As someone who’s still obsessed with the 2010 remake of The Crazies, I was beyond thrilled to get the opportunity to visit the set of director Breck Eisner’s follow-up, The Last Witch Hunter. Eisner is working with a script from Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless that centers on a character named Kaulder (Vin Diesel), a witch hunter who’s taken on and defeated the seven witch queens (one for each continent). Trouble is, one managed to curse Kaulder with her own immortality before he could kill her so now, in modern day, Kaulder is the last witch hunter remaining.
Back in November, we joined Eisner down in a Pittsburgh coal mine to watch him shoot a scene that’s set in a witch prison. Check out what he told us about that, the type of magic his witches use, Kaulder’s lengthy history, the tone of the movie and much more in the full group interview below. The Last Witch Hunter is set to hit theaters on October 23rd. In case you missed it, you can check out the film’s trailer below.
Question: How long have you been filming down here?
BRECK EISNER: This is our third day in the mine, I think? Second day in the mine. Yesterday was our first day in the mine. But we’ve been in Pittsburg for 50 odd days.
It just feels like three days.
EISNER: It feels like three days. It’s what, 15 degrees out? In here it’s about 30, so I guess that’s a benefit.
So why this one? What was it about the script that drew you to it?
EISNER: I loved the character Kaulder, first off the bat. I’ve always, as a kid, loved Highlander. It reminded me a bit of it, but it had this awesome element of witches and this eternal hunter who has been avenging the death of his wife and daughter to no emotional success, and it was just a really, I think, challenging story to play in a genre movie and I was just really looking forward to that challenge. Also all the different time periods and worlds that it explored I really was interested in.
We heard you had a very, very specific vision for this movie and that you wanted it to be separate from other visions that have come before it. Can you talk about how you came up with that vision and where you drew from for inspiration?
EISNER: Sure. I mean, obviously it’d take a while to answer that whole question. [Laughs] One of the things I wanted to see [was] Vin differently than I’d ever seen him before, a character who is haunted, who is somewhat tortured but who’s also still bad-ass and kick-ass. The idea of seeing him in the mediaeval period as a warrior was really appealing to me as well. And seeing him with hair and a beard, that seemed cool. But the other thing is I’ve never really seen witches portrayed in a way that is satisfying from a genre point of view, you know? They’re either a pointy nose, a wart and a big hat on a broom or the other extreme, depicted as a monster. But our point of view was that they are still humans but these kind of self-bastardized versions of humans who have power that is more of the mind than of the physical world. So it was a movie that really plays in multiple plains of reality and witches were able to project images in your mind that make you think you’re insane or maybe think loved ones are alive or make you think you’re in places you’ve been in the past, and that idea of being able to converge these different plains of reality into our hero’s mind, that really drew me to the project.
What genre would you put this in? Action-adventure, horror?
EISNER: It’s a bit cross genre, which is always fun and always a challenge. It’s not horror. It’s definitely more towards dark adventure, although the action is slanted towards scaring, dark tension, tense action, rather than bombastic like Fast and Furious action.
Is it black and white where the witches are decidedly bad or is there more of a gray area?
EISNER: Well, in Kaulder’s mind it starts out that the world is black and white and clearly, like anything, the world is never that simple and via his relationship with Chloe who happens to be a witch, he realizes that what he saw as black and white truly is a more world of grays, absolutely. Magic is good, magic is bad, magic is neutral, it’s neither good nor bad, it is part of the fabric of the world in our movie. It’s kind of the DNA of the planet. Definitely more in the world of grays, but the fun is watching the perspective of magic from our hero’s point of view shift as the movie goes via his relationship with the female lead.
Can you tell us a little bit about the scene we’re seeing?
EISNER: We’re in a witch prison here, which is why we’re in the mine, of course. In this scene, Kaulder knows that the Witch Queen, which is the big baddie of the movie, I don’t wanna give away too much, but she has returned and they have to come down to this witch prison to stop this cataclysmic event and they’re going into the mind of one of the prisoners to try and stop the event. So it’s an event just talking about these multiple plains of reality that being able to exist in different time periods and also different mental periods, and we’re gonna follow this scene from here and go with Chloe as she goes into the mind of this madman, or this mad witch, and this is the setup for that.
You mentioned that the DNA of the planet is tied up with magic. Is that indicative of the organic nature of the way they look?
EISNER: Yeah, witches are connected to nature. They live in a mass of tree, they draw their power from nature, they kind of feel that they’re the protectors of nature and from the witches’ point of view, they see man as destroying nature. That’s one of the reasons the movie takes place in New York, which is a world that is pretty much devoid of the natural place. So from the witches’ point of view, their beef with humanity is the lack of respect for the natural world of which they exist in.
Do we follow the hero’s perspective the whole time or do we get to spend any time with the witches themselves?
EISNER: Mostly the hero’s point of view. It is Vin Diesel so we want to spend time with him, but we do spend some time with Chloe (Rose Leslie), the female lead. She is the female lead in the movie so we do have some of her own perspective as well. But it’s mostly told through Kaulder’s point of view.
Was having Vin in that lead role an absolute must?
