Set Visit: Inkheart

NOTE: Along with our set visit are a handful of the first images from INKHEART to be seen on the Web. Click to enlarge.

Newsflash for those of you just tuning in: JoBlo.com was recently invited to attend a couple of New Line Cinema film sets. With two fantasy films in current production, they went all out to promote their prospective projects. Eager journalists were flown to London , England and granted two special visitation days at London's Shepperton Studios. Following our first insightful set visit for THE GOLDEN COMPASS (you can read my coverage of that one HERE), we were driven just outside of central London for New Line's second film set, INKHEART.

INKHEART is the motion picture adaptation of German author Cornelia Funke's best-selling fantasy novel written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Iain Softley (The Skeleton Key).  Funke has taken the project reigns as producer and joined an all star ensemble cast to create part one of a sensational action-packed trilogy followed by Inkspell in 2005 and Inkdawn to be released in 2008.

PLOT: INKHEART centers on a 12 year-old girl named Meggie, whose father Mo has a secret magical power to bring characters from fictional books to life when reading aloud. When a power hungry villain Capricorn from a rare children's fable kidnaps Meggie's father to read other evil characters out of the boundaries of fiction, Meggie and her diverse group of friends embark on an adventure to save him among others.

The acclaimed ensemble cast is comprised of Brendan Fraser as Mo, Helen Mirren as Aunt Elinor, Paul Bettany as fictional character Goldfinger desperate to return to INKHEART, Andy Serkis as evil medieval villain Capricorn and Eliza Bennett as protagonist Meggie.

The first INKHEART set that we were escorted to was incredibly impressive and astounding. Standing in the middle of Stage C which was still under construction, you could not help but be amazed by the authenticity of this massive faux medieval church creatively replicated from original concepts. Executive producer Diana Pokorny explained that like several sets built in the studio after filming in Italy, the picture of this church was derived from an original Italian structure. It is Capricorn's church and took about 15 weeks to build. Awaiting on red velvet drapes to add the finishing touches on the altar, the historical architecture was made of Styrofoam and finished with cement-like mold to authenticate it with a concrete appearance.  Some of the stone structures were also surprisingly flown in from Italy .

Looking around on the set I took notice of other items and artifacts on display from the film. Mo and Meggie's way cool 70's Volkswagon hippie van in lime green and white was parked in the middle of the giant studio. Set in the van were loads of ancient books and antique chairs. 

Then costume designer Verity Hawkes gave us a brief walk though and presentation on some of the costumes exhibited on one side of the room. She had a collage of inspirational pictures from which her variety of medieval to modern costumes were derived from.

Following Hawkes, we were greeted by the very soft spoken yet sweet production designer John Beard who walked us through the artistic concept drawings and photographs. The location pictures reflected exterior scenes shot in Switzerland and Italy, and architectural designs to be copied and built in the London studios for interior filming. Everything from archetype medieval castles, magnificent mansions, small villages, antiquarian bookshops, village book-fairs and charming villas were hung up for inspiration and replication.

Next we were given an intriguing and rare presentation by the pet trainers hired to manipulate and regulate the behavior of Dustfinger's ferret Gwin and Meggie's dog Toto. It was absolutely incredible to see what the ferrets could be trained to do. Although the film only has 1 horned ferret, there were 12 needed to train on set for different activities and tricks. Mini horns were made and glued on with tupee glue while all the ferrets were brushed with brown mascara for uniformity used in different scenes. A Pavlov style buzzer was used to train these little descendants of the Mustelidae family tree, to sit, jump, leap, fetch and follow. 

For Meggie's dog which she embarked on the rescue adventure with, 3 dogs were used to train for the role of Toto. Toto was read out of fictional ink from The Wizard of Oz. However, due to copyright issues, they used white Westies and colored them black to resemble the cute dog from the original novel. Once again, the dogs were trained to bark, run and fetch with human commands and training techniques. It was fascinating to observe all these bright, adorable animals perform tricks!  If only humans were so easy to train.

Following the presentations, we were chaperoned to the adjoining set, the Great Hall, to observe the talented cast of INKHEART filming an important scene taking place inside devilish Capricorn's castle.  Capricorn's henchmen had captured Mo, Meggie and Aunt Elinor with the help of Goldfinger who's ulterior motive was to get read back into the world of literature. His ultimate goal was to return to Inkheart. However, Goldfinger's wishes went up in flames when Capricorn admitted to his dishonesty and threw his rare copy of Inkheart into the burning fireplace. The evil villain will stop at nothing to prevent his own return to the fictional world, hence the reason he has captured the only protagonists who have this magical power. Each character appeared to be perfectly cast with their counterpart actor especially Andy Serkis who's presentation epitomized evil.

We watched 2 takes of the scene when director Iain Softley announced he wanted to continue re-shooting. We were collectively guided to another gourmet luncheon in the studio cafeteria where we enjoyed a unique meal and waited for the cast to finish shooting to join us for interviews. Although we ran a little behind schedule due to filming, we were nonetheless excited when the cast finally appeared to greet and meet us.

