JoBlo goes underground to visit The Last Witch Hunter set! (Part 2 of 2)
Click here for Part One of our set visit!
Now that our bellies were filled with some much needed warm food (it was pretty damn cold in the mine), it was time to get back to work and interview several of THE LAST WITCH HUNTER stars. Up first was Elijah Wood, who began by sharing some info on his character, the 37th Dolan.
He's effectively a priest, of some description. He's part of a long line of priests that are associated with an organization called the Order of the Axe and Cross, which is an organization in the world we've created that assists and aids in the process of ridden the world of the blight of dark witch craft and their function is to have the back of Kaulder...In the film, we meet Dolan the 36th, played by Michael Caine, as a sort of introduction to this notion of this long priesthood that has been serving him through time. And he retires and I kind of come into the fold as the new guy of this 21st century, because he sort of comes from the past, and isn't up on the technological advancements.
"Dolan" is both a name and title. When people join the Axe and Cross, they are given a "longer, vaguely Catholic or Jesuit name," and Dolan is one of them. A Dolan's job is to never really see any action, typically just researching to back up Kaulder's fieldwork. There are semi-comedic moments between Wood's Dolan and Diesel's immortal witch hunter, but he says their relationship isn't like "the Q-James Bond scenario." Director Breck Eisner and company did a ton of world building for THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, and although there will be some stuff that won't make it into the movie, Wood says it will provide plenty of information about the organization.
Wood didn't want to divulge too many spoilery details on the 37th Dolan or Kaulder's story arcs, but says his character has "a bad first day," as him taking over for the retired 36th Dolan is what sets forth the series of events the film deals with, like the return of the Witch Queen and the plague she wants to release. While Kaulder and the Axe and Cross see eye to eye (mostly), he doesn't always get along with The Council, a group of witches who work with the organization to imprison dark magic using witches, and there are multiple councils scattered around the globe. When explaining The Council, the actor also talked about the witchy world that was created for the movie.
There's actually a great amount of detail within the construct of the film, which I think is what I really responded to when I read the script. It's rare that you read something at this level, at this scale, that's not based on a pre-existing license, or is a sequel, or is a pre-existing franchise that's being brought back. The fact that it was an original concept was really exciting, but I had my doubts and fears as well. I think I was just so struck at how much information was there, and how well crafted this version of our world, because effectively, it's about our world now, it's just a revisionist history, it's like as if we had always been existing with witches and all along there's been this sort of order making sure that they keep witchcraft at bay, and we've been none the wiser."
The fact that THE LAST WITCH HUNTER is based on an original property definitely attracted Wood to the project, plus he finds witchcraft and the approach the film took with it interesting. We noticed he had some peeling skin makeup effects on his hands, and he wouldn't share who or what caused it, but says it does pertain to his character's backstory. Wood says if you're going to hunt witches, be on the lookout for the five natural elements (since all witchcraft comes from them, and at least one needs to be present) and that pressing iron against someone's skin will reveal if he or she is a witch.
We said our goodbyes to Elijah Wood, and after a brief moment, were joined by Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Joseph Gilgun (Misfits, AMC's upcoming Preacher adaptation from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg), who also gave us a few details about their characters.
Leslie on Chole, a good witch who runs the memory bar:
She is incredibly independent. She’s a young woman who loves in modern day New York. And she is a witch. A good witch. Hopefully we like Chloe! And Chloe, she runs a bar. She’s formidable. She’s a formidable character and she, as I say, incredibly kind of like...she's self-reliant. She’s dependent upon herself, and she has worked up her bar business, her dream, her concoctions, which allows one to escape, another witch into another realm and kind of see their past. So she has been able to build this business herself and that is how she and Kaulder first meet because he walks into her bar...We like the memory bar. The memory bar is kind of like where we get to explore different parts of our brain. I mean Breck is fantastic. And he’s got such a fantastic vision about it for the memories. So it’s going to be very cool.
Gilgun on his warlock Ellic:
Ellic is mentally insane, not dissimilar to myself. He is a child killer and he has also murdered a priest. Ellic works on behalf of a queen. I think his family has this very proud past of working for this queen, who, to The Council’s knowledge, doesn’t really exist anymore... I think he feels very honored to work for this queen and to be doing the things he’s doing. He’s a zealot, so he truly believes that what he’s doing is right, sacrificing the children, killing the priest. I think he knows that it’s probably wrong by society’s standards, but he knows that he needs to get it done in order to pursue his sort of goal for this queen...He’s quite a brave soul. But he does stand alone and what he’s doing is atrocious. So he’s the bad guy, basically, or one of the baddies.
