French director Louis Leterrier can handle giants. For his last film, 2008's The Incredible Hulk, he faced down one of America's biggest and greenest. But Clash of the Titans is a whole different monster-or really, a dozen of them from killer scorpions to snake-headed gorgons. Leterrier tells BOXOFFICE about bracing himself to re-sculpt his cinematic icon and why he hopes his multiplex blockbuster will get fans to-gasp!-pick up a book.
Do you remember the first time you saw the original Clash of the Titans?
Very much so. I was eight when I saw it. It was the first time I went to see a magical movie with my parents in the theater. I was born in France and I missed the first Star Wars. My first Star Wars experience was Empire Strikes Back, which was afterward. So the first movie I saw with that 'Wow!' impression was Clash of the Titans. It changed my life. Before that, I'd seen Disney movies, but this one was like, 'Real people! With flying horses!' The creatures, actually, were really scary for an eight-year-old. I remember that date extremely, perfectly well.
And now you're shooting your own version.
Frankly, when I started directing, I never thought I would get to do this type of movie. So when the opportunity arose and they told me, 'Lets make this movie, Clash of the Titans-do you know it? We'd like you to remake it,' that was jarring because I'd be remaking one of my favorite movies of all time. Which was so scary, but at the same time I realized that I would never be offered a similar opportunity. At that exact time in my life as a director-I was 33 when that happened to me-I'm in love with this movie. And I don't know if when I'm 55, I would have the energy. It takes a lot of energy and stamina. So I said, 'Lets do it! Lets go crazy!' But I just want to be respectful of the original. That was my main thing: being respectful of the original.
And as the original has such a definitive style, how did that affect you as you brainstormed your vision. Did you feel like you had the freedom to find your own way?
I very much had the freedom to find my own way. The screenplay that I was working on at the beginning was actually quite, quite different from the original. It reinforced my positive feeling to go forward because if they allowed this screenplay to be written, maybe I can change it a couple of times. Change this, change that to reinforce the emotional motivation and make it my Clash of the Titans while being extremely respectful of the Desmond Davis, Ray Harryhausen version.
You've said that today's superheros are inspired by the Greek myths-that those myths are the origin of everything.
Being brought up in France, it was mandatory to take either Greek or Latin-we learned classic mythology tales in class, so I know all the mythological tales. And you put them in the back of your mind. Of course studying filmmaking, you read The Hero's Journey and you put them back in your mind. You know that these movies were done in the '50s and '60s and Clash was the last one in the '80s, but nowadays, no one goes to see a girl wearing a toga and a man wearing a skirt running around. I thought that we could never do that stuff. But when we were working on Hulk, everything we were talking about when we were writing was Greek mythology. These were our references-we were looking at Greek myths. We finished the Hulk in a pantheon with Greek columns-actually, more Roman than Greek-but it was because they were gods. The superheros are the gods, the modern demigods. When I was offered this movie, I was like, 'Yes! It's so natural. I know exactly what you're talking about-and I think I know a way to make it modern.' Not to make that classic sword-and-sandal movie with the guys with the long flowing hair and the gods wearing togas on smoky sets.
What makes Greek heroes feel modern today is that in Greek mythology, 'hero' doesn't mean you're a great guy who does amazing things. It means you have complications and tragedies-even the gods are good and bad.
It's fantastic. If you look at the gods or heroes, there's a flaw in each character. That's what makes a man a hero. Normal do-gooders, polite women, they're not put on a pedestal. It's only the people that went against the system that had stories written about them. Persephone went to hell and back. People who led a careful life and were fearful of the gods weren't that interesting to the poets of the time. That was my base. Perseus is a good guy, but he doesn't start as a hero. He's not an antihero, either. He just doesn't know yet that he has this thing in him. He needs to be poked to realize that.
You're always asked what other Marvel comic books you'd like to direct, but I'd like to know which Greek myths you want to do.
If this movie is successful, I'd love to incorporate the other Greek myths into sequels. Let's bring in Icarus, let's bring in Persephone, let's bring in everybody. Let's make it beautiful. It's comparable and not comparable at the same time, but if you look at Lord of the Rings, there's so many interesting characters in this world. Aragon, Frodo, Arwen-you could make a beautiful movie about each of these characters, but instead they made one with all of them. To bring Icarus, Jason, Hercules and make it an ensemble piece, that's what I'd love to do. My dream is in 30 years when my grandson is about to learn about Greek mythology in class, they'll say, 'Here is a series of movies to get you excited!' I remember the movies that were shown were always boring movies. Let's show something semi-realistic that depicts Greek mythology and at the same time has these great action sequences and beautiful heroic women and men. Smarts, wits and action and adventure.
My seventh grade teacher showed us the original Clash of the Titans-it's one of the things I remember most about being twelve.
Hopefully, this movie will get people to open books again and read more mythology. It's fun and it's exciting-there are great tales of heroism and humanity. In a world where gods are guiding our presidents' decisions, it's good to see that there were gods before and they doubted each other and mistreated each other. In a way, to look into your present and future, you have to look into your past.
One of my favorite quotes I've ever read is while everyone thinks only of Icarus falling, they forget that for a while, he also flew.
That's beautiful. And Icarus' father Daedalus created the labyrinth that held the Minotaur. It's all related. I'd love to do Icarus-I'd love to see the rise and fall of Icarus. He's the perfect hero. It's amazing. Can't wait to do Clash 2, if we get there.
What's your approach to shooting action?
I always put myself in the movie seat. Before 3D, I always had stuff coming at the camera. I always put the audience in the middle of the action. You're over the shoulder during a sword fight, you're in between a scorpion and Perseus, you're flying alongside Pegasus. The camera is always moving. That's how I'd describe my camera style when it comes to action-even when it comes to drama. I don't like those long, long lenses that remove the audience. They look beautiful, but they remove me as an audience member from everything. I want to be part of the action, part of the drama, part of it all.
You've worked with Jason Statham twice-what else does he need to be the world's biggest action star?
Hair. [Laughs] No, he needs to get the right projects. He's a great guy-I can't wait to work with him again-but our paths haven't crossed because he's always busy. In order to be Bruce Willis, in the '80s Bruce Willis was doing different kinds of stuff. I think what Jason did two years ago in The Bank Job was completely fantastic-there was physical stuff, but he was relying on his comedy skills. He's a fantastic actor and he needs more of a mixed platter on his resume than action, action, action. He's hilarious. Jason is so smart and funny and tender. I feel like I've used the right Jason-and Guy Ritchie has used the right Jason-in movies. In Transporter, we were using his tenderness, wits and physicality. The same thing in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But the other stuff is just using the 'Grrr!' side of Jason.
The Crank films I love because he's a manic, angry Buster Keaton-those are almost silent comedies.
Crank is great-I love Crank. It's an experience! I can't wait to work with Jason again.
And Sam Worthington has become the go-to muse for big action films. Why?
Because he's fantastic. I'd never seen a single frame of Avatar when I met him, a single frame of Terminator: Salvation. What I'd seen was this beautiful, great tender actor from this Australian movie called Somersault. I saw that and thought, 'I can