Moments from the Stardust Junket
Written by Andre Dellamorte
So, with much of the main Collider crew enjoying San Diego a couple of Saturdays back, I trudged over to the Four Seasons, the standard junket home, in their place, to talk to the cast and crew of Stardust.
I have never junketed a movie before, though I've done some vaguely similar things, the roundtable and the on-set visit roundtable. As most writers will tell you, the more intimate the interview, generally the better it could be (Face to face trumps phoner, Phoner trumps roundtable, roundtable trumps press conference). A junket roundtable seems to work as such: They put you in a room with about eight or so other writers, in this case trying to keep competing medias away from each other (I was the only online person in my room, likely to keep from too much redundant interviews), and they put the talent on a lazy Susan, switching rooms every fifteen minutes like a round of speed dating. The questions tend to be kept light and on topic, which are sometimes buffeted by the previous inhabitant of their space. We got producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, screenwriter Jane Goldman, stars Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, and Michelle Pfieffer, and director Mathew Vaughn.
The film is a fine slice of whimsy, a fairy tale adapted from the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Charles Vess, involving a young man (Cox) who feels he's got a bigger destiny than the the life in front of him, who promises his love (Sienna Miller) that he'll get her a fallen star. That fallen star happens to be a woman (Danes) who is also lusted after by an evil witch (Pfieffer). Also on this voyage is a series of brothers who are looking for a locket, tossed out the window by their dying king father (Peter O'Toole), with one brother (Mark Strong) taking the lead. Along the way Cox gets help from a pirate (Robert De Niro) with some secrets, runs into a bartering salesman (Ricky Gervais) and must protect the star from the advances of the witch. Oh, and Cox and Danes strike a chemistry along the way.
And so the interviews began with di Bonaventura, and he focused on the fun and difficulties of casting: "Bob (De Niro)'s baggage is absolutely perfect for the character to have another side to him. And Michelle, a staggeringly beautiful woman who was willing to show her age, that's really fun for an audience. What was interesting was debating the two young leads. On the one hand it's not an inexpensive movie, but of course everyone is conscious of trying to bring as big an audience as possible. In a way Charlie's role demanded an innocent, so we completely buy into him as a dorky, fun, but trying to find his footing kid, who turns into a man. There was a debate, but there's not a lot of guys in that age range who have a name value, and it always worked against the part. And Claire is one of the great actresses of her age group, so the idea of getting her to play a star that's fallen was irresistible."
Of course, questions of the marketing came up "Yeah, there was the question 'how do you sell this?' It comes across very snarky in a 15 second piece. It's been tricky to find the balance of communicating what the film is versus cutting it down to show what it is. It's very hard. I get the Princess Bride thing, but the truth is I've shown it to nine and ten year old boys, and they love this movie. My son, who never talks about anything I've done, a year later he still talks about it. It's imprinting on kids, in a way. Cause they've never seen anything like it. It defies age groups (liking it), which is exciting. It's very hard to get films made these days that are idiosyncratic. And I think what Mathew Vaughn did is great, so it's our job to go out get films like this made, because it's difficult to get films like this made these days."
He was followed by screenwriter Jane Goldman, who strolled in, admitting she was exhausted having just returned from Comic-con. And it's too bad she couldn't just stay in Diego, because I'm sure my colleagues would have enjoyed having drinks with her. As for the influence of artist Charles Vess she opined "it influenced all of in terms of tone. Because they (the illustrations) do add so much to the tone of the book. Obviously, it's a fairy tale, a fantasy. But it's Mathew (Vaughn)'s vision. And Neil (Gaiman) is happy with it, it has the spirit of what he intended for the book. Neil set out to write an adult fairy tale, the type of which aren't written any more. The type the original fairy tales were, but with a lot of wry humor, but without pop culture references. And that's what I responded to. You can appeal to people in a modern way without that, though I like it in other films. It's a proper fantasy film, but it's, hopefully, cool and weird. But we weren't tied to the book or illustrations to what it should look like. It wasn't the intention. And Charles is happy with it, cause it's in there."
