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Martin Scorsese, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz and Sir Ben Kingsley talk the power of cinema

30 November 2011

With Martin Scorsese’s latest picture Hugo set to hit our screens on December 2nd, the notorious, gifted filmmaker was in London promoting the release of the fantasy tale.

Alongside Scorsese is star of the production Sir Ben Kingsley, as well as the promising youngsters Chloe Grace Moretz, and star of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and the title role, Asa Butterfield.

With an incredible array of talent on show, some prolific veterans and others upcoming adolescents, the panel discussed their feelings on the film being produced in 3D, whilst they all recall their first cinematic experience, fitting given the nature of the production, being dubbed as Scorsese’s love letter to cinema.



This is a movie about the power of cinema, and the power of film to move and inspire people, can you remember the first time you went to the cinema and were really inspired by a film, and what was that film?

Sir Ben Kingsley: I can indeed, and it’s wonderful to be sitting next to the man (Scorsese) who gave me the DVD years later. It was a film made by Havelock-Allan called Never Take No For An Answer. It was about an orphan who survived allied bombing, although his parents didn’t. His sole pal, mode of employment, job, family, business, everything – was his donkey, called Violetta. I was so taken by this film and I looked very much like the little boy. I decided that’s me and I’m him, and we just completely bonded on the screen, and after the screening for the movie, in Salford, the cinema owner spotted me in the audience and thought that I was the star of the film, he said to the ensemble audience “its little Peppino, it’s little Peppino,” Then lifted me up above the audience. He started it all – I thought, I could really get used to this. Then years later I told our beloved Martin the story and he said of course I know that movie and within 24 hours he got me the DVD. So now I’m able to watch it all over again, but yes, that was the first massive impression and introduction to cinema, which determined me to be in movies ever since.


And for you, Mr. Scorsese?

Martin Scorsese: For me, movies for a long period of time were a refuge in a way; I was told that because of having asthma, I was not allowed to do any sports or anything like that so I was taken to the movie theatre very often. I saw many films in the 1940’s and I became enamoured with the Western genre, because what and where I couldn’t be near, there it was, up on the big screen, and I started making my own little drawings.

But the film that created the biggest impression on me, about film and about filmmaking, was the Magic Box, which my father took me to see in 1952 when I was nine or ten years old. The element there is not just the moving image but it was the obsession and passion of the people at that time, creating that. William Friese-Green one of the inventors, played by Robert Donat, was a sweet character, and yet a man who is so obsessed that his personal life was destroyed by it. There’s something about that film, the love and the passion he had for the potential of this new machinery, coming at a time, pre-WW1, when the world was changing, up until 1914 or so where there was going to be such a different society, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, you know. So something happened when I saw that picture, and it has that wonderful scene in it too when you have the train coming through the station.

Richard Attenborough was sitting in there, and he actually plays a character in it, as it’s a film filled with cameos with all the great British stars of stage and screen at the time. So he’s sitting there, with his friends, young ladies, to show people this new thing, the cinema. He knows that people are going to duck when the train comes towards the screen, and as the train comes closer to them, everyone sitting around him screams and tries to get out of the way, and he’s just sitting there smiling. So that was the first time, and there was something about the characters’ beauty of his obsession with the potential of the mechanism itself and the creation of the celluloid, which of course is all different and digital now, but still telling stories to a moving image.


And Chloe, can you remember a particular experience that inspired you to start acting?

Chloe Grace Moretz: My mother has always been pretty obsessed with Audrey Hepburn, as am I. So one of the first films I saw that inspired me to become an actor was Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I saw Audrey Hepburn and I saw how she lit up the screen and makes you smile when you see her. When I saw that I just realised that it’s what I would love to do. To make people smile, and to make people dream and imagine they are in that time and feeling and that’s one of the things that most inspired me to become an actress.


And Asa?

Asa Butterfield: It wasn’t actually a film that inspired me, but when I was filming The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a switch just flicked in my head. Before that I wasn’t taking it very seriously, and it was almost a pastime, extra curricular if you will. But about halfway through the filming I realised that this is something I really want to do, and that it’s a passion of mine, and ever since I have tried really hard to be the best I can be and to just enjoy it. I just love to be someone who you wouldn’t be able to be in real life, to do things which are impossible and it’s magical.



Chloe and Asa – what did you think of the films of George Méliés that you saw?

