Monday, 28 March 2016

STEVEN SPIELBERG, TOM HANKS, AMY RYAN AND SEBASTIAN KOCH

STEVEN SPIELBERG, TOM HANKS, AMY RYAN AND SEBASTIAN KOCH Q and A

BRIDGE OF SPIES IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL HD ON 14TH MARCH AND BLU-RAY AND DVD ON 28TH MARCH FROM TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT


Steven, how did the fascinating story of BRIDGE OF SPIES come to you?
Spielberg: It came to me by way of a British playwright named Matt Charman. He had been researching a movie about the Bay of Pigs invasion, and came across a man named James B. Donovan who actually had something to do with getting people out of Cuba after that failed invasion. Charman found that man to be more compelling than the story of the Bay of Pigs. He traced the man’s life-story back to the Nuremburg war crime trials where Donovan was the legal counsel in charge of documentaries, directed by George Stevens and John Ford that were shown at the trials.  It was then that he discovered the rest of Donovan’s story: what happened in the 1950’s with Rudolf Abel, the shoot down of Gary Powers and the exchange on the Glienicke Bridge. He brought that story to me – and it was something I had never heard of before.

Did Donovan actually manage to not only exchange Powers but also an American student arrested in East Berlin?
Spielberg: Yes, he did.  It is hard to believe, because the whole student story seems to be a complete Hollywood concoction. But James Donovan was willing to risk losing any chance of bringing Gary Powers back for a young student caught behind the iron curtain and accused of treason. He had never met this guy, but he based that on principle. The CIA told him not to worry, they would negotiate him separately and bring him back another time. But Donovan just said no, two for one. That could’ve put the entire mission in jeopardy. And by the way, it did put the mission in jeopardy. 

What was the biggest challenge in doing this film?
Spielberg: I think the biggest challenge was actually casting the movie.  I think more than the logistics of making it, it was trying to find the right actors to play all the different roles.  In their script, Matt Charman and Joel and Ethan Coen had written such rich characters that even for people with only two lines, we had to pay very careful attention even to the smallest roles. Everything and everyone was part of a very delicate chain of events. I really felt that this was a wonderful opportunity for a great ensemble cast. For James Donovan, my first choice was Tom Hanks.  Who was going to play Abel?  I had just seen “Twelfth Night” on Broadway with Mark Rylance, and I didn’t explore anything beyond him. Rylance was my first choice, as was Amy Ryan. I was very lucky.  I got all my first choices in this movie, like Sebastian Koch for Vogel. But still, that was the most challenging part of this film because I knew it was all about the ensemble cast. 

Tom, there’s probably no way one says no to an offer from Steven Spielberg, is there?
Hanks:  There is absolutely no way to say no.  No, wait, there is one: insanity.  You could plead that.  But seriously, you’d be crazy to say no to the boss when he comes along.  This was our fourth go around of doing this, and I find him to be a collaborator that for some reason invites us common people into his level of genius. He actually asks: what do you think, any ideas? I always consider myself lucky just to get the phone call in the first place. 

How about you, Amy? Do you feel the same way?
Ryan: Oh, I agree 100%.  It’s such a privilege to be an actor, and to tell stories.  But if you get the chance to tell a story with one of the greatest storytellers that we have, you immediately say yes.  Steven told me to read the script first, but I had already said yes.  You would be a fool, as Tom said, to say no to Steven Spielberg.  And also, you’d be a fool to say no to Tom Hanks and Sebastian Koch.

Sebastian, did you have second thoughts about playing Vogel?
Koch: No, same thing here.  And I really appreciated that Steven Spielberg was able to create a certain space that was so intimate and private, even though this was Hollywood and a very big movie. There was so much room for creativity and he gave us the protection to try and to dare things. I’m very, very grateful to be a part of this film. 

