The Wright way
A director’s change in vision came as a welcome surprise for one of his stars, writes Charles Miranda
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.’’
MATCH: Jude Law and Keira Knightley in