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The Constant Gardener - Fernando Meirelles interview



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q: Were you always going to film in Kenya?
FM:
Actually the first idea was to shoot in South Africa. So we went to Kenya for five or six days to visit the country and then we went to South Africa to see how we could reproduce Kenya in South Africa. When we got to South Africa on the second morning we were having breakfast and we felt it was not the right place to shoot, so we decided to come back to London and try to persuade the distributors and the insurance company to let us shoot in Kenya. I was planning to use real places with real people and this would be impossible to do in South Africa. The second problem was the book was banned in Kenya and the way it featured the high commission was not the best way, so we thought we could have some resistance from the government but no they really helped us. I think in the end the Kenyan government knew we were going to shoot any way, in Kenya and in South Africa, and they thought that at least doing it in Kenya would bring some visibility to the country, and jobs and help their film industry, so they allowed it.

Q: How did you make Rachel look pregnant - was it make-up, prosthetics or trickery?
FM:
It is a mixture of prosthetics and some CGI afterwards. It looks good doesn’t it?
Rachel Weisz: There was some CGI, I didn’t know.
Fernando: But it looks good, a lot of people have asked me if it was real.
Rachel: Yes a lot of people have being asking me....I’m a method actress! [Laughs]
Fernando: The make-up artist wanted to kill me because I said I was never going to shoot Rachel; from behind - because that’s where the prosthetic was stuck on. Then that was how our shot was but I said I would fix it on post and we did.

Q: How important is the political element in the film that might make audiences think?
A:
I think there already have been debates and the public wants to know what’s going on. The film will just add pressure to that momentum - can we have more transparency please in the way that these companies work and governments work with them?
I hope people come out of the film feeling a mix of things... they have been involved and absorbed in the relationship between Justin and Tessa AND alongside that they come out wanting to know more.

Q: What do you want audiences to take with them as they leave the cinema?
A:
Of course there is the love story but awareness of the pharmaceutical industry is interesting. This industry has two sides...it produces amazing pills and our lives get better because of good drugs but at the same only a small population of the world can buy those pills. They now have good product and they can charge whatever they want... it was a very good villain.
I was especially interested in the pharmaceutical industry because Brazil is now breaking some patents, especially from some drugs to cure Aids in the last four years. So there is a lot of pressure from this industry and I have been following this in the front pages of Brazilian newspapers for years. That’s why I was so interested in this specific business.

Q: How moved were you by what you saw in Africa?
A:
Everyone was touched but Simon Channing Williams the producer, was really touched so as soon as we started working on the film he created this charity in Nairobi and he immediately started doing things in Kibera. So first he built a bridge to link two parts of Kibera and then he built a couple of water tanks. This is the biggest problem in Kibera, there’s no water. Now he is building a school in north Kenya. Since we finished shooting he keeps going back and forth to Nairobi and he is really involved in this charity, raising money for this work. And he’s now trying to convince Focus to donate a share of the profits from this film for this charity.
In the end we all got a bit involved but Simon is still working on that. Focus already helped a lot.

Q: How closely involved were you in casting?
A
: I didn’t cast Ralph. Ralph was attached to the project before me because Mike Newell was supposed to direct. So in this case it was the other way around, he had to approve me. It’s true. You agreed to do a film with Mike Newell and then you had to be asked. Then it was a very quick process to cast not only the actors but the crew as well and I did not know many British actors.
So I was watching piles of tapes every day. To play Tessa? The first person with whom I met was Rachel and this was when I got to London we had a meeting and I was very impressed. Since then I spoke to lots of actresses but I never took Rachel out of my head and in the end I came back to Rachel.

Q: Why cast Pete Postlethwaite and Donald Sumpter who have small but vital roles?
A:
I knew Pete before because his face is so strong that once you see him once you never forget. All the other actors I watched films with them. I was also really impressed by Gerard McSorley, an amazing Irish actor, it’s a pity his part is so small. I would have loved to have had two or three more scenes to let him play.
Bill Nighy is fantastic. I met him 10 minutes before shooting because he was shooting The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, so I didn’t even speak to him on the phone. He came to the set, he was late I said ‘Hello Bill, I’m Fernando please get dressed...’ I knew his work but it was very different from the character I was asking him to do.

Q: Are you concerned that Africa may be this year’s fad?
A:
For some reason Africa is now getting some attention. There are a lot of films coming out that are shot in Africa... The Last King Of Scotland, which is about Idi Amin; Ridley Scott is to produce Emma’s War in Sudan; Leonardo Di Caprio is starting to shoot something in Liberia; Brad Pitt is going to do a big film in the Ivory Coast. Which is all very good - it gives some visibility to this continent which has been forgotten for years.

Q: What was security like on location?
A:
It was much safer than filming City Of God. We didn’t feel any pressure or anything. This time was much easier. I remember one afternoon we were so relaxed that we walked for one hour shooting with Rachel, Cesar, and the sound guy. They would talk to people and everyone was so kind. It was much more relaxed than Rio. There’s no drug dealing so I think this was what made it much easier.

Related stories: Read our review

Ralph Fiennes interview

Rachel Weisz interview


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