Vogel is actually a rather important name in German history…
Spielberg: He had his hands in a lot of cases.  And he was a very, very active person, especially in later years.  He was very much part of the GDR, and I think he had a relationship with the GDR Attorney General Ott at the time our film takes place. I think what we represent Vogel having done in our movie is pretty accurate to what really happened in real life. He was trying to find a place for the GDR at the table. There was the impression that the GDR was being puppeteered by the Soviet Union.  So the GDR was looking for independence. They thought this situation was the opportunity to gain independence in the eyes of the world on the national stage by inserting himself into these negotiations. 

In BRIDGE OF SPIES, Vogel is a supporting character. Was it easy to portray him?
Koch: He’s such an interesting character. He tried to balance out this highly complicated situation, to deal with these two systems.  And he was a master of that.  But his career actually only started there. His peak was in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when it was very important to get all these deals done.  Of course, there was not enough room in the film to show all of that. But maybe there will be an entire film about him one day.

Amy, how did you get into your character?
Ryan:  The beauty of the dialogue is that it sucks you in right away.  The script practically demands you to jump in with these characters.  So I felt like it started with the written word.  But then I came across a photograph of the real Mary Donovan who had these giant eyeglasses.  Apparently she was blind as a bat. I remember asking Steven if I can wear glasses.  Also, a friend of mine put me in touch with James Donovan’s granddaughter who shared with me some family photographs and such. Just hearing her stories, I felt like I have a little piece of this woman with me.  But generally I try to approach every script with the written word, since I started in the theatre. 

Tom, how did you find your character? Were you looking for parallels between yourself and Donovan?
Hanks: Other than that he’s got my voice and my nose, I don’t have anything in common with James Donovan.  The screenplay was written in very high style, both by Matt Charman, and certainly by Joel and Ethan Coen.  Fabulous dialogue!  I think everybody can say we had great words and great scenes to speak and play.  But I had to become educated on what Donovan went through.  Luckily, he wrote extensively about his experiences of defending Rudolf Abel.  It’s a very big book about that trial.  And about his six days here in Berlin, negotiating the exchange. 

How do you remember your time in Berlin, on the Glienicke Bridge?
Hanks:  It’s a very special thrill to recreate history at the exact place where the history took part.  Driving out there to that very historic district, I was specifically aware of the fact that the lights of the west were behind us and on the other side of the bridge was essentially dark.  It looked very much like it probably did back in the era of the GDR.  The little faded line of paint is right down the middle of that bridge dividing it in two.  It’s a type of place I would’ve gone to as a tourist to hang out for a little bit and take snapshots of those memories.  But to be there for the three nights that we were, was something very special. The only negative aspect of it was that it was so miserably cold for all of us.

Was it really freezing whilst filming in Germany?
Hanks: Oh yes. And we just had these tiny little hats on our heads. The crew was walking around in huge knitted caps, and they were all very warm.  They had big gloves, but we had just these things left over from the ‘60s.  We all were wearing three or four pairs of silk underwear.  Sometimes, there were twelve actors crowded into a little guard booth trying to use our body temperatures to keep warm.  So it was really very, very, very cold.  But how appropriate for a movie about the cold war. 

It seems that these days, we are almost entering a new era of cold wars. And nowadays everybody seems to be spying on everybody. Do you see similarities between back then and today?
Spielberg: There’s all kinds of relevance to this movie.  I recognized a lot of this relevance to things that were happening today when I first heard the story.  But when we’re making the movie, Crimea had not yet been invaded.  So that was a new wrinkle on the fabric of the cold war that did create quite a chill between President Putin and President Obama.  And all people of conscience and all people seeking and fighting for freedom.  That really hit a nerve. But I don’t think there’s a cold war that’s occurring today that’s even comparable to the cold war that existed from when Germany was divided after World War II until the Berlin Wall came down 26 years ago. But there’s certainly a little bit of a frost in the air as we all know.  And I don’t know where that frost is going to go. 

You not only shot in New York and Berlin, but also in Poland. And once again, you worked with your old friend and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski…
Spielberg: Yes. It was great going back to Poland with a film. I had been back to Poland several times since “Schindler’s List”, but this was the first time I shot a movie there since 1993.  And I actually shot the film in Janusz Kaminski’s hometown, the town he was born in.  So that was very nostalgic for both of us because I know Janusz like a brother.  But to be able to see what he experienced, to see the problems he was having and his battle with drugs and his battle with just his life falling off the rails when he was in his teens, which was special. Janusz took me and showed me all the places where all the terrifying things that happened to him.  It was an amazing experience.

Another crew member born in Poland was costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone, a new member to the Spielberg universe.
Ryan: Unlike Steven, I had actually worked with Kasia before, on a film called “Capote”. And I actually share a bit of kinship with her and Janusz, since I am of Polish heritage myself. But actually, it all goes back to Steven’s taste in people.  I was struck being on set that he seems to hire the most extraordinary artists around him.  And leaves them be to do what they do so well.  Going in the costume fittings with Kasia was one of my favorite parts of this film, was just being a fly on the wall.  Every detail mattered, and the time and attention given to that was amazing. You just feel like you’re in a master class working with these artists across the board.

Steven, BRIDGE OF SPIES comes almost 45 years after your first feature film. Time to look back on all your accomplishments or do you still prefer looking to the future?
Spielberg: Oh, there’s definitely so much left to do.  My goodness!  If I start looking back, I’m going to be an insufferable egomaniac.  I have to absolutely continue to just explore different stories and things. You know, it’s hard to find a good story to tell.  I’m always looking and listening.  Listening is the most important thing.  But you know, I don’t really look back.  I found that a couple times I have looked back, and I always wanted to go back to the editing room, even though it is 20 years too late and I can’t do that anymore.  I tend just to focus on whatever I’m doing in the present tense. 

All those years ago, you first became famous with action and fantasy films. But these days, you put as much emphasis on your historical dramas, right?
Spielberg: I have been dealing with history in a lot of films, just think of Lincoln, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.  I’ve always been a history lover.  One of the things that Tom and I discovered about each other when we first met at the beginning of our friendship was that we were history geeks.  We would always be sharing documentaries and books and biographies.  So the great thing about being successful in the movie business is that at some point, they let you put the noose around your own neck.  And the nooses that I’ve chosen to go out on the ledge and take chances with, are stories that maybe people would not be interested in seeing. But I would be interested in telling those stories.  So I’ve taken a lot of risks in the last 20 years telling stories like this.  Some of them have paid off.  Some of them haven’t.  But I’ll keep making movies like this because this is the stuff that really compels me.  But also I just made “The BFG”, so don’t worry, the fantasy is coming back next summer.

What does film mean to you now after all this time, at this point of your life?
Spielberg: I don’t think film means any more or any less than it meant to me when I made “Duel” in 1971. I’ve certainly grown in different ways and I have the opportunity now to tell a lot of different kinds of stories. But film has always been the greatest way for me to unburden myself of my demons.  And to therefore cast my demons upon you, which is what movies can do.  When I make scary movies, it’s because I’m scared of something, and I put it in a movie.  And then other people get scared, and I say, you don’t have to worry about that one anymore. I’m an eclectic movie maker, and I make different kinds of movies about different subjects.  I adore the career of William Wyler who went from “Mrs. Miniver” to the “Big Country”, from “Ben-Hur” to “The Best Years of Our Lives” and even the musical “Funny Girl”.  And then there’s the advice Noël Coward once gave David Lean: ‘never come out of the same hole twice.’  I’ve broken that rule every time I made another “Jurassic Park” movie or another “Indiana Jones”. But the rest of the films are rather eclectic and I’m proud of that.

One last question, since not just Europe seems to be heading towards difficult times. What would be your message to our world leaders?
Spielberg: I don’t think I have a message.  For me it’s just common sense.  This would be a much better world if we would be able to react empathically to situations that pop up all around the world involving human crisis.  But empathy seems to be something that is withering on the vine.  And I just think that that is where I’d like to look.  Who are the empathetic countries?  Who are the empathetic people that will help and take in others who desperately need to survive?  So the message might be: be mindful, be empathic, and follow your heart. 

BRIDGE OF SPIES IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL HD ON 14TH MARCH AND BLU-RAY AND DVD ON 28TH MARCH FROM TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT


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