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Rango - Gore Verbinski interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

GORE Verbinski talks about directing animated movie Rango and why he was able to indulge in his love of Westerns, as well as dip into a little existential angst.

He also talks about why he loves working with Bill Nighy and why the animated process proved very different – and sometimes frustrating – to a live action experience.

Q. There are a number of references to classic westerns. Did this indicate a childhood spent watching the likes of Leone and Peckinpah?
Gore Verbinski: Definitely. I felt like I was probably age inappropriate when I first started seeing the Leone films but I felt like a kid sneaking into some forbidden landscape. But they were very influential. I sort of got into the Westerns more from Peckinpah and Leone first and then [John] Ford later just because the myths were dying and railroads were coming… I just felt there was so much history. It just felt like I was scarred for life.

Q. It’s quite a grown up movie. Was it a balancing act to make it interesting enough for adults but yet keep the kids entertained?
Gore Verbinski: Yeah, I think we constantly under-estimate our children. We just made the movie for the child within all of us. I had the same experience [when I saw it] of expecting them to squirm a bit during the existential crisis of the character, but they were still with it. But we tried to balance those things. I guess we’ll see when it comes out.

Q. As a Western buff, I was thrilled to see what I thought was Clint Eastwood at the end of the movie, and then surprised to find that it was actually Timothy Olyphant providing the voice. How did you arrive at Timothy and was Clint approached?
Gore Verbinski: No, it was always intended to be a parody. I heard Timothy’s voice on the TV and was surprised that he had that sort of quality of The Man With No Name. So, I called him and he said that he gets that all the time… that he sounds like Clint.

Q. Was it Deadwood you heard him in?
Gore Verbinski: I can’t remember what it was. I just remember not seeing him, but hearing him, and thinking: “Wow, who is that?”

Q. But did you also have to get in touch with Clint to tell him he was going to be parodied and get an OK?
Gore Verbinski: [Looks surprised] I didn’t call him [laughs].

Q. I notice Roger Deakins contributed to the cinematography of the film, so what role did he play in influencing the look?
Gore Verbinski: I called Roger very early on in the process when I started fielding questions from technicians and was trying to explain to them how when we changed the camera angle we’d re-light in a real action movie. The technicians, who are incredibly talented, were a little confused by that and thought it meant there would have to be two suns. So, there was a lot of ‘this is what we would do if we were shooting a live action film’ kind of conversations until I got tired of doing that and said to Roger: “You’ve got to be the guy fielding these questions now…” So, he came in and had a really nice lecture with all the technicians and was then available at the end of a phone call anytime we’d send him a question. He was tremendously helpful.

Q. Do you match the voice to the character that you get, or the image to the voice? What’s the process? And how on Earth did you cast Bill Nighy as an evil rattlesnake?
Gore Verbinski: We couldn’t get Jack Palance! Bill was second choice. It’s image first in this particular case. The characters are designed… it’s very important to have an ensemble where nobody is doing the same flavour. Everybody is a distinct flavour so pitch and cadence are very much thought about in the story reel. And you approach casting with a good sense of who that character is. Isla is really brave and there are awkward moments between her character and Rango’s, but I knew she would be able to boldly go there. We were sort of looking for accidents and nuance in the performance. Abigail is so endearing that to give her this character who was constantly asking: “Can I have your boots when you’re dead?” It needed a really dry delivery of some really morbid questions and she brought a great mix.

But Bill is a guy who I’ve worked with before and I honestly believe that he can do anything. You can throw anything at Bill. If you had to take five actors to an island and had to do seven genres with those same five actors, he can really transform himself. He’s very aware of the sound of his voice. He’s very much carving the sonic landscape with his voice. So, I just called him on the phone, talked to him a little bit about Jack Palance and that sort of vibe and he started immediately doing it. But I think it’s easier for a Brit to do a Southern accent than it is to do a straight California accent.

Q. Did he question why you saw him, firstly, as a walking squid [in Pirates of the Caribbean] and then as a rattlesnake?
Gore Verbinski: Yeah, he does want me to cast him at some point so that we can see his face [smiles].

Q. Did you find many differences between directing an animated movie and a live action one?
Gore Verbinski: It’s completely different. I think there’s good and bad, but certainly it’s very difficult to have anything intuitive to respond to. For three and a half years, with the exception of our 21 days together [with the cast] which was really important to try to collide actors into each other and get something that was raw and intuitive, nothing is intuitive in the process. It’s constant iteration. So, the biggest fear is that it becomes too smooth. So, trying to fabricate and conceive flaws that feel organic… because I wanted it to feel like I’ve got a camera on my shoulder and there’s a 5ft 8ins lizard talking to a tortoise that I’m photographing as opposed to conceiving.

So, everything we do is a discussion of minutia. It’s like: “Why is he blinking in frame 38? It should be frame 46.” Or the little involuntary muscle spasm under the eye should happen prior to the line of dialogue, not after. You’re just moving things around endlessly. So, when you’re doing a live action film you’re sort of orchestrating chaos and are sort of prepared to grab a moment of truth when somebody does something, or an actor responds in a way to another actor’s performance. Everybody goes in with a plan and you’re aware everyone is executing that plan. So, it’s nice when something happens that isn’t according to plan and it becomes truthful or intuitive. So, that’s what I miss.

Q. There is a real sense of peril given that characters die? Was that a difficult discussion with the studios?
Gore Verbinski: Well, just don’t ask for permission! I grew up at a time when Old Yeller and the Wicked Witch of the West were around. Her boots were sticking out the house and those flying monkeys scared me! I don’t know when we decided to say drama had to fit into a happy meal box. Kids can handle a lot more than we think they can.

Q. Why didn’t you shoot this in 3D? Was there a discussion?
Gore Verbinski: About halfway through the process there were a lot of discussions about 3D, post-Avatar… basically, what you’d expect. I just felt when I was looking at the movie that it didn’t feel there was a dimension missing. I felt it would have been a gimmick to charge more and separate everything because half the movie was finished at that point. I didn’t really feel it needed it.

Read our review of Rango