Two years ago, Clash of the Titans took a grand scale, 3D look at the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, from Zeus (Liam Neeson) to Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Mere mortals waged war against the deities, seeking to overturn those up on Mount Olympus. At the center of their mythical struggle was Perseus (Sam Worthington), demigod and son of Zeus. With Wrath of the Titans, Perseus has aged ten years and wants nothing more than a normal life. Of course, demigods rarely get such freedom. Perseus is joined by Poseidon's half-human son, Agenor (Toby Kebbel), to fight the gods' gargantuon enemies, the Titans.
Wrath of the Titans was shot in 3D rather than converted before release, and Clash of the Titans director Louis Leterrier signed on to produce. Director Jonathan Liebesman tackles the sequel, and with Darkness Falls and Battle: Los Angeles on his resume, the South African native can definitely handle a film of god-like proportions. Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier sat down with Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Sam Worthington, Toby Kebbel, and Jonathan Liebesmen to discuss the similiaries and differences between each film, shooting in 3D, and how families were just as dysfunctional in ancient Greece.
Sam Worthington & Liam Neeson
Emmanuel Itier: Tell me how different this movie is. What did you do to improve the franchise? Because it seems it is definitely a much better movie than the first one.
Liam Neeson: As much as we like the first one very much, it sort of set the tone, as it were – set the expanse of the world we’re going into here. But with this one, I know Sam very very much worked very closely with Jonathan Liebesman, the director. Myself to a lesser extent, but we’re more interested in the gods, the demigods being a dysfunctional family, which is what they are…and for the script to bring that out.
Sam Worthington: That’s exactly right. You need a way in with these types of movies, and dealing with those family issues, and this family that’s struggling to find responsibility to each other within this weird world of monsters and the fact that they’re gods, they’re still essentially brothers and fathers and sons trying to connect. So you work harder on that, and then you ramp up the special effects and ramp up the 3D, and hopefully then it gels together and you have a substantial movie.
EI: Were you inspired a little bit by the videogame God of War as well?
SW: I’ve played that game. I know Jonathan had seen it – however you get inspired, it just happens the characters are the same type of things, the same type of creatures.
EI: Did you play the game?
LN: I have no idea what it is. It’s an entirely different generation.
SW: It’s a videogame, which is with creatures like Minotaur and Chimera and stuff.
EI: What does the world of the gods and the Titans echo for you? And what parallel do you see with our world or society?
LN: The thing about these ancient tales – let’s call them great mythology tales – they try to explain something about why we’re on this planet and what our relation is to the heavens, to the universe. That is essentially what they’re about, and they speak to every culture of every tribe in the world. You go up the Amazon, some little tribe surviving on monkey brains and birds and stuff, they have a story that’s similar to a Greek mythological tale.
EI: What scene do you think represents the best of the movie for you? Is there a particular scene in the movie that you think embodies what Wrath of the Titans is about?
LN: For me, it was my first scene with Sam – with Perseus – and the beginning of the film, and trying to ask his help, having been an absentee father for many many years. That encapsulates the film for me.
SW: Mine would probably be the end scene with my son, so there’s the irony – the circle. Here’s a guy that, through all the war zone they’ve gone through, has learned the responsibility he has, not only to his own son, but the responsibility he had to his own brother, his father, and essentially the responsibility you have to yourself. So even after all the chaos and carnage and intimacy and doubts over your destiny, it still comes down to: where is your place in the world? And to me, that was a good message, of a man always trying to find where he fits.
EI: How do you see the director being different between Jonathan and Louis (Leterrier)? What do you think Jonathan brought to the movie?
SW: Me and him are the same age, and we had the same love of the same type of movies growing up, and he’s very movie-orientated, and he knows, therefore, what he wants going in visually. He can talk to you in a weird directing way because he can sometimes reference other films, but that makes it sometimes more visual for you, when he mentions another film. But he’s got a great energy about making movies. He loves the idea of making movies. And most directors do, but his is very vocal and very loud and boisterous.
LN: Louis was the same too, I think. Louis had a wonderful energy.
SW: Yeah, they have a passion for the world, which is infectious.
Emmanuel Itier: How different is it for you to be in this one compared to the first one? Do you think you guys have improved it, and if so, what is different for you?
