Gulliver's Travels - Rob Letterman interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
ROB Letterman talks about some of the challenges of directing his first non-animated movie in Gulliver’s Travels as well as the fun of working with Jack Black. He also reveals how he tortured Jack and why he wanted to update Jonathan Swift’s novel.
Q. What was the appeal of taking on Gulliver’s Travels and updating it for contemporary audiences?
Rob Letterman: Well, I read the book when I was a kid in school and I’d seen some of the earlier adaptations… you know, the animated Fleischer movie from the ‘30s. So, there were images in there that I always remembered since I was a kid and the stories. Jack Black, who is also a producer on it, sort of hatched the idea with John Davis, the other producer, and they had this project. It went out around town and I was one of the many people that got the script and I jumped at it immediately. It made a lot of sense… I really wanted to work with Jack. You respond to things… I called and begged and went into meeting after meeting until I finally got it.
Q. And is this your first non-animated movie?
Rob Letterman: Yeah, it’s my non-animated movie ever!
Q. So, what were the differences in approach?
Rob Letterman: It’s interesting because the big difference is that it’s not animated [laughs], but then it is because there are so many visual effects, so there are a lot of similarities to be quite honest with you… over half the film is a digital visual effect, so I could draw from the animation experience. The big difference is shooting a movie, and that was totally new for me and really challenging. But I found it to be my favourite part, actually. I really had a lot of fun with it. It was easy for me, because I had a great, great cast who were so nice and generous and talented. And then I had an amazing crew. Actually, the people around me made it very easy.
Q. Was it also nice to be able to have all the actors together at once, as opposed to the animation approach of keeping them apart?
Rob Letterman: Yeah, it is nice to have them all in the same place at one time is another new experience because you don’t do that in animation – you spend five years flying around the world, chasing down actors in a recording studio and then you take it all back and piece it all together. So, that was great and I loved that. It made it a lot easier in some ways. But then, ironically, because Jack has to be 120 feet tall in Lilliput I had to separate him anyway and take him onto a green screen, so it became a little bit more like an animated movie in some spots.
Q. I gather he was brilliant both as your leading man and producer, for which he also did a lot – in terms of making himself available even when not necessarily needed?
Rob Letterman: Yeah, he’s great. He loves the movie and he’s a really generous, earnest and sweet guy in person. He’s that guy… he’s Jack and he gave it the extra effort. In fact, because we had to separate everything, he almost had to shoot the movie three times just because of the visual effects and the nature of all of it. He was there every day… there were a couple of months where we weren’t filming Jack at all, but he was there every single day performing with them off-screen and making sure it still felt like we were all there in the same place. He didn’t have to do that at all, but he did and it made a big difference.
Q. He also threw himself into it physically, which some people might take for granted? But this was quite tough on him I’d imagine – being tied to a beach, and being half naked in the ocean?
Rob Letterman: Yeah, I tortured him. The very first thing we shot was him on a boat going into The Bermuda Triangle in a storm, which we actually shot on the back lot at Pinewood in the tank, and it happened to be a crispy February morning and he had to look like h was in the Caribbean. He was freezing… and that was the first day! So, there was a lot of that sort of thing… tying him down, pulling his pants down, firing cannon balls at him! He’s a trooper.
Q. What was it like working with such a great comedic cast? Is there room for improvisation on set? Or are some of the jokes sometimes too risqué?
Rob Letterman: I’m really proud of the cast. I chased down the UK cast because I’m a fan of all of them. They’re not as well known in the States, so it was a hard sell to the studio, but they were fantastic and perfect. Everyone does improve and I purposely went after people who could do that because it felt like we could elevate the material in that way and Jack wanted to do that and you get those magical accidents that way. So, yeah… everyone was improv-ing, I never knew what was going to happen, there’s a lot of risqué stuff that never made it into the movie because it’s totally inappropriate but every day was a party!
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- Jack Black interview
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- Billy Connolly interview
- Rob Letterman interview
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