L’Ecran Fantastique Interviews Andrew Adamson
French magazine L’Ecran Fantastique has interviewed Andrew Adamson, director of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Big thanks yet again to Alexandre Tuis for sending us the scans, which we have translated.
Andrew Adamson: Master of the World
Tall, blond, and as visibly inoffensive as his villainess is fearsome, Andrew Adamson appears on set at the foot of a snowy fir tree. Smiling through his beard, the New Zealand director seems perfectly in his element in this Beaver’s dam set from where he oversees a production that contains all the elements people usually strive to avoid – children, animals, various exterior locations, and unpredictable weather …
Have you changed the original content of the book much?
In regards to myself, I didn’t shy away from the material, and I approached the film by thinking about my feelings from the time when I discovered this work. I read the whole series of seven books when I was eight or ten, and I lived in this world that really developed my imagination over some months. When I came back to them as an adult, I was surprised to see how much of this world was small and its characters not very dimensional. I really want to develop the story by feeding off my imagination, and I hope that it’ll be the same for the audience.
Do you think there are any similarities between this story and the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings books?
This book has been around everywhere since the 1950s. My parents gave it to me to read, just as I would do with my kids. I didn’t want to get involved with a production of this size after having done some very technical films [NB: Andrew Adamson has previously been visual effects supervisor on Batman and Robin, Batman Forever, and co-director of Shrek 1 and 2]. But this project was just so special for me, and for lots of other people. I really wanted the film to be as classic as the book is for me. I think it’s very different from Harry Potter, with a different mood and style.
Will the film also satisfy adult audiences?
It’s not aimed at that type of audience. Before everything else you have to make the film for yourself, which may seem a bit indulgent, but at the end of the day it’s undeniable. You can only satisfy your instincts. So in working on this project I’m imparting my memory of the book, developing the characters more, particularly to understand why Edmund is bad. Here’s a boy whose father has left for the war and whose mother often has to leave him to his devices, and he finds himself landed with no one but his siblings for “parents”. Now he’s sent to the countryside to a strange place. So all of that together disturbs the kid and provokes a reaction on his part. I’m developing the characters more, and we’re talking about a family affected by World War 2 here.
Are the battle scenes violent?
No. I think the action in this film has to be more of a romanticised violence. It’s more poetic and lyrical. If you’ve seen Hero, you’d have noted that the action is magnificent without affecting the tension. That’s my aim with this film. The difference with Hero is that we have a whole heap of creatures, ranging from minotaurs to centaurs, not forgetting the goblins, fauns, etc.
And what about the scene at the Stone Table, which will be fairly traumatising?
It’s certainly the most unsettling bit of the film. It’s an essential scene, but you don’t have to see any bloody knives being plunged into a lion’s body. It isn’t necessary.
Is it difficult to direct the children?
I’ve really liked it, actually. I was a bit worried about the idea before our first session working together, but I found that the kids communicated with lots of energy because they’re so dynamic. Directing them has sometimes proved to be a challenge, but they’re very clever and I’ve noticed that when I’m going through a scene with them, they bring more to it than I could have imagined, and it’s really fabulous.
What are your feelings about Tilda Swinton in the role of the White Witch?
An absolute dream. It isn’t the first name that comes to mind when thinking about the project, but as soon as you talk about Tilda Swinton for the White Witch, everyone agrees. She’s perfect.
With Shrek 3 in motion, your plans are no doubt very loaded …
Shrek 3 is on the way, but I can hardly give it time right now. Our filming schedule is intense and I see this project going badly if otherwise. I have to totally immerse myself. You can’t do very long days with the kids, which has sometimes been a bit of a relief, but nevertheless the difficulties do grow. You go through the bits with four kids in a house, and then the same kids wandering through Narnia up to the Stone Table, where they meet thousands of creatures. The project becomes more and more ambitious, and that’s the way I wanted the film to go. So consequently I probably didn’t anticipate the point when the workload would become so heavy.
Tilda Swinton said that you would like to make a little film focusing on comedians in a “vase clos” …
Yeah, after having done the two Shreks and Narnia, it’s undeniably the kind of thing I aspire to. It’s the same job with a different process. You work the same with the story, the actors’ and the characters’ relationships are developed, and then you translate the emotions to get the visual result in terms of performance. It’s similar with animation, except that the method is different. Since you’re in a room with the setting around you, it’s easier to bring your ideas to the actors. I haven’t explained to them that they’re standing on a beaver’s dam. It’s enough that they’re on the set, and that they can (child or adult) interact with their environment. So it’s easier in that regard. Also, when I do animation, I can totally concentrate on each character. Here I’m figuring for four children and some adults, as well as 150 people with rubber masks in the background. So you have to concentrate in a different way.
Is it easier to work with real people?
No, just different. It’s the first time I’ve made a film with real actors. I have this habit of saying that it’s like the difference between a sprint and a marathon. With animation you can work over much longer periods. Shrek went for nearly 5 years, and it was like a marathon. This film resembles more of a long distance sprint. Like a marathon that would be run at the speed of the 100 metres. The thought processes that you go through, the emotional states … it’s all similar. If the story doesn’t work you feel bad, and vice versa. It isn’t harder or easier.
You’re a New Zealander back in your homeland, with a big production to boot: how do you feel?
It’s good on the personal side of things. It’s great to be returning, and to be able to spend a bit more time with my daughter, who’s quite young. I left because there was practically nothing happening here in terms of cinema at the beginning of the 90s. So I went to the USA to see what was happening. It’s good to be able to bring a film here, and to be with people who I knew well who were trying to take off with this industry that didn’t really exist at that time in Auckland.
The Maori powhiri [welcoming ceremony] was important for you …
It was so magnificent. A marvellous way to begin the production, to welcome the strangers and re-establish the New Zealanders on their native ground. It was a very important experience for us.
Narnia consists of seven books, are you going to be on board for another story?
I’m not saying no to a second, but certainly not for all seven. I wouldn’t like to work on just two franchises for the rest of my life.
Do you envisage any links with the second book?
Yes. When C.S. Lewis wrote this story, he didn’t know that it would become part of a whole series. In the process of creating the film, we knew about the integrity of the story and we know that The Magician’s Nephew gives the prior origins of Narnia and the character of the Queen. Our perspective is wider than Lewis’ was at the time of writing. It’s the same thing in regards to the sets and the concepts that we’ll take to the next one. My driving force is to be fully conscious of the world of Narnia and keep it intact when creating the film. Besides, it would be time for me to return to it, wouldn’t it? (Laughs)