Ralph Fiennes: I think we have improved the relationships between characters. They have a bit more detail, a bit more subtlety, and a bit more of a journey to go on. I love my relationship with Zeus. It evolves. It starts off a bit full of antagonism, and it changes and there’s a brotherly linking of arms in the end, in battle. I like that.
EI: Is it true that, in the first one, a lot of that relationship was cut – the dialogues were mainly cut off in the scene between the gods?
RF: A lot of dialogue was cut, yeah. It was very aggressively cut.
EI: How do you see the 3D aspect also being dealt with? It seems to me it’s much more organic and natural in this one.
RF: Yeah, I think, for this sort of film, it’s terrific. This sort of spectacle, of having the feeling of rocks falling at you. I mean, I don’t think 3D should be on every film, but I think on these big adventure epics, it’s good.
EI: Did you prepare yourself differently for this one? Did you maybe play a video game like God of War to get in the mood?
RF: [Laughs] No, I just took it very seriously. What’s Hades’s world? What’s his life? What’s his feeling? Just tried to play the moments as realistically as possible. That’s all.
EI: How do you see the difference between working with Louis and Jonathan? What type of director was Jonathan? What do you think he brought to this franchise?
RF: Louis has a tremendous sense of scale and sense of events. It was terrific. I think the balance to be found, in these sort of films…you know they’re being sold as big spectacle. But I think audiences are smart, and audiences will happily enjoy spectacle, but they also want their characters to be rooted in some believable interaction in their relationships that develop, that change. So I think the first time around it was as if the filmmakers, somehow…and these big studio films may have a director at the helm, but they are also managed by the studio because this is the sort of outfit it is. And maybe they felt anxious about too much character interaction. I don’t know. But this time around, Jonathan came to the table. Certainly, when he met me, he had a very strong sense of wanting more – more detail, more definition, particularly between Zeus and Hades. And I think it’s there. I saw the film yesterday, and I was pleased. I think there were some nice little moments between us.
EI: What do you think is the scene that truly embodies the movie – that represents that movie?
RF: Oh my god. Well I think there were two elements. I’d have to pick two. One would be, say the opening battle between the Chimera and Perseus, breathing the fire. And then I would say maybe the first scene between the gods, with Ares and Zeus and Hades. There’s a conversation and you get little tensions between…Ares’s anger and sense of rejection toward Zeus, and you get Zeus is unhappy toward Hades, and Hades feels competitive with Ares. So they’ve got a complicated little thing going on, against all the fighting and the spectacle and the swords… Those are the two things, I think. If you get the balance right, then you have a good film.
EI: What do you think, for you, the world of the Titans, the gods represents? And how do you see the relevance to today’s society? What parallels can we draw from it?
RF: I suppose the Greek myths are a kind of distillation of our own experience in life. So our heroes are taking on these huge monsters, which can be representative of things in life that we feel can come at us. You could write a big essay on it, but of course monsters and devils can be things that traumatize you and threaten you in life, whether they’re something as banal as a sort of loss, or competitiveness toward a bigger entity, a company, or things that challenge you in life – a bank, people who you know… I think everyone is their own hero fighting their demons, and interior demons too. I think a lot of these “devils” are also interior battles that we fight. So that’s why I think myths are relevant, always. They’re a kind of code for our own battles and our own desires and our own romanticism.
EI: What’s coming up next for you?
RF: I’m directing a film about the relationship between Charles Dickens and a young actress called Ellen Ternan, who is going to be played by Felicity Jones. But I’m in the middle of prep. I’ve come here just for two days. I’ve got to fly back tonight because I’ve got weeks ahead of costumes and rehearsals and casting.
EI: And James Bond before that…
RF: James Bond I’ve done, so that will be coming out, I think, at the end of the year.
Emmanuel Itier: How does one join a successful franchise? What type of challenge does that represent? How do you get ready for it?