EISNER: Oh, yeah. Written for him. Even before me, written by Cory [Goodman] for him, with him in mind. We chased him with it until he said yes. Yeah, it was Vin or nobody. He was the only person we ever pictured.
He’s been writing on Facebook that this role is something he’s never done before. Is there anything specific about the character that will blow our minds in that respect?
EISNER: I mean, I think independent of just the fact that he has hair and a beard and he exists in the mediaeval period, he’s a character who’s not always winning, which I love about heroes, is a character who can be on his heels and come at the end of the day and still save the world. He spent 800 years succeeding and like any great power, superpower or country or whatever, when you have a certain period of time where you’ve fallen to success you stop protecting yourself and it’s a transitional period for a character who’s been alive for centuries. And I think it’s a different way he’s been seen. He’s a much more multilayered character than I’ve ever seen him play and he’s done an amazing job at it.
Earlier we heard a little bit about the tone of the film. Obviously it’s a little darker than let’s say, Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters. Vin Diesel’s not gonna be cracking one-liners. Can you speak to that a bit?
EISNER: It’s funny, I mean, Hansel and Gretel has some pretty gratuitous violence in terms of the gore factor of it, which I found disconcerting in the tonality of that movie. It’s a PG-13 movie. It’s not an R-rated movie so there’s not a lot of gore in the movie, but it’s scary. The action is scary, the witches are scary, they’re dangerous.
They look creepy with the organic roots.
EISNER: Yeah, exactly. They should feel like something that could actually exist, which I think makes them scarier, as opposed to just monsters. And the fact that they can get into your minds and fuck with your perception of reality, I think that’s really scary and I think for our hero, our very, very strong hero who can fall prey to that, makes the audience feel that their power is one of a very dangerous and powerful existence. For me, I love dark tonal movies and this does fall into that for sure.
Since the witches have these mind powers, the movie doesn’t have to take place in the literal physical world. Can you talk about any sequences that you were opened up to creatively because you could go there?
EISNER: Yeah, that’s one of the great things about this movie, you can go anywhere! We’re in the witch world! It’s liberating, it’s also challenging because you have to make sure you create limitations and stick to those limitations, but for me the fun was I wanted to do a fight with Kaulder and the villain that exists in multi-plains of reality, that he’s stuck. He gets woken up from a memory, but he’s still stuck between reality and this memory, and the memory is in the 1200s and the fight is happening in present day and how that’s kind of something that’s hobbling him and preventing him from being able to fight. That was one of the scenes I was really excited about doing.
Are the witches all female?
EISNER: No, no. There’s warlocks and witches and it’s pretty much an even mix. Some of our leads are female and some of our leads are male.
What are you shooting on?
EISNER: Digital. This is my first digital movie, which in a place like a mine is great because we don’t need a lot of light and I get to roll a lot which is great. I do miss film, but for this movie the digital is great.
And mostly Steadicam?
EISNER: No Steadicam. I use very little Steadicam. Mostly handheld. That was another thing, I wanted the movie to feel embedded so when we’re battling with the warriors in the 12th century, we’re handheld and with them and the movie has a looser handheld feel. It’s funny, we joke about whenever I pull out the Steadicam, which is very rare, they’re like, ‘Whoa! We forgot how to use that. I gotta retrain myself!’
I thought I heard that they’re possibly turning this into a franchise. Would you want to come back for another movie?
EISNER: Yeah, of course. That’d be great. I spent a couple of years getting this one off the ground. It’s been an amazing experience. I would love to come back. That’s one of the things, there’s so much story to tell, you know? We can only scratch the surface in this one. We have a character that’s existed from the 1200s through today. I mean, imagine all the time periods. He’s battled the seven witch queens. In the history of the background, there have been seven queens who existed on each of the inhabited continents and he’s defeated each of them and so this journey that he’s gone on has been this global multi-century journey that there’s just a lot of really great material to pull from.
EISNER: Oh man, I mean, years. From the point of view of Cory’s first script, which read like it was based on a graphic novel, just to understanding the design of the witches and where the witches exist and Kaulder’s look and the witch background and pages and pages of documents on where they come from. I think it’s crucial to know all the background of our hero and the background of the world itself, and a hero that’s existed for 800 years has a lot of background, obviously. And the witch war, I mean, there has been a war that’s existed for many centuries at the helm of our hero. We just need to know all the information in order to kind of write the scenes and to be able to give Vin his direction for the scenes.
With so many female characters in the movie, even though it focuses on Vin Diesel, are you guys gonna pass the Bechdel test at the end of the day?
EISNER: Pass the what?
The Bechdel test is a very simple test that most movies fail. You have to have two female characters that have names that talk to each other about something other than a man.
EISNER: Two female characters that talk to each other about something other than a man. Can they be witches?
Yes they can.
EISNER: Well then we do! [Laughs]
You can check out more of my Last Witch Hunter set visit coverage using the links below:
- Vin Diesel Talks ‘D&D,’ Sequels and More on the Set of ‘The Last Witch Hunter’
- ‘The Last Witch Hunter’ Set Visit Interview: Mark Canton on Developing an Original IP