Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Brett Ratner and more talk Greek Mythology
Wrestling favourite turned action hero Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock finally gets to take on his dream role of mythical hero Hercules,
Here he talks alongside Ian McShane, Brett Ratner, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Irina Shayk and John Hurt at the recent London Footage screening of Hercules which comes to cinemas on July 25.
We see a lot of fun in this film and you seem such a fan of the character Hercules, would you agree with that, Brett?
Brett Ratner: For me, as a kid growing up, I dreamed of making a swords and sandals movie, and Hercules is the ultimate character: the first superhero. I read the graphic novel and this story demystified the myth, and is really the ultimate interpretation of the story. A lot of these films, in modern times, are all about the spectacle, the visual effects. I set to make something that was grounded, that was realistic, that had emotion, that had heart, that had characters, that was an ensemble: it wasn’t just about Hercules, it was about his team as well. When I met with Dwayne, I was just like, “Oh my god, this film is now breathing life!” Dwayne really came on-board and it became something that was real. At first, it was just a childhood dream, and then all of a sudden I was sitting in my living room, looking at Dwayne! It’s his dream to play this role, but he’s making my dream come true, so I want to thank him here in front of this audience for doing that for me. But, the truth is, at the end of the day, it was the hardest film I’ve ever done, I’m sure a lot of these actors can say the same thing. But, it was incredibly rewarding and we had incredible fun. It wasn’t until he came into London for his first fitting for hair and makeup, put his wig on and put his clothes on, and I saw the transition. I saw the moment for the first time, I watched him looking in the mirror and become Hercules. His whole persona changed. I took a picture of that moment. Behind your back, Dwayne. I just thought he owns this, and everything fell into place: each one of these guys became the characters. And, even though I’ve been watching Ian my whole life, I saw him as Amphiaraus. By the way, he had the easiest job on set because he was not wearing a wig, he has fantastic hair!
What did feel like on that first day when you became Hercules?
Dwayne Johnson: It was amazing being him. When I was able to put everything the hair, the makeup, the armour, it was an incredible feeling. The second part to that was stepping on set for the very first time: our first day of shooting. We opened up with a very spectacular scene on our very first day with one of our ensemble battles, and it was an epic day, and again the second part to how gratifying it was for me was, as an actor, was when everyone else stepped into their role. Watching these guys here really transform themselves and lock-and-load. A lot of times in acting, you have a shift-and-click moment when you get into a character, and these guys just blew me away.
Why were you so determined to get this role?
Dwayne Johnson: Well, I’ve grown up loving and admiring Hercules. There’s that iconic moment where Hercules breaks the chains from the pillars, and screams, “I am Hercules!”, which, for me as a kid, was always a mesmerising moment. I remember having a poster of Steven Reeves in the old days, when those posters looked painted at that time, and I was always inspired by it. Hercules was the very first movie I had enquired about when I first got to Hollywood in 1999-2000, and that time, I didn’t have the ability to green-light anything. Then it came around years later, so I sit in front of you guys today, very grateful for the role and grateful to have a director on-board and certainly grateful to these actors.
Ian, one thing I noticed about the film was the tone, the tone is just brilliant, can you tallk about that?
Ian McShane: We’re making a film for the entire family, I think that’s the important thing that Brett’s done, we’re basically making it like it was Seven Samurai, it’s a classic story, but kids can enjoy it too.
And Dwayne has a massive following, and all these Norwegian actors that speak English better than I do, and Ingrid is great, and Irina and sadly Rufus isn’t with us, he’s back in the States with his new baby, but he’s great.
It was a tough movie; five months in Budapest, I’ve filmed there before but five months anywhere is tough, but a lot of the credit has to go to Brett, the first time I saw it, it looked magnificent. I’ve been working with Brett on the end of it, he called me up in the last three weeks saying “we gotta get this last scene right,” so I’ve been going in to do voice overs, but it was a trip and I hope you all enjoy it.
I’m looking forward to taking my grand kids, but the tone as you said, I play the old seer, the old warrior who convinces Dwayne that he’s got to face his fears, this isn’t the story of Hercules that you’ve seen before, this is the story where he’s a mercenary basically, and he has to face up to the fear that he killed his own family, he has to face up to the truth, and he does.
The films boasts a lot of impressive sets alongside CGI effects does’t it?
