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Set Visit: War of the Worlds - Steven Spielberg & Tom Cruise interviews (Part 2 of 2)

02.16.2005

PART 1 HERE / PART 2 HERE

It takes a lot to get me out to Newhall, CA. Situated at least an hour’s drive away from Los Angeles, it’s an amalgam of strip malls and subdivisions adjacent to a giant theme park and devoid of, well, anything else. It’s sort of an über-suburbia. So when I got the call for the WAR OF THE WORLDS set visit, I was more than a little reticent. When they told me that it was a hot set and that Steven Spielberg was gonna sit down with us for a Q&A, suddenly Newhall didn’t seem so far away.

WAR OF THE WORLDS is the first Spielberg film that I’ve looked forward to in a long time. For a while I wondered if Spielberg would ever make another Spielberg film. Not that THE TERMINAL or CATCH ME IF YOU CAN are bad films – they’re just not Spielberg films. Spielberg films have a certain hugeness to them, an epic feel that remains unrivaled among other directors working today.

Spielberg sets are known to be tight-lipped, and WAR OF THE WORLDS is no different. Shrouded in secrecy, details of the shoot have been frustratingly elusive. Wanna know what the aliens or their spaceships look like? Good luck finding pics. You have a better chance of seeing those infamous naked Pope shots.

Last Thursday I happily made the trek down to Newhall, where I met several other internet and print journalists in the parking lot of a Circuit City . There we boarded a shuttle that took us even further into the middle of nowhere, to Piru , California . A smattering of little houses and Mom & Pop stores, Piru is sort of an Anytown, USA . In the case of WAR OF THE WORLDS, it’s doubling as Athens , New York . We headquartered at a local bed and breakfast, the kind of place for which the word “quaint” was invented, as the crew prepped the set down the street. After munching on some snacks, nightfall arrived and we were invited to check out the shoot.

The scene being shot featured Tom Cruise in a minivan (one of the few operational vehicles left) attempting to leave town and flee the alien invasion. Lining the minivan were hundreds of desperate townspeople walking alongside, yelling and begging to be let in.  In front of the minivan was the camera setup, towed by another van which housed Spielberg and his monitor. Giant rain machines drenched the extras during each take, as smoke machines worked to create a heavy fog. Altogether they created an eerie, ominous atmosphere of impending doom. A nearby kiosk bearing the sign “Courtesy of Tom Cruise” dispensed free coffee to us and the crew (sorry extras). I grabbed a Café Mocha. Thanks Tom! A few more of those and we’ll finally be even for EYES WIDE SHUT.

We watched for a few hours as they shot the minivan at various speeds. Then we were herded back to the Bed & Breakfast for the Q&A. Not far behind was Spielberg and, much to our surprise, Tom Cruise. This being the 58th day of a 72-day shoot, you’d think they’d be a little cranky and more than a little tired, but they were actually pretty excited to talk WAR OF THE WORLDS! Here are some excerpts from the Q&A:

PART 1 HERE / PART 2 HERE

What attracted you to this, Tom?

TC: The story, The same things. I mean, for me, WAR OF THE WORLDS was always a book that I really enjoyed and I felt that the story could be relevant, that the opportunity for character, it’s, all the elements are exciting. Obviously to work with my friend again…

SS: And you’re a dad in this…

TC: Yeah, I’m playing a father in this, you know. How much of the story am I allowed to give away? (Laughs) All of it! You know, to play a father, the things that are very important to me in my life. It’s the biggest, smallest movie that we’ve made.

SS: I agree, that’s very accurate.

TC: It’s, as an actor very challenging…

SS: When I first saw LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, I thought that was the biggest smallest movie I’d ever seen.  It has the most intimate, sensitive, personal, up-close story, and yet it was told against some of the greatest sneaks we’d ever beheld in 70 mm.  In a sense – I’m not comparing our movie to that movie, because I’ve never made a movie as good as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…yet – but I’m just saying that we have a similar dichotomy of points of view.

What’s going to be new and what’s going to be an homage?

SS: They’re going to have to see it and figure it out themselves.

TC: They’re going to have to experience it.

SS: It’s nothing you can really describe.  The whole thing is very experiential.  The point of view is very personal – everybody, I think, in the world will be able to relate to the point of view, because it’s about a family trying to survive and stay together, and they’re surrounded by the most epically horrendous events you could possibly imagine.

Although the George Powelll version is considered a classic, a lot of people today are bothered by the “God Saved Us” ending.  What have you thought about in terms of your own version of the ending?

SS: We have our own version of the ending that neither strays nor mimics the original book.  So I think we’ve hit a very satisfying compromise. 

How dark did you want to get?

SS: It doesn’t have the…

TC: Gore...

SS: …the sense of blithe adventure of INDEPENDENCE DAY.  It’s not a wonderful kind of gung-ho…it’s not STARSHIP TROOPERS and it’s certainly not INDEPENDENCE DAY, you know? We take it much more seriously than that. The film is ultra-realistic, as ultra-realistic as I’ve ever attempted to make a movie, in terms of its documentary style. But at the same time, it’s full of the kind of Hollywood production values that the audience is demanding these days. And I think it’s the combination, the blend, of these huge events visually and this kind of documentary story, personal story at the center of it, that gives it this very unique--

TC: ...very original.

SS: -- approach to the material.

TC: Really exciting. I like stories. I like adventure stories; I like stories that will take you somewhere personally, but also will entertain you. It is--

SS: This is funny, too. There are parts of it that are very funny.

TC: I like movies, no matter how dark they are, I’m always looking for humor and character, because I think when I hit those moments, it’s like moments that affect me, because I find families and life to be quite funny. Even though I’ve always had a life that…when I was growing up, things were really tough but we always laughed.  There’s always things that you find, the darkest moment, humor. And I think that when I look at Steven’s movies – you look at CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, you look at JAWS – that kind of character, it just releases…I love a filmmaker when he does that, because I can identify with it.  I relate to it. And they’re not pushing it so far that I lose an emotional connection with the film.

SS: I felt that way about JAWS. When I made JAWS, I felt that if I didn’t create the humor, the audience would find inappropriate places to laugh.  And I felt the same with this picture.  We’ve created a humor, but the humor comes out of the natural insanity of this family that’s simply on an odyssey for survival--

TC: Now, maybe some people – here’s the thing: maybe we’re the only ones who think that it’s funny. (laughs quite loudly)  There is those moments on the set where you’re going, “Maybe we are the only ones who are laughing at this moment.”  And that’s ok. We’ll always know.

What about the Super Bowl ad, the one where the Yankees fan lives and Red Sox fan dies?

SS: There’s a lot of little moments throughout the film just like that one.

Are you a Yankees fan in real life?

TC: Yes, of course I am.

SS: I’m a Boston fan.   

TC: Yeah, of course I’m a Yankees fan.

SS: But it’s very contemporary, the film. It’s very much today’s news, I’m hoping. 

Are the machines tripods?

SS: Yes.

Aliens practical or CG?

SS: That’s the only secret I’m going to give you, because you know what? 

TC: I was shocked that you said that.

SS: I know. 

TC: I was shocked. I went, “He just said that!”

SS: I know.

TC: You and I had a conversation. You said, “Don’t say anything (inaudible). Are you going to say anything to anyone? No, but you tell me if you’re going to say anything to anyone. I’ll tell you if I’m going to say something to someone.”

SS: You know what? We have so many surprises in this movie that that is just assumed. I’ve read on the internet that everybody assumes there’ll be tripods anyway. There’s not one message (board) that assumes we’ll be doing George Powell’s boomerangs with the green lights on both wingtips, you know? There’s not been one mention that maybe there’ll be flying saucers. Absolutely I wouldn’t do that, because that’s one of my homages, certainly my respect to the forward-thinking H.G. Wells.

Tom, what can you tell us about your character?

TC: He’s a Yankees fan. (laughter)  He’s a father. (To SS) What can I say here?

Is he a mechanic?

TC: Yeah. He’s a mechanic. He’s a dockworker; he’s a mechanic.

SS: He works with the…what was it called?

TC: Cranes. These big cranes. These huge, giant cranes.

SS: They move the cargo containers off the ships and into the trucks.

Tom, are you still doing IRON MAN?

TC: It's not happening. Not with me, no.

Why? 

TC: I don't know. It just...they came to me at a certain point and...when I do something, I wanna do it right.  If I commit to something, it has to be done in a way that I know it's

gonna be something special. And as it was lining up, it just didn't feel to me like it was gonna work. I need to be able to make decisions and make the film as great as it can be, and it just didn't go down that road that way. It was two years before we decided to make this. There’s a commitment.

Obviously, I trust Steven – he is the greatest storyteller, the most prolific storyteller, cinema has ever known. So working with him, there’s a trust and an excitement just in that. What is Steven gonna do with that? And I want that with all my films. I’ve never just made a movie to make a movie. I’ve always made it because I was really interested in the story. I wanted to make that kind of picture and see what it would take. And it was an adventure for me. And for that it just wasn’t panning out, so far. As of yet.

Steven, what’s with the “Beach” hat you’re wearing?

SS: I graduated from Long Beach State and we call ourselves Beach, so that’s, it’s my beach hat.

Transformers?

SS: It’s happening. We’ll announce the director in three weeks, three or four weeks…

PART 1 HERE / PART 2 HERE

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at thomasleupp@joblo.com.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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