From director Christian Rivers and with a script written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, the fantasy adventure Mortal Engines is set hundreds of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event that has led society to rebuild as moving cities of varying sizes, where the bigger cities hunt down and consume the smaller cities, as part of the natural evolution. When the mysterious and fierce Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) joins forces with outcast Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) to stop the giant predator city of London from destroying everything in its path, their strength and determination will be tested in ways that neither could have ever imagined.
At the film’s press day, held on the Universal Pictures backlot, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with Irish actor Robert Sheehan to talk about the film’s epic scope, the unusual dynamic between Hester and Tom, Tom’s character journey, and the type of scenes he most enjoys shooting. He also talked about being a part of The Umbrella Academy, embracing the madness and the unusual nature of the Netflix series, and how it compares to The Royal Tenenbaums and X-Men.
Collider: What’s it like to spend so much time giving life to a character like this and work on it for months, and now have it be so close to officially going out in the world?
ROBERT SHEEHAN: It’s interesting how, no matter how big or small the project is, everybody who’s involved in the making of it are bonded by the blood, sweat, tears, bruises and cuts that they got in the making of it. When it starts to come out, it’s interesting because it starts to become more the world’s than ours, or at least we start to share it and it takes on a different reality. It takes on its own story. Having spent so much time working on this thing, and for it to be now coming out and now everyone knows about it, it’s strange because it’s in the minds of millions of people. What else can I say, other than it’s incredibly exciting, for that reason.
There were a lot of actual sets on this production, but there’s still a huge element of it that you don’t get to see until the film is finished. What was it like to actually get to see what this world would fully look like?
SHEEHAN: I think it’s the scope that you don’t fully understand when you’re there, on the day, which is a good thing because it’s not your business to understand it. You’re a human being, and human beings deal with what’s going on, right in front of them. But once the camera pulls back, you’re looking at the world in its vastness, and it swirls up the length and breadth of London, as it’s at full power, across a vast landscape. It’s truly astounding on a big IMAX screen. As an actor, you have no way of knowing how big the thing is gonna look. It just looks unimaginably large on the big screen. With Mortal Engines, there’s just so much to take in. Cinema is always trying to stay one step ahead.
Did you have a favorite set or a favorite sequence to shoot?
SHEEHAN: I don’t know if I have a favorite, to be honest. They have different flavors. I really, really enjoyed the flying of the Jenny Haniver, which is the beautiful red airship that is Anna Fang’s. Tom gets his moment to be the pilot in the driver’s seat. That was really intense. But the stuff that I love doing is the up close stuff, and a lot of that was with Hera [Hilmar]. A lot of the stuff with her was just a pure joy because we had this lovely, nuanced dramatic tennis going on, in a lot of the scenes.
Hester Shaw and Tom Natsworthy have such an interesting dynamic because they are very different people, who initially just seem really confused by the other.
SHEEHAN: Yeah, they don’t know what they are and what they mean together. It’s nice because everybody has mentioned how that’s a very strong part of the film. Even though they don’t know what they are, they’re not friends or enemies. They’re just stuck with each other for a bit. And then, as soon as they end up each other from some baddies, you feel the bond deepen in them and they become partners in crime. They become bonded together. I love that. That’s one of my favorite things about the film, that lovely central relationship. You don’t want them to be too adversarial, and you can’t have them be too affectionate either. It’s very subtly done, and that’s huge kudos to the editor, as well.