Brett Ratner: What’s cool is, we actually built the sets in this movie, and with a lot of movies these days, the actors go into a green room and they point at the camera in different directions and we build it in post. We built some of the biggest sets I think I’ve ever stepped on in my entire life, it felt like we were setting a movie in the Bible: it was epic. It was helpful to the actors to come on the large-scale sets that were actually built, they weren’t CGI’d – we use CGI to extend them, but the actors were walking on to one of the biggest sets in the world.
Why was it important for you to do it that way?
Brett Ratner: Well, I think it’s better for me; it’s just an old-school approach. I would have done it with miniatures if I could, but the truth is, to build it, it just makes the feeling of going war, going to battle every day. We built villages from scratch, we found a piece of land, spent months excavating it and built each little structure: if you went there, there were signs of people living there, our production designer, Jean-Vincent Puzos, really put in the effort. Every day you walked onto the set, it was an experience, you felt like you were actually there.
Ingrid, really powerful character, she must be incredibly fun to play?
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal: Yes, definitely, it’s kind of a big responsibility in a way because she’s the only woman in this group of very masculine mercenary men.
Obviously it’s a good thing to have casting round, and to get to know Brett at the casting round and talking about what the core of this character would be; of course she needs to look a certain way, she’s strong physically, but there’s also a heart there, I found it really really good to have both qualities there.
Not only the action but the other bit too, it’s fun too. At the start of this film she’s an Amazon, and in Greek Mythology, the Amazon is a big, big deal, and we talk about this duality of this femininity and this love and this female energy, and then you have the other part which is just demolition, which is the brutalness, which is the lust for blood and killing.
You have amazing skills with a bow and arrow, this can’t have been the fist time you picked one up?
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal: Yeah, it was actually. I’m a fast leaner. We had the best people, it was mind-blowing, not having done a film of this scale before, you wonder, as an actor, how does it work? How much training do they actually do? And it’s full on, seven hours a day, and you have the best people looking after you.
Can you tell us about casting Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as an amazon warrior?
Brett Ratner: I’ve never seen an actor as committed to her character. She would sleep in her wardrobe at night – not literally of course! When everyone else was having fun and relaxing, Ingrid was going on imaginary hunts with her armour and archer around the property in Budapest, asking actors, “Can we go into the forest and go hunting? We won’t kill anything! We just gonna pretend like we’re hunting in the forest.”
Irina, this is your first film role, you’ve been involved in shoots before but what was your expectation going into this? And what was the reality of this?
Irina Shayk: Well I think Brett hired me to be naked (laughs). But it was a really great experience to be honest, to be on set with such amazing people was a dream come true. It was fun just to be there with you guys and to be chosen by Brett to be part of this movie.
Irina Shayk plays Hercules wife, what made her the right fit alongside Dwayne?
Brett Ratner: Irina is a bit of a star, and you never know how someone is gonna react, but we were doing a scene at four o’clock in the morning, and there were hundreds of dead men in a ravine, and I didn’t even wanna walk in the ravine. And I said to Irina, “You’ve gotta go and get in the ravine and lay down on top of all these soldiers,” and she was like, “Okay.” I said, “Are you sure? I wouldn’t wanna do it if I was you!” The ravine was disgusting!
Did this ask of anything different for you in terms of physical dedication?
Dwayne Johnson: It did, it was the most physically challenging and demanding role. I started prepping at about six months out, had a great fitness coach and diet coach and wanted to come in as Hercules! Brett and I spoke a couple of years ago when we first met about the project, and we said that you get one crack at Hercules, especially when you wanna make a movie with all these actors that’s a defining movie because there’s been so many iterations of Hercules in the past; film, TV and cartoons, books and everything like that, so we had an opportunity, and I felt that I was gonna work as hard as I possibly could, transform my body and bring it in at a certain peak.
But, I do wanna give a lot of credit by the way to Ingrid because her transformation was incredible! In her wardrobe, unlike a lot of ours, a lot more of her body was showing, all of her stomach and all of her legs, and when you come in at a certain physical point, when you reach that physical peak, you have to maintain it for five or six months. And that is the most difficult thing to do because everything has to match from day one to day ninety-five or whatever it was, so, as Brett was saying, we’d be shooting these scenes at three or four o’clock in the morning, and everyone was so tired and freezing, and I look of into the corner and Ingrid would be in the corner doing exercises, everything she possible could! So, I give her and all of us a lot of credit. For all of us, including Ian, it was the most physically challenging movie we have done!