Toby Kebbell: I got ready for it in a couple of ways. I try to ignore the fact that everyone has already done this once before and they’ve established and figured out their characters. I just focused on my own work. But I was very lucky. I had Sam Worthington who really wanted to have a counterpart who enhanced his character and had a solid character of his own, so I was lucky to get to work with him so much and boost that up. And Jonathan is great at spotting good ideas, so when we came in with good ideas, he sort of promoted those and we went forward with them. But the reason I took it, the reason I went in for it and the reason I took the risk was because of Jonathan Liebesman. He, at the time, had a fantastic trailer of his film that was coming out, and he had a great idea of how he wanted to tell this story. And he had the big opportunity of making a film that was better than its predecessor. So it’s a nice piece of movie history if you do that – if you make a sequel better than the first.
EI: Did you also get inspired a little bit by the videogame God of War?
TK: No. I’m actually a big videogame fan, but I’ve never played God of War. But I’m inspired by the actual mythology. The mythological stories that have been written in the past are just fantastic to read, and enriching, as an adult man struggling to figure out what on Earth I’m supposed to be doing. And they have great metaphor.
EI: What do you think is the scene, for you, that embodies perfectly that movie? If you could isolate a scene that represents the Wrath of the Titans?
TK: I think when Edgar Ramirez drops from the sky and catches us all unawares at the entrance to the labyrinth…but the actual shooting of the labyrinth – there was plenty of wrath felt, I think, by breathing in so much dust and perspiring in such a dusty environment. In fact, we were doing all that work, and we kept glancing around and seeing the crew wearing huge respirators.
EI: The world of the Titans, the gods – what does it represent to you? Do you see any parallel metaphors that are relevant to all times?
TK: Absolutely I do. I see the gods as archetypes, meaning I think the extreme versions of emotions that we naturally feel. So that’s why I think they’re relevant today and still can be read without feeling like you have to know old language or Latin, or ancient Greek.
EI: Is there a particular god that you like the best from that time? And why?
TK: Having read the mythology, it’s not specifically the god. The gods, for me, are the beauty and, as I say, they’re the archetypes, the extremes. It’s Hercules. He’s a demigod. He’s actually truly a god because he was the child of two gods. But his trials – “The 12 Trials of Hercules” – that’s one of my favorite stories. So yeah, I’d have to say Hercules because he technically is, but he never really reaches Mount Olympus.
EI: And you identify with him because indeed, as human beings, we have to go through all these steps to appreciate our mortality?
TK: Yes, we have to go through these steps, and to manage to stay humble throughout it, and to use your cunning as well as your brawn is vitally important for a chap, and for a female. I know plenty of girls who could knock a tooth out.
EI: Talking about females, how was it playing with this goddess, Rosamund Pike?
TK: It was very nice to roll around in the labyrinth with Rosamund wearing a skirt. I suddenly didn’t mind my own skirt riding up. It was like tit for tat – my skirt had ridden up…and she was too elegant to participate. But it was lovely. It was a really nice experience.
EI: How is it dealing in a movie that has so many effects? Is that a little bit jading at times? Do you get disoriented and lost, or after a while do you get used to it?
TK: You absolutely get used to it, and also you’re doing that work for other people. You’re making sure that everything is just right for everyone else to do their work later on. We’re really gathering stock here, when we’re shooting a film. The film isn’t made – it’s made later on.
EI: Was there a particular scene, for you, that was complex to really be part of?
TK: I have vertigo. I’m not great with heights, so being thrown in the air at 60 miles an hour at 40 feet in the air wasn’t the best fun, but I braved it out. [Laughs] Braved it out. But I was truly close to being like, “Guys, I can’t do it,” but in the true spirit of following “The Trials of Hercules,” I took the fear and I just sat in the cage and I said, “I’m ready.” They left me up there a bit longer than necessary, but maybe I deserved it.
EI: What about the 3D aspect? Is that something that you love, or do you think it’s just Hollywood capitalizing on a gimmick that everybody is using and abusing? Or does it really work for you?
TK: I feel that there is the ability for it to be seen as a capitalization. So when we started this out, I said, “Look, 3D gives me a headache. I don’t really want to do it.” And we sat with the visual effects boys, and we were told how this was gonna go, and then just before we finished, the final Harry Potter came out and we saw a lot of their work, and it was just spectacular. And then seeing this, it’s just truly spectacular. You know how much effort has gone into it. So yes, it can be seen that way, and when it’s done badly, unfortunately perhaps the first one – the 3D didn’t really help the film and may have hindered it slightly. We wanted to make sure that it really promoted and helped this film. So I think the characters have great weight to them in their 3D nature and their visual effects.
