Feature by: Jack Foley
GERMAN-born director, Wolfgang Petersen, sounds like an excited
schoolboy, when he describes the opportunity of making the $200-million
epic, Troy, as a dream come true.
Speaking at a London press conference, ahead of the films
world premiere in Berlin, the enthusiastic film-maker recalled
learning about Homers The Iliad at school, and fantasising
about his childhood hero, 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 elses; he would not accept any kind of authority.
He was my guy," he explained.
Needless to say, as soon as he heard that Warner Bros had developed
a story based on The Iliad, he thought, 'my God, this is what
I want to do'.
"We knew it would be difficult to get the might of The Ilead
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,"
With a director in place, the search then extended to a cast,
which would combine the good looks requisite with the role of
Achilles, along with the all-consuming arrogance of such a timeless
Brad Pitt stepped forward at an early stage, and seemed like
an obvious choice for Petersen and the production team.
"We felt that it made 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," he continued.
"It made sense to cast a star, especially a beautiful man
like Brad, because Achilles was such an attractive man."
Not so obvious, however, was the casting of some of the other
key roles - most notably that of Hector, Prince of Troy, and Helen,
the face that launched a thousand ships.
For this process, Petersen remained determined to take his time
and make the right choices, avoiding the temptation to go for
obvious names, or pander to the studios wish to cast more
"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," he asserted. "It's been
done before, in the past, and it never works."
Hence, Petersen set out to find performers that werent
so widely known by audiences, which gave rise to some humorous
anecdotes, as he remembered the casting process.
In the case of Hector, the director eventually turned to The
Hulk star, Eric Bana, who, despite taking the lead in Ang Lees
comic book blockbuster, last Summer, is still very much a name
on the rise.
In fact, Petersen, himself, remained sceptical of the actors
suitability right up until the moment he met with him, due to
the fact he had only previously seen him in Chopper, the independent
Australian film, for which he put on weight to play one of his
home countrys most infamous killers.
"When Diana Rathbun [the producer] came to me and said that
she had just seen someone on the street, who she thought was Eric
Bana, I was like, 'he should play Hector? What's wrong with you
"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, 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."
Similarly, for the role of Helen, Petersen resisted pressure
from the studio to cast a well-known A-list actress in the pivotal
role, fearing that a big name would bring too much baggage.
"Helen was very known in that time, as the most beautiful
woman, but no one had seen her," he explained. "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."
The subsequent search involved 3,000 beautiful women, before
Petersen eventually settled for the choice of German actress,
"She had something in her eyes that you cannot explain when
you look right into the soul of somebody; and it's much more than
about good acting," he recalled.
"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."
One actor who required no vetting process, however, was Peter
OToole, who seemed like an obvious choice for the King of
Priam, the tragic leader of Troy, who loses everything in his
desire to protect his son, Paris, from the might of the Greeks.
"From the very beginning, I had the feeling that this movie
would be in the tradition of the great David Lean films, so I
thought it would be a wonderful nod to those kind of movies, and
to David Lean, to get Peter O'Toole," observed Petersen.
"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, is that he adds something
to the role of Priam that, probably, no one else could."
The result of such a rigorous casting process is, according to
the director, a different type of viewing experience - and one
which doesnt hinge on the ability of any one star.
He hopes that the success of the film will pave the way for many
more big ensemble features.
"You get a different sort of pleasure and joy from watching
a lot of great actors, together," he observed.
"Take this film, for example, you go from Brad Pitt and
Eric Bana, to younger stars such as Orlando Bloom, and then great
actors, such as Sean Bean, Brian Cox and Brendan Gleeson, to legendary
actors, such as Peter O'Toole and Julie Christie.
"I mean, what rich casting. How much additional pleasure
is that? Youre not just watching a big movie, and a great
movie, but watching a dozen of these wonderful actors to boot.
I think it adds so much to it, and I hope that we come back to
casting more in that direction," he concluded.