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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Interviews: Indiana Jones's George Lucas, Shia LaBeouf and Cate Blanchett

In the Carleton Hotel at Cannes, a small group of journalists have navigated the maze-like hallways, made it through a series of security checkpoints and eventually brought to a suite to sit in rows and hear Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf and George Lucas talk about the making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Despite the bizarre timing of the interviews -- Paramount scheduled the press day before the press screening of the film -- rendering the experience slghtly awkward, LaBeouf, Blanchett and Lucas were relaxed and charming as they took hypothetical questions, general inquiries and wild guesses about the film. Cinematical was there to hear George Lucas talk about the politics of Indy, LaBeouf explain why his switchblade skills needed work and Blanchett talk about being directed by her children, and much more

George, was it really important to have the space alien element to the story? The legend about this movie is that it was held up because you wanted to have the Area 51 segment in there. Is that true, and why is it so important to have the aliens in there?

George Lucas: Well, these movies don't work without an object that they're going after that is supernatural and that is a real object that people believe in – whether it's actually true or not true – whether it's the Ark of the Covenant, whether it's the Holy Grail, these are things that are mythological artifacts that have real mythology. It's not made-up Hollywood, by me or by anyone else, it's the real deal. So I had to have something that would be the real deal. When we finished the third film, we didn't know if we were gonna make (a next) movie. ...
George Lucas (continued): We signed on for three movies, we did our three movies, and that was the end of it. It was especially true for me, because I was the one who had to come up with the next story, and we'd struggled so hard with the last one, and even the second one. The only one we had a really good MacGuffin on, so to speak, was the first one. So I said, "well, don't worry, we'll never do another one of these unless we come up with something." When I thought about the fact that we would have to deal with Harrison in a later age, you know, he'd have to be in the fifties in order for the whole thing to work and for his age to be appropriate, and then I started thinking, "Well, gee, the obvious thing to go after is a film that's sort of... we were in the action-adventure serials of the thirties when he was in the thirties, so he would be in the B-movies of the fifties, which were kind of science-fiction movies." That was really how that thing grew. I came up with that and the idea that something from that genre, it seemed to me that was a really good idea for a MacGuffin. And, of course, the others said, "We're not doing alien movies." So we discussed that for about ten years... (Laughs) Ironically, I went off and did ten years on my alien movie, Steve went off and did War of the Worlds and his alien movies, and so, while we were all off doing alien movies, saying we weren't gonna do another alien movie, we finally came together and found something that was different, that wasn't quite what my original idea had been, a modified version that everyone seemed to get excited about.

There's no movie without Harrison Ford, I think, so did you have to arm-wrestle him back into this? Was he reluctant?

GL: No, Harrison was the impetus, he was the one that kinda wanted to do it... Steven was the one who sorta didn't want to do it, and I was the one that said, "Well, I can't think of anything to do," so we were caught in that. Harrison's saying, "I wanna go out and do something," and I'm saying, "I can't think of anything to do," and Steve's saying, "I wanna stay home and watch television so I can be with my kids." So, you know, that was kind of the way we went for quite a while, and then there was the fact that we couldn't get our schedules together in order to do it, it was hard.

We haven't seen the movie yet, but I've always just assumed that Shia's going to be playing Indy's son in this movie. Is that true?

Shia LaBeouf: That's an assumption.

GL: That is an assumption. That's an assumption, sir.

So talk a little bit about coming onto this project, then.

SL: It's terrifying and exciting, and even if you're welcomed, the scope of it, it's daunting. You get past that, the fact that George Lucas is George, and Cate Blanchett is Cate, and Harrison Ford is Harrison, and... it's very scary. You can giggle, because you're George Lucas, but it was very scary for me, and it eased up in the first couple of weeks. The way that we started with the schedule, we sort of jumped right into stunts, and then you find this mutual respect with Harrison, who isn't warm immediately, so once we developed a friendship type of thing, everything became easier.

Cinematical: I'm very curious, Mr. LaBeouf, Ms. Blanchett, what your greatest moment of anxiety was in the process but also what your greatest moment of unexpected joy was as well? When were you the most scared and when were you the most happy?