EI: You seem to enjoy this fantasy world. Is it a natural inclination or just a fluke that you happen to be in a big franchise like this one?
TK: It’s absolutely a fluke, but I do truly enjoy them, so whenever they come along, I’m happy to embrace them. I’m the youngest of four boys. I have a little sister who was forced to join in with our ridiculous games of Army or rocket-ships, or whatever it was, so my imagination is very vivid, thanks to my older brothers. So yeah, I enjoy this, and also you get the best of the best. The teachers who come and teach you how to do these things are spectacular. The hundred thousand hours they’ve put in has been enhanced in advance, so you’re getting the benefit of someone else’s exquisite knowledge. So yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great deal of fun.
EI: You were saying how Jonathan really brought something new to that franchise. More specifically, what do you think he brought to the Wrath of the Titans that makes it such a better movie? And how was it working with him on a daily basis as an actor?
TK: Jonathan was adamant about the 3D. He also is skeptical about it and was like, “Aren’t we doing gimmicks here? Am I just doing a gimmicky thing?” So he wanted 3D that really affected the film – that you can watch it without, but it’s really to be seen in that sense. Like something like Saving Private Ryan is great every time you watch it at home, but it really had great spectacle when you watched it out on the big screen. So I’m not comparing the two, but that similar sentiment… And Jonathan was great to work with. If you do a lot of preparation like I do at home, and Sam does at home, we came every morning and we worked together so that it would ease that work for Jonathan, because he’s a young director. He has nerves like I have nerves as a young actor; Sam has nerves even as a movie star that he is. It’s difficult to really feel set, so you have to do a lot of preparation, and Jonathan is great at spotting a good idea. So it was great for us, and you could always rely on where this is going, so we didn’t get lost at any point. Jonathan is very straight on what the story was and where we were going, and he always drew it back to the characterization. So he’s brilliant, basically, is the short answer.
EI: What is going to be your best and worst memory of doing this movie?
TK: My worst memory is probably my beard and the amount of hair I ate. [Laughs] It was horrendous at times. But my best memory really is learning that Sam, as a movie star, is not what he’s perceived to be. He’s very encouraging and very nurturing, and trying to make sure that things are good, and very giving. He could be very selfish if he wanted to be, because he has had bad press. People have attacked him. But I have to tell you it was great fun being with him.
EI: What about working with Liam Neeson? How was that?
TK: I didn’t really work with Liam. I carried him down a hill. So that’s in the bad memory bank, because he’s a heavy human being, let me tell you.
EI: Are you looking to do some other franchise out there in the universe of the superheroes or something?
TK: I’m not hunting for other people’s franchises, but I would love to do another one of these. I would love to be involved, if there’s a third one.
EI: What would you like to explore if there was a continuation of the Titans? What would it be for you? What story?
TK: I think it would be interesting if we went along the route of the Herculean trials. If Sam had that and perhaps came to find me and I was wealthy but unhappy and wanted the experience of adventure, so I think that would be a nice little genre to follow now.
EI: Do you feel changed as an actor or human being after such a journey like this one?
TK: I truly do, but I do after every job. After every job of experiencing that kind of life and really getting into it, it’s a mindset. It’s something that you have to really set your mind to. You have to figure out why someone thinks that way. Not as detailed as perhaps a criminal psychologist, but certainly I try to go along that route of understanding the psychology of someone having this experience, perhaps. So yeah, I enjoy it a great deal. I get the most out of it.
Emmanuel Itier: How was it to come on board of a successful franchise? Did it help, having done such a big movie before? On the contrary, was it still a challenge? Still feeling the pressure because “we need to do it better”?
Jonathan Liebesman: Of course. Actually, the first director, Louis Leterrier, and I are friends from before, so I’d sit down with him a lot and ask him a lot of questions about what he liked about the first one, what didn’t work on the first one. So I was able to take that experience and bring it to this to try to make things we both wanted to improve on.
EI: What do you think didn’t work in the first one and that you made work in this one?