Di Bonventura mentioned that he helped get Ricky Gervais in the film (and that he improved all his own dialogue). "I can't imagine anything nicer than having one of the funniest men in England, and your name still on the film. He may have written all his own dialogue, but I still have my credit. Thanks Ricky. He didn't actually trample (my script), but he did do a lot of improv, which was awesome. He added his own little flourishes. My feeling is 'whatever makes the film better' I couldn't be happier. Mathew had me on the set a lot, I was on set next to him almost every day, and it was lovely. The actors would come up and ask 'what am I thinking here' and things would evolve on set, and things would have to be redone on set, so it's a treat to be there. Neil was involved when writing the script, but he only visited the set once or twice."
"I never even allowed myself to do any dream casting - I don't think you want to get one person in your head, so I just really wrote the characters in the abstract, but it was hugely exciting when we got De Niro. My only real influence on the casting was in the comic parts."
Then came Charlie Cox. A young man, not yet used to the process of publicity, he sat wearing a rather cool T-shirt, looking nothing like the period player you'd expect of a young British actor. Someone said the film couldn't succeed if he was a failure, and fortunately he doesn't "Mathew said that to me right before production. He made that exact comment. I don't know if I got rid of that sense. You're not going to say no to opportunity like this, you, you just show up and do your work. And hope they can edit you out if you're not up to it. I was the first person cast, and I remember thinking if they cast me as the lead, they'll cast a bunch of really great British actors around me, but of course they cast those guys, and that changes everything. It changed the stakes immediately, and to learn from the likes of them. Once we filmed, I was working every single day, and if I wasn't shooting, I was training. I had to learn to ride a horse, again. And I'm just not comfortable around them. I trained on a normal horse, and I could do it, but then when we were filming we had to run on cobbles… it's the difference between driving a Ferrari and a tractor. And if you watch, I'm fucking terrified. And as for sword training, you don't want to take out Robert De Niro's eye. Obviously everything is rehearsed, and it's because you're comfortable with the routine. And you train to do everything from the looks, and there's one piece where I didn't have that. But I do all the fighting."
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"Mr. De Niro came on to the film after we'd be shooting for three weeks, which is probably rare for him, he's usually the guy they cast first. He was in for ten days, so I think that kind of helped me a little bit, cause I was familiar with the crew and Mathew, so it was really nice to welcome him onto the set, and at the same hide any of the starstruck stuff." And how do he feel about being a target of swooning? "I really don't know. I'm really shy, honestly, I have thought about it, but it may change everything, it may change nothing. But I do believe the chemistry between me and Claire. And Mathew said 'it is all about the chemistry between the two leads. And it's not necessarily real chemistry.' And sometimes it's just there, and when Claire and I finished auditioning… there was something there. But I was auditioning with Claire Danes, so I was just trying to be good."
And then came Claire Danes. For some the process of selling a film is the least appealing aspect, and Claire spent much of the time expelling nervous energies, putting her hair up and playing with her hands – and she should not be blamed for not be exited about being asked question with a 40% chance of inanity. But she soldiered on. On Cox she said "I think he's a wonderful actor. He's really present and expressive, and a real love for it, so that should sustain him." And what about the business "Well I do love acting, which is what I always return to when dealing with the erratic nature of the business. Being aware of people's opinion of myself and my work can be disconcerting at times, but it never interferes with my enjoyment of acting. So I'm okay. But I think you need the passion, but I also realized I needed to define myself outside of the industry, and I can exist pretty comfortably without it, and that's good. I danced as a kid and that's how I discovered acting, and I returned to it about three years ago, so yeah. But I've been lucky to work with wonderfully talented actors throughout my career."
Danes revealed a wit. "The film goes back to the screwball comedies of the thirties, so I liked that, and the film fulfilled all of my little girl fantasies." Asked about chemistry "If I knew how to find that, I'd be sitting on a beach in Fiji with a big fat Cocktail." On her character "She's not a complete damsel in distress… but screaming is fun."On her favorite work "My role in My So Called Life was pretty extraordinary, and it was amazing that I got to play her while I was wrestling with those same feelings, and then Juliet was great, and I loved my role in a film called Brokedown Palace, and Shopgirl. I had the most to do in those films, the most time to explore those characters." On the process "Filmmaking can be really stressful, long hours, weird hours, usually two weeks of night shooting, you're away from your family and friends for at least three months, often in foreign locations, and you have to immerse yourself in new cultures and also new cultures on sets. It's sometimes hard to shake. It takes three days of lying down on some sort of soft surface. It's a process to shake. Though I'd love to play a villain at some point."
Next time: Michelle Pfieffer and Mathew Vaughn.