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Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - COVER STORY -

Mor­tal En­gines do any­thing like the same busi­ness?

Jack­son found the book, the first of four writ­ten by Bri­tish au­thor Philip Reeve. In an apoc­a­lyp­tic fu­ture, cities are mo­bile, scav­eng­ing for ma­te­ri­als. In a time of se­quels, pre­quels and re­makes (Robin Hood, Mary Pop­pins), this shows you new worlds.

“I loved the ti­tle. Cool ti­tle, Mor­tal En­gines. In­ter­est­ing.”

It comes from Othello, but you don’t need to know that. Jack­son bought the rights 10 years ago but it went on hold while The Hob­bit hap­pened. Still, it seems very top­i­cal: the peo­ple driv­ing the city Lon­don around re­mark glumly that “we should never have got out of Europe”. That was one of Walsh’s lines, Boyens says. There is an­other line, about sep­a­rat­ing refugee kids from adults, that seems crafted for the mo­ment. That “was borne of not quite be­liev­ing that the world was head­ing back down that path”.

But don’t be fooled: this is not a dark al­le­gory about the world now (dial up Chil­dren of Men for that). It is an ac­tion-packed, ex­cit­ing fan­tasy pitched at young adults. The lead char­ac­ter is teenage hero­ine Hester Shaw, played by im­pres­sive Ice­landic ac­tress Hera Hil­mar, who will be a star no mat­ter what hap­pens to the film (“What a find, right? She’s our lit­tle Vik­ing.”)

By the time this story ap­pears, the pe­riod of wait­ing will be long gone. It will be a hit or it won’t be. (It de­serves to be.) The crit­ics will love it or they won’t. But here is one last plug for the film from Boyens: “I re­mem­ber the first time

I saw Star Wars. It was in the Civic, which was the most per­fect place to see a film like that.

I can still re­mem­ber fall­ing into that world and fall­ing in love with it. That was partly what we were hop­ing to do, be­cause it’s orig­i­nal and it can be a piece of sto­ry­telling for this gen­er­a­tion of kids. Be­cause what have they got that they can call their own? This is for them. What I like is that she [Hester] is com­pletely and ut­terly a fe­male lead. She is not an ar­che­typal male

busi­ness. He has a small role in Mor­tal En­gines but “he’s a lit­tle bit sen­si­tive about do­ing roles in his mother’s films. One of the first things he did on film was Lord of the Rings when we needed a kid and he ended up be­ing bet­ter than the kids who au­di­tioned. His first scene was with Viggo Mortensen, as the boy with the sword in The Two Tow­ers.”

Isaac had a sim­i­lar bit in Mor­tal En­gines when Jack­son, who is also his god­fa­ther, ur­gently needed a child’s hand for a close-up. The fa­ther of Calum and his sis­ter Phoebe, 30, is ac­tor Paul Git­tins, fa­mous from Short­land Street and the his­tor­i­cal TV show Epi­taph. And what does Phoebe do? She too is a screen­writer. “It’s a bit of cliche. I wish I had been as tal­ented at her age.”

Phoebe lives in Auck­land and works in a film-mak­ing team with her part­ner Arty Pa­pa­geor­giou. Jack­son was so im­pressed by their stu­dent film, The Sor­rows, he of­fered to help turn it into a fea­ture.

And Boyens’ part­ner, Seth: is he in the busi­ness? “He’s a spe­cial ef­fects artist at Weta. He’s Amer­i­can. He came over for King Kong think­ing he was here for a one-year con­tract and he never left.”

Ro­man­tic story. Any­way, go back a num­ber of years, be­fore all that hap­pened. Boyens is liv­ing in Auck­land when her friend, the writer Stephen Sin­clair, tells her that Jack­son and Walsh were plan­ning to do Lord of the Rings, then as just two films. Her re­sponse: “Well,

Terms and con­di­tions ap­ply. Com­pe­ti­tion closes for en­try on 20th Jan­uary 2019.

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