What does an up-and-coming director do after winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film? If you’re the talented Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, you do not go to Disneyland; you go out and secure the talents of megawatt actors Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie for your next feature.
The already heavily-hyped film in question is The Tourist, loosely based on the French thriller Anthony Zimmer. When MTV News caught up with von Donnersmarck, we talked international intrigue, the challenges of shooting in Venice and why everyone falls in love with Johnny Depp (including his co-star Paul Bettany, who confessed his feelings to us last month).
Given the story’s twists and turns, what can you reveal about the plot?
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck: I can see already that you were trying to wrangle some information out of Paul. [Incredibly enough, the busy director somehow found time to read our Bettany interview.] It’s a love story, that’s for sure. Imagine a woman who is just so elegant and sophisticated and educated and has lived in that world and now, through a whole set of circumstances, suddenly falls in love with a guy who is not any of those things, and it just somehow confuses her whole world because that was not meant to happen. She had it all worked out, she had this grand master plan, and neither he nor she had thought it possible that they would fall in love with each other. I have to keep the real details a secret otherwise you won’t have any fun seeing it.
Is the film a remake of Anthony Zimmer or an interpretation?
I’d say, in a way, the film is inspired by a whole set of films. There’s a lot of Anthony Zimmer in it, which is the French screenplay that they optioned the rights for, there’s a lot of North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief, The Thomas Crown Affair, the Thin Man series, The Pink Panther—there’s just a whole sweep of films that we used as inspiration and, certainly, there’s quite a few films that informed the film.
How did you assemble such a spectacular cast?
I think if you create a part in the screenplay and what you describe to actors where they can show some of their acting muscle, then great actors will be attracted to those parts and will be game for it. I think what people forget often when they talk about such great stars as Angelina and Johnny, they forget that what they are, really, are actors. They’re actors with a capital “A,” but they’re much more actors than they are stars, and I think that these parts were just right for them as actors. They can really show what they can do. Angelina is so charming and delicate and feminine and strong and everything at the same time that I think when I talked to her about that part and when we worked on the screenplay together, she saw that she could really be able to do something with that part, and the same for Johnny. He shows so much of his own complexity in this part. He’s so winning, so charming, so funny, like he is in real life. I think in many ways, this part is quite close to who he is in real life. He is the most funny and charming person you’ll have ever met.
Well, we already know Paul fell in love with him . . .
It’s impossible not to. Everybody does. Same with Angelina. She is so much fun. Also, Johnny and Angie just got along so well, that was something I could sense straight from the first meeting that we had, the three of us. Believe it or not, Angie and Johnny had never met. Through all the years that they’ve been king and queen of Hollywood, they had never actually physically met, so I was the first person to ever bring them together. So if nothing else, that was a really historical moment. They just got along so well from the first moment they met that I knew it was going to be a lot of fun making this film. I probably have hours’ worth of bloopers where they were just laughing because they had so much fun inventing stuff on the fly and letting their incredible creativity run free.
How difficult was shooting in Venice?
It was difficult, and that’s why most films they do all the interior stuff in studio and go to Venice for maybe three weeks to shoot all the exteriors. We really shot the entirety of the picture—except the scenes that take place in Paris—we shot them in Venice. There’s a chance that we would have captured more of Venice than has been captured before; that was certainly our aim. When Angie and I first talked about it, we said, “Let’s really make Venice a character. Let’s have it be about Johnny’s character, about her character, but also about Venice. Let’s really shoot it there.” Luckily, our producer was game for this, Graham King, so before we knew it, we were all in Venice and lived there for half a year, and in some of the most fantastic places along the Grand Canal, and I never set foot in a car or a truck for half a year.
Going from The Lives of Others to this film, was there any added pressure in having such big-name actors attached?
I always feel, at the end of the day, the director is one of those many people hiding behind the cameras. I think the spotlight always should be on the actors. The actors I had on The Lives of Others were, maybe not so known so much in America, but in Europe and in Germany they were very well-known. I don’t feel that it was that different in that aspect. It was very different genre-wise and just the feel of the film, but that was part of the fun for me. I feel it’s more fun to try out something completely different, and after you’ve done something more heavy, to do something light and breezy, it was almost a kind of self-therapy there.
What do you think will resonate most with audiences?
I think that they’ll love just seeing a world where somehow everything is beautiful, not so much in a way that seems unrealistic. All of the things we show in the film could happen like they do in the film and could look the way they do, but even if there’s a scene with 500 extras, every single extra will have been designed and sculpted by the most fantastic designers that Hollywood and Italy have to offer, so I hope people will feel transported into a world that is as beautiful as it could be, that’s what I was aiming for. Most of all, I just hope they will be transformed by—as I was on the set—by the incredible chemistry and the joy and love between our marvelous actors, between Angie and Johnny, and Paul and Timothy Dalton and Steven Berkhoff, all the incredible actors that we had.