Cate Blanchett: I was most terrified or worried about how I could do all these action sequences and keep my hairdo completely neat. (Laughs) I became obsessed with the neatness and the line of the hair, and I did manage to do it mostly.

Was that hairdo an homage to somebody specifically in the fifties?

CB: Well, Vidal Sassoon. ...

GL: I'm a big fan of Louise Brooks, a big fan of the bob, and I couldn't resist. I just had to get that in a movie.

CB: I didn't resist.

GL: Just something that had to happen.

Mr. Lucas, you've been in this place before, in the sense that you've had this original, fantastically successful trilogy and then went again with a later one. I'm not gonna say you're gonna do three more, or two more of these after this, but does this sort of make you nervous in any way because of the reaction to your second Star Wars trilogy... was not that great at the beginning?

GL: Well, it wasn't, and I explained to Steven when we set out on this one, I said, you know, and I've gotten in trouble for saying it, which is, when you do a film that's this anticipated, people have a tendency to believe it's going to be the Second Coming, and no matter what you give them, they're going to be disappointed, until ILM can come up with a way of presenting the Second Coming that's believable. You're gonna get, especially in the new twenty-first century communications reality of the internet and everything, it's just a whole different world and people have very strong opinions and they express them. Part of that was also, with Star Wars and Indiana Jones, has not been reviewed in a superlative fashion most of the time, these aren't the movies that end up winning Academy Awards or anything, so you come to expect the fact that ... we knew that going in. There's a reason for us to do this, we certainly don't need the money and we're only gonna get sort of ... people are gonna throw tomatoes at us. But it's a fun movie to make, we love it, we like to see 'em, and in the end, this one turned out fantastic, so for us, it was all worthwhile, and I'm sure there'll be some people who'll be disappointed. Anybody who loves the old movies I'm sure will love this film, because I've seen it, and it's fantastic. It's everything the old ones were and more, which ... You know, The Phantom Menace ended up the most successful worldwide movie of the Star Wars series, even though everybody seemed to hate it. I don't know how that happened, but it worked out.

Will there possibly be an Indy 5 then?

GL: What I said, which I've been saying all day... (Laughs) What I said before, to somebody at a party, which is, Harrison and Steven and I have talked about it, but we can't do it unless we come up with a good idea, which I haven't. It took me twenty years to figure out... well, it didn't take me twenty years last time, but it took me five or six years to figure it out, and the next question on that one was, will it star Shia? And I said, well, you can't do an Indiana Jones film without Harrison Ford, because he's Indiana Jones, which somebody then made an assumption that Shia was Harrison's son, and that Harrison would then turn into the Sean Connery character, which is quite an assumption, considering I don't have a story yet... or may never have a story.

Cinematical: This is for the actors, were there any specific period materials or films or documents or photos that you were asked to look at? Were there things that you looked at to get a feel for the period in the film?

SL: Yeah, I was given a homework packet – Red River, The Wild One, Rebel [Without a Cause], Blackboard Jungle, Sidney Poitier, that was a big one, that was the main one...

Cinematical: You got Juvenile Delinquent 101.

SL: Yeah.

GL: The biggest part of the packet was... the first ten years of Playboy magazine.

Is that true?

GL : No.

Cinematical: And Ms. Blanchett, did you have a similar document or series of documents to look at, or no?

CB: Yeah, I did, obviously, because I play someone working in the Russian military, and they were working with suggest-ology and ESP and telepathy and ... am I gonna be shot for talking about all this? (Laughs) It was a huge fat document that was sort of the documentation of all the research that was done and it was utterly fascinating. It was treated like a science, and it was about how you could dominate the world through mind power without military hardware. So it was quite an incredible thing, so...

But you had to learn swordplay too, though?

CB: Yes, I've always wanted to fence. It's a very fine art.

Between playing a version of Bob Dylan and doing this, it's almost hard to believe these are in the same kind of medium, it's almost like very different worlds. Which is the more challenging, the more difficult, the more sort of ... forbidding?

CB: I think you said it. I think films are a very elastic medium, and people can get real literal about it, and to place something that... really, this is not a sequel, I just always think of Indiana Jones, the next Indiana Jones film, as being another chapter in an adventure story, whereas the Bob Dylan film was just exploding a linear narrative, it didn't have a linear narrative, and now I'm sounding like Bob Dylan. (Laughs) So it was a very different experience. Obviously, this has got a huge epic trajectory that's all adrenaline-based, and the Dylan experience was very different, but this is what the film demands of you.

