In 2007, German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film for “The Lives of Others.” The searing portrait of a Stasi agent set against the political intrigue and subsequent collapse of the East German state, the film marked both his debut as a director and one of the most acclaimed releases of the decade.
In January 2011, von Donnersmarck returns with his long-awaited follow up and first Hollywood film, The Tourist, which follows the exploits of Johnny Depp’s American innocent abroad in Europe, Frank Tupelo – a man who gets more intrigue than he bargains for when he falls for Angelina Jolie’s enigmatic screen siren, Elise.
The director talks about the romantic thriller in the following interview:
Q: How would you describe “The Tourist”?
FHD: The film is many things at the same time. It’s a suspense thriller. And it’s hopefully as intriguing and fun as are Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in everyday life.
Q: How did the film come about for you?
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FHD: I had just finished a script for a dark international thriller that I’d been writing for a year and a half, when Angelina called me and said, “Look, there’s this project that I’m thinking about and I’d really think about it if you’d consider doing it.” I looked at it. It definitely had the potential to be a sexy, fun, sweeping movie. As a fan of Angelina’s, I also felt that she was one of those rare women who had the explosive power of a Rita Hayworth or a Grace Kelly, but that she’s never really had a part where she could show it all – that extremely feminine, elegant side. She’s played tough action figures in “Salt” and “Lara Croft.” And she’s played challenging drama like “Changeling” and “A Mighty Heart.” But she’s never had a part where she was just allowed to be as glorious as she is… I guess I saw a chance to really present her in that way. And to present audiences with Angelina the way I’ve always thought of her.
Q: How did you proceed?
FHD: Well, we still needed an ideal costar… It’s tough to find a costar for Angelina, because she has so much going for her, and I didn’t want Frank’s character to look to weak by comparison. We needed someone who was a great actor, but who was also charming, funny, sexy and smart. When we put all that together, we realized we needed Johnny Depp. Our producer Graham King arranged a meeting between Johnny and me in Johnny’s office, we had a great conversation and he loved the idea of doing this with us.
Q: What was it like making your first Hollywood film?
FHD: With the crew and those fantastic actors, it was a real joy. They were so game to try out something new and so it was just a fantastic exchange, a really great experience.
Q: You decided to actually film in Venice, a tricky proposition I would imagine for a film of this scale, or indeed any scale…
FHD: It’s rare for a movie to shoot entirely in Venice – the normal way to do it would be 3 weeks in Venice for the exteriors and all the rest shot in studio. But since Johnny had a hard out date and had to leave for Pirates of the Caribbean, we wouldn’t have had time to build the Venice interiors in a studio. So for practical reasons, we had to do the unheard of thing…we had to shoot the entire picture in Venice, for which I’m thankful. It seemed an almost crazy thing for a producer and a studio to allow. But we had a real reason to do it… I hope that you’ll be able to feel, when you see the film, that it has that special quality, that Venice itself is also a character in the movie.
Q: Was it a conscious decision to follow up “The Lives of Others” with something so different?
FHD: Yes, it certainly was. I had actually just finished writing a screenplay which was, again, a kind of international dark, political thriller, maybe a little bit in the vein of “The Lives of Others.” And then just as I was about to start setting it up, “The Tourist” came along. I thought to myself, if I make this dark film now, I’m going to be that guy, forever. I’ll be the guy who does dark political thrillers. And I do want to explore other things too. Maybe it will be great to do the exact opposite and go for something very colorful, elegant and beautiful.
Q: How has your life changed since winning an Oscar?
FHD: An opportunity like The Tourist would probably have never come along without the Oscar. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is for the viewer to decide.
Opening soon across the Philippines, “The Tourist” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. Visit http://www.columbiapictures.com.ph for trailers, exclusive content and free downloads. Like us at www.Facebook.com/ColumbiaPicturesPH and join our fan contests.