Asa Butterfield: I love them. Marty gave us lots of homework to watch older films, one directed by George and films that inspired him to become a director. The first film he showed me was The Magic Box.

Martin Scorsese: That’s right; we screened that to get a sense of the time, the respect and the love for the medium.

Chloe Grace Moretz: It was just one of those magical experiences, Marty was there, and it just a surreal moment. As a young actor, just thirteen or fourteen, it was special.
Asa Butterfield: When Marty flew us out to New York and I was jetlagged, it was about 3 O’clock in the morning, and we watched, on the laptop, some of George Méliés films on YouTube.
Martin Scorsese: Perfect at 3 O’clock in the morning.


Martin, Hugo comes across as a love letter to silent movies and to that embryonic period, how important is it to you that today’s generation recognises where movies came from, and how important is it that film, as an entity, is preserved?

Martin Scorsese: I think the problem is really the obligation of the generation before this one, to inform and to expose the new generation to the great art of the past. It’s exciting to do that with children and to a younger generation, very exciting I think. You never know how younger people perceive the work they see on the stage, and particularly as I don’t know what the cinema screen is gonna become. I do know – I think if things run its course, films wont stay on the wall, but be moved out to the audience in many different ways and that could be a very low-budget independent film or a film that costs a lot of money but I do think its important to make younger people aware of what came before, in every aspect of every art form and its exciting too. And if you do that, you do get a lot of out of it; I get a kind of regeneration of that, to see that excitement sometimes. Its part of being alive.


To the actors – what is it like acting in a 3D film, is a different experience?

Asa Butterfield: It is different, the actors mostly forget about the camera, it’s for the special effects team to look at, but occasionally there is the 3D moment, especially with Sacha Baron Cohen, but it wasn’t that much of a change really, apart from the fact it takes a lot longer.

Sir Ben Kingsley: I think for Chloe and Asa they are so young they are pure, their performance is not filtered through anything and it was a great addition to the 3D discipline on the set to be working with them, as they work from the heart and not from the head, and if you work from the head in 3D, it will spot it. You have to be utterly, utterly genuine. You have to be accurate and you have to be modest in front of the camera, it is far more scrutinising than any other close up lens I have ever experienced in my life. The young chaps were just acting as they always act, which is with total naturalism, but in response to the young and the response to the camera and of course Marty’s direction, for me it pulled out a stillness and modesty that I love going into. I always try to minimise and the joy of 3D and Marty behind the camera, however you minimise, nothing is lost and nothing is wasted and everything is seen, you have to combine 3D with Marty’s all-seeing, all-loving eye as the director, and no single, tiny gesture that we offered the camera is lost, wasted or ignored, its amazing to have everything captured that you offer, its beautiful.

Chloe Grace Moretz: Totally, yeah. Acting is reacting and with this you can’t overact, you can only react. It picks up everything, the lint in the air, the fibre in your eyes; it’s a window to your soul as an actor, because what you see is the character. You don’t see Sir Ben, or Chloe or Asa, it’s like a black hole, and it sucks you in and makes you cry with them. It makes you a part of it, especially with the steam and everything; you can feel the heat and the smoke, and just the feeling of a 1930’s Parisian train station.


And Martin, continuing on from the 3D theme – did you have to adjust any of your work ethic, and it is something you would like to take into your future films?

Martin Scorsese: Yes it is something I would like to take into my future films. I just happen to be a great admirer of it. Because when I first saw those view-masters as a child, I was taken up into another space. And I’m capping into that imagination of a child, which is the same thing that I depend on and look for, whenever you make a film it has to be there everyday – that thrill of the imagination. Somehow, seeing those 3D images has that and maybe my last connection to childhood imagination is that feeling and so I’ve been fascinated by 3D all my life, and I don’t see any reason if it’s used appropriately for the story, why not the same as colour, or sound, widescreens, etc. For a long period of time colour was something very special. First everybody complained about it until 1935, when they got it right in Technicolor, then by 1970 it was announced that every film would be made in colour and we were all appalled, but somehow colour became, through the demand of the audience, and through the generation that grew up not with black and white films, natural. Colour is part of the story, and who you are in life and the story they are telling. The idea that the 3D world that I was trying to create was tapping back into that feeling of magic when I saw those first images as I child, I don’t know how to describe it. So yes I would like to deal with the 3D element again in the future no doubt. The equipment is getting much more flexible and they are working on ideas of losing the glasses, so why not?



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