Could you talk about Indiana Jones in Bob Dylan's voice for us?

CB: No, that'd be really schizophrenic.

GL: You can't assume that Bob Dylan is a Russian spy who believes in parapsychology. We don't get to make that assumption.

CB: That's why I was hired.

So here we are at Cannes, you've been at Cannes before, you've presented films many times at Cannes, and so has Steven Spielberg, obviously, going back to E.T. What is it about Cannes that works for this particular franchise?

GL: Well, it's always fun to come to Cannes. It's a nice place, when it's not raining, and... for us, it's a chance to sort of bring it out and have it open on a very big stage, and in a place where everybody loves movies, which is also great. It's also, in terms of a practical level, a place where all the media meet, so you get to do this part of it in a convenient way that you wouldn't... because otherwise, we'd have to go traveling all around the world, which we are gonna have to do a little bit of, but at the same time, it cuts down on that, and it's a festive and fun way of handling that whole drama.

Is it low-risk?

GL: I think it's probably, in terms of what we were talking about before with those people who write about movies, it's probably a higher risk, but in terms of... let's just have a good time and just let it be out there and let everyone enjoy it, it's good because it... You have the choice of premiering it here or in London or New York or L.A., so why not here where it's that much more fun?

Cinematical: Shia, you were in Transformers, which was a very large computer-effects-driven film. Was it different being on a slightly more analog set: more stunts, more props, more physical objects, and not just staring where a robot's supposed to be? Was it a different filming experience despite the scale of the film?

SL: Absolutely. Yeah, it's learning a whole new skill set. Transformers, a lot of it is reactionary, where you're not part of the physical action, and this is very different. It's acquiring skill sets that take time to learn. There's no way to trick yourself into learning them, you have to learn them.

Like, what did you have to learn?

SL: Motorcycle riding, sword fighting. It was four-and-a-half months prep. The knife took time. These are physical skill sets that I... I don't have a switchblade, I'm a Jewish kid from Echo Park. (Laughs) So those things are very different.

Is there much more CGI ... compared to the other three?

GL: No. Steven really wanted to do this the old-fashioned way. We did a little bit, but not very much. It's mostly matte paintings and things.

Shia, you've got another movie (Eagle Eye) coming out before the end of the summer?

SL: Yeah, September, I think.

And you're doing the Transformers sequel?

SL: Right.

How do you see your career now? Are you gonna be the new action go-to guy?

SL: Today, I'm in Indiana Jones, and that's okay. Just one day at a time. I take movies that I like to watch and I like to make. I don't think it's that strategic, I don't think I'm plotting and planning like that. Opportunities come up and then you take 'em, a play-it-by-ear type of thing.

Cinematical: There are very large heroic paintings of both of you on the front of this building, very high. Are you kind of inured to that, or is it still a little... either exhilarating or awkward to go by those?

CB: It was in my contract. (Laughs)

... Which speaks to something that fascinates me, because Indy is now, it's beyond the individual successes of the first three movies. It's now popular culture. Indiana Jones is actually a brand, it's an idea. Harrison Ford is now on the board of some archeological museum because he's Indiana Jones...

CB: That's really cool.

That is kind of cool, so ... you helped create it. What is it that you see in this that's parallel to your experience on Star Wars that's made this into the kind of pop cultural phenomenon that it is now?

GL: It's hard to really discuss how it happened, but once it has happened, I mean, I do have sort of two cultural icons. Fortunately, they're both positive and they both, especially Indiana Jones, has done a job of highlighting archeology and the social sciences around history, archeology, anthropology, all these sorts of searching for our past kinds of endeavors, and making them more interesting, especially to young people, that there is something to be said for digging up the past and sort of going through it and seeing what you can see and applying that to your current situation, which is what I'm a big fan of. It was my obsession. You talk to any archeologist now and they say, "oh, I was the original Indiana Jones" or "I got into this because of Indiana Jones", and it's not that exciting. It's exciting in an intellectual way, not in a physical way, although you do have to sit out in the sun for ten hours a day and bake, which is what the most real thing about this science is. ... The history's exciting. The whole thing is a way of sort of enlightening at least a younger generation and even an older generation to our past, exploring our past, and it helps that Indy gets on the board of museums and stuff so people will say "Hey, this isn't just an old place where they store old stuff, archeological stuff is a cool idea, let's go look at this stuff," and it does relate to an actual event. It's hard for a lot of people to take that thing that's in a museum and relate it to a person, and even if you're doing it through a fake person who's in between, the archeologist who actually does have to go out and dig the thing up, then you can understand that and you can understand how that begins to fit and go back further and further.