The first 2 actors to grant us their interviews were the handsome actors Paul Bettany and Brendan Fraser. Taking a quick break from filming, they were in their respective costumes.

Brendan Fraser Paul Bettany

You're still in full make-up?

Paul Bettany (PB): No this is how I usually look (laughs) and this is a wig.  And these are not real scars...the magic of cinema.

Were either of you familiar with the book Inkheart before taking on this project?

PB: Weirdly, I was reading the book, you [gestures to Brendan] knew about it because you had already read the one, well not a book book but the audio book. I knew about it because I was reading it with my 9-year old son.

Did your son like it?

PB:  No, he hated it [laughter]. No, he loved it. He loved it and, weirdly, I loved it too and I'm not a big fan of fantasy usually and it was one that I got on with 'cause I guess it's set in the real world.

Did the script come to you or did you go after it?

PB: The script came to me. It was just an odd coincidence, a lovely coincidence.

Could you both talk a little about your characters?

Brendan Fraser (BF): Yeah, I'm Meggie's dad. He's a bookbinder by trade. He has an unusual ability to realize elements of a piece of fiction from a novel he reads aloud. He doesn't necessarily consider it a gift; more often a curse.  His wife disappeared and he's trying to reunite his family. He goes on an odyssey with his daughter and encounters this shadowy guy called Dustfinger, and Dustfinger's family Gwin. Gwin the ferret with horns.

And it has real horns on it too. You know what I'm talking about? And what can I tell you about him?  Mo for me, is a pretty layered character.  He seems like somebody who has a potential for a long journey, and these two, Dustfinger and Mo...are sort of a yin and yang. They are blood brothers by the third story. Which is yet to be published by the way. But it is written and I hear it's pretty cool. I'm not supposed to just say that but I actually hear it's good.

Are you guys signed up for the next two already?

BF:  Well I know definitely that Mark (Ordesky's) hoping to. There's money on a screenplay that David Lindsay-Abaire wrote that. I've seen it first.

PB: Yes I am, and also Dustfinger who is in his own world of fire.  He's sort of a performer. He gets read out into [reality], actually weirdly replacing his [Mo's] wife. So I'm stuck in this world trying to go home. And he has, sort of, a very single objective which is to try and...he finds himself in a weird world and he's trying to get home and be with his family which is oddly how I usually feel when making films. Anyway, so it's really fun to play [this role] because of those two objectives.  His objective and my objective clash and of course that's conflict.

Brendan, did you feel any pressure in having to live up to Cornelia Funke's expectations since she had your voice in mind for Mo all along and was adamant about you playing the part?

BF:  It is something flattering. I never anticipated it, least of all learning about it through an article that I read she had given an interview for.  A novel as an author as far as I understand it the way the process works sometimes...in her case it's just that the novel writes itself.  So it may sound a bit odd, but it's just that she was able to work backwards which is from being in a place, on holiday...and she was watching a couple of movies or films I'd done and inspired a character I guess. But the point is, it's not necessarily the voice itself but whoever played Mo would have these attributes.

Part of his characteristic is that Mo reads so beautifully bringing the characters to life.  How did you develop that reading style to make it sound so beautiful?

BF:  I just make sure I say all the words I read on the page. [laughter] It's just a matter of reading, I sound the way I sound, I don't know.

Are you working on Mummy 3?  Will you be in it?

BF: I would like to be very much. It's down to decisions made in offices somewhere called Los Angeles. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Next to sit with us was the mischievous Andy Serkis and sweet Eliza Bennett.

Andy Serkis Eliza Bennett

They were manhandling you today and tossing you around Eliza?

Eliza Bennett (EB): They were really light. It wasn't rough.

Andy Serkis (AS): You love it! (joking)

This villain looks so delicious to play and it looks like you are really enjoying it.

AS: Yeah, I am slightly worried, I'm enjoying it too much actually. It's really, really fun to play.  Especially Iain has nudged the way of playing it, from a much, much less theatrical way.  I mean, he's very good at bringing...and always wants to root for the sense of reality and I think he's always seen Capricorn as a droll and dry character so he's kind of led me down that way which I kind of enjoy doing.

Do you enjoy playing the villain in films?

AS: I, kind of, I do like playing complicated characters who are...you don't know whether there's any possibility of redemption, but there's a little chink, like a miniscule chink that doesn't turn you off from them completely. So, I have played a lot of dark characters.  I really enjoy it.

Eliza, is this the biggest thing you've done with this many famous actors?

AS: Ah, she's an old hand.

EB: Not quite. [laughing] This is obviously the biggest thing I've ever done as in character wise. And obviously this is the biggest thing with this many well known actors, but I think, there's so much, I find it really, really easy just to learn from them. I mean, they don't teach you set lessons but just watching them. They all have their different techniques and it's just amazing watching them...Andy and Paul and Brendan, you're learning off of them all the time because they are very experienced.

