so forth. And the second thing, which was very unfortunate, is that Michelle Williams, already when we started to shoot the movie, she [was going] to do an interview with Vogue magazine and Harpers Bazaar, and they all had her lined up for covers and for interviews for this movie. And really, all of them, it was quite amazing the interest she got because she looks very different in this film. She had to play kind of an erotic, sexually competent woman, in a thriller with a femme fatale role which nobody thought she could play and so forth. And she had it all lined up. All the shoots and interviews were supposed to happen January/February, and then Heath Ledger died and she cancelled them all.
Yeah, which is totally understandable.
Yeah, and that took the wind out of the sail. The idea I think was that her interviews, her media presence would get the ball rolling. And then eventually Hugh and Ewan would pick it up. And Hugh and Ewan, they’re both very busy. Ewan was doing a play in London and he was on stage every night. And Hugh was doing WOLVERINE in Australia. And those movies are very big and apparently they had a bit of problems there. So he was basically locked up in Australia, and Ewan was up in London, that’s why they thought, okay, Michelle will take the first stab at the press and so forth. And that got cancelled, so this is how it happened.
Well I was watching what I could of the film, sadly I could not see it before I spoke to you, which I think you know…
Yeah, I know, because they don’t want to show it to anybody, I think, Fox is just a little… you know, its my first film so I don’t really know how it works for other movies. But from what I’ve heard, and from what I can tell, you know, I mean its just the way it is.
Isn’t that terribly frustrating for you, I mean this is your first one and they are not showing it to press? Because, to me it looks pretty good.
It is good. And it does look very good. It is a film which… I mean people who have seen it, they love it. You know, I had even a hard time, you know, for my next movie and for my next project, I even had a hard time showing it to other producers.
Fox wouldn’t let me. No. Because they said they don't want the movie to leak on the internet and so forth. And I said, are all these famous producers and even actors wanted to see it, you know. Because there were some films which I was interested in and had an actor attached, and they wanted to see what I did. And Fox made it very difficult. But then I was able to screen it to some people and I actually got my two next projects based on just what they saw. They said, wow, the performances are so strong in this film and this film is so unexpected from what they thought it would be, you know, with the direction, the look and so forth.
Well it looks like it is going back to the Hitchcock style of noir thriller.
Yeah, yeah, you completely got it right. It’s kind of a sophisticated noir. And I wanted to go for that look because the premise of the film is a movie premise in a way, it is a thriller which I think with a slightly heightened sense of reality about it, you know. It’s a sex club and how people - you know, the mysterious woman showing up - and it is reminiscent of Hitchcock definitely. And because it deals with sex to some degrees, I didn’t want to make the bad version of an erotic thriller. I was always really interested in making it sophisticated and getting the style. So yeah, I’m glad you picked that look up.
Oh definitely, I miss this kind of film that is a stylized, sexual thriller, which we don’t get a lot.
You know, it’s so funny that you mention that. A lot of people tell me that. You know, movies like this haven’t been around for ten or fifteen years, and they were very popular and people loved them. And they say, what happened to those types of films. They are films that you can actually just enjoy and watch if they’re good, they are better than the regular popcorn movies we have nowadays, you know. Especially slightly older audiences, not teenagers, they say either it’s a summer blockbuster or a horror film. So the choices there are, they are not as much for people like that. I hear that a lot actually.
I'm not surprised. I mean, you go back in history and look at films by Brian DePalma such as DRESSED TO KILL and even BODY DOUBLE and even other films like BASIC INSTINCT. Any time a movie like this comes out, people get a little weary about the sex, especially Americans for some reason.
I’ve never figured out why it freaks so many of us out.
[Laughing] You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I mean, I’ve lived here for twelve years but I come from Europe originally, from Switzerland. But Americans get weary about sex, that’s absolutely true. And the interviews I gave in the last couple of days, they were only about the sex club. They wanted to know… they all asked the same questions, is this club real, does it exist, and how can a guy or a woman like me get in? [Laughing] Isn't that funny?
Well you know what it is… it’s repressed sexuality.
