INT: Robbie Stamp

The road to THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY movie has been long and arduous. It’s been mired in production hell for the better part of the last decade. One man that knows its history all too well as he’s been with it from the beginning is executive producer Robbie Stamp. You’d think with an idea that’s thrived in so many other mediums – books, radio, TV, theater – there would be a smooth transition to film but that has not been the case at all. Despite the tough road, though, the movie is finally here (April 29th) and I’m sure no one more than Stamp is glad to see the work of his ten year labor finally come to fruition.

While the full press junket for HITCHHIKER’S is soon to come, Disney provided me with the great opportunity to do a phone interview with Stamp before the junket.

Robbie Stamp: Omar, hi, how are you?

I'm good, how are you doing, Mr. Stamp?

Very well, indeed.

Good, good. As you may know, I'm from JoBlo.com...

Yes, indeed.

And I just wanna thank you for doing this interview for us.

Oh, you're most welcome. Go ahead and shoot!

I'm actually a really big fan of THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY and I've read a little bit about the torturous journey that you've had to get this movie made. I think I read a new print of the book that had an introduction that you did which chronicled what you went through and I was just wondering what was the catalyst that actually finally led to get this movie into production?

I think, in all honesty, it was probably finally getting a script which finally was the catalyst. I mean, I'm sure that was the case. When Karey Kirkpatrick was able to work with the last script that Douglas Adams himself had written, and was then able to go also to a lot of notes and back story and ideas that Douglas had been working on with the film which I was able to provide to Karey. I think that it was really finally getting a script which everybody recognized as being a script that made sense for a movie. That was it. That was unquestionably the catalyst.

Speaking of Karey Kirkpatrick, what was it about Karey that actually made you think that this is the guy to write the definitive HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE movie?

Well, I think two things and I think it happened in two or three stages. In the first, it was, in fact, Jay Roach was watching CHICKEN RUN and he just really loved CHICKEN RUN and thought "here's somebody who's got a real ear for English humor" but also a Hollywood structural storytelling sensibility and I think that we then met with Karey and the good thing about Karey was that he wasn't a fan. He wasn't not a fan but he wasn't a fan before he came onboard so he just looked at the script and, you know, to think what's working and what's not working. And I think also then Karey's attitude was very sensible because he really...he set out with the goal to invent as little as he possibly could. I think he always felt that whenever possible he would go to what's there in the original material and I think that was a very wise approach.

I know in translating to film there are certain elements that need to be changed but I'm curious about specific elements that were changed. I haven't seen the movie but I've read that you decided to put a little bit more emphasis on the romantic relationship between Trillian and Arthur. What made you decide to move in that direction as opposed to the books and radio series that didn't really have that much of an emphasis on their romantic relationship?

If you go back to the radio series, it's hinted at. And I think that it was an area that Douglas...well, in succeeding versions, it just got watered down further and further and it was an area that Douglas was very much working on before he died. I mean, Douglas knew that we needed a little bit more character development than was there in the radio and the books for Arthur and Trillian in particular. It was an area that he wasn't remotely shy of tackling. And the developments of that relationship was something that he was working on. I mean, I know there are some fans who'll see studio conspiracy everywhere they look.

And in all honesty, it was not a studio conspiracy. I never had a single conversation with anybody who said "you must put this in". And, in any event, it was something that Douglas himself had recognized. I can't stress this strongly enough. Douglas himself was always up for reinventing HITCHHIKER'S so that it would work in whatever the new medium it was going to appear in and he loved both the constraints and possibilities that the different media he worked in gave him. And he knew that there are things you can do in a book, things you can do in a radio series that you can't do in a movie.

And that the pacing of the movie, the rhythms of the movie, it's just different from, you know, a seven part half hour radio series or a tv series. And so Douglas himself wasn't scared and indeed believed in the need to reinvent and the development to that of a little bit more character development was something that I think he thought was absolutely necessary to make that transition into a movie.

