Famous for his special effect movies, Brendan Fraser brings us another fantasy with Inkheart -- a family adventure where a young girl's father helps save the day. The star sat down with Buzzine to talk about his own family and the challenges of his job.
Izumi Hasegawa: Well, you seem to be on a roll lately with these high-tech special effects kinds of movies.
Brendan Fraser: Yeah, since 1991. [Laughs]
IH: What's up with that?
BF: The technology is getting better. You can do whatever you want nowadays. Screenwriters imagine it; it goes on the screen, if you throw enough money in it.
IH: What are some of the acting challenges?
BF: No different -- as long as you believe in what you're doing, then your audience will. I mean, case in point, the ill-fated Looney Tunes. [Laughs] C'mon, give me a break. I hate turning down work. [Laughs] I worked with a cartoon rabbit and a duck. [Laughs] C'mon! Bugs is cool. He really is. Daffy Duck's an asshole. [Laughs] That's the bottom line. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, you really want to believe in what you're doing... Call that the ridiculous bit -- or sublime, as it goes.
IH: So you wouldn't approach a project like this any differently than something like Crash, which is kind of interpersonal?
BF: You can't see any movie nowadays really without it having some sort of CGI treatment, albeit whether it's a creature or an environment, something like that. To make a point, sort of poetically in that case, but clearly it was a drama and how do you approach it? Well, I think what you're supposed to do is what the text dictates. What you bring to it and everything you need to know should be there, and pay attention to your director. Ian McKellen once told me a director is someone who just says, “It's over there. Just go over there.” [Laughs] And you do your thing along the way, but I'm really happy to be working in that area, because it feels more and more these days like it's a collaborative effort. Using myself as an example, Journey to the Center of the Earth was in 3D, and it worked for the first time in history. It was like a rocket launch, to tell you the truth. Will it fly or not? There weren't enough screens out there, there weren't enough delivery systems. But the point is that we're moving so forward with technology that we've got to get back to storytelling, which is where Inkheart comes in, because it's a very complex tale about the reunion of a family, essentially, and then all the edgy, darker, Grimm's fairytale-esque elements that go into it, telling this unique story. My participation in Inkheart was a unique situation, and certainly, well, nothing surprises us in Hollywood anymore, but I'll just give the brief on it. I had sort of a flat period in the career, after Looney Tunes. It was the duck, all right? [Laughs] And I was looking for something to do, and lo and behold a book showed up -- a novel -- and it was inscribed from the author and said something to the effect of, “Dear Brendan, thank you for inspiring this character, Moe.” Me? What? Did someone pull my leg? Is it April Fools here? It went on more sincerely. It said, “I hope that you have the chance to read this to your kids one day. Aloud. Best Wishes, Cornelia Funke.” I didn't know the book, I didn't know the novel. I automatically Googled and found it's a bestseller. It's had a long, a huge following -- a prolific writer. I just wasn't aware but quickly became as well-versed as I could be, and around the time when I was promoting and working on behalf of the duck [laughs] in Amsterdam, I skipped off and hopped a flight to Hamburg, where Cornelia and her family and her late-husband Rolfe lived. We realized that we had some more sensibilities about what goes into storytelling. I learned that Cornelia [is] quite exceptional, outspoken, and I don't think there's any ink on page that she hasn't read. The neat thing about Inkheart is that, after I read it, I automatically got it's the story about the reunion of a family under unusual circumstances. Mortimer Folchart, or Mo, as his daughter Meggy calls him, have been traveling for some eleven years in a caravan, going from bookstore to bookstore, and he hasn't been really specific about what they're looking for, but it's an obscure copy of something called Inkheart, and he doesn't talk about it to her. The chaos that ensues is the challenge that the CGI elements have to go into it, but we can't get lost into storytelling for the sake of showing off what our computers and our visual effects can do, and so Iain Softley is so skilled that he was able to craft a screenplay -- a story that allowed for everyone's input.
IH: Are there added pressures or responsibilities playing a character that you inspired?
BF: First, it's the height of flattery. I don't know how to say anything other than "thank you." The pressure? No, actually. I guess all I really needed to do is show up on time, be nice to people, know your lines, and not bump into furniture. [Laughs] Aside from that, it was me. [Laughs]
IH: The book is part of a trilogy. Are there plans to make other movies?
BF: What producer doesn't leave the door open at the end of any movie? [Laughs] Are we going to talk about my player’s agreement? [Laughs] I wasn't born the day before yesterday. [Laughs]
IH: I figured you would want to do the other books as well...
BF: We had a great time with this cast. It's an ensemble. Helen Mirren was in this. Can I say that again? Helen Mirren was in this! [Laughs] She won her Oscar while we were shooting this. I was in love with Helen since I saw her in Excalibur as a kid -- just more guy madness. All right, maybe that's more information than you needed. So she wins her Oscar and she comes back and was telling funny stories about having it in her check-on luggage and it keeps getting x-rayed in the airport, and people going, “Ohhhh.” I'm saying too much about [that] and we're not talking about what I want to, which is Eliza Bennett. This kid is incredible. And listen to me, she's like a woman now. When I met her, she was fourteen. And Gywnn, the ferret that they glued little horns to that Paul [Bettany] had to deal with...he was like, “I'm not touching the ferret. It's all you, my friend.” He just was like, “Just get on with it.” He got to know the ferret and worked with it and everything like that. So [the] first day, I had a photo of her somewhere, buried in a hard drive, and she's got the ferret and is just in love with it. She's like "puppies and kitties." And now I think she's boy crazy, and now Paul and I are both like, “Who is this guy? Tell us about him. Is he going to school? Does he drive?” Her mom and dad [are] very supportive and really special, whereas the rest of the cast and crew, when we were on location, we’re thinking, “Where are we going to dinner?” There Eliza would be in the lobby of the hotel just going through her script for the next day’s work, making her notes, doing everything. Her talent is prescient of her age and ability, and the experience that I had in working with young people... I'm truly looking forward to what she does in the years to come with great anticipation.
IH: In the movie, some characters end up in pieces of literature and it's not necessarily a good thing for them. If you could go into any book, which one would you want to live in?
BF: I don't know if I'd want to live in a book. I kind of side with the character. Eleanor says, “I'm going home, where I can go back to my libraries, set things in order, where the characters all have the good sense to stay on the page where they belong.”
IH: Have your kids seen this movie yet?
BF: No, I think The Shadow might be too scary because they're six, four, and two. But you need to have that edge. You need to have the shadow be scary.
IH: It's not for your kids?
BF: I think it would frighten them. I don't want to frighten my kids more than anyone does, but they would be delighted by many things of it. If I can get ahold of a copy, I'll just search through it, do the old trick.
IH: Was Journey too scary for them too?
BF: Dinosaurs? You see, you need an advisory and proper story structure. So dinosaurs might have been, “Too scary, too scary Daddy.” [Laughs]
IH: What is your favorite thing about being a dad?
BF: It teaches you how to love. It teaches you how to be a man.
IH: Your youngest is two, you said? Now into merchandizing?
BF: I think it's time to read some more books. [Laughs] I'm going to talk to Cornelia. Actually, when I met her, my first son was born, and she had given me so many books, but not all of them had been translated. She's an illustrator too. She also works with illustrators and collaborates with them, so there are some great stories about pilots and crazy characters and stuff like that. But they were all in German and I don't speak German, so she had taken a black Sharpie and gone and translated it underneath. I think she might have even done it phonetically on top for me in a red marker so I could even speak to them in German too, if they wanted. [Laughs]
IH: When your character he reads something -- the books -- everything became real. But when you're acting the sequences, what, as an actor, do you pay attention to most to do the scene?
BF: I just rely on the text to speak for itself and then speak it as I believe it to interpret it, and then just know that the rules of the world that we're creating allow for things to come to life, and then just trust in the process of making a film. Hopefully we'll make a sequel, because if we do, we had such a great time as an ensemble, I think the best thing to do would be to just take the whole cast back. This is Iain's idea and I agree with it. Just reincarnate all the characters and put them back into the world. There's no rules. Why couldn't we do that?
IH: Can you talk about G.I. Joe a little bit?
BF: It's a cameo -- bing, bang, sight gag. That's it. In, out, and no, I'm not Gung Ho! Everyone thinks I am. Look up the character. I'm not a refugee from The Village People. Nothing against -- I love The Village People. I'm not the guy who didn't make the cut, okay? That's it. That's all I have to say. Come see the movie. It'll be fun, 'cause Stephen Sommers did it, and I begged to be in it because I had a G.I. Joe, and mine wound up in a tree, dangling from his parachute strings all winter because I threw him off the roof. I had to get it down with a rake in the spring, and I promptly strapped an M-80 to him and blew him up and stuff, but I glued him back together. All you can do with your G.I. Joe.
New Line Cinema's 'Inkheart' was released on January 23, 2009 and is now on DVD via New Line Home Video.