It is! You’re absolutely right. You got it. It’s repressed sexuality. And you know, in the club, the movie talks about actually, they do exist. The one place in particular, it is a Wall Street sex group. It is very interesting how the writer Mark Bombeck… he actually wrote LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD.
Yeah, I noticed that.
How he came across the idea, because during the time of the Enron scandal, the audit manager - you know, Ewan plays an audit manager, I’m not sure if you know that from the trailer…
Yeah, luckily I was able to get the press notes and read up a bit.
Well, he came across the idea that the audit manager has access to everything in a company. Every bank account, to every file, to everything. And he thought to himself, ‘hey, this guy is perfect for a criminal’, because he goes to the largest corporation in the world, they close the doors behind him and he's in the room and looks around. And this guy would be perfect to blackmail someone. And then he actually found some people who are audit managers through some friends and he met them to talk about their life. And they said they are very lonely. Nobody likes us on the job. Nobody talks with us in the cafeteria because we are people who sniff around. There is so much pressure to audit a company. I mean, take a big company, you have two or three weeks to audit, you can only go into a fraction of it to check it out. You work twenty-four hours and then you go on to the next job and this is why The Tourist was the first title, they're like tourist, visiting then moving on not being part of life. And then at the same time, he read an article about the Wall Street stockbroker who nowadays, doing worldwide trades, has no time either. Because Hong Kong markets open on, like right now, Hong Kong markets open up. Already working on Sunday nights. In the middle of the night, the markets in Europe open.
So commodities like gold and so forth are traded worldwide, so they basically work twenty-four hours and have no life. And for people like this, this group exists. It is basically, I think it’s a thirty-thousand dollar buying club or something like this, where you can belong to a group of people who are at a certain level and the women are there and you can call each other up to say, ‘hey, let’s go grab dinner and let’s go have sex.’ This sort of thing. It’s speeding up the dating process because they don’t have to find someone today. So he actually thought there was an interesting parallel here. This is one group on Wall Street, they don’t have time because they're lonely and they work so hard, and the other one has no time and they work so hard, but they are part of the rich, elite group. Hugh Jackman plays the slick lawyer, brings an audit man - another interesting thing about audit men is they always keep the same audit company doing the work - so Hugh Jackman’s character knew about who the audit company would be, that’s why he targets this guy. [He] brings him into a sex club and hooks him up with a woman, kills one of them and blackmails him to steal the money. This is how the idea came across. It’s a bit constructed but it works. And so then he wrote the script and that’s how it happened.
And you hooked up with some really top notch actors for the roles, you really made some interesting choices, especially Hugh and Ewan together, it’s a great combination.
A great combination. You know, I feel very fortunate of course, to have the chance to get to work with these guys. I wanted to land as good of actors as I can. Another one who's in there is Charlotte Rampling.
I saw that, and I am really happy about that. She’s fantastic.
She is fantastic! And you know, I fought so, so hard for her. I mean, I fought for two people in this movie like crazy. Michelle Williams and for her.
They didn’t want Charlotte Rampling?
No they didn’t.
No, no, no. They didn’t want her. They all respect her and she’s an icon, and she dated anybody from Steve McQueen to Mick Jagger in the Sixties. And she is this iconic British actress. But no, they didn't want her. They thought Ewan having sex with a sixty-year-old woman was wrong. And I said to them, look, this is exactly the difference between a chauvinist idea of the film where you pick up the phone, dial a number and a twenty-four-year-old gorgeous woman shows up wanting to f*ck you. Or a film which actually has a bit of a sense of reality and would work. And also give it a bit of a sense of something modern and fresh. And I fought like crazy for her and in the end I got her. You know, she legitimizes the whole thing. And I also thought, if this is a Wall Street sex group, when successful people are in there, they are older. You know, the CEO of a company is not twenty-five years old. You know, when older guys, in their sixties, have twenty-five year old lovers and girlfriends, nobody even bothers because for men, money and power is attractive and sexy, you know, in a man for women and we get that. But why not the other way around? Why can it not be that a sixty year old woman - which she is incredibly erotic and sexy……
I was going to say, she looks amazing.
