He may not be a name you’re familiar with, but German born writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s movie The Lives of Others won over forty international awards, including the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
His first American movie The Tourist stars Johnny Depp as Frank Tupelo, an American who goes to Europe to mend a broken heart. When his path crosses with a mysterious woman named Elise Ward, Angelina Jolie, their flirtatious encounter on the train from Paris to Venice evolves into a life and death struggle for both of them.
What was it about Angelina that made her right for this role?
One thing that always struck me about Angelina is that she’s so elegant. I wanted to showcase that, I wanted to show people that she has the great feminine side. Of course she’s strong, but she’s also delicate and feminine and can seem really vulnerable, and I don’t think people knew that about her.
How important was it to find the male lead in this?
We really needed someone who wouldn’t be eclipsed by Angelina. When we brainstormed over what actor could be a true partner for her in terms of attractiveness, intelligence and acting skill, the only name that kept coming up was Johnny Depp.
I presented the kind of character I envisioned for him, and he liked it. Our meeting lasted three hours instead of one, and we laughed so much that I realized I needed to introduce a lot of humor into the script to do justice to Johnny’s charm.
Of course there’s a pirate in him always, and he’s always an anarchist, but he is a real gentleman and I wanted to show those sides, and that had to be reflected in the dialogue and the way they talked with each other. Even while people are shooting at them and dragging them through the water they’re gentlemen and ladies.
Were you concerned that they might not have chemistry together?
Before (producer) Graham King and I could say, ‘Yes, we wanted them together in the film,’ we wanted to see them together and we had this meeting where they sat together on a couch. I tell you right there and then I knew there would be a great hullabaloo about them being together, because it was just so special seeing them there.
There was just the right kind of tension, just the right kind of humor; they were like two people playing the perfect ping pong match. There wasn’t even a script. So I wasn’t surprised by people being excited, I was excited.
Can you talk about shooting in Venice?
I don’t think that anybody’s ever shot an entire film in Venice, at least not in recent memory. Certainly not with people like Angelina and Johnny, and I wanted people to feel that this was the European trip that everybody wants to take and they get to take it with the two most amazing people that we would want to take this trip with.
Somebody once said that Kodak owed most of its revenue to Venice. In terms of art and beauty, it’s the richest place in the world – there’s nothing else like it. In reality, the city is sinking and falling to bits, but we wanted to show the glory of the place. We asked ourselves, how can we show the city from its best side? There are elements of the plot that are dangerous – but, thanks to Venice, not so dangerous that you might feel miserable about it.
I think there were so many firsts about what we were allowed to do in this film, and you will never see Italy like that again. You will never see Venice like that again, because they are just not going to allow it again and they haven’t allowed it before. They allowed it only because they love Angie and Johnny, as we all do.
The action sequence where Frank leaps across the Venice rooftops was fun, where did that inspiration come from?
It came to me when reading about Casanova. Of course, Frank is the anti-Casanova. I thought wouldn’t that be a fun way to present him – not as a great, confident lover trying to escape the cuckolded husband, but running for his life from gangsters. It reinforces the character and also presents all the beauty of Venice – it was a lot of fun.
Another action scene was the boat chase through Venice which I believe took seven nights to shoot?
Every day we tried to add more detail and texture. One night, shortly before we shot the sequence, I came home from work in the early morning hours and saw this beautiful fog, all over Venice. I thought, ‘Oh, it would be really nice to have that in the film.’ So we went pretty heavy on the fog to try to recreate that beauty. It was really a good way to use the dark side of the city, the danger that comes with the romance.