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Solomon Kane - James Purefoy interview

Solomon Kane

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JAMES Purefoy talks about getting into shape for Solomon Kane, getting injured and requiring stitches and why he thinks there’s been a resurgence in swashbuckling heroes of late.

He also discusses some of his upcoming projects, including Ironclad and John Carter of Mars, and why he likes to take his work seriously and have fun at the same time…

Q. How well did you know the Solomon Kane character before you did the movie?
James Purefoy: Not at all. I was very aware of the other Robert E Howard characters [Conan, Red Sonja], obviously, but being a slightly middle class English actor, the idea of playing or being allowed to be part of this great muscle-bound genre seemed absurd. So, it’s nothing I’d ever paid attention to [laughs]. You just don’t. I also found a lot of the fantasy epics during the ’80s – and I think we know which ones we’re talking about here – a bit silly and a bit camp. I never quite believed that the people in it took their situations seriously. So, I thought if you don’t take it seriously, how do you expect me to take it seriously as a member of the audience?

So, one of the big things we wanted to try and do with this was create a world that people in it took very seriously, and the things that happen really mattered to the people in it. I think we’ve been reasonably successful in that because I think it does matter to everyone in it what’s going on. There is no dodgy sidekick, there is no pithy one liner – I think we fought against it all the way through, because I don’t believe that if you’re facing a group of the undead you have time to think about a one liner. All you have time for is cutting their f**king heads off! And that’s all you try and do.

Q. Was there any pressure to include a sidekick?
James Purefoy: I think if we’d been making the film in America then without a shadow of a doubt. It would have a load more humour and they would have given him an irritating sidekick… a dwarf or we’d have bumped up the boy’s part. But I think it’s a very Euro take on it. We’re building on a literary tradition of doing the hard work in the first half, and building up our characters, and our sympathy for them, and then we kill them! In that way, there’s a better pay off.

Q. How hard did you have to work to get into shape?
James Purefoy: Yeah… hard. Really, really hard. It wasn’t easy. I’m not 25 anymore and it gets harder as you get older. I had a very good trainer, a guy called Stefan, who is a bastard! He does push hard. He’s extra mean and was Special Forces, like they all are. Here’s a tip for any young actor thinking of taking on a part like this… never suggest to your trainer that they come and live with you in the same apartment! I’d obviously gone mad… but I thought it would be a good idea. It wasn’t funny…

Q. Why?
James Purefoy: He’d wake me up at 6am every morning, we’d do two hours in the gym, then four hours sword fighting. And when you know it’s going to be you against 18 other people in the scenes you have to work quite hard in those situations. They have five or six moves to remember… which means you have 60 or 70 to remember. After that, it was four hours horse-riding and stunt riding in the afternoon and then just to finish the day off we’d go for a two hour run between 6pm and 8pm. Madness… Then he’s give me a lettuce leaf or a water biscuit and it was back to bed.

Q. Any regrets?
James Purefoy: Mike [Michael J Bassett, the director] said to be this was going to be one of the toughest shoots I’d ever had in my life. He said I’d get hurt, there would be a lot of injuries and it would be incredibly cold. We were shooting in the Czech winter and it gets down to about minus 10 or 15 every day. Most of the shoot was outside, so I needed to be really, really fit.

Q. Tell us about the injuries…
James Purefoy: Generally speaking, when it’s that cold and you’re working those kind of hours – a 60-day shoot, I was on for 59 – you sometimes lose concentration. Mike doesn’t like coming in on takes or doing little bits of fights. He likes doing the whole fight over and over and over again. So, long takes… four or five minute takes. So, you lose concentration or you just want to get it as real as possible. There was a moment when I was supposed to have a sword coming over the top of my head and I was meant to slightly duck and I didn’t duck enough. It smacked me right in my forehead and I needed seven stitches. On the day, it looked much worse. Mike really thought it was curtains for me because I went down like a sack of potatoes. When I came back up, blood was pouring off my face and my costume was soaked. And he kept filming! But then I was sent to a very good Czech plastic surgeon who stitched me up and I went back to the set that day.

Q. Any more?
James Purefoy: The following week there was a stunt guy and a moment in the movie where I had to stick a blade right in his neck and drag him along with my sword. He moved at the wrong moment and as I stabbed it went right through his cheek. He said he could feel the tip of it on his tongue through his cheek. We both froze. Suffice to say, because he’s a stunt guy he didn’t go to the best plastic surgeon in the Czech Republic and came back the following day with a nasty scar on his cheek. I was gutted, obviously, and appalled I’d done it. But he said: “It’s OK, just make sure the movie is successful… then I have something to brag about!”

Q. Did you buy him anything?
James Purefoy: Yeah, a bottle of vodka [laughs]!

Q. What made the producers think of you for the role?
James Purefoy: I think it was Rome really. It’s not a boy’s part, it’s a man’s part. We’ve seen films recently where they’ve had boys playing man’s parts and I don’t find them successful. You need a man to do the job. They’d seen Rome… and Marc Anthony, if he’s anything, he’s a bloke’s bloke, isn’t he? He’s a fella! He’s not backwards in coming forwards, or backwards in coming full stop [laughs]!