So was there ever any pressure to change any aspect of the film that were sort of decidedly British for a more American audience?

No, I don't think so. Douglas wanted the movie to be a big worldwide hit. I mean, unquestionably, he wanted this thing to be, you know, a phenomenon as a movie in the way that it had been a phenomenon as a book and a phenomenon as a tv series and a phenomenon as the radio series. And, I think, we've just taken the attitude that we wanna work with the grain of the material. There's a lot of new material in there which Douglas himself wrote. I mean, a brand new character of Humma Kuvula, which is played by John Malkovich.

There's this brand new thing called the point of view gun. Again, that's something that Douglas himself invented. And then we've some very funny new scenes on the planet Vogsphere. All of those things are brand new Douglas Adams inventions. And so we've had the opportunity to pick from stuff that was already there in the books and radio series but also some brand new material which Douglas was writing for the movie. I think we've just tried to make it essence of British rather than make it essence of HITCHHIKER'S.

So, obviously, THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE has a ton of incredibly inventive and amazing ideas and I was actually wondering which one was the most challenging to bring to life. Was it maybe the Infinite Improbability Drive or the Heart of Gold? Which one really gave you a challenge to bring to life?

I think interestingly, probably the one that, I mean, the inventiveness...I mean, I think the scene that probably people thought was never gonna make it into the final cut was the scene with the whale falling to Earth. You talk about Douglas' inventiveness and I think that in that scene with the whale, you have an awful lot of what makes Douglas brilliant, such a truly unique voice. This sort of astonishing inventive idea of two missiles, in fact, turning into a bowl of petunias and a whale. And then sort of this rumination, as the creature falls to the ground, on the nature of the relationship between language and existence. And then it just finishes it out with a great big joke.

Paul Weller says "I hope the ground is gonna be friendly with me" and spats to the ground. And I think there you've got everything that makes Douglas such a truly unique voice. I think it's interesting when they come to the stage where you'd be expecting to be driving hard towards the end of the movie now but we go off on this classic piece of discursive Hitchhiker-ness. And it doesn't have any plot relevance, it doesn't have any character relevance. It's, as I said, a part of the movie where you really ought to be driving hard towards the end now but we go off and we spend time with the whale. And I'm personally rather glad that we've kept the whale in and I know that there was some people that thought that it would never make it to the final cut but it did.

So did any of the actors, Sam Rockwell, Zooey Deschanel, bring any new dimensions to their characters that just really surprised you and just didn't even expect they could bring to that character?

That's a good question. You know, I have done gazillions of interviews and that's the first time I've been asked that question.

Well, that's good. I'm glad.

(laughs) I'm about to do the junket in New York and I've got a lot of interviews to do so it's very nice to meet new questions. So, I'm just giving myself a little bit of thinking time as you ask that question. I think with Trillian. Trillian is unquestionably the most underlooked character in the book and the radio series and I think that Zooey brings a fantastic mixture of those qualities of a slightly weird girl and intelligence that she brings to it. And certainly the responses to Zooey have been very very positive indeed from people who've seen the movie so far. I think they like her a lot. I think she's really made the Trillian character really come to life. There's now another character who you really care about and you're really rooting for. And I think Zooey just does it beautifully. I'm gonna answer the question about Mos...

Yeah, he was kinda controversial casting for most people...

Yeah, and his characterization of Ford is fantastic. He brought some very very subtle touches, remembering that Ford is an alien but is quite capable of passing himself off as a human being. Some things sometimes in his speech rhythms, in the way he moves, in the way he relates to Arthur, just very subtle but it somehow gives this sense of him not quite being from Earth and I think it's a very very subtle and clever performance indeed. And yes, he was very very controversial but he was cast because he's a very very good actor.

