Brian Lloyd chats to Joseph Kosinski, director of Oblivion, which is released this week in cinemas.
Oblivion may be the second film by director Joseph Kosinski, but his credits reach far beyond Tron: Legacy. Having directed some of the most widely-known advertising campaigns in the last ten years, including the Halo 3 – Starry Night and Gears of War – Mad World to name a few, it’s clear that Kosinski is on the up and up. Indeed, his second film and he’s already working with Hollywood legend Tom Cruise. ‘Despite the stature he has, he’s extremely collaborative. He has opinions, he has thoughts – why would I not listen to that? Especially when he’s worked with directors I admire, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann.’ Kosinski goes on to mention how fun it was to hear stories about these directors, admitting that directors work alone. ‘We never work with other directors, as such. We’re isolated, working on our own projects so it’s really cool to hear about them and how they work.’
Joseph Kosinski, prior to becoming a director, studied architecture and design. Anyone who’s seen Tron: Legacy or indeed Oblivion will remark about the set design and its use of physical objects, as opposed to CGI’d sets. ‘If you’re not interested in design, I don’t know how you work on these types of movies,’ he explains. ‘I had a very clear idea of what I wanted it to look like. The skytower, up in the clouds, if you want to look for influences, it’s something like Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.‘ Discussing sci-fi films, I mention Ridley Scott’s use of physical sets in Prometheus, which Kosinski agrees with. ‘I wanted it to be as real as possible. It looks better, the performances are better. On the flipside, as well, there’s a lot less time in post. Compared to Tron, this film had 800 visual effects shots. Tron had something closer to 1,600. Some films are 2,000. A big tentpole film like this that has fewer effects shot helps keeps costs down. As long as you plan ahead, know what you want, it’s a great way to work.’
The film does pay homage to arguably the best era of sci-fi – the 1970s. Films like The Omega Man, Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run and Star Wars are all touchstones for Kosinski, but not as you’d expect. ‘Those influences come when you’re growing. It’s different to watch films after you’ve made a couple. They seep themselves deep inside you, but when you watch them again, they don’t have the same impact.’ Kosinski continues, ‘1970’s sci-fi were far more character-driven, simply because they didn’t have the tools we have. I thought Oblivion was going to be a much smaller film when I started. But the action and the spectacle is in support of the story and the character.’ It’s also notable that the film isn’t in 3D. Considering his debut is oft-considered one of the best films to make use of the technology, why did he not make Oblivion with it? ‘That was my choice, from the beginning. I looked at a couple of different formats, 48 frames. Brightness is really important to me. But with this being a daytime sci-fi, shot in Iceland, I really wanted the images to pop off the screen. With 3D right now, there’s a limitation with how bright it can be. Using Sony’s F65 Camera, it felt like the right choice to capture the detail of the landscapes, it’s very high-resolution.’
Not only is Oblivion not in 3D, it’s based on an original idea. ‘Getting any movie made is hard. An original film at this scale is a big challenge. It’s not that studios don’t want to make original material, but having something that already has an audience is a leg-up. And having someone like Tom Cruise involved is great. And to have him call me was a thrill. I pitched the story to him over an hour and he was immediately taken by the story and the character and it was something he hadn’t seen before. Having him attached gave it momentum.’ The script, written by Kosinski, was also co-written by William Monahan and Michael Arndt. ‘I wanted to work with someone who didn’t work in science-fiction, which is why I went to William (Monahan) first. But I had the sense that one screenwriter wasn’t going to take me to the finish line, because the film has so many elements. It’s a mystery, it’s a thriller, it’s got action. I also worked with Karl Gadsujek, a great writer who I really wanted to work with. And Michael (Arndt) gave it the final pass, who I’d worked with on Tron: Legacy as well. I’m just the keeper of the story, working closely with each of them and it ended up being the right arrangement for it.’
Oblivion is in cinemas from 10th April and stars Tom Cruise, Olga Kurlyenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman.
DIR/WRI: Eran Creevy • • PRO: Rory Aitken, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones , Ben Pugh, • DOP: Ed Wild • ED: Chris Gill • DES: Crispian Sallis • CAST: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough
British crime thrillers, by and large, are more miss than hit. There are staples of the genre – it must feature Vinny Jones. It must involved tailored suits. A section of it must be set in Canary Wharf. A Jaguar must be visible in at least one shot. An upcoming indie band must perform / be used as extras. With Welcome To The Punch, Eran Creevy is attempting to throw out the rulebook of British crime thrillers – and instead use the American rulebook. Director Eran Creevy’s previous work, Shifty, was very much of the British school of crime drama. It’s interesting to see him change from a Guy Ritchie-esque position and adopt a far more glossier image for his second film.