Q. You’ve got this, Ironclad and John Carter of Mars coming up.. have you entered a swashbuckling phase?
James Purefoy: Well, there’s a lot of swashbuckling films around at the moment. There’s a load of Roman films – Eagle of the Ninth, Centurion, Robin Hood – and there’s Ironclad, which is Robin Hood‘s child brother in comparison. We’re confident, though… There just seems to be a bit of a resurgence in this world, for whatever reason. I’m not really sure why. I think personally it’s to do with the fact that sexuality is all a bit fluid now. Nobody really knows who’s a man, woman, gay, straight… you know where you f**king are in these type of films – you know what’s what. It harks back to a time when you feel safe and you know what’s going on. It’s going to be hard to find a metra-sexual among these guys.

Q. What kind of pressure do you feel going into the opening weekend when a film such as this rests on your shoulders?
James Purefoy: You don’t worry about that when you’re making it. Then, it’s all about making it as good as you possibly can ever make it. That means butting your nose in every single person’s department, constantly getting people to raise their game – whether it’s giving your dresser a hard time about someone else’s costume or a stain that comes from a piece of fruit… but it’s summer, so what kind of fruit is it? And if he says peach, you shout back: “How can you get peach in the middle of winter in 17th Century England? Give me something else! Where are the apples?”

Q. Are you a pain in the backside?
James Purefoy: I am, because it’s me up there. To me, making a movie like this is like making a 10,000 piece jigsaw. If you leave one piece of a jigsaw out, where does your eye go? It’s not about the bits that are there, it’s about the bits that aren’t. So, I do get a bit obsessive about it. But I love making things that are full, rounded and have a massive amount of texture and context. I think this does. I think we’ve created a world you can really believe in. Something like Ironclad, which you mention, is different because it’s a much bigger cast… it’s more spread. We don’t have that massive PR machine, so in a way that PR machine on other movies takes a lot of the pressure off you when approaching that opening weekend. No one knows who I am. I’ve done a couple of TV series but I’m not a big household name. I don’t play the celebrity game… so it’s going to be a little bit tricky. Word of mouth will come into play… if people like it and they have a good time.

Q. John Carter of Mars in another pulp movie based on a novel. How far is that in development?
James Purefoy: We’re shooting. I shot two days last week. It’s going to be gigantic.

Q. How has the success of Avatar affected it so far?
James Purefoy: Well, it’s a weird world they’re creating in John Carter. It’s not nearly as high-tech. In the books, the ships that they use in John Carter are powered by solar tails. So, that’s a very different kind of thing… as opposed to rocket power. We don’t have that level of technology; we have Martian technology on John Carter. I don’t know what it’s going to look like. It’s all on a green screen. I’m reacting to stuff that Andrew is telling me. There’s also some motion capture. But I don’t really know, to be honest. I’m there at the studio, there’s a set and beyond that it’s green screen. So, it’s a mixture. You have real people and then there’s mo-cap, and then there’s models and puppets.

I loved District 9 and the mixture of what they managed to do with mo-cap and puppets and models and any available technology they could get to create that world… it was fantastic. Why Sharlto Copley wasn’t nominated for an Oscar this year I’ll never know. It was a genius performance. You could not see where it began and ended. I loved how my sympathy went towards him without knowing why it happened.

Q. How do you find working with green screen?
James Purefoy: You have to have a lot of trust. If a director is saying: “It’s the most terrifying thing that you’ve ever seen in your life…” Well, it had better be when I see it up there on the screen! That’s all about trust. And do they have the money to do it? There are special effects bands from A to F… and if you end up in an F band it can be disastrous because what you’re doing and what the green screen stuff is doing doesn’t tally. It’s horrible… and it’s happened to me.

Q. What’s happening with Heaven & Earth?
James Purefoy: That’s collapsed unfortunately… just before Christmas. I was meant to fly out to South Africa on Christmas Eve but it collapsed, which was a great shame because it’s a really lovely script. Natascha McElhone has now gone back to LA to do Californication and I can’t see it being resurrected for the time being. It’s not the first time that film has collapsed, so it’s got a little bit of a smell about it now. It would have been a good chick flick.

Q. How set in stone is the Solomon Kane trilogy? Is it dependent wholly on box office?
James Purefoy: It’s entirely dependent on the box office. It’s not a big studio film with endless pockets. We have to try and claw back what we’ve spent. And they spent a lot on this film! It’s a really expensive indie picture. You know, independent pictures should cost $10 million, if that… we’re up in the 30s somewhere. So, if you’re an American distributor looking to buy this film, you’re probably looking at $40-50 million to buy it. In this market right now, it’s incredibly expensive and a big risk, so they need to see it making money over here. So, do you want a big British action hero? I do… I want more. It’s a good genre, and I’m a bit fed up of just seeing the Americans doing it over and over again.