Based on the best-selling novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas threads an epic story that unfolds in multiple timelines over the span of 500 years, where characters meet and reunite from one life to another.
Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski (Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) the film challenges its actors, including Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, who play six characters each, some totally unrecognizable. I spoke with them at the press day for the movie, about this rare cinematic experience.
How did this unique project come to you?
Hanks: Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer said, ‘We’d like to send you this screenplay that we’ve worked on.’ I hadn’t read the book, so I wasn’t familiar with that.
It’s an impossible screenplay to describe, but they said, ‘Here’s what we’re trying to do.’ They talked about the multiple time [periods] and the multiple characters.
Then we met, and I think much like seeing the movie, sometime in it you’re trying to figure out what’s going on and a light goes off and you realize, ‘I get it, there is a connection to the themes that are being examined.’
By the time you’re reading the last 100 pages it’s all about one door opens in the year 2050 and in the next scene somebody walks in the room in 1974, and you are right there connected to the theme and the story.
It’s a fabulous masterpiece.
You both play a multitude of characters in this. How does it impact your performance when you look in the mirror and you can’t see yourself anymore?
Hanks: It’s magical. The way this worked is everyone one of our characters had probably three days of make-up and wardrobe tests.
We would walk in and you’d see six or seven versions of the character and you and the directors and the make-up crew would start picking and choosing, and you’d slowly build it with their help.
At the end of it you’re looking at a different person and what a treat that is.
Berry: I have to say I did loved being turned into Dr. Ovid. Never before in my life would I have ever thought anybody anywhere would hire me to be an Asian man for any reason.
So that was probably a day that I felt like I’m doing something that’s unique that I will never have a chance to do again.
How many characters did you know about in advance?
Berry: I wasn’t always Dr. Ovid. At one point, Tom was going to be Dr. Ovid and she was going to be a woman. And then somewhere along the line they said, ‘No, as far as your soul’s journey, you need to be Dr. Ovid.’
Hanks: I could not be a good [person] at that point, I still had to be that cranky guy, because I was [still evolving].
What are your beliefs in reincarnation?
Hanks: By our decisions of cruelty and kindness, we impact future generations and it goes on for eternity.
I think that’s really highfalutin stuff that I view as being so simple to accept and yet so deep and vast in what it represents, that some people might view it as a definition of reincarnation.
Berry: (she groans) Okay, whatever you believe.
Hanks: Since this fabulous press junket started, I’ve gotten to argue with Halle about reincarnation.