Visionasry Indian director Tarsem Singh, and Indian actress Frida Pinto work together for the first time with the movie Immortals. Freida portrays Phaedra, a Sibylline Oracle, who has disturbing visions for stonemason Theseus (Henry Cavill), who is on a journey to kill King Hyperion (Mickey Rouke), after he murdered his mother, while rampaging across Greece, attempting to find and reawake the power of the Titan army.
Produced by Mark Canton and Giannni Nunnari (300), the 3D adventure uses the latest VFX technology to seamlessly join layers of digitally created worlds and physical reality.
What attracted you as a filmmaker to this story? When you read the script did you start seeing these images in your head?
Tarsem: No, I didn’t approach it thinking I wanted to make a great mythology [movie], I just wanted to do an action flick. I love reading Greek myths, but I was not interested in making a film based on the originals. I was intrigued by the relationship between gods and humans.
So I thought, we could take some traditional tales and, like in Renaissance paintings, use the mythology as the basis, but add things that are relevant to our time. I would have liked to have changed all their names and not make it Greek mythology, but right now that’s what gets people into the theatre, so I said, ‘Okay.’
What interested you about this project?
Freida: I was impressed by the way [Tarsem’s movie] The Fall appealed to all five senses. I thought this film had the potential to do the same. When I first met Tarsem, I did not know what to expect. He explained the reason behind doing this film, what he expected the film to look like, and what was expected of me and the other actors.
It all sounded larger-than-life and fantastical. I really wanted to be a part of it.
Can you talk about your vision for the film – how did you express it to the people that you’re working with, because so much of it is in your head or in your design and they’re not going to see it complete?
Tarsem: Talk really fast with an Indian accent! I’m very clear in what I want to say or what was in my head and for most people, if you can get them to believe in the infectiousness of it, they usually look at [you] and say, ‘Okay,’ and they’ll ask you the right questions. If you’ve done visual films before they just go, ‘Okay, let him have it.’
Is your perspective as an actor the same, you look at a bare set and realize how filled in it’s going to be with all the spectacle, but you’re not going to act in front of it?
Freida: I have to say it wasn’t really a bare set, it was a living set. We had a very organic set that we could actually feel what we were touching, if there was something meant to be touched. For example, when Tarsem put us on a cliff, he just didn’t put us down on green screen, he really put us on something as high as he could get in the studio.
That helps a lot with the imagination already, because it’s not like you’re acting against green screen, you do have something that is going to be in the final product.
So I guess Tarsem had been very mindful of that in terms of helping his actors not feel like everything was going be done in post, but for them to feel what was around them, and it helps a lot when you’re doing a film of this genre.
Tarsem: That was very well put, because that was a very conscious decision that [there were sets] where the actors were. Subtle stuff gets really hard against a green screen, so our sets were massive, and just for the actors.
Did the costume you wore help with creating the character of Phaedra?
Freida: Eiko (Ishioka) designed these beautiful costumes for everyone. But it took some effort to make them our second skin. You had to maintain a certain posture in order to make them look that beautiful at all times, but they were essential to take the film into that larger-than-life realm.
I wear this amazing red corset with a sheer red skirt and a black veil. When I put it one, I felt it against my skin and I was very confident about it. There was nothing vulgar about it. It was revealing in the right spots and just the way it needed to be. Her idea of female sexuality and sensuality is so beautiful.
What was it about Freda that made her right for the role of Phaedra?
Tarsem: Phaedra needed to be exotic compared to most of the people in the world. People might expect that because it’s a Greek film, she would be Greek, but that’s not what I envisioned. When I met Freida I just said, ‘She’s it.’
What was it like working with Tarsem on this?
Freida: Tarsem is one of the most encouraging directors you will ever meet. Working on a big-budget project like this, time is literally money, but he was always patient and open to suggestions. When you work on a film like this, the emotions that you go through are so explosive. I’m just so excited, and that’s exactly what I want the audience to feel.
Can you talk about shooting this in 3D?
Tarsem: The story could have been told in many different ways, but my aesthetic really lends itself to 3D. My shots end toward tableaux and I normally shoot longer masters, both of which are very effective in 3D. I don’t do a lot of fast cutting or extreme close ups, which don’t work well in this format.
So in the end, I didn’t have to adapt my vision for 3D, it was a perfect fit.