INT: Neil Marshall
I really enjoy Neil Marshall as a director. I loved DOG SOLDIERS, and THE DESCENT was such a fantastic horror film, that he quickly became one to watch in my eyes. When I last talked to him he was talking DOOMSDAY, and now, it is finally here. What could be taken by any other director as another 28 DAYS LATER, looks to be something quite different with Neil at the helm. He knows horror and he knows suspense. He has a knack for creating edge of your seat entertainment.
When I sat down with him at the Sofitel Hotel in Los Angeles, I was excited to speak with himÖ again. I respect the guy for what he is, a wonderful director. But I like him even more because he is quite simply a very cool gentleman. He seems to have a whole lot of faith in DOOMSDAY, and Iím glad to hear it. Weíll see how the weekend box office shapes up, but if you are looking for The ReaperÖ check out DOOMSDAY, this Friday at a theatre near you.
Neil, obviously you are dealing with a much grander scale than before, compared to THE DESCENT and DOG SOLDIERS, this looks huge.
Certainly compared to my previous films it was huge. It was like, ten times bigger, well, budget wise itís ten times bigger.
How much of a challenge was it?
Well, initially going in I thought it would be more difficult. I thought it would be quite daunting. But once I actually got into it, the process is exactly the same, itís just that the numbers are bigger, thatís all. So I absolutely loved it and by the end of it, I just couldnít get enough of the sheer scale of it. Having all the gear, all the toys.
Dealing with all the extras, right?
Yeah, dealing with the extras which again, I thought would be a pain, but it was great. They were excellent. In one scene we had a thousand extras, which is, you know, I only ever used like three before [Laughing]. It was great, I loved it. I couldn't get enough of the scale of it. We had this hugeÖ it was actually part of a theme park, it was this huge auditorium. And we dressed the whole thing. We had fire and amazing props all over the place. And thousands of extras and a stage show going on with pole dancers and this hero guy who is like giving this speech. It was just epic and I really got into it.
In one sequence you are dealing with an on-screen, ten minute stunt. No CGI, it was all the real thing. Was there ever a fight with the studio about going more towards CGI?
It was always in the cards from the beginning. I always said to everybody that this is the film I want to make. So I want to do it with stunts, I want to do it with real stunt guys doing really dangerous stuff. I donít want to use green screen, I donít want to use CG. We did use a little CG throughout the film, just to enhance the world and expand the world with matte paintings and a couple composites, stuff like that. But certainly no animation because itís just never going to look as good as reality. And when youíve got people who are willing to do this kind of stuff, then Iíd rather do that.
When CG is used solely to enhance it, you donít notice it as much.
CGI enhancing reality works, but CGI replacing reality does not. And the human eye can tell the difference. Very easily. You know, you can just see when something is not right. I think the only time that I actually got into a bit of an argument was when we were doing a scene on a train. It was just a dialogue scene on board a moving steam train on a baggage car with the doors open. And they were saying, ĎI donít know how were going to light the scene. Sounds going to be impossible. Just do it green screen, just do in a studio with full control. Just do green screen.í and I said no, I want to shoot it on a real train Ďcause itís going to look better. You know, itís going to look so much better. I want to shoot it with the doors open and take a train through the wilderness and shoot. And here we had to ADR the sound which I knew we were going to have to do anyway. But it was absolutely worth it. It looked so much better. You know, these people really are on a train going somewhere. So that was the big difference.
And you worked with a lot of the same people this time.
Obviously youíve added a few different actors including Rhona Mitra. How did you work with her to prepare her for the role?
She did like, aside from just talking about the character and working with her on that, she did like eleven weeks of preparation. She went to the gym, she did stunt driving and fight choreography all kinds of stunt [work], you know, for eleven weeks prior to the shoot. So she was in great shape by the time we shot it and prepared for what she was going to have to undergo. And I knew that there was going to be a few cuts and bruises along the way and there was, but she was into that.
I read in the press notes that you both were trying to find really strong female action heroes, and you basically came up with Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver.
Yeah, I was trying to find the ones that are tough but also have a humanity about them. Itís trying to make them strong but never lose the femininity. And you know, Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton, for all their toughness and their ruggedness, you never doubt for a moment that theyíre women.
Especially Linda Hamilton because you never doubt that she is a mother doing this for her child in T2. And I do think that comes across in your films, especially in THE DESCENT.
Yeah, that was a bit different because it wasnít so much a strong female role, but an entire cast of strong female roles [Laughing]. I consulted an awful lot of my friends, family, you know, any women I could get a hold of just to say, ĎĎis this right, is this convincing, does this ring true to you?í ĎĎcause I wanted it to be real. I wanted those characters to be authentic. And the same with Eden Sinclair, Rhona Mitra, she hasÖ her main story element, she has a strong emotional thread and around this is this tough shell that sheís built up over the years.
