Mark Johnson’s Radio Interview

In an interview Tuesday on New Zealand’s Newstalk ZB, producer Mark Johnson talked for about 10 minutes about the film and made several very interesting comments (thanks to NarniaWebber Brett for compiling this list!):

*Nicole Kidman was NEVER in New Zealand looking at the locations. They never talked to her about playing the role. It was a serious rumor that caught fire.

*They are now closing in on an actress to play the White Witch. One of the actresses still being considered was Adamson’s first choice. They hope to make an offical announcment with in the next three weeks or so.

*No child stars in this film. For most of them, this will be their first film.

*There will be some cameos for some roles.

*The star of the film will be the film itself. All of the actresses being considered for Jadis know that this won’t be a “star” vehicle.

To listen to this interview, click here.

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Transcript by NarniaWebber Justin Orman.
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Newstalk ZB: Well, with one Oscar-winning fantasy under our belts, New Zealand is ready for another. The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe begins filming in West Auckland shortly. The crew arrived this week and were given a powhiri at a West Auckland marae today. Aside from being filmed here, the project has another New Zealand connection: The director of the film is New Zealander, Andrew Adamson, the Academy Award winning director of Shrek. The C.S. Lewis classic is being funded by Walt Disney Studios and it’s producer, Mark Johnson, who arrived just yesterday is with me. Mark, good afternoon to you.

Mark Johnson: Good afternoon.

NTZB: And thank you for talking to us. Now look, this is a fantasy epic, can you just give us some background? Is it animated? Has it got special effects? What are we going to see?

MJ: It has everything, it really….uh I sound like I’m hedging the question, but the truth of the matter is it is a live action film with a lot of Computer Generated Images, some animation which won’t read as animated. In other words, it won’t look like a cartoon. But some of the creatures will themselves be animated, so it’s gonna borrow from or depend on some of the most cutting-edge technology in film’s today.

NTZB: Who’s doing the technology? Is it Weta Workshop again?

MJ: We have Weta Workshop helping us out a lot, we have a company called Rhythm and Hues, we have a person who’s designing some of the creatures in Los Angeles who will be here shortly. We’re using people from around the world.

NTZB: Real live actors in this one as well?

MJ: Yes, that’s right. Our four leads are four young British children, a family of four. We’re in the process of casting them. We have a casting director in London, and we have a casting director here in New Zealand, looking for those children as we speak.

NTZB: Nicole Kidman?

MJ: No. But you know, it’s so funny. I don’t know where that rumor came from. But not only is Nicole Kidman not doing the film, but we’ve never even talked to her about it. So somehow, there was an early report that she was actually spotted on one of our location reckies or surveys, which we’re not quite sure who was mistaken for Nicole. There was only one woman, though our director, Andrew Adamson, has very long hair, so we think it might have been him.

NTZB: Ok, he’ll be pleased about that. So this is Flockhill Station near Arthur’s Pass?

MJ: That’s right.

NTZB: Or maybe she was down there and looking to buy it. I don’t know.

MJ. Oh, that could be. But no, she is not doing this film, and we have not set any of our cast quite yet, although we’re starting to circle around different actresses.

NTZB: And who are you looking at? Can you…

MJ: Not really, I don’t want to tell you, because I don’t want to be disappointed if we don’t get them, so I’m being very discreet about it, but we should talk in a week or two.

NTZB: Suffice to say though, that we’re talking big-name actors?

MJ: Yes and no. The children, of course, who are the real stars of the film, are, because they’re children, are not big name actors, and they’ll probably be children who are doing their first feature film, and then we will do some cameos with some names. But we really do look at this movie as though the movie itself was the star and we don’t need a big twenty million dollar actor to put it over the top.

NTZB: Now, there are seven Narnia novels, of course, how many films do you intend to do? Just one? Or what about the future?

MJ: Well, we would like to do all seven, and we are certainly looking at it as a franchise, which, in Hollywood movie terms, means that we just keep churning out the Chronicles of Narnia. There is no reason why we can’t do several of these, assuming that this first one, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, works as well as I’m sure it will.

NTZB: No intention of doing a Jackson ____ and doing three like Lord of the Rings?

MJ: We don’t have any intention of going from one directly into the others. But we will be… I mean we might be surprise ourselves, and take a little bit of a breather, and then go straight into the second one.

NTZB: Now the association with New Zealand, why are you here? Is it because of Andrew Adamson?

MJ: Well, it was his idea of course that we look at New Zealand, not that that was, I don’t mean to take anything away from him, not that that was the most original idea, because everybody, quite frankly, for some obvious reasons and not some obvious reasons in Hollywood is talking about New Zealand, because it really has spectacular landscapes which have not really been photographed all that much, and New Zealand has proven itself to be a very film-friendly country from both a Governmental standpoint and just the man-in-the-street’s standpoint. And also, luckily now, New Zealand really has a very strong filmmaking base, so the crew members here that we’ve met and interviewed, and indeed are hiring, are among the best in the world.

