The Wright way

A di­rec­tor’s change in vi­sion came as a wel­come sur­prise for one of his stars, writes Charles Mi­randa

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - MOVIES -

FOR Joe Wright, the tele­phone call was never go­ing to be an easy one. The Bri­tish movie di­rec­tor was scout­ing a lo­ca­tion for an epic he was go­ing to make based on Leo Tol­stoy’s clas­sic Anna Karen­ina.

Shortly af­ter vis­it­ing the vast, beau­ti­ful coun­try­side out­side St Peters­burg, he had an epiphany of sorts. He was two weeks into pre- pro­duc­tion and had al­ready trav­elled ex­ten­sively around Rus­sia and the UK de­cid­ing on lo­ca­tions when he de­cided he didn’t want to make that sort of epic pe­riod drama any more.

It was at this point he had to call leg­endary Academy Award- win­ning play­wright Sir Tom Stop­pard and break the news the movie was go­ing in a more am­bi­tious di­rec­tion.

‘‘ He was – ahhh – in­ter­ested,’’ the 40- yearold Wright said halt­ingly with a laugh.

‘‘ He didn’t throw it out of court al­to­gether but he was – well – it wasn’t what he imag­ined so it took time for him to shift his imag­i­na­tion.

‘‘ But I think there were cer­tain mo­ments when I de­scribed them, and I came to him with a fairly full ‘ this is how I want to do it’, when I de­scribed the horse race and horses gal­lop­ing across the stage for ex­am­ple and he kinda went ‘ I want to see that’.’’

The script was not changed all that much but the film al­tered dra­mat­i­cally and it be­came a Moulin Rouge- style the­atri­cal movie filmed and set largely in a gi­ant the­atre.

It’s vivid and colour­ful but re­mains true to Tol­stoy’s bleak tale of love lost and found then lost again in 1800s im­pe­rial Rus­sia. Scene changes hap­pen be­fore the au­di­ence’s eyes in much the same way they can in the­atre. Ac­tors’ scenes and cos­tumes change for all to see.

As the son of pup­peteers, it was this and his imag­i­na­tion [ and a strict bud­get] that al­lowed Wright to cre­ate some­thing very dif­fer­ent.

‘‘ I felt we were tread­ing the same ground,’’ Wright said of his lo­ca­tion scout­ing in Rus­sia.

‘‘ I re­alised a lot of the bud­get was be­ing spent on stuff the au­di­ence would never see, ho­tels and travel and this kind of stuff, and it seemed point­less and fu­tile, and so I wanted to put what money we had on the screen.’’

For Jude Law, play­ing the love­less lead Karenin, it was a bril­liant change in pace.

‘‘ I was al­ready on board and I was per­fectly ex­cited with the idea,’’ Law said on the moment he was told by Wright the movie would be largely shot on a the­atre stage.

‘‘ For me to be in­volved with some­one as tal­ented as Joe who then has an epiphany and is ab­so­lutely stim­u­lated and ex­cited, and want­ing to push the medium of film in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, to me is what film­mak­ing is all about and it doesn’t hap­pen enough.’’

He de­scribed the movie as based on Tol­stoy but Wright ‘‘ squeezed’’ it, got three rich drops of essence and cre­ated a stylised movie.

Law con­ceded he hadn’t read the book but knew it was a love story. But he later read some­thing in Tol­stoy’s lead char­ac­ter he thought he could bring to life.

‘‘ What really in­ter­ested me was his still­ness and his in­tro­spec­tion, that he lived in his head, and that he had to learn to com­mu­ni­cate more with his heart,’’ Law said. ‘‘ In a busy world of dance and move­ment he was mo­tion­less both in face and body.’’

Wright di­rected other pe­riod films, in­clud­ing Pride & Prej­u­dice and Atone­ment and says he has noth­ing against mod­ern films but en­joys be­ing lost in older- fo­cused movies. ‘‘ They deal with archetypes and imag­i­nary worlds and they feel to me to de­pict a more in­te­rior land­scape rather than con­tem­po­rary films, which are more ex­pres­sions of what I see around me.’’

LOVE­LESS

MATCH: Jude Law and Keira Knight­ley in

Anna Karen­ina.

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