Ye Olde Set Visit: Your Highness, Part 2!
Esteemed British actors Toby Jones, Charles Dance and Damien Lewis have just finished filming a scene for YOUR HIGHNESS. Dance, a member of the Royal Shakespearean Company and an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, plays King Tallious, the father of Thadeous and Fabious. David Gordon Green calls Dance aside to give quietly give him some direction for the next take. "Charles," he intones, "now do it like you're taking a shit."
I'm standing inside a giant soundstage. To give you an idea of how large this space is, it was originally used to build the Titanic. Not the fake James Cameron movie version, the actual 46,000-ton cruiseliner that sank to the bottom of the ocean. Inside they have built some massively large sets for a film that has a relatively modest budget. "The more expensive a movie is, the more people are breathing down your neck about it," Green explains. But if it isn't an expensive movie, it sure looks expensive.
I'm currently standing outside a castle, inside a soundstage. The cast and crew is prepping a scene where the villainous Lazaar (Justin Theroux) arrives to interrupt the wedding of Fabious and Belladona (Zooey Deschanel). While everyone is dressed in period costumes, Lazaar specifically stands out (Theroux says of his costume, "We just watched DRACULA and tried to steal that...") and this scene particularly is his.
Justin Theroux stars as the villainous Lazaar
I stand behind Green who is standing behind a bank of monitors watching the action. Theroux tries a number of takes - some straightforward and others increasingly goofy and raunchy - with Green occasionally walking over to whisper some direction before returning to his seat.
"David is good at reigning it in..." Theroux says of Green's directorial style. "But I mean, we're wearing capes and shit (laughs). I have dragon eyes at one point. So it's pretty broad..."
Even Green admits it's hard to reign in some of the things they're up to on set. "Danny being chased by 32 angry dwarves is just kick-ass." And kick-ass is something they were aiming for with this film. "This is like taking the fun popcorn of TEMPLE OF DOOM where my Dad had to cover my eyes when he rips the heart out. Those are the best moments of my life, being shielded from something or sneaking movies on cable. So much of what this movie represents is me being 11-years-old and geeking out on movies."
And geeking out on movies is something they're still doing. McBride recalls the day he was chased by the 32 angry dwarves. "We're walking around and the Dwarf King had the real throne from WILLOW!" Natalie Portman's character, Isabel, was even modeled directly after Red Sonja. "Some chick," as McBride puts it, "who's out there just always kicking ass and murdering things." Later in the film, Thadeous and Fabious meet a character (who gets them high on crazy wizard weed) that was directly inspired by one of Green's favorite fantasy films. "He's a puppet right out of THE DARK CRYSTAL." Dwarves, wizards, murdering hotties, minotaurs...anything else? "There's fairies and trolls and weird little elves...."
Kick-ass is one way to describe this film. Edgy is another. Raunchy is yet another. But Green defends that aspect of the film saying, "I think the genre cries for a certain amount of edge and sex and violence. It all services the story and it all services the world. The narrative is, a guy is trying to deflower a girl and lose his own virginity during the eclipse of the two moons."
But all of that edginess may come at a price. As it stood while I was filming, I don't see any way the film could make an R-rating but Green and McBride will eventually have to worry about the MPAA. Green said there are no plans to screen it for the MPAA for a rating until the studio sees it with an audience first (which has happened, courtesy of a number of Los Angeles test screenings). But Green says Universal knows what they're in for and is OK with it. "It's gonna be a hard-R and there's no way around that." Even when it makes it to the MPAA, McBride says he has no idea how they're going to rate it. "There's been several things in this that we wonder if they've ever had to consider this before. OBSERVE AND REPORT paved the way for more cock in films. Somebody has to." As expected the MPAA gave YOUR HIGHNESS an R-rating for "strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use."
While Green says a good deal of working on the story on set is experimenting in what they can get away with, McBride says there was never a moment where they thought they went too far. "Never happened," he says. And even with the risk of getting an R-rating, Green still considers this an all-audiences movie. "You can bring an 11-year-old out and everyone to watch this movie."
YOUR HIGHNESS was originally set to be released last week. Sadly we now have to wait until April to see what Danny and David have cooked up. I'd normally be excited to see what the guys have been able to do with this material, but being lucky enough to be on set and watch them work gives me a newfound excitement for this project.
If you're planning on attending the New York Comic-Con this weekend, Universal and YOUR HIGHNESS are holding a scavenger hunt based on the film titled "The Quest for the Blade of the Unicorn." Check out the official YOUR HIGHNESS Facebook page for official details. Attendees will also get a sneak peek at footage from the film and, trust me, you don't want to miss that.
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