NTZB: What about the actors who come down here and say, “We love this place, it’s just great, but we’ve got this union in United States, haven’t we?”(?) And some actors are against moving the movies out of the United States, out of Hollywood. I think Sean Astin, who starred in The Lord of the Rings was outspoken on this. Do the actors want to leave the United States for a period of two, three, four months?

MJ: You know, I don’t know a soul who we’ve talked to, either an actor, or a crew member, who wouldn’t drop everything he or she was doing to come to New Zealand. It really is the biggest magnet we have for attracting people, along with the script, and Andrew Adamson himself, it is just a…I’m telling you, it wasn’t just at the Oscars where New Zealand has gotten all the attention. I talked to friends of mine, filmmakers, who would love to give their eye-teeth to come to New Zealand to do a film.

NTZB: So what locations have you been looking at? Where is the bulk of this film going to be?

MJ: Well the bulk…the first half, we’re looking at a approximately 100 day shooting schedule, half of that, approximately, will be shot in and around Auckland. And we’re going to do our studio work here, and then use some local locations. And then we will move sometime in the end of September, to the South Island, and shoot in a number of different locations.

NTZB: Will you be picking up New Zealand actors as well?

MJ: Oh, absolutely! And our crew will be at least 85 percent made up of New Zealand crew members.

NTZB: What’s your budget for this?

MJ: I’m…you know what? Disney won’t let me talk about it, suffice it to say, it is a very big budget movie. It is by far the biggest film that I’ve ever done, and I’ve done…I just finished doing a film that opens in the States on Friday, called The Alamo, which is a very large film and I’ve done everything from Rain man to Good Morning, Vietnam and Donnie Brasco, any number of films. And none of them have been anywhere as big as this.

NTZB: Wow, you did Good Morning, Vietnam? What’s The Alamo? Tell us about that.

MJ: The Alamo is … know, people think of the John Wayne film, but actually, there have been fourteen other films. It is a very important American battle, we just did it with Dennis Quaid playing Sam Houston, Billy Bob Thornton playing Davy Crockett, and Jason Patric playing Jim Bowie. It’s a film that I’m very, very proud of.

NTZB: Dennis Quaid, that’s Meg Ryan’s ex, right?

MJ: So they tell me, yeah.

NTZB: Have you seen that In the Cut?

MJ: I did see it, I saw it on the airplane actually.

NTZB: What’d you think of that?

MJ: Very strange movie for her to be doing, but I understand the choice.

NTZB: Yeah, ok. Anyway, back to The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. So this is based on the books’ success? I think it’s sold something like eighty-five million copies. How confident are you that you can produce a real box-office hit out of this?

MJ: Well, it is not an accident that is sold so many copies. It’s a wonderful, wonderful story, and it’s themes, are tireless and meaningful to us today as they were when these books were written in the early 1950’s. So, I think that, like anything else, it’s a really wonderful story with characters we will immediately take to, so I’m….you can never tell when you start a film how well it’s going to do. All you can do is say to yourself, “This is a wonderful story, and I’d like to see this,” and hope that you’re not the only person in the cinema when it opens, so….and I have such confidence in Andrew Adamson. I have to say we haven’t worked together before, this is our first film, but he just….he’s magical. He’s somebody who I think all of us would walk through fire for, and his vision of the film, really is what I think stimulates all of us as much as we like the book. He said something very important to me, and insightful, when we first met. He said, “I’m not really interested in making a movie based on the book, The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. I’m interested in making a movie based on my, sort of, interpretation, and my reading, and my imagination of the book when I read it.” So it really is the confluence of the book, and a filmmakers point of view, and a filmmakers imagination turning this into a movie, that it’s sort of where, I think, one and one will add up to three.

NTZB: All right, well I very much look forward to seeing it…At the end of 2005, you think it will be ready?

MJ: It opens in the states, hopefully, will open….my guess is it will open all around the world at pretty much the same time: Which is Christmas, 2005.

NTZB: Well, good luck. Robin Williams would be good in this, wouldn’t he?

MJ: I haven’t talked to him about it yet, but he’s a good friend, and I’ve done two movies with him, but I think that in a case like that, I think that he might take you out of the movie, you know? You’d say, “That’s Robin Williams.”

NTZB: Okay. Well, I’ll look forward to watching it and seeing The Alamo too. Thank you so much for talking to us, and we’re very fortunate to have you down here making the movie.

MJ: Thank you so much, I think I’m the fortunate one.

NTZB: Thank you.

MJ: So long.

NTZB: Enjoy your visit. That is Mark Johnson, Producer of The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe.