In Martin Scorsese's first 3D film, Hugo, Ben Kinglsey and Chloe Moretz step into a fantastical version of Paris. Hugo centers on a precocious little boy dashing to escape orphan life in a train station, determined to discover its secrets. Kingsley and Moretz met with Buzzine to discuss working with such an acclaimed director, their quirky characters, and the magic of cinema.
Emmanuel Itier: Tell me about working with a maestro – the icon Martin Scorsese – for the second time, and playing, on top of that, George Méliés…
Ben Kingsley: Playing a maestro… [Laughs]
EI: Tell me about the feel, the inspiration, all at once…
BK: The responsibility of playing a genius is huge. George Méliés was basically the inventor of storytelling cinema – narrative cinema. And his little stories were between six and 12 minutes long, so they were very concentrated, very compressed, beautiful short films – short compared to what we have now. And he was inventing and reinventing the medium constantly. He hardly slept. And Marty is the same. Marty never sleeps. He constantly is reinventing his craft as the director, how he uses his camera, his lights, how he works with his actors… He is absolutely faithfully reliably consistent in that he always loves what he’s doing, and he loves his actors. But at the same time, he’s questing for new energy and new ideas. 3D – his first 3D. So exciting to be on the set with somebody who is doing something for the first time. It makes you feel that you’re doing something for the first time. Or if you’re not, you want to bring something fresh to Marty because he is so refreshing. He is so energizing. He’s so enthusiastic, and that energy does show on the screen.
EI: Talking about 3D, are you a 3D buff yourself? And what do you think the 3D brings to Hugo?
BK: When I saw Hugo at a private screening, it was, for me, fortunately, one of the first times that I’d seen a full-length 3D drama. And for any people coming in to the cinema watching a 3D drama for the first time, if they feel anything that I felt, they’re gonna be thrilled. The 3D, under Martin Scorsese’s direction, allows the story of this great little boy, Hugo -- played by the brilliant Asa Butterfield – to penetrate and get right into your heart, and I’m sure that the 3D is helping to do that. It’s getting through your shell. It’s getting through that everyday “please entertain me” shell because you’re going to be just transported by the film. Transported. You won’t want to leave the cinema. You won’t want to leave Hugo’s world.
EI: How did you yourself emerge into the world of George Méliés? Did you do some research? How did you become him?
BK: Thanks to Martin Scorsese, who, as you know, is a library in his head of every film ever made, so I was able to watch George’s films, which was very important to me, because I do play the younger George, who is a filmmaker, and therefore I saw the world that he had to leave. And that’s his terrible tragedy. But of course, he’s brought back into the world he had to leave, by Hugo. So I had to examine the energy of filmmaking in order to appreciate how bad it is if you’re not allowed to work. And he wasn’t. He left it all behind. And then how wonderful it is to be brought back into that creative world again.
EI: What are you going to keep from Hugo? What’s going to stay with you forever, and what do you think it was about that Hugo journey?
BK: I think my memory of Hugo will be the same as everybody’s memory of Hugo, although I was acting in it. When you watch the film, I think, to put it very simply but seriously, you watch the film and think, “Life really is beautiful.”
Emmanuel Itier: Tell me about working with the icon, the maestro Martin Scorsese. Was that intimidating? Inspiring?
Chloe Moretz: It was inspiring, intimidating, special, wonderful – it was everything built into one. It was definitely very interesting before I met him, because he flew Asa (Butterfield) and me out to New York to do a chemistry read together, and I walked into the room with Asa, and there was Marty sitting in his big leather chair, and we were in this screening room, and we had to perform the scene in front of him as if we were on stage. So it was very nerve-wracking, but once I walked in, I’m like, “Hello, Mr. Scorsese,” and he was like, “Hey, call me Marty.” I felt straight at home with him, so he’s a very warm person.
EI: How did he help you get into that part? Did he suggest something?
CM: He gave me a lot of different movies to watch, like Roman Holiday – beautiful film -- and all these amazing Audrey Hepburn roles. And yeah, he did a lot to get us into the role, and he gave us like a little reel of George Méliés’s stuff, and it was really special.
EI: Being an actress and dealing with the subject of the movies, which is the heart of that movie, was it extra special? What did you discover that you didn’t know about the movies?
CM: It was really special. Marty is such a film buff. Every day he was always teaching us something new about film and cinema and the history of it, and this movie I actually had heard of George before, but I didn’t know that he was one of the first filmmakers ever! And he has such an amazing story, how he completely disappeared and he got a toy shop in this train station, and he lived there for years until he was rediscovered. It’s a really special story, and I learned a lot about film. Actually, Marty is a part of this film foundation where they find these old reels of film and they restore them into almost perfect condition, and I got so involved that now I’m a part of that foundation and I’m a supporter of it, which is really special.
EI: What about the 3D? Was it a little bit daunting as an actress? Did you have to pay special attention? And do you like 3D? Are you a 3D buff?
CM: I do. I actually like 3D a lot. I think it’s very interesting, but the way they did 3D in this film, I’ve never seen it done before, because they made it as if you’re third row at a play. It enhances the film; it enhances everything about it. You see the actor’s face, and not only do you see it, but you feel it, and it’s as if you’re staring into their soul and their heart, and you can tell that they are that character. It’s hard for an actor, though, because you’ve really got to be in it; otherwise, if you’re not, you can tell on screen if you’re having an off day.
EI: What other 3D movie did you really enjoy lately?
CM: I really enjoyed Avatar. I think that was a very cool movie.
EI: I understand that there was a collaboration a little bit between James Cameron and Martin Scorsese. Did you meet him?
CM: Yeah, I think there was a little bit, but I never got to meet James. I wish I had. He’s a genius.
EI: What are you going to keep from Hugo, and what do you think Hugo is about really?
CM: It’s a very special movie, and I think it really heightens your imagination and it makes you feel like you’re a little kid, and you’re just running to this train station with Isabel and Hugo, and you’re living this 1930s life, which I think is everyone’s dream – to be living in that perfect wonderland. And it’s a beautiful movie. Its true story at heart is about these two young kids growing up and figuring out their life, basically, and seeing what life has in store for them. And it’s insane.
Paramount Pictures' 'Hugo' is released on November 23, 2011