AS:  We learn from her.  Honestly, I'm not kidding but there's a freshness and kind of uncomplicated honesty about watching what [Eliza] is doing and it really helps.  You don't necessarily learn from more experience.  You can learn from watching and shooting a great actress, someone like you [speaking to Eliza], so back at you.


Are you a big book reader?

EB:  I am which is really good.  I'm like Meggie in that way.  Obviously she's been brought up with a background in books because her father is a bookbinder.  I really kind of enjoy reading in school and stuff, but not fantasy stuff.  When I read Inkheart I thought it was fantasy, but I think it has a touch of reality in it and Meggie is from reality.  I think that helped me to relate to Meggie and the characters a lot.

Andy, your character doesn't like books.

AS:  No, he's threatened by them, particularly by every copy of Inkheart, that he tries to own. 

What about personally?

AS:  Personally?  Oh no, I love books!  A lot of my reading revolves around work to be honest with you.  I've gotten really in the habit of reading on more occasion because it really tends to be research for a film.  I've read Inkheart but I really didn't understand...because it was kind of confusing for me...the character is different from the book.

Which version do you prefer?

AS:  I actually think it's a really great script.  The story is really great. But there was some slightness to him I suppose, like more a sense of a lunatic [in the book].

Eliza's character is based in reality and your character is the exact opposite, going from fantasy to reality. Did you have a way of playing it to separate the two?

AS:   There is actually.  We went off on a complete tangent and it was quite fantastical.  There was a lot of make-up and prosthetics.  It was very, very different and I thought that was the way it was going to go but Iain wanted to make it much more fantasy world as real world - a parallel universe so that the characters in the book felt as real as the people next to it, so they can emotionally connect.  Otherwise it becomes a one man tone.

Andy, did you have a certain attachment to your hair and what was it like getting it all shaved off?

AS: I actually had it cut short for a film I was doing so it didn't take too much to go the extra inch.

Do you like being bald?

AS: Not this time of year, no. [laughing]

Eliza, did you develop a special bond as father daughter in your relationship with Brendan?

EB:  We did yeah. I was really lucky because I knew that I would be working really, really closely with him.  So when I first met him, which was like a week before rehearsals, I met him and he immediately came over and gave me a big hug and he was really, really warm.  It is such a relief when you know someone you're going to be working closely with is nice and he's really, really supportive and like a father figure in a way which is great because it's so much easier to be able to relate to him. 

Has he given you any special advice?

EB:  I don't know.  I get all the advice from Iain and stuff.  There's always little remarks, like 'why don't you stay closer to the camera'.  I'm learning more about the camera and everything which is really helpful 'cause you can judge yourself instead of being told what to do the whole time.  So I get that from everyone so they're teaching me everyday which is great 'cause it's really, really good to know about lighting and cameras.

Our final interviews ended with the talented award winning Helen Mirren and director Iain Softley.

Helen Mirren Iain Softley

I love your outfit.

Helen Mirren (HM): Thank you. It's from H & M (joking).

How did you picture this character? Who was she in your mind?

HM: I knew that the role, in the book, is wonderful, a very strong character, but, it wasn't a character I could see myself playing.  I just couldn't get my head into it.  So, I spoke to Iain and I said 'I would love to do the film but I would like to give you some ideas about the character and if you like them we can go ahead and if you say no, I absolutely understand,' because, it's above all, the directors vision, any film. So, he responded well to the thoughts that I was having and gave me the door to walk through.

My inspiration for the character was Edith Sitwell, I was trying to think who is this woman? It was one of those four o'clock in the morning moments, when you're half asleep and you're going 'who is this Edith Sitwell?' [Snapping] I don't really remember her but I suddenly had this image in my head of this woman with a turban and the hands...I started reading about her and researching her and I thought it was perfect.  She lived totally in a world of literature. She said "my hobbies are reading, silence and music...that's all I wanted in life is to read in silence and listen to music." So I hoped, that's exactly the character; someone whose head is so in the clouds that she really doesn't see what's in front of her face. And through the journey of the film, she is made to look at what the real world is.

What do you both feel about that story?

HM:  I like that sort of music.  The happiest music of my life was James Gallagher which was many years ago and done as he has many hits without special effects.  It's real stuff, just real stuff. 

Iain, it seems like it's very important to you to balance the fantasy with the reality.

Iain Softley (IS): Absolutely, it's the only way I can think of doing it.  We did 3 or 4 months without the blue or green screen and I don't know how I can allow them [the actors] to do great work otherwise. 

Unfortunately that marked the end of our short but sweet interviews as the cast and crew were beckoned back on set to keep shooting.

In conclusion, it's quite apparent that New Line has a great affinity and faith in trilogies. With Lord of the Rings having surpassed their expectations, they are entrusting and banking on their next two projects to do the same. I hope their faith is met with good fate.  If the proof is in the pudding, my taste buds tell me that we should expect greatness to be created with INKHEART. INKHEART is scheduled to be released sometime in the spring of 2008 which will coincide with the introduction of the final book in the trilogy, Inkdawn.


Source: JoBlo.com



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