Ellic "practices very old practices," and is a shapeshifter who can become people that he has murdered, including children, which we got a glimpse of in one of the trailers. Gilgun says his "nasty bastard" warlock is "a total swine of the highest caliber" and that he tends play a lot of unpleasant characters because secretly he's a "terrible person." Gilgun isn't sure how he'd get on portraying a nice guy ("I’d probably end up quite bored,") but all kidding aside, says it's been fantastic playing Ellic.
Leslie went on to explain to us exactly what was going on in the scene they were filming earlier (slight spoilers ahead):
We are currently in the witch prison, which obviously you won’t be able to tell with all the kind of dark and damp surroundings. But we are here, and we have just pulled Ellic out of a hole that Kaulder has managed to smash open...I’m a dream walker, and so, I’ve realized that I need to penetrate inside Ellic’s brain into his mind to stop his chanting so the witch queen can’t summon enough power for all of the witches within these prison cells to be released.
The hundreds of witches in the prison are in a dreamlike state, with some being locked in the walls for centuries. As to why The Council doesn't just kill the witches, Gilgun believes it might be to show they're civil, or that it's better for Ellic to suffer for the violent crimes he's committed.
Chloe and Ellic share scenes with Diesel's Kaulder, but while the ones with Leslie were "far more sentimental," every time Diesel's witch hunter sees Gilgun's character, he kicks his ass.
I would get savagely told off, or head-butted...I’m just trying to think what he’s done to me. He’s kicked me in the chest. He’s stabbed me through the leg...So he threw this dagger, it went through the back of my leg into the wall. He then smashed the back of my leg with a plank, so I was pinned to the wall. And then he elbowed my head into the top pillar and then knocked me out. So that was the first time I met him.
Even though Ellic got slapped around by Kauldor for most of Gilgun's scenes with Diesel, he still enjoyed working with him, as did Leslie, who said when they are in scenes together "there is that kind of joyfulness," and "It’s a very lovely thing to be able to have that collaboration with someone who you are on the screen with."
Vin Diesel had arrived, and took a break from filming a scene with him going solo down a tunnel to investigate a noise (probably the Sentinel) to come hang out with us for a bit.
Diesel started (once he got some soup in him) by telling us what gravitated him to the character, and how a nerdy conversation with screenwriter Cory Goodman sparked the idea for the film.
Let me go way back....For the 30th anniversary of a game called Dungeons & Dragons, the company at the time had asked me to do a forward and write the forward on the cover of the book and I talked about my experience growing up playing Dungeons & Dragons religiously, and I even talked about a character that I had named Melkor, a name that obviously I stole from The Silmarillion, and that character was a witch hunter. About four years ago or three and a half years ago, I met with a writer name Cory Goodman and he wrote a bunch of great things, and we started talking, and someone put us together because he was a Dungeons & Dragons player and thought that something could be interesting. And I guess he went off to write a whole film around my character Melkor, which was a witch hunter.
Just the very fact that I’d be playing a witch hunter speaks to how nerdy I was about the game, how committed I was to the game Dungeons & Dragons, because what people may not realize is that the witch hunter class wasn’t offered by TSR at the time, it was a character that you could get from a third party book of characters called The Arcanum, at the time. So even if you played Dungeons & Dragons you couldn’t play a witch hunter, because the witch hunter class didn’t exist in Dungeons and Dragons, but I guess that there were these third party books that allowed you to find and become other characters somehow that you were able to incorporate into the game. And so there were a few characters that started there that eventually Dungeons & Dragons took over, but one of those characters was a witch hunter. So I play the witch hunter because I was a huge fan of rangers and this was a class that was somewhat like a ranger and had small spell class called mysticism at the time. [Sighs] Way too much information [Laughs].
In case you were wondering, Diesel was playing the second edition of D&D at the time, and he and the kids he would play with "would go to the hardware store and buy these huge sheets of canvas and we’d slave over creating this world and we created worlds." He says you often hear a lot of directors brag about how they can create worlds, "Well, there’s no training that you can think of that sets you up better that creating these fantasy-like worlds with just paper."
Goodman went to write the script with a contemporary setting, which Diesel says is fun because "we don’t think of that as even possible really...How could a D&D influenced genre live in a Bond-like cinematic world?" Breck Eisner became involved in 2012, however after doing RIDDICK, and the sixth and seventh FAST AND FURIOUS movies (not to mention FURIOUS 7 going on production hiatus due to the passing of Paul Walker), Diesel wanted to take a year off, and then do THE LAST WITCH HUNTER in 2015. But after telling Lionsgate that he has wanted to work with Michael Caine for a long time, and would do the film right now if they could make that happen, "they stepped up, and next thing you know Michael Caine was ready to shoot now and we began."
