Quint talks trains, THE CRAZIES, Emily Mortimer and the Russian Mob with TRANSSIBERIAN director Brad Anderson!
Published at: Aug. 8, 2008, 12:54 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I did this interview with Brad Anderson over the phone days before heading to Comic-Con. Sorry it’s taken me this long to get to it, but here is our chat.
I really dug his film, TRANSSIBERIAN, when I saw it at Sundance earlier this year, a fun little Hitchcockian thriller starring the lovely Emily Mortimer, Woody Harrelson and Ben Kingsley (who was in, like, 28 Sundance movies this year).
I hope you enjoy our chat!
Quint: Hey, how is it going man?
Brad Anderson: How are you?
Quint: I’m doing good. I interviewed you a long time ago, back when SESSION 9 came out.
Brad Anderson: Cool.
Quint: I was a big fan of your work around that time, like HAPPY ACCIDENTS and SESSION 9 and all of that.
Brad Anderson: Thanks.
Quint: I saw TRANSSIBERIAN at Sundance and I really dug that, too.
Brad Anderson: Oh good.
Quint: Let’s start off with the locations. I understand you didn’t have a big budget, but the scope of the movie was huge. I loved all of the location work, so can we talk a little bit about that?
Brad Anderson: Well you know, we wanted to shoot the movie in Russia, because that’s were it is set, so we scouted out locations in Russia. We were actually hoping at one point to shoot the movie on the actual Transsiberian train, but just the logistics of it would have been really difficult and the mob basically… we would have to pay off the mob to shoot in Russia, it’s a little crazy, so we looked for a substitute place that would match the locations in Russia and we ended up shooting in Lithuania. It turned out that that was the best place to shoot, because they used to be part of the Soviet Union and had all of the old Russian trains, which we needed obviously, and they have big old movie studios that were just sitting there waiting for somebody to use them. So it turned out pretty good and that became our main location.
We shot a couple weeks, just for the first sort of prologue of the movie when they first set off on the trip from Bejing and basically did a little bit of matching the journey itself in making this film.
You are right in what you said that it is not a big budget film, but we tried within our limited budget to give it as big of a scope as we could and make it really feel like you are on this adventure with these guys. That was a lot of fun.
Quint: So I am curious, what was the scenario in which you found out that if you shot in Russia you would have to deal with the mob?
Brad Anderson: [Laughs] Just from talking to other productions who had nightmare stories about shooting there. No one showing up to pick up the actors and then finding out they had to pay a big bribe money to get the production up and running again and we also talked to many… Well, we had our own Russian liaison and they were giving us a little bit of a heads up. Also, because it was financed by a Spanish company, we needed to ultimately find a country that was part of the EU in order to trigger all of the financing and Russia didn’t qualify for that, obviously, and it was just really expensive. It turned out to be, even though it was the real… let’s not put quotations, but it would have been outrageously expensive.
When I originally wrote the script and tried to get the project off of the ground, I was really hoping to shoot in Russia, because I studied Russian in college and I was really just into Russian films and the idea of shooting a movie there seemed really intriguing… maybe another project.
Quint: Now with the locations that you did have, was it difficult? From were I sat in the audience it looked like it was a little on the cold side.
Brad Anderson: Yeah, it was… It didn’t turn out that way… initially we shot in Lithuania, because we were told that we were guaranteed that there would be snow by the time we needed it and we were guaranteed we would totally be able to get the Russian train. Of course both of these things turned out to be… we ultimately got our train.
We were given a train and forty kilometers of train track to go up and down, but that just took an incredible amount of negotiation… The snow didn’t show up when we had hope and at one point they were saying that it was going to be one of the first snowless winters in Eastern Europe which would have been a problem, because the movie is called TRANSSIBERIAN and we kind of needed snow just for the functioning of the plot, so we started looking at buying lots of artificial snow from Berlin where they make it and get it shipped to Lithuania to Vilnius where we were shooting. Just truckloads of fake snow.
Thankfully just as those trucks started to head over our way it started snowing and kept snowing continuously for like three weeks and the temperature dropped down and it was like negative 20 to thirty degrees sometimes. But yeah in some ways it was good, because it just gave it that really brutal realism that we were looking for. We didn’t have to use any fake snow thankfully, it was all the real stuff.
Quint: I think back when we talked for SESSION 9 and HAPPY ACCIDENTS we spent a lot of time talking about Vincent (D’Onofrio) and Marisa (Tomei) and their chemistry and how important that was to that movie. So, let’s talk about Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer a bit. How did you bring them to project?
Brad Anderson: Well, Woody came on early as we were setting it up. The first person we got on board thankfully was Ben Kingsley and he is one of those actors that is just sort of a draw for other actors.
Quint: An actor magnet, yeah.
Brad Anderson: Exactly and Woody was interested and wanted to do it and he was one of my first choices. I really wanted to see him do something like this and he was interested in doing it. Apparently when he was younger, he was a church going kind of Midwestern type, so he can kind of identify with that character to a degree.
With Emily, actually there is a story there. She wasn’t originally cast in that role. We had another actress, Samantha Morton, who was cast for Jessie, but what happened was a couple of days before we started shooting she was injured. She was in an accident and was sent to the hospital. Thankfully she was okay, but the point was the doctors told her that they didn’t want her flying, because she could still have some head injuries or something and basically she couldn’t do the movie.
This was five days before we were supposed to start shooting and there was this hectic run around trying to find out if we would have to put the whole kabash on the whole project or find another actress. Emily Mortimer was on our short list. We had gone to Samantha, but I had always liked Emily, so we went out to her with an offer.
She was on a plane that evening for filming for two months and initially I think both she and I were kind of like “ I have no idea if this is going to work…” I knew her work and knew she was a good actress. I knew that she could bring a lot to the table, but it wasn’t clear… You are never 100% clear until you are actually shooting the movie, but her commitment and willingness to jump in was pretty great and it turned out by day two or whatever we were all like “She’s great!” And once we started shooting the film we realized that she was really good and as you said that chemistry thing, it just happened to turn out that she and Woody connected in a way that was nice.
They connected, not only in the scenes, but in reality they became good friends and that was nice. I think part of whatever kind of chemistry or whatever kind of connection or whatever kind of realism you try to achieve between actors on screen, part of that is some chemistry and another part of it is just acting and another part of it is just shear luck, you know?
But I think we lucked out in terms of getting her in the first place, saving our project, and having her turn out to be so good and having her and Woody having a good connection to, which obviously helped. Overall it was great.
It was a difficult shoot, but the people we had… all of our cast was great and real gung ho. When you are doing a movie like this, which is still an independent low budget movie essentially, but it’s a passion project to some respects. I co-wrote it was my thing and I took the Transsiberian and that sort of started the whole thing in the first place, so when the actors come on board, they really want to do their best job and these guys were great.
Quint: Were there any filmmaker influences? The obvious correlation is Hitchcock. It’s kind of this character thriller, but I don’t know. That could just be me reading stuff that is not in your movie, but were there any other influences?
Brad Anderson: Yeah, I think that I mean maybe Hitchcock did, but not really consciously. It’s more of the fact that it’s a thriller set in a train which he made a number of those kinds of movies… Suspenseful.
I would say other film makers who I tapped into a little bit were like Roman Polanski who also made films that deal with these levels of paranoia and characters trying to kill these other characters and in some ways my love of certain Russian filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky. Certainly it’s not a Tarkovsky movie, just the mere fact that we were trying to do this kind of movie in Russia. I was inspired by his films and the sort of lyricism of his movies to try to get a little bit here and there, but I don’t know I wouldn’t say there are any, especially one director or director’s work that sort of informs this movie.
It’s kind of my own thing, but I guess like THE MACHINIST, the movie I did before, Hitchcock was someone that Will Conroy, the writer, and I spoke about and also Dostoevsky… he’s not a filmmaker, but the Russian writer Dostoevsky, who wrote novels but there are sort of guilty characters like CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. The inspector character, the Ben Kingsley character, is a bit of a kind of homage to that inspector character.
Quint: Sir Ben was really great in that role, too. I always like it when there are shades of grey in films and I really like that he is the heavy, but he is also not unlikable, you know?
Brad Anderson: Exactly and I mean he was definitely… When we were casting, he was like the first person I had in mind, because he is so good at playing these gently menacing characters, you know? On one hand they are oddly funny and the other hand, they are terrifying and he is also one of those guys who is just so adept at playing exotic characters with accents from other places, whether they are Iranian or Indian or whatever and he sort of dug the idea of playing a Russian. I don’t think he had done that before, so yeah he was great.
When you are working with someone like that who is so profound and so great and everything, it’s a little intimidating at first, but then you realize the guy is just an actor. He just wants to do a good job, please you, and make it work, so he was great.
Quint: So, is there any particular kind of film that you are jonesing to do next?
Brad Anderson: Yeah well I have a few things I am trying to get off the ground and the one I’m really hoping to do is something totally different, it’s a musical.
Brad Anderson: Yeah, it’s called NONSTOP TO BRAZIL. It’s kind of a whole movie about the emergence of Bosanova in the early 60’s in Rio and it’s sort of a narrative story, but it’s all about that music and characters sing… kind of a love story, but fun kind of thing. It’s obviously going to be different from the last two films, but I have always had that interest as well.
So yeah that’s the one I’m working on and then I am also have a couple dark ones more like the last two films that are not horror, but sort of paranoid and suspense type movies that I’m trying to get off of the ground, so it’s just one of those things that it will be whichever one gets financing.
Quint: Weren’t you also, a few years ago, attached to THE CRAZIES? Doing the remake?
Brad Anderson: Yeah, I was at one point.
Quint: Well what happened to that?
Brad Anderson: It just petered out, you know? They had a different vision of the project and I started to get hung up on a different project at the time and it just sort of fell apart. There have been a number of zombie movies.
Quint: I have always liked… Romero’s THE CRAZIES is probably one of my favorite outside of his DEAD movies that he has done. He also did a really great vampire movie called MARTIN, which I like a lot.
Brad Anderson: I love that movie.
Quint: It’s good stuff, but yeah I don’t think that they would remake MARTIN and do it right, but I think somebody that knew what they were doing could do something with THE CRAZIES.
Brad Anderson: They would just take it and they would just turn it up to fucking eleven, you know? With these remakes, they really just take the central premise and then give it the whole studio treatment with all of the digital effects and you know that world… I might be interested in doing a movie like that, not like that but to be… I have been lucky, the last two films I have done have been financed in Europe. They are independent films in essence and I have had the ability to make these films the way I want to make them without a lot of interference and I would rather do that some ways than having to feed the whole of the market driven studio reality.
Quint: Yeah, definitely. Good luck with the flick man, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
Brad Anderson: No problem, thanks a lot.
The flick has been out in limited release these past few weeks and is expanding this very weekend. It’s a refreshing change of pace if you dig this kind of thing. Give it a view if you find it near ya’.
Okay, that’s one more interview down. I finished this up somewhere between Texarkana and Dallas on my way back to Austin from Arkansas. The plan is to knock out the rest of my interviews (got a backlog from Comic-Con) rapid-fire style, so watch out for ‘em.