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The Brothers Grimm - Heath Ledger interview



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. How familiar were you with the writings of the Brothers Grimm?
A:
I was not that familiar. Obviously I had the fairy tales read to me by my mom when I was a kid but we did some research on who these people were. They were highly respected scholars of their time. In fact, Jakob went on to become a politician.
But this was Terry’s vision of the movie and so all this was pointless to stick to the facts of who they were. That was not what the movie was going to be about. We were putting them in a fairy tale and so we had license to just play with their name.

Q. Terry Gilliam seems to create new worlds in his movies, fairy tale or not?
A
: I am such a huge fan of his work. I grew up watching Monty Python and wanting to be in Monty Python so therefore I was very familiar with his sense of humor and style of comedy.
Being aware of that, I wanted to bring that sensibility to my character and to the film because I so desperately to be in one of those films as a kid so I would do anything I could, to present that in my character.
People are quick to label him as mad or visually insane. I truly strongly believe that he is sane, just brutally honest. That is rare in Hollywood or today’s society to find someone that honest. Where people get confused is that he has so much passion and energy in creating and in his visual eye. It is an absolute treat to be in his film.

Q. You mentioned about bringing that sensibility to your character. Initially, you were cast as Will, not Jacob. How did that switch come about?
A:
It was actually Matt and I at the same time who had this similar idea. We both thought we would like to play the other character to play against type and so approached Terry. He thought about it and thought it would be a good idea.
Directors in the past wouldn’t give Matt or me the opportunity to play something we hadn’t done before. I felt I had played Will and Matt felt he had played Jacob. I guess it was an obvious casting call.
By switching it up, it made it more interesting for us. We had to study more and create more but it was worth it.

Q. Jacob is a dreamer and a romantic. How closely do those attributes resemble you?
A:
I am definitely a dreamer and a romantic. There was quite a lot of me in Jacob. When I met Terry in London, we sat and shared a drink at some hotel, and when I get nervous, my hands go everywhere [laughs]. I lose control of them as I explain things with my hands.
As my arms were flailing all around, he was going, “That’s great. Do it just like that.” He was giggling at my nervous energy. So for the first time instead of being asked to harness my energy, he wanted me to pop the lid off. I just let it fly.
Actors always talk about how they view other people and then use that to help base their character in reality.

Q. Fairy Tales contain violence, magic, death and vengeance. Some complain about cartoon violence but look at what we were taught as kids...
A:
Yeah. They are very dark. The movie kind of represents that nicely, although with humor. But we do have dark corners. Those fairy tales were dark. Mothers were always dying [laughs].
I think the film is nicely balanced but it could be intense for an 8 year-old to the see the film. But Terry showed the film to 10 year-olds and they loved it.

Q. Were you surprised at how much the Brothers Grimm had written? So much can be attributed to them as the film subtly hints at...
A:
They wrote over 200 Fairy Tales. I really thoroughly enjoyed going over all their works. We had a book on set so we could cross reference their work and we could add little bits and pieces to the film when we saw fit. For example, I named my horse Piff Paff. I screamed during one scene that my horse, Piff Paff, was eating the girl. That was a name I saw in the book and just shouted it out. We tried to throw in a whole bunch of little things like that from the books.

Q. Back in the 1800’s, these stories were passed down from generation to generation as the mythology of the day. Today we have our own superstitions as whom we are to be afraid of. Instead of the Big Bad Wolf, we have terrorists...
A:
I think the timing is quiet perfect actually but I don’t think the average movie-goer will read that into the film. But I do understand what you are saying.

Q. Terry deliberately wanted the set to have a whimsical, fantasy based feel to them. How did that enable you to feel more comfortable?
A:
The sets were incredible. I think Terry just naturally does that anyway in all his films. The forests were all indoors in these two massive soundstages, where they pushed the wall down between the two and made one huge stage. It was enormous. Matt and I were actually galloping horses in doors (laugh). It is a strange concept to go full tilt with lights and ceilings above you.
On top of that, there was this village Marbaden built behind the Barrandov Studios. You can pretty much shoot 360 degrees anywhere and you would still be inside this world. The houses were not just facades. They were complete where you could actually light fires inside and shoot in any house. Besides that, there was an actual forest that was transplanted to the backlot so when we burned the forest, we really burned a forest.

Q. But that wasn’t the scene where the two of you almost get burned?
A:
Yes it was. Matt and I were strapped to a ladder with flames licking our toes (laugh).

Q. What was your thought process during those takes?
A:
It was pretty hot. We were a little nervous at one point. But they lathered us in this fireproof gel beforehand but it didn’t matter. I wanted it to be more dangerous and bigger. But I knew we were in safe hands with Terry.

Q. Jacob is viewed as an outsider who has these crazy ideas but in the long run, his ideas are not so crazy after all. How closely do you identify with that? Have you ever been the outsider?
A:
I guess so but I never drew a parallel. Looking back on it, I believed I could be an actor and I left home at an early age to pursue that dream. My father and mother thought I was committing suicide. It wasn’t until I started earning money, that they finally understood I was secure and safe. It is hard to convince anyone of your hopes and reams until you manifest them and prove them. So I do see a similarity.

Q. As with a lot of Fairy Tales, it always comes down to that elusive kiss. What is about a kiss that symbolizes so much in these stories? It can awaken a sleeping princess or rejuvenate a lost soul...
A:
Yeah. I don’t know. Maybe it is the magic of two powers merging.

Q. How old were you with your first kiss?
A:
I think I was 13 but I might have been a little younger at one of those spin the bottle birthday parties. It was awkward and embarrassing. It was with Rebecca Anderson.

Q. You remember who it was so she must have meant something?
A:
She is one of my best mates. I have known her since I was 3 and we are still good friends.

Q. You are about to become a father. Will you retell these same Fairy Tales to your child?
A:
I would like to think that I would tell them. Sure.

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