Again, this was not some cigar chomping studio exec telling us "you've gotta meet a new demographic". Nothing like that. He was cast because the casting director saw him in a play in The Royal Court in London, which is one of the most respected theater venues in London. And just thought that he was sensational and said to Nick and Garth "you must meet him when you're in London". So, I think he certainly brought a layer of complexity. And lastly, I'll answer about Sam [Rockwell] as well. Sam has brought changes in rhythm to the performance in Zaphod. I think that, although it's a very high octane performance and he gives it a huge amount of 1980s rock god energy.

Having said that, there are moments when he's alright with being quiet or still. And I think that's made the character that more interesting and that more compelling. And then Arthur. I think there's always a bit of risk with Arthur that it's a one-joke character, you know, he's an English middle class twit lost in space. And I think that, again, the complexity...Martin Freeman is just a very powerful, very strong actor, and I think, again, he brought multiple layers to the performance. I think they've all brought something which moves their character well beyond, sort of, science fiction caricature.

How much of each of the books are actually in the movie? Is this kinda an amalgamation of Hitchhiker's Guide and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe?

It's primarily the first book with the brand new material that Douglas has written. There's lots of stuff that isn't in the movie. I know that, again, there will be some fans who are concerned about what isn't there but what is there is primarily the arc of the first book with, as I say, these key new middle passages that Douglas himself wrote.

So you definitely think that this is material that will appeal to people who aren't necessarily familiar with the radio series or books?

What we're finding, again, is that the vast majority of fans and some people who I know who worked very very closely with Douglas at the company that he and I had together had absolutely loved it and genuinely loved it. And then equally people who are not fans and didn't know the material have come in and been entranced. It's just different. It's unique. There isn't anything else quite like it. It rocks you along in its strange world and its strange universe. And what we've been really gratified to find is that non-fans seem to be thoroughly enjoying that mixture of inventiveness and intelligence and imagination that we've just been talking about. And I think that's a very good sign.

I know this is kinda jumping the gun but what can we look forward to on an eventual dvd release?

You'll find some good fake deleted scenes. We shot some fake deleted scenes. We've got some real deleted scenes but we also shot some fake ones as well.

This is actually a little off topic but I was wondering, Douglas Adams wrote these great Dirk Gently books, which are actually, at least as far I'm concerned, on par with HITCHHIKER'S. I was wondering has there been any talk of that coming to the screen at all?

I'm sure that if this works, there's gonna be widespread interest in Douglas Adams material overall. It wouldn't surprise me.

Were you involved at all with the new radio series, Tertiary Phase, Quaternary Phase...?

No. I know all the people who made it. I have an enormous amount of respect for the people "Above The Title" [Productions] and particularly for Dirk Maggs [director of the new radio series], who I think is an audio genius. So I know all the people but I personally wasn't involved creatively with them, no. I went to some of the recordings and things but I wasn't involved personally.

So getting back to the movie. What did you think that Nick [Goldsmith, producer] and Garth [Jennings, director] brought to the table, like Karey Kirkpatrick, that really made them ideal choices for directors?

I think they brought two things. I think they brought a level of visual wit and brilliance, which I think matches the material. They brought an enormous sense of joy with what you can do with film and technology from some fabulous CGI through to these really wonderful state of the art animatronic creatures that we've created with The Vogons. And I just love that they're not a slave to any one method. They just wanted the method that would best serve the plot or the character of the movie at the time. And I think they've created a really unique look to the movie. I mean, by the time you've got the way The Guide looks...I mean, it looks terrific and I think it's a very unusual look. I think their visual look was probably the primary thing. And, you know, a very very healthy respect for what Douglas created.

Well, actually, I think I've gone a little overboard cause I only had 15 minutes to speak with you. So, I think I'm actually supposed to stop the interview right now.

Oh, right, ok. I think that's given you a reasonable amount...

Of course. Definitely. Thank you very much for speaking with me.

Thank you for taking the time yourself and I hope you enjoy the movie when you finally see it.

I'll be there opening day, for sure.

Good, good. Well, it's been a real labor of love.

Excellent. Ok, well, thank you very much.

All the best.



Source: JoBlo.com



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