Dwayne Johnson is your leading man, can you talk about his physical dedication to the role?
Brett Ratner: The discipline of Dwayne is inspiring. I think you gained thirty-five pounds of muscle on the movie, maintained it, and was up before anybody at four in the morning, working out twice before you even got to set! At one point he said to me-…can I say the F-word? “Don’t screw this up, Brett. I’m working so hard!” Three hours of hair and makeup, and his commitment to this character was unbelievable and for everybody involved. I would have been suffering just from the food part!
Dwayne mentioned that he grew up watching the Hercules character, who has been reinvented time after time, so how did you come to decide on how you wanted to portray him? What was the story you wanted to tell?
Brett Ratner: It was really the demystification of the myth that got me excited about it. Where all legends begin and where they end up. For me, it was such a unique twist to do a grounded realistic version of the story, and, as Dwayne said, I think it’s very difficult because it’s a story that everybody knows, everyone is familiar with it, so how do we make it modern and contemporary and special? Dwayne himself portraying that role was able to make it fresh; a Hercules for this generation, and I believe, in watching the movie, there’s nobody else that could have played this role, especially of this generation. And, to be a part of that, is really exciting for me, and hopefully this film is gonna be really successful and we’re gonna keep making these over and over again. And then the spin-offs!
Did you film this in 3D?
Brett Ratner: I didn’t, we had a huge schedule; ninety five days, and we went through four seasons and Dante Spinotti is an amazing cinematographer, and we shot lots of test, and I made the decision to conform the film at the end. But I tell you this; this film is ten times better in 3D and if I were you I’d experience it in 3D, especially 3D IMAX, because I designed it in my mind as we were shooting. This movie was meant to be seen in 3D.
In the trailer and in the segment we saw, there is a Horse flipping over, is that a special effect, the Horse literally did a somersault?
Brett Ratner: Three elements used, and by the way what blew me away, besides all their exercising, bodybuilding, weapons training was that they would be going full speed on chariots, it’s hard to imagine, but they don’t chain you in and the vibrations, and if it flips for real then you’re crushed underneath it.
Scariest thing ever; they’re on the chariot going faster than we were while we were filming; so that shot was really them on the chariot, it’s then a practical element and then a digital element. They said it could all be done digitally but we said no, and they said ‘you’re dangling your actors lives’ and then our actors said ‘we want to be on the chariot. doing it for real’.
But with that scene, Dwayne is a very strong man, as you know he benches like seven hundred pounds and the horse is only like eight hundred, so he pushed himself. No, it’s partly a digital horse.
You’ve said that the cast is largely an international cast, do you see that becoming the trend in Hollywood, compared to how it was before?
Brett Ratner: When I was doing the Rush Hour’s back in the day, it was sixty to seventy percent coming out of the US, and the rest of it was the rest of the world. Now, Internationally it’s seventy five percent especially with China and Russia and these emerging markets. I think a historical thing just happened where Transformers took more in China than it did in the States.
So the growth of these markets, and the globalisation of film, I went for the best actors, I wasn’t strategically pulling from different nationalities. But I think films of this size are going to be more international, because that’s our greatest export; think about it; films, Hollywood films travel to every territory, and people of every walk of life sees and enjoys them. So great opportunities for international actors arise to build their careers.
John Hurt enters.
What was the appeal to joining this ensemble cast?
John Hurt: Don’t be silly, I mean look at it all, this looks like fun, we are actors.
What was the expectations and reality of making a film like this?
John Hurt: The reality was that it was a very tough film to make, but we knew that. Budapest was about as hot as you can get, we’re dealing with a language we didn’t understand; particularly Brett, however, we managed to cope with all of that I think.
If you woke up one day and had superhuman strength like Hercules, what is the fist thing you’d pick up?
Brett Ratner: What would I pick up? Irina Shayk!
Dwayne, you mentioned the legacy of actors that have played Hercules, did you revisit any of that material?
Dwayne Johnson: Early on when the movie got greenlit, I went back and did a bit of research into Steve Reeves and hi portrayal of the character, and then the films that followed that, then what I did was I read the graphic novel and spent a lot of time with our writer Evan, and then spent a lot of time with my Director and we got on quickly. As Brett was saying earlier, there are some iconic moments, not only the twelve labours, but when Hercules accepts his fate, we didn’t approach that to say how can we shoot this differently, we embraced it.
HERCULES HITS CINEMAS IN 3D ON JULY 25