The story follows Max Lewinsky, played by James McAvoy and Jacob Sternwood, played by Mark Strong. McAvoy is a London detective who’s obsessed with capturing his arch-nemesis, Strong, after he shot and injured him and escaped to Iceland. Following a botched deal involving Strong’s on-screen son, he returns to London and becomes embroiled in a labyrinthine plot involving guns, politicians and crooked cops. On paper, the plot seems like it could work. Crime dramas, by and large, need a large frame to work in and for them to be not be bogged down in message. The story is the story, in other words. Here, however, Creevy’s screenplay falters as the plot is too clever for its own good. Instead of having an emotional line with a simple, thought-out plot, Welcome To The Punch quickly spins out of control and becomes undecipherable and, ultimately, forgettable. James McAvoy and Mark Strong, both established actors, are more than capable of giving their roles meaning and gravitas. Unfortunately, here, there is little to help them along. The initial setup, pitching McAvoy and Strong, as blood enemies who are forced to work together, falters very quickly.
Strong, who has played hardened, remorseless criminals in the past, is far more forgiving and almost tender in this than you’d expect the character to be. It’s true, Creevy’s script may have been attempting to change our expectations; pitching the criminal as a more tender creature. However, the same role was imbued with much more skill by Robert DeNiro in Heat than it was here. That’s not to say that Mark Strong isn’t as effective an actor or that he can’t deliver. Quite the opposite. Strong, given good material, can work just as well as Robert DeNiro. Here, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. McAvoy, likewise, is drawn as a twitchy, hard-edged cop with an obsessive streak – but the script doesn’t give him the proper amount of time to fully realise the character. The supporting cast, made up of Andrea Riseborough, David Morrisey and Peter Mullan, all turn in good performances. Peter Mullan, in particular, is always a treat to watch. Here playing Strong’s friend, Mullan gives the film’s criminal characters that much-needed sense of ruthlessness that Strong fails to deliver.
It’s not all bad, however. Creevy’s visual style with Welcome To The Punch is fantastic. London has never looked so slick and well-photographed; drenched in cool, icy blues and using high-angle shots reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat – which is a huge influence on this film. One scene in particular, involving McAvoy, Strong and Mullan and a sofa, stands out as a particularly effective scene. Creevy’s sense of pacing, attention to detail and overall visual style is impressive – it’s just a real shame that that screenplay wasn’t up to the same high standard. Welcome To The Punch is a visually-entertaining but overall hollow experience. If only he had handed over the script to someone else instead of taking it all on, it would have been a far more enjoyable film. As it is, Welcome To The Punch is a missed opportunity to write the next chapter in British crime films.
Shadow Dancer is released in cinemas today Friday, 24th August 2012, here in full is Gemma Creagh’s interview with Martin McCann from the current autumn 2012 issue of Film Ireland magazine.
Yes we McCann
Gemma Creagh chats with Belfast actor Martin McCann about being Bono, his buddies and his role in James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer, which closes this year’s Fleadh.
So how did you get into acting?
When I was ten or eleven, I auditioned for a role in the Arts Theatre inBelfastfor the Artful Dodger. I’d never really done much acting before – other than entertaining the family and imitating my favourite characters from television. I got the part and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was well and truly bitten by the bug of acting!
Tell me about your work with the Youth Action theatre in Belfast.
The Rainbow Factory was a cross-community project bringing Catholic and Protestant kids together through drama inNorthern Ireland. I joined when I was twelve years of age. I was just another one of the kids from West Belfast. I’m still with them today but obviously I got a bit older and my career took more of a serious turn and they asked me to be a patron. It certainly opened me up as a young man. It was one of the best things I’ve done. It kept me on track and kept my interest in drama alive.
You worked on the sketch show, Dry Your Eyes. Would you have done much improv on that?
No, to be honest. [Laughs] It was all scripted, but it felt like it was improv. I knew all the guys; we got together and did it as a bunch of friends. The Hole in the Wall Gang were very popular from Give My Head Peace. That was one of the most, if not the most successful show in Northern Ireland at that time. I had never really seen myself as a comedy sketch show actor but I just loved it. It was one of the most fun projects I was ever involved in. It was basically just dressing up in silly clothes and being as funny as you can.
Do you have anything you would like to bury under the carpet?
Thankfully no! I’ve never done any ads where I had to dress in a chicken suit to sell chicken burgers or anything. I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid that.
Film or theatre?
Film work is better paid, that’s always a benefit. I mean it is a job. But nothing quite compares to the feeling that you have on stage; it’s live, it’s organic. To be a theatre actor, it’s a definite way of life.
What do you do to prepare yourself for a part?
You have to be in the right mind frame and you have to really believe in what you’re doing. Trust the director and enjoy the story. Sit down with the script and work out what you have to do at each point. It sounds simple, but it’s actually just doing your homework.
Which was your most challenging role to play?
I think The Pacific because I was playing a six-foot-three, stoic Texan, whereas I’m a five-foot-seven, energetic Irish lad. So that was a bit of stretch for me. I was quite young. I would have loved to have gotten that role a couple of years later – but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
What’s it like going from homegrown productions such as Swansong, Killing Bono and Titanic: Blood and Steel to the likes of HBO’s ThePacific?
