From director Bong Joon Ho and adapted from the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige,” Snowpiercer tells the story of what happens after Earth has been frozen for 17 years, making the planet uninhabitable, and the few who are still alive are separated by class and now live aboard a train that perpetually circles the world. When a young leader (Chris Evans) from the slum-like tail section decides to start a riot, his fellow passengers charge toward the engine located at the front of the train, where they seek to gain absolute authority.
At the film’s press day, actor Ed Harris (who plays the train’s creator) spoke at a roundtable interview about what made him want to be a part of this film, being a big fan of the films of director Bong Joon Ho, how they came up with the look for his character, director Bong’s unusual shooting style, that the film was basically being edited while it was being shot, and how much he enjoyed working with Chris Evans. He also talked about why it’s taking him so long to get back into the director’s chair again, and his experiencing voicing a helicopter for the animated feature Planes: Fire & Rescue. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ED HARRIS: It was really having seen director Bong’s films that made me want to work with him. I would have played any role, if he’d asked me, just because I really appreciated his work. But the fact that he wanted me to play this guy who’s talked about through the whole film, and who’s the Wizard of Oz behind a curtain, had some attraction to me. It was interesting to try to fulfill something that director Bong wanted. It’s so built up, who this guy is, and then he’s just this old guy making dinner with his robe on. Director Bong really wanted him to be matter of fact and mundane and simple. It’s freaky that way.
Had you seen director Bong’s movies before getting this script?
HARRIS: When I was sent this script, I was told director Bong is a Korean director, and that he’d made some other films, but I had never seen any of them. The first film that they sent me was The Host, which totally blew me away. Then, I watched Mother. And then, I watched Memories of Murder. I thought they were wonderfully accomplished films, which really made me want to work with the guy. I’m a big fan of his.
Were the pajamas your idea?
HARRIS: It was the costume designer’s thought. I don’t remember if we ever tried anything on, other than the pajama look. There were various robes that we tried on, and settled on that one.
HARRIS: Yeah, I believe they had some heat going there.
How good of a cook are you, in real life?
HARRIS: I can make a damn pork chop. My best dish is actually lasagna, which I do a couple times a year. My wife wishes I cooked a little bit more often, but I can put a frozen pizza in the oven and I make a good salad.
What was it like to work with such an international cast and crew, and a director who is Korean?
HARRIS: The most interesting thing was the style of filming. I wasn’t there for the whole shoot. I just came in near the end because you don’t see my character till the end. But you walked in the soundstage and there was this big bulletin board, and they had every shot of the day storyboarded. When you would do one shot, they’d put a line through it. And that’s what you were going to do that day. There was no change. You would do what was on that board. If I was doing a scene and it was a couple pages long, he would never shoot the whole thing one way. He’d shoot a few lines, like the first beat of the scene, and then he would turn the camera around and get my part for that part of the scene. Then, he would change the angle a little bit.
He was basically cutting while he was shooting. The editor was sitting right there on the stage, right below the set with a big tent, actually getting the footage as they were filming. Director Bong cuts while he’s filming, in a way. He’s very precise. I actually enjoyed working that way, but it was getting a little bit frustrating for Chris [Evans] because he’d been there for eight weeks, and you could never really do a whole scene. There would always be parts of it, and I could see where that could maybe get to you, after awhile. Plus, I was entering director Bong’s world and I wanted to fulfill his vision because I think he’s a visionary and a really great filmmaker. It was a different feeling, but a good one. There was a reverence about the whole thing. The set was very quiet. Everybody knew what they were doing, and were very organized and very specific with every shot.
HARRIS: No, very little. Ah-sung speaks pretty good English, but Kang-ho, you have to really use an interpreter with, so we really didn’t talk any detailed shop. It was a pleasure just being around that guy because I think he’s a really, really, really fine actor. I really have a lot of admiration for him. I’d like to work with him again.
What was your experience like, working with Chris Evans?
HARRIS: I really liked working with Chris. He’d been working his butt off on the film for quite a while when I got there. And I didn’t really see him at all, other than when we were working, but he was totally committed and really dedicated to what he was doing. He really wanted to penetrate this character and fulfill director Bong’s vision. I enjoyed working with Chris, a lot. He was a good guy. I liked him very much.
When you take a role like this, do you leave your own directing hat at the door?
HARRIS: I would say more so, in this instance, than usual. Usually, I feel more free to make suggestions or to question things. I felt free to say whatever, but I didn’t really feel the need to because director Bong really just knows what he wants. He really knows, in his head, how he wants something to go, so I would spend most of my energy and concentration trying to fulfill that. There were a few little things, here and there, but I can’t even remember what they were, when I said, “Hey, what about this?”
You’ve been in quite a few sci-fi movies, like The Abyss, Apollo 13, Gravity and now Snowpiercer. What draws you to the genre?
HARRIS: I don’t know. I’m not a huge sci-fi fan or anything, but those were all good stories, and I like a good story. And the directors of all those films are really accomplished people. I like working with a director that I have faith in, and that I know has a strong point of view about what they’re doing.
When will we see you back behind the camera?
HARRIS: That’s a really good question. We shot Appaloosa in ’07. I made Pollock in ’99. That’s almost eight years now. I wish I was directing something right now. I wish I was directing and starting to shoot tomorrow. The only way I know how to do it is to be so compelled with a story or something I’ve read and developed into a script, that I have no other choice but to make a film of it, and I just haven’t been able to find the material. I’m getting a little frustrated. I keep hoping that lightning strikes somehow because I’m not really a director for hire. I see scripts, every once in a while. I guess if I read something that really turned me on, I would do it. But, it’s much more of a personal compulsion that I need to feel. I hope to direct a few more films before I leave the planet, so I hope I can find the material.
You’re in the new Planes: Fire & Rescue movie this summer. How did you find the experience of voice acting?
HARRIS: That was fun. I play a helicopter named Blade, who’s the head of this fire and rescue squadron. It was trippy. I had to go in there three or four times because they kept changing the script a little bit. Every time you’d go in, the animation would get more and more refined. The last time I was there, they were pretty much finished with it, and I was just doing a few little things. It looks really cool. It’s a pretty good story. It’s really fun. I had a good time doing that.
Do you do the same amount of character work on a voice role that you do for live-action?
HARRIS: Not really. It’s a helicopter. It’s very specific, in terms of the technical speak because they had really great advisors who said, “No, you wouldn’t say that. You’d say this.” So, I knew the dialogue was appropriate. It was really just working with Bob [Gannaway], the director, who was just trying to develop this character. It was fun, but I didn’t do a lot of research.
Are they making you your own Blade character for?
HARRIS: That’s a good question. The last time I was in there, they gave me a model helicopter of my character, which was really cute.
Snowpiercer opens in theaters on June 27th.