Yeah, the charisma, the allure, I mean we were all blown away when she showed up.
She was a fantastic in ANGEL HEART.
Yeah, she is really cool. And so I made a list of older sort of actresses I had admired and that I loved when I watched movies. I was lucky, I met a few of them, I met Natassia Kinski also, by the way.
And she would have played the role too. And then I didn’t meet Charlotte, but I spoke to her on the phone a few times. And then she said yes and then I went for Charlotte. But there were a couple I met, they were amazing. I watched these movies when I was a teenager, and to me they were Goddesses and all of a sudden, to meet them and they still have… that thing. And actually having Charlotte on the set, this was when I was nervous. People ask me, you know, journalists ask me, you did your first film and you work with big stars, weren’t you nervous? And I say, not really, except when Charlotte Rampling was there [Laughing] and giving directions to Charlotte Rampling, that was freaking me out.
I gotta tell ya man, I’m so envious of you right now to know that you’’ve met her and Natassia Kinski…
Yeah! And Natassia… she was so… she had come in from Switzerland, I actually saw her first role on TV, which was in German, called “Reifezeugnis””. And that was her first TV appearance. She was known already, of course she’s the daughter of Klaus, but she was twelve years old, and she actually had to seduce her teacher. That was the time when The Police sang that song, ““Don’t Stand So (Close to Me)” and it just hit that nerve. She was so incredible, and every teenager - I was a bit younger than her, she was thirteen and I was [younger] - from then on that movie replayed over and over again for the next ten years. It was kind of a thriller. And she was a teenage dream of all of us. So when I met her finally, I told her that, I said, ‘look, I saw “Reifezeugnis” when I was a teenager’, I said I feel in love in front of the TV [Laughing]. And she was very nice, it was a cute little meeting I had with her. It was really sweet and she’d locked herself out of the car and so we had to call Triple A [Laughing]. And you know, because her phone rang, and she picked up the phone and realized her car keys were in her purse. And she said, ‘Oh my God, Marcel… I think I left my keys in the car.’, ‘Well, let’s call Triple A.’, ‘Can you please help me with that? I’m a little lost here.’ So I called Triple A, and she was amazed how they could just open a car with the window, in five seconds [Laughing]. She said, it’s amazing, why don’t they just go steak cars like this… that's what they do [Laughing].
But it was great. It was good. So we had to call Triple A and… well it was priceless. Another actress who you probably adore also was Jacqueline Bisset.
Oh my God… yes… wow!
Yeah. It was great! It was really cool.
Jeez, you have a rough job man.
You know, you’re right. On the other hand, I went through hell with this movie. The shooting of this movie, the amount of… you know… I mean first of all, this movie, I’m on for four years, it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen, and then it happened and got cancelled again and on and on and on. And finally, I land Hugh Jackman. I meet him, he wants to do this part, the script gets re-written and then he liked some of my ideas and resolve was good. And we get green light. So they send it to New York to location scout and I was on a location two and a half months before shooting starts. I was all excited, I was just about to get Ewan, and to kind of lock it all in and then I get the call from my agent saying, you know, Hugh Jackman pulled out of the movie because he replaced Russell Crowe in the Baz Luhrman movie. And I said, so what does this mean? He’s going to do the Baz Luhrman film which will take a year and a half, after that he will do WOLVERINE which will take another year and a half. So if you’re lucky, you’re back in four years, and your heart just cracks, you know. I was on the fifth floor in an office, and I wanted to just jump out [Laughing].
Because, you know, you chase a movie for so long and for some reason when - because I come from commercials - it’s almost that you need to do a small independent film first then to do a Hollywood film. And the hurtles are so high and you only get a mediocre kind of screenplay and material and somehow you hope you get attached, you can make it into something better and develop it a little bit. And you’re finally there and then you get it pulled away from under you. And then the Baz Luhrman film got pushed a month, and that created a four week window for Hugh Jackman’s schedule. You know, he called me back and he felt very sorry, we had such a good meeting, and he’s such a classy guy, he’s amazing. And we kept in touch, he called me a couple of times from Australia and he said, ‘You know what? Maybe there’s a window.’ And then it was, he said, can you shoot me in four weeks, all of my parts, including everything. And I said yes. And then he said, but we have to keep the original start date which was October. And it was already August [Laughing]. And then by that time, Fox no longer wanted to finance the movie, to raise the money to do it. And so the money got raised, only a fraction of what we had originally planned, and again we only had about five weeks to prep. And then we went in, and here’s the craziest thing, during those five weeks I had my wedding in Europe.
Because afterwards, I got a baby, my girlfriend and me got a baby and when I lost the movie, I was very depressed and I would like to get married so we have something. We do a wedding in Europe so lets set this up and invite most of our families, you know, both of our dads were sick and they both had cancer so lets have a wedding day for them. So we organized it. So I flew back in my spare time to Europe to get married and come back, and with very little prep time. So that creates a lot of problems of course. You know, the script wasn’t finished. There were days when pages got faxed onto the set that we’d see for the first time. We were still behind casting and everything. I cast the three leads really fast. And then Michelle, I lost her right before the shoot again and then I brought her back. And we had six or seven producers on the film, they all hated each other. They all fought with each other and made things so difficult. And then the hard thing was to shoot the last act. Because that act wasn’t written because when the movie was at Fox it had a Fox ending, like really typical kind of Fox ending with two guys on top of a rooftop of a skyscraper fighting each other. The cops come and the building is burning and one guy hangs from the tie of the accountant. Hugh Jackman wanted to change it, I wanted to change it, and then we had kind of an idea of a double identity switch and then, that wasn’t written. The writer who… the writers agent who was on it to write it, not the original writer, he wanted so much money that we couldn’t afford [him]. In the end we had nobody writing this ending. But we had to shoot Hugh Jackman’s role so we kind of had to shoot him from behind so we could add a voice in there if we want, so it was just very difficult.
Especially your first time out…
Yeah. And the pressure… and then when you’re an independent film, then the money you have is all you have. And they actually reduced my shooting days even though, you know, we had much to get. We had fifty-eight shooting days with Fox, and in the end we had forty-four. So we had less days and less money then you cannot go over. So the pressure was enormous. And already in the first week we were over budget because of some things that happened in New York City and Manhattan, it’s such a hard place to shoot. I mean, so many times, the camera cars had to move. You know, the cops would show up and said, you know these camera cars they could carry bombs so move away, because there is a government building on the next block, so you can’t park your car there. This sort of thing. Security. Like when we were shooting at Times Square and all of a sudden you had to move the camera away, the camera car and the equipment trucks had to move, so we had no camera. I mean, it is crazy to shoot in New York anyway. So we were already behind. But in the end of the day we got it in on budget, on time, and everything worked out, but it was crazy.
It sounds insane.
Yeah, and you know, I had a few really experienced people on the film. You know, crew and a great camera man, he did like thirty movies and he did HEAT for example, and he did LA CONFIDENTIAL. He did a few Michael Mann movies and he said he never saw something so f*cked up and difficult as this shoot was. He said to me, it's actually a miracle to that he got this movie completed and that it actually works and in the end, you have something.
Well that seems to be a testament to your ability to keep things going because a weaker man might of cracked.
Yeah, that’s what my agent said to me, you know, if you can get through what you had to go through, then now you can do anything. But I always had the respect from the actors, from the talent, and that really helps, for really supporting me and from that point of view it was an amazing experience. Amazing, I really enjoyed that a lot.
I also noticed you shot the film using two different cameras.
Yeah, yeah, that made it also complicated. Because, you know, the DP, he wanted to shoot it in digital format with a Genesis camera, you know, Panavision’s digital camera. And I was open to it, I felt fine. But then I saw the test and it didn’t look as good. And I was like, gosh, it doesn’t really look as good, and he kind of went philosophical about it saying, you know, a bad shot is a bad shot, whether it’s shot on film or shot on Digital, and a good shot it a good shot no matter what you film it with. Which is actually true. You know, it doesn’t really matter how you capture the shot as long as the performance and the way you place the camera, as long as that’s good, you have a good shot. But I noticed that daylight didn’t read well on digital and the skin tones weren’t really good in sunlight. So I fought for film, also because coming from commercial, that’s all I used and that’s what I know well, and I didn’t know digital and it scared me a little. And then it the end, he said, we have so little shooting time, we have more locations then shooting days. We had actually ten more locations then shooting days. Because the nature of the film. He meets all these women in different hotels and he audits three law firms. You know, its not just one law company, we had to go to three different ones.
So camera and light, it was so hard to film because the moment they set up light in one day, they had to go to the next location to set up the next day for another place. It was just continuously difficult. Never a rest, you know. So he said, if you shoot digital, at least we have the opportunity to just film with no lights. Or very little light, at least save some time and if you’re in a time crunch, we’ll be happy we have that. And so we decided, let’s do both, the best of both worlds. So we shot all exterior light, daylight stuff with film, and mixed light interiors with digital, and night stuff with film, like dark night. Because we did the test and it just bothered me that on digital you saw five blocks down the road. You know, it looked gorgeous, I thought it looked beautiful. I mean we could place the camera somewhere in Manhattan and just film it… I mean, if you remember, for example that Michael Mann film, MIAMI VICE for example. He shot this in digital, you could see… or COLLATERAL for example, at night you saw Pico [a street in Los Angeles] all the way down to the ocean. But then I thought, you know this is almost like night vision, and it somehow detached me from the movie. Because it is not what your eyes are used to seeing. You know, when you look at night you see one building, or two in front of you, and the other end is black. And then the other thing is, I questioned whether I want to see everything at night, especially in a thriller.
Well especially in a noir type of thriller.
It’s a noir. I wanted that two thirds of the frame in just pitch black and nothing else, you know. So then we decided to shoot the night stuff also in film. And in the end I think it was fine, but my next film I’ll try and shoot film as long as I can.
What is your next film?
The next film is a World War II drama. It’s a real story of World War II. Something like a cross between SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and SCHINDLER’S LIST. But the real story, a true story. It’s called BROTHERS IN ARMS. It’s something which is a little bit hidden in the history books. This controversial story in regards to General Patton. That’s my next film and we got a little bit screwed by the writers strike, unfortunately. Because we had to rewrite the story, because the original writer wasn’t a screen writer, he was a novelist who wrote it. And he was a World War II fan who - you know, some people are crazy about World War II - and he bought the rights to that story. But we just finished a re-write, so we are now trying to put the film together. And I have some really good interest from people in the movie and the response he got was really cool. But now we have to wait for the actors strike and see what happens there, so it’s all a little…
Yeah, it’s kind of a tumultuous time right now.
It is, yeah, it is.
Are you interested at all in stepping away from a studio picture and doing an Independent film?
Yeah, I would do any film if it’s good. I would do any movie if it’s a good movie. Whether it is an Indie film, whether it is a big film or not, it doesn't matter. If it’s something good or I can do something good with it, then I’m totally into it.
Well I hope with DECEPTION, people become aware of it. I love the cast, I love the story and what I‘ve seen of it looked pretty good to me. I’m excited to see it.
Yeah, me to, I’m just having a little bit of
broken heart because Fox put so little marketing into this film. Fox is
all about Hugh Jackman. They don’t care about anybody else. They
don’t care about Charlotte, they don't care about Ewan, they just care about
Hugh Jackman. And he’s shooting two huge movies with them right now,
AUSTRALIA and WOLVERINE. You know, those are movies coming up in the next
couple of months and they already are focusing on that. So that’s what
they focus on. And unfortunately this whole situation with Heath Ledger
kind of screwed it up. But I just hope that the movie finds an audience
and is good enough so it can stand on it’s own feet a little bit. I have
a little bit of hope in the sense that people who saw it, you know, studio
bosses from Universal or producers, you know, Miramax and so forth, they all
loved it. And they actually want to meet and give me jobs, so that
something good comes out of it. And at least, that gives me a little bit
of hope that audiences will react well to it.
Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@joblo.com