Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. You've done everything from underwater to outer space,
with a lot of terrestrial stuff in between, but did you imagine
you would ever get the chance to make an epic in this sort of
mode? Or did it seem unthinkable, perhaps, ten years ago?
A. Oh yeah, absolutely. When I was a boy, when I was at school,
I became an Achilles fan, because I was in a school where we learned
old Greek and Latin, and then The Iliad came, and there was Achilles.
He was like a James Dean, or a Marlon Brando, for me, the ultimate
rebel. He was wonderful. He just lived by his own rules and nobody
else's; he would not accept any kind of authority. He was my guy.
Now, so many years later, Warner Bros said they had developed
a story based on The Iliad, and I really thought, 'my God, this
is what I want to do'.
We knew it would be difficult to get the might of Iliad into a
single screenplay, but if it [the script] was any good, I wanted
to do it. And boy it was good, it was very good.
And then Brad Pitt right away said that he wanted to play Achilles,
and within two weeks, the whole project was already gone.
So from about two years ago to now, the whole thing was done.
It's a very short period of time. And now we're sitting here,
talking about this movie, and I had no idea that, eventually,
after reading about it when I was 16, that it would come true.
It's a dream come true.
Q. How important was it to hire Peter O'Toole?
A. From the very beginning, I had the feeling that this movie
would be in the tradition of the great David Lean films, hopefully.
So it would be a wonderful nod to those kind of movies, and to
David Lean, to get Peter O'Toole.
But not only that. Peter is one of the great, great actors of
all-time, and what he brings with him, as an actor - with 50 years'
of wonderful work behind him - he would add something to the role
of Priam that, probably, no one else could.
We met in this hotel [The Dorchester], Diane [the producer] and
myself, and it was just a wonderful experience.
Q. Did it take a long time to find your Helen of Troy, the
face that launched a thousand ships?
A. Yeah, I wanted to have someone who was unknown, a new face,
a fresh face, because I really liked that idea a lot, instead
of going with an actress who is very beautiful, very known and
we have seen her in many parts.
I thought, here, that Diane [the producer] and myself were very
involved with the casting, and we always said that, especially
on a big cast such as this, there is an art of casting. It's very,
very, very important.
We felt that it makes a lot of sense to have a big superstar,
like Brad Pitt, to play Achilles, because Achilles was definitely
a superstar, like a rock star of his time. So it made sense to
cast a star, especially a beautiful man like Brad, because Achilles
was such an attractive man.
Hector was different, and we disagreed at the early stage, which
makes quite a funny story.
Diana came to me and said that she had just seen someone on the
street, who she thought was Eric Bana, whose doing The
Hulk right now, and he looks great! He could play Hector.
And I had just seen Chopper, you know, and he was a monster in
that, 50lbs heavier than this guy, and it was like, 'he should
play Hector? What's wrong with you girl?!'
But when she reassured me that he had lost weight, we invited
him to my office, and spoke to him, and I fell in love with Eric
immediately, because he looked great, and I like Australians very
much... Right from the outset, he was such a noble guy, and so
honest. He talked about his family and his kids and so on, so
I thought he was ideal for Hector.
So, in Achilles/Brad Pitt, you have the superstar, and here you
have an actor, like Eric, who is not a star yet, who will be a
big one, who was on the way up.
It's so easy, in a cast like this, to have another star, and another
star, and another one, but it's wrong, it's a mistake, and you
shouldn't do that. It's been done before, in the past, and it
never works, so I thought the mix of a big star and an up and
coming one would work.
Now Helen, she was very known in that time, as the most beautiful
woman, but no one had seen her. She was somewhere hidden in Sparta.
She wasn't going from battlefield to battlefield, like Achilles,
so I thought it would be great to find somebody who, for an audience,
was a new face. There would be no baggage there, she would be
Helen from Sparta.
It was a long, long, long search, of course, some 3,000 people.
It was a very, very hard job, to watch 3,000 beautiful women [laughs];
no, I'm kidding, I saw maybe 200 or so.
But then, all of a sudden, I was sort of slumped in my chair,
watching beautiful woman number 158, and we were already in that
cynical mode, where we had created a currency of, say, 212 ships
(with 1,000 being the best).
All of a sudden, we had an 855 here. I sat upright in my chair,
because she was so good, and so beautiful... She's a great actress,
and I was really moved by what she was doing. But she had something
in her eyes that you cannot explain when you look right into the
soul of somebody; it's much more than about good acting. So we
invited her, and the rest is history...
The studio remained a little bit reluctant, because a big name
was on their wish-list, but we were insistent and thank God we
were, because I feel this will be the beginning of a wonderful,
wonderful career for her.
Q. How did you come to the casting of Orlando Bloom? And did
his ability as an archer have anything to do with it?
A. First of all, this guy walked into our room in The Dorchester,
with an unbelievable smile on his face and black hair. And I said,
'who's that?', to which Diane replied: "That's the guy from
Lord of the Rings..."
I had to ask who; I had no idea because in that film he was this
guy with long, blonde hair, and I couldn't recognise him, so I
had to get used to him.
But that wasn't really the question, it was more like he was so
beautiful, and young, and very, very clever in the way that he
talked about playing the part of Paris and what he would do with
it. He absolutely saw that it would be hard, as he is a coward,
and we fell in love with him right away.
Again, when you talk about the art of casting, Paris was a very
famous man, all the girls loved him, because he was such a beautiful,
young playboy type, the Prince of Troy, so Orlando was known for
that part - not bad.
When I heard, later on, the girls screaming outside the hotel
because he was there, I think it was a good choice!
But in regards to the bow and arrow; that was just Homer. It came
in handy, his experience with Lord
of the Rings.
Q. We've seen a lot of films in the past that are based around
a star, or a pair of stars, but now we seem to be veering towards
more ensemble-driven pieces. Is that a trend you think we will
see more of now?
A. I hope so. I enjoyed it so much, what we have here, as
it had a different kind of structure to it. I don't like films
where you have one star, who gets $25m, and the rest get like
$1 because there is nothing left [laughs].
These poor fellas have to carry the whole movie, so it's huge
pressure. I think it's wrong. Life is not like that.
If we go like Troy and other films, now, you get a different sort
of pleasure and joy from watching a lot of great actors, together.
Take this film, for example, if you go from Brad Pitt, and Eric
Bana, and the younger ones like Orlando, and then great actors,
such as Sean, and then Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson, and, of course,
our women, and then you go to legendary actors such as Peter O'Toole
and Julie Christie, I mean, what a rich casting. How much additional
pleasure in just watching a big movie, and a great movie, but
watching a dozen of these wonderful actors. I think it adds so
much to it, and I hope that we come back to casting more in that
Q. Can you recall an epic that you saw in your life that made
you go 'wow'?
A. Lawrence of Arabia.
Q. At the start of the film, the relationship between Helen
and Paris is already established. There is no lead-up. Why was
that decision made?
A. I think we had the feeling that we didn't need it. If you
have a very complex story to tell, based around what that triggers,
and go into how they fell in love, it would be too much for the
audience. It would seem like more of a love story.
I thought it was much better that we jumped in when they just
fell in love, and not put too much of an emphasis on how they
fell in love. It's very easy to mislead an audience. We set it
up so that it was already happening, as we did with the relationship
between Achilles and Agamemnon, so that straight away you know
it's not a linear, one-type of story. There will be a collision
for all kinds of plot points.