Even though filming wasn't done yet, he said they had commenced on two follow-up chapters pretty much based only on watching the dailies, and that because of the depth of the film, they also want to do a graphic novel. Kauldor's immortality comes from being cursed by the Witch Queen with her dying breath, and Diesel talked about his character dealing with that, as well as how the role was therapeutic for him, and tried to put into words what makes movie magic.
Well, it’s interesting that I just come off a real life tragedy, and to go into a character that’s not dealing with loss at all and simultaneously dealing with a perpetual kind of existence. I think in many ways that this movie is going to be that much more profound because of the time in my life that I filmed this. When I filmed Groot I needed that for another reason, to kind of awaken a death inside of me, to awaken my spirit, and Groot was very therapeutic for that. And in some strange way this film has been therapeutic in its own way, because I’ve had to deal with loss throughout filming here because it’s a constant in my character and the uncertainty of the future, that’s one thing. The irony is that an immortal, you would think, is very confident or very sure about what the future holds but it’s the opposite when you really start to think about it because there is no finite ending, there is no end of the road like we’re so accustomed to.
So this character starts to think about everything and the cyclical life of everything and the expiration date of a fly or the expiration date of a human or the expiration date of a mountain or anything, because he’s seen so many aspects of life rise and fall. But what’s interesting about playing an immortal character that has 800 years is that, like I was saying before, it gives us an opportunity to follow somebody that we’re familiar with as they recount history.
Because the very title of The Last Witch Hunter is a very strong title because, on a fantasy level, you get it and it’s kick-ass, but when you start doing the history and you think about really what a witch hunter is, you know that if you’re committing to a saga like this and if you’re committing to a mythology like this you know that there’s some kind of responsibility that you take on by doing this. And the last millennium has been...A witch hunter initially was somebody that was an executor of heretics. The very word heretic is so open-ended that you really have to think about what you’re playing and you have to think about, like I always do with movies, there’s a script and there’s a plot and there’s a genre, and then there’s something beyond that that makes a movie magic and that makes a movie significant, beyond the shots, beyond everything and it’s something that nobody ever talks about in Hollywood.
But it’s some kind of thing inside that translates to the audience when they see the movie…I should think about it someday so I can write about it, because nobody talks about it, but there’s a transference of something that happens with a good movie...
It’s beyond a thematic narrative. The thematic narrative is imperative, but there’s something else and I don’t think a lot of people have ever talked about it, but there’s something else that happens inside that projects to the movie, that’s projected in the movie and it is… It’s not easy to explain but it’s something more than, it’s more than what the film is even about. The Fast saga I so much about family but something else is happening that…
Just like the emotional connection between humans?
Maybe there’s a universal emotional thing that happens. It'd be interesting to see someone do a test someday of a movie where they just have that and no narrative, no script, and just see what is that thing that someone can do inside that projects to an audience or somehow connects to an audience.
His D&D character had a small amount of magical abilities, and they "definitely played with that and attempted to incorporate different levels of it" into the movie, even for Michael Caine's character. But Kaulder is more of a brawler than a wizard or sorcerer, and since he has lived forever, "he has learned every fighting style and has been able to pick up things from combating these witch lords." Diesel also teased that title will play very much into the ending of THE LAST WITCH HUNTER.
It was almost time to call it a day, but not before having a sit down with producer Mark Canton (300, ESCAPE PLAN), who became involved with the film when it was still in its infancy, and developed it with Lionsgate and Breck Eisner once he came onboard. Although THE LAST WITCH HUNTER was kind of designed to be a franchise starter, Canton knows you shouldn't count your chickens before they hatch, but he's very confident that there will be a follow-up.
I’m sure Vin told you the plan. [Laughs] I don’t do that because my attitude is truthfully always you got to get the first one right. That’s my plan. My plan, and the studio’s plan, and all of the filmmakers is to get the first one right so that we can go forward, because we definitely will end the movie with a sense of ‘there’s more to come’, so it’s been designed that way and I feel very confident about it. The quality of the crew, from the production design to the DP, there’s so many high-end talented people here that we've all sort of set upon to create something that will carry on with characters and a lot of surprises and stuff. I wouldn’t really want to talk about that because we don’t even want to tell people how this one’s gonna end. It’s good, we’re almost there, you know?
We are almost there; the film hits theaters later this month, and Lionsgate could have a new cinematic franchise to play with if its a success. That about does it for our set visit, and based on what I saw and the trailers, it seems like the action-adventure flick will be HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS by way of CONSTANTINE, with a dash of HIGHLANDER. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you should definitely check out THE LAST WITCH HUNTER when it opens on October 23rd.
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