Is that why you financed these extraordinary '92 documentaries for the Young Indy box sets?

GL: Well, I'm a bit of a history maniac, and I always have been. It was my major in high school, and it was my major in college, and I really think that people should have a good clear picture of the past, and I think it is important to science and math and the other things that get pushed in the technological world to make us richer, to be able to build better things. It's also important for us to look back and see the psychological mistakes that were made or pressures that people were under and the good decisions that were made under horrendous conditions, and hopefully to learn from that, because we don't seem to be able to do that.

Harrison Ford was saying how McCarthyism comes up and how that's an example of what you've just been talking about. Is that a fair comment, the right to academic freedom?

GL: Yeah, fear, fear of the unknown, fear of not wanting to change, ultimately. That's a period of time that was interesting to me because of when I grew up, but at the same time, when there is a truly paranoid attitude toward Communism in particular, Russia or the Soviet Union, that was all created by – dare I say it – an unwillingness to talk to each other and sit down and try to settle the problems without rattling the sabers, and in that particular case, it became an economic war that, one side ran out of money before the other side did, although that other side ran out of money too, which we will soon find out, and it's like, when do you sort of get to the point where you sit down and realize there's this thing called diplomacy that, if you actually use it, it actually is a nice tool for human beings to sit down and come to a civil agreement rather than shooting each other in the head. I just wanted to say: this is history, learn from it. This is just a little piece from the beginning of the twentieth century.

Could we hear the actors talk about their favorite or the best memory you got from making this movie?

CB: I have to say, as a now mother of three, on the mushy side, I was just so amazed by what a tight-knit family you all are, I mean culturally as well as individuals. You've all grown up together, and how embracing you are, and my kids were so welcome on the set – in fact, Steven even let them direct me one day, they were highly critical. (Laughs) They would call "action," and he was highly welcoming to my family, and so that was really pretty special.

SL: I think the last day was powerful. Everybody seemed to be pretty tearful. I've never seen that in another movie before. It was powerful, it was a long time coming, and we'd gone through a lot, and that last day was... it was a powerful day. At that point, we'd already gone through the adventure, and just how warm everybody was, crew included, I mean everybody was really tight. Like Cate said, it was a tight-knit group.

GL: We started this movie to have a good time because we had a good time a long time ago doing the first three, and the three of us really enjoyed it and the most fun I ever had making movies was making Raiders of the Lost Ark, and that sort of set the tone for the whole reason we did this in the first place is, one: yes, we too wanted to see another Indiana Jones film, and we have the power to actually make it happen, we can see another one, and we love to watch them. We love this one, so, on top of that, we actually love making them. I mean, they're hard, and they've got their problems, but generally speaking, everybody has a great time. There's not a lot of crazy stress or anything. Everybody's very professional, working very hard, but also enjoying themselves, and it is sad when it ends. You say, gosh, it doesn't happen all the time on a picture. There are times where things are a little less than perfect. ...

Shia, has Harrison given you any advice on how to deal with all the added attention you're gonna get after this film, after Indiana Jones, and especially from the ladies?

SL: Harrison kinda laughs it all it off. Again, his star rose in a very different time, it was less tab-worthy. He also... He laughs at the mistakes. He came in at a different age, he wasn't 21 doing this, and it came later for him, and he laughs it off. He doesn't really give me any advice, he just sorta laughs at the scenario, and... no, I'm left the loner. (Laughs)

Do you get embarrassed when girls come up and ask for your autograph?

SL: Yeah, I can't deal with it yet; I get weirded out.,22/5/2008,written by James Rocchi

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