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The Italian Job - Why remake a classic?



Feature by: Jack Foley

IT'S the obvious question... why remake a classic, particularly one that's as close to the hearts of British film fans as The Italian Job?

And yet the answer is more than a little surprising, given that both Mark Wahlberg and Chalize Theron did not know they were remaking anything when they first received a copy of the script.

Speaking at the London press conference at Claridges Hotel, on Monday (September 15), Wahlberg said that he only became aware of Sir Michael Caine's 1969 original about 30 minutes after he had read the new script.

But he immediately went out and acquired a copy of the film, and even sent it to his father, such was his enjoyment of it.

"I loved it," he exclaimed. "The first thing I did was send it to my dad, because he, as well as I, thought we had seen every cool heist/caper movie ever made. So it was great for me to be able turn him onto that.

"But I thought that given what they [the new writers] did with this script, people, especially the die-hard fans, would respond in a positive way, and really appreciate that we took what we loved about the original and still tried to make our own story while, at the same time, paying homage to the original."

Likewise Theron, who admitted that South Africa was 'so behind' in movies, while she was growing up.

"I can't remember ever seeing an ending like that," she told me. "To me, it was one of the great classic endings.

"And like Mark just said, when we read the script, there was a nice balance between not even trying to touch the brilliant moments in the original and paying more attention to the things that might not have worked so well, and ironing them out.

"I also liked that we didn't try and outdo the end, the cliffhanger, or try and redo the car chase scenes in the original. That's why I do like the word homage, because I think we all realised why that movie was so loved and respected and just wanted to pay homage to that."

Hence, whereas the original remains a cheeky, even kitsch little movie, peppered with memorable moments and great lines, the remake - or reinvention - goes for the opposite approach, in that it is slick, fast-moving and contains so nods to blowing the bloody doors off!

And, for the most part, it works, remaining content to reference the original through visual touches, such as the Minis, rather than copying the story as well, a ploy which Wahlberg believes may actually have helped the original, particularly in America.

"Now that our movie has been such a success in America, and people are aware that there is an original, the original has now fond a life of its own, which is nice," he observed.

For Wahlberg, especially, taking on the role of planner, Charlie Croker, was a big challenge, particularly as he is aware of his unofficial title of 'the king of the remakes', following recent performances in Planet of the Apes and The Truth About Charlie.

"The last thing I wanted to do was go down that street again," he stressed. "But I felt the script was great, Gary [the director] wanted to pay homage to the original, but also wanted to do something very different, and I just thought that with the opportunity of playing that type of role, and the rest of the talent that this cast would attract, it would make for a really good movie."

American audiences certainly seemed to have lapped it up, given that it was one of the 'sleeper' successes of the Summer, and has even sparked talk of a franchise.

But UK audiences may still take some convincing, particularly given the absence of Sir Michael Caine, who doesn't even appear in cameo form, as is usually the case for a remake.

Sir Michael was asked, but was unable to accept the role that had been earmarked for him due to other filming commitments, so the producers turned to another screen veteran, Donald Sutherland, instead.

So were Wahlberg and co disappointed?

"I wasn't disappointed, because Donald Sutherland was somebody else I had grown up idolising," he explained. "It's just that it would have been nice had Michael been able to do so."

Sutherland, however, made his own impression on the cast, as the father figure of the group, whose murder early on provides the driving motivation behind the team's desire to get even.

"Donald is an amazing guy," recalls Wahlberg. "I've worked with a lot of older actors who force you to sit down and listen to their stories.

"But Donald is one who I would pick his brain all the time. He is a sweet guy and we had a very similar approach to the work, in that it's not about him, it's about the story and the team and working with that."

Theron agrees, even though her time with the actor was limited to a mere phone call during the early part of the shoot, for which she hadn't even expected him to be on the other end of the line.

"He was in Romania, doing Cold Mountain, and he had cleaned out his entire day to be there for me, all day on the film, which I thought was incredible," she said.

"Usually, you have the script supervisor on the other end of the line, and I knew he was busy doing another film, so I really didn't expect him to be there.

"In fact, I think very few actors would do that and I was really impressed by that.

"And then I eventually got to meet him in Venice, and I just remember him coming over to me and he just wrapped his arms around me, before he even said anything, and hugged me like a daughter, and I thought, it didn't get any better than this..."

It is clear from talking to the stars that a special bond exists between the cast, which makes the prospect of a sequel, or even a franchise, a very real possibility.

Wahlberg, who recently became a father, believes it is only a question of finding the right material.

"It has been talked about, and I think we'd all be interested if the material was as good as this.

"I know we all had a blast, and we all love and respect each other and would certainly like to work with each other again, so it's just a matter of someone coming up with a great story and location."

And on that note, rather like leaving Michael Caine's boys at the end of the original, we journalists headed back to our offices, pondering what could yet be....

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