Now letís talk about the disease. The Reaper. How did you envision it?
I wanted it to be a real virus. When I was writing this thing and certainly when we were filming it, everyday there was reports about the Avian flu or SARS virus or whatever. Thatís been throughout the course of this movie. Iíve lived with it. So what I created was just the worst possible realistic virus. It doesnít turn people into zombies or anything like that. And after that, it was something that I kind of struggled with all the time, making a political apocalyptic movie. Itís cinema law at the moment, that a virus equals zombie. Every film that features a virus turns people into mutant zombies or something else, or rage infected, whatever. And this film is not about that. In this film, the virus isnít the star of the movie. And this virus kills people. You catch it, you start getting the sores and the pustules and your face breaks out into a huge disgusting mess, and you bleed from every orifice, and your internal organs liquidize, and you die. I mean, itís not good and it happens in twenty four hours. And it spreads as soon as, you know, you have it for twelve hours and itís already contagious. By the time you realize youíve got it, youíve already given it to fifty more people. So itís the worst kind of virus.
Scary thought. Like you said, every day in the newsÖ how close are we to this, you know?
Well, you just need to look at the history books. The influenza virus of 1918 or something like that, wiped out a core population of the earth. And that was the flu. And I figure that itís not far off that this is going to happen, you know, at some point. And with international travel being so easy now, it will spread like that [snaps his fingers]. And with things like Avian flu, the whole point of them is that nobody knows where they really came from. They just appeared. Itís a mutant gene or whatever that suddenly becomes a virus. And there is no explanation for it. I think that with this virus, I didnít want to provide an explanation for it. It just happens. It just occurs.
No scientists working in labsÖ
Yeah, certainly not mentioned in this. There might be something thatís revealed in a sequel or something like that, something man made. But I kind of liked that its just a freak of nature like a real virus is.
Now speaking of sequels, what is your involvement in the next Descent 2, is it happening soon?
It is happening. Its happening in the summer.
Are you happy about it?
I don't mind. Iím not directly involved but I think its in good hands. The production company is the same. I know that they wonít make something shit. And the guy thatís directing it edited the first, I couldn't think of a better person to do it myself.
So at least it is still in the family?
Itís very much in the family. I think they are going to be getting the same production designer and pretty much the same crew. I really donít know much more about it. Iíve kind of kept it on the sidelines and I donít want to hassle them about it. Theyíre going to do it anyways soÖ
Have you thought about that with DOOMSDAY? Did you think when you were writing this about a possible sequel?
Well I had ideas for a sequel for DOG SOLDIERS and none of that came to fruition. And if DOG SOLDIERS 2 ever does happen, it wonít have anything to do with me and it wonít be any of my ideas. And I was kind of burned by that a little because I did have a really good idea for a sequel for that film and the producers just werenít interested. So with THE DESCENT, I never even thought about it. I had no concept of a sequel. I actually wanted to have the film with a succinct ending. But with DOOMSDAY, as I get a little more open minded that Iíve created a big world and thereís more stories out there, Iím sure. There is probably a continuation of the story that Iíve created, definitely.
ĎCause Iíve also done something kind of weird which is, there are three major bad guys in the story, but only one of them dies in the end. So there's two kind of still left alive.
We have talked about working with some of the same people in the cast, but what about working with Bob Hoskins and Malcolm McDowell. How did that come about?
Well Bob was first choice for that role and we just approached him and he said yeah. It was just amazing. Fortuitous luck or what ever you want to call it, or he just really liked the part. So we got him on board and I never thought of anybody else for that part. I wanted this kind of grizzled, London cop who is pissed off at the world. In a way, his character is the most significant in the film because he contrives or manipulates events from the start, to achieve his end, which is just to kind of usurp the government. And he does it in such a way that people donít even notice that he is doing it. But he makes these things happen, he knows exactly what he is doing. And he chooses the right people for the job. So that was great, and I really enjoyed working with him.
And then Malcolm came in just for a week when we were filming in Scotland. With this King Lear type of character he plays. He is governing this castle in the islands of Scotland, living this medieval lifestyle because its pure and its built to last, and that is kind of his ethos throughout the whole thing. Itís just a great character and Malcolm was just such a laugh. I couldnít wait to just get the shooting over with so I could just sit down and talk stories with him about Kubrick and working with amazing people all the time. So it was a pleasure and these guys love their job so much. You know the reason theyíve been working so long is because they love making movies. So it was great.
Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@joblo.com.