The Pacific was a really unique experience in the sense that it was so big. There were so many people involved and it was over such a long period in time – almost a year in Australia – but when all that is scaled down it’s just the same as any other job. You’re an actor with a bunch of actors and you’re working with a director. All the rest of it is just secondary, certainly from my point of view.
How did you get that role?
A lot of people thought Richard Attenborough called Steven Spielberg and got him to give me the role. What actually happened was that I auditioned in London five or six times and then auditioned twice in LA. I put my thinking cap on and phoned up Richard Attenborough’s assistant. I got the assistant to ask Richard to send Seven Spielberg some stuff that I had done to better my chances in getting the role.
Did you enjoy winning the IFTA?
I genuinely forget until I’m asked about winning the IFTA. I sometimes think: ‘Really? Did they really give that to me?’ It was lovely, brilliant and an honour to be recognised by the Irish film industry as a young actor. It’ll definitely be a night I’ll never forget and I’m glad that it happened. I really am.
Do you ever get recognised?
Ah, occasionally. It feels weird. ‘I know you from somewhere!’ is usually the statement. You don’t want to say: ‘Oh, TV’ because you sound like an idiot. You just kinda shake their hand and move on. It’s nice – not too bad at all.
With your varying roles you’ve certainly not been typecast.
My wish is to become a really good character actor. I love changing my voice or my physicality a little bit. I find a lot a fun in that.
Your Bono in Killing Bono was uncanny!
I had a great time during that, I really did. With Ben and Robbie and the director Nick, it was just four lads having a laugh, making a film at the same time. It was really good.
The subject matter of Shadow Dancer is quite close to home. What did you make of the film?
Usually you watch films about the Troubles and you go: ‘That wouldn’t have happened. That definitely wouldn’t have happened.’ But watching this film back there’s not one moment that seemed fake. Every piece of it, every part of this film could conceivably happen and probably has happened.
It’s a character-driven, real old-fashioned-style thriller with the pace of a modern film. I haven’t a terribly big part in it but it’s nice to be a part of something that’s really good.
What was it like working with James?
Honestly? The sweetest man on the planet. There was a scene where my character is dead and he’s in a coffin. And I think James thought that I was maybe a little bit uncomfortable, so James got in first just to break the ice. It’s not often a director does that, or needs to do that, but James was that kind of guy.
What is next on the cards?
I’ve got two films lined up fortunately enough. They’ll be starting in August/September and that’ll take me through to 2013. In Apples and Oranges I play a young artist who travels fromIreland toAmerica and gets into trouble by forging really expensive artwork – it’s a comedy.
And Tainted Love is the story of a very troubled young woman that makes my character fall in love with her, to his detriment. She pulls the wool over his eyes. It has a big twisty-turny vibe with troubled young characters – again. [Laughs].
Definitely one to watch, Martin McCann is also currently featuring alongside Charlene McKennain Jump and in Terry George’s Whole Lotta Sole.
Shadow Dancer is released in cinemas Friday, 24th August 2012.
DIR: James Marsh • WRI: Tom Bradby • PRO: Chris Co, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe • DOP: Rob Hardy • ED: Jinx Godfrey • DES: Jon Henson • CAST: Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough, Gillian Anderson
Clive Owen. Need I say anymore? Nope didn’t think so. But if that isn’t enough for you – Owen, who plays MI5 undercover detective Mac, wades in to tackle head on the Irish republicans at the height of the troubles in 1990s Belfast. In a time when clearly everyone is out for themselves, yet united in the struggle for Irish freedom; unlikely alies form. This is a prime example of the harsh times experienced in IRA Belfast – although a slightly milder style, reminiscent of The Crying Game. The film, an adaption of Tom Bradby’s novel is the basis of the screenplay also written by Bradby and is directed by James Marsh (Project Nim & Man on Wire).
This action packed thriller is bursting with suggestive discourse throughout to keep you guessing. It’s all about being on the inside and keeping ‘shut’ and if you’re not… well then, you’ll see what I mean. Andrea Riseborough, who plays Colette McVeigh a young dark tempered woman, surpasses the stereotypical republican activists of the time, and her die-hard exterior we are first met with soon wears down to reveal a somewhat softer, vulnerable woman in search of a peaceful life for herself and her son. The McVeigh family are die hard republicans; Collette, full of guilt, is forced to become an MI5 informant, making a dangerous deal with Mac to protect her son and betraying her brothers in the process. She is now left to answer some rather awkward questions to their deeply suspicious leader Kevin, played by David Wilmot.
The plot takes many twists but the final turn is explosive! There are many reasons to see this film – the only criticism I would have is that there was a lot left unexpressed; the lack of portrayal of the history leaves the unfamiliar viewer guessing as to the reasons why the police are so indelicate at the funeral of Kevin’s father. And there are a lot of hidden meanings. Like Tinker Tailor, unless you are familiar with the history behind the period in which the film is set, it’s not easily accessible. So again I guess it’s aimed in some regards to a minority. Though, Riseborough’s acting ability is faultless as she conveys the deep misery of an entire province.