JL: I think the studio with the 3D – they wanted it 3D six weeks before the movie came out, so that was very difficult to make it work. So here we had an entire year to work on the 3D elements. Also, I think there was a great cast in the first movie that we just wanted to use more in this film and delve deeper. I think the thing that was great in Louis’s movie was the action and the spectacle and the challenges. Louis is really good at action and spectacle, so how can I do that? How can I make sure that we retain all of that and give more depth to the characters?
EI: Did you also get inspired by that video game, God of War a little bit?
JL: No. I saw people saying that it looked like God of War. I’ve never played God of War. I love Halo and Modern Warfare. I’ve never played God of War.
EI: What do you think, for you, was the trickiest aspect of making this movie, beyond, obviously, the 3D? Was there something else?
JL: To emotionally engage the audience in these characters was hard, and to make sure the relationships were logical. Because if you care about the characters, you’ll care about what happens to them in the action sequences.
EI: When you have so many great stars, does it come with a little bit of extra pressure as well? Or, on the contrary, it elevates your game?
JL: It definitely elevates your game, but there’s also that pressure, because you’re working with guys like, say, Liam and Ralph, who have done such incredible work, and…you don’t want to f*ck their careers up. So instead of telling them what to do, it became: what can I ask them? What advice can I get? How can I tap into their minds to bring more to this movie?
EI: Do you think there’s a scene in Wrath of the Titans that really embodies the movie, that kind of sums it up?
JL: I think the Chimera scene, for me, has great action and emotion. It’s a guy chasing after his son to save him from a monster, and it has very gritty, realistic, kinetic action. So for me, that’s a good one.
EI: What was, for you, maybe the trickiest scene to put together?
JL: I think the final scene, with Kronos, because he’s not there, and he wasn’t there for a long time because we had to generate him over so much time with computers that we couldn’t see what he looked like for a long time. So that was very tricky to put together.
EI: Between the first one and the second one, do you see the technology having evolved a lot? What do you think is different today? And are there still some limitations – something you couldn’t do?
JL: Absolutely. There are always limitations, but where it’s evolved is there are so many photorealistic things now that, before, you would know were an effect. One of the most amazing effects to me are: there’s a door that Hephaestus is reconfiguring to get into the labyrinth, and to me, it looks so photorealistic. And a lot of the creatures, like the Chamera or the Cyclops, look really good compared to two years ago, what you could do and what you could render. So the technology is always evolving.
EI: What does that world – the world of the Titans, the gods – represent to you? And how do you see it relevant with our society today?
JL: In that world, you always have arrogant elders [laughs] who have to give way to the new generation and don’t want to, and try to hold on to their power, whether it’s the Titan holding on to his power from the gods who hold on to their power from the humans…and I think you see that everywhere. You always see an older guard holding onto their power as long as possible.
EI: What is your favorite god and why?
JL: Zeus because he is the king, and it’s good to be the king…I hope. One day. [Laughs]
EI: What do you think is going to be your worst and best memory of having done that movie?
JL: Hopefully my best memory will be when it comes out and everyone loves it. And the worst memory will be the day before I got the job.
JL: Because I didn’t have it yet.
EI: And you were anxious? Did you really root for that movie? You wanted to be part of that franchise?
JL: Yeah. I think it was great. You had such an amazing cast, and I thought, again, the action and the spectacle from the first one was superb.
EI: Were you, as a young man, into this type of god and mythology?
JL: Absolutely. From school, it was fascinating. And to be able to make that come to life instead of… When I was a kid making short films with my friends and pretending, now you’re doing it for real.
EI: Do you feel like you’d like to explore more of that universe and do a third one?
JL: It depends if the audience wants one. If they see this and enough people see it and like it, sure, I’d love to.
EI: What would you like to explore? Because I asked Toby and he said, “Oh, that would be cool if we could explore the work of Hercules.” Is that the same storyline that you would…?
JL: Well there are a lot of storylines to pick from. I’d like to just take these characters further, because these are the characters we love. And yeah, we would introduce some new ones. I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about it yet.
EI: What’s coming up for you next, after this one? A vacation?
JL: No. Rebooting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with Michael Bay, who is producing that. And then Julius Caesar sort of epic movie. So those two other things.
EI: Those are massive endeavors.
JL: Yeah. While I have the chance and people will allow me, I would love to do that, because the world changes quickly.
Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Wrath of the Titans' is released in theaters on March 30, 2012.