Jan 2007 - Helen Mirren had just found out she’d earned an Oscar nomination for her role in The Queen when the online press visited the set of Inkheart. In response to the congratulations offered for her Academy Award nomination, Mirren said, “Thank you very much. That was great. It was particularly great because yesterday we were shooting a scene where golden coins fall from the sea, and so I'm sitting there being showered with gold, feeling marvelous.”
Now a three time Oscar nominee, Helen Mirren joined her Inkheart director Iain Softley during a break in shooting the film to discuss New Line Cinema’s big screen adaptation of Cornelia Funke’s best-selling novel. The story follows the adventures of Meggie (Eliza Bennett), a young girl whose father is kidnapped by a villain from a children’s fable. Meggie’s dad has the power to bring characters to life from the books he reads aloud, and now his special talent has put him in harm’s way and it’s up to Meggie and her friends to save him from the clutches of the evil Capricorn (Andy Serkis). Mirren co-stars as Meggie’s great aunt Elinor.
How does Inkheart compare to doing The Queen which is so based in reality. Is it difficult to switch gears and come into a fantasy world?
Helen Mirren: “Well, you know, the whole business of film is to try and transform something that is very technical and very unreal into a reality on the screen that the audience believes and can engage in. Whether it's a story like The Queen or it's a story like this, there is really no fundamental difference. You're just trying to deal with an intensely technical way of making something. You try and make the technique of something seem as unapparent as possible. So, it's really no different in essence. Of course, Iain has far greater demands on his technical and also his world of imagination.”
Is there a special effect involved in reading people out of the book? Can you describe what that will look like in the film?
Iain Softley: “Oh, I can't give that away. It's not really a visual effect, in terms of a complicated visual postproduction film. I mean, a lot of the things that we tried to do are more to do with optical illusion, the sleight of hand. We're doing a lot of things for real on the set.”
You have a very practical approach in terms of your set and in terms of location. That's unusual these days with these types of films.
Iain Softley: “It feels very organic and very real, and I actually think it makes the magic more effective. I think that there is a sort of discounting that goes on in the minds of an audience when they know that it's sort of a computer world or a digital world. It's like, 'Oh, they can do anything. They can press a button for however many weeks they need at a machine.' Whereas if you actually get the sense that it's something more like the craft of illusion, I think that it's more magical, actually.”
Helen Mirren: “Absolutely. We have very, very little, hardly any blue screen or green screen. We're always acting within a real context. We have the most incredible location in Italy – just brilliantly found. When I walked into it my jaw dropped. It was just like walking into the book. It was amazing. To have that real as opposed to something fantastical, it's just great.”
Does that make a difference for you?
Helen Mirren: “It's a huge difference, all the difference in the world, and the same with walking onto a magnificent set. So it's a great pleasure for all of us actors.”
You put together a really rich cast in this film, a very classically trained cast. Was that important to you in order to pull off adapting the book?
Iain Softley: “I couldn't imagine doing it any other way. I've been lucky that I've always worked with wonderful actors, and that makes my job easier. So, I feel very blessed with the cast that we have. To work with Helen is an ambition that I've had for a while and we have other, very wonderful actors. They're all very different with Paul Bettany and Brendan [Fraser] and Jamie Forman and Eliza [Bennett] who is wonderful. There's a new actress Rafi [Gavron] who is a great kid. And one of the things that appealed to me about the story was that it was this very sort of dysfunctional group of people who were fighting the good fight. We have all these characters and different actors, and everyone really melds together in the way that the story requires them to.”
Helen Mirren: “Very much so, and I think also the guys that you don't see here today who are the guys playing Flatnose and Cockerell are just brilliant. They are just brilliant. They're fantastic actors. They're not sort of bumped up extras. They're really incredible extras.”
Iain Softley: “Yes, and that gives so much texture and so much quality and depth for everything that we do.”
Can you talk about what scene you’ve just finished shooting and the costume you were wearing?
Helen Mirren: “Oh, that's not costume. That's me, but for once I can actually show my tattoo. I think it's the first role I've ever actually used my tattoo.”
Iain Softley: “Yes, and it's totally appropriate to the character Elinor.”
Helen Mirren: “And is totally appropriate to the character.”
How many tattoos do you have?
Helen Mirren: “I actually only have the one. Do you have any tattoos?”
Iain Softley: “I don't. No. I thought for a bit about one. I did have a misspent youth. I don't know how I managed to escape without any tattoos.”
Helen Mirren: “We were shooting the wonderful scene where the group of our friends are taken in to meet Capricorn for the first time. It was brilliantly played by Andy Serkis. Absolutely amazing. It's a wonderful scene because you see the whole sort of Inkheart world and then these elements get read out of books and so you see that all happening as well. So it is a great scene.”
Iain Softley: “A lot of things falling from the sky.”
Helen Mirren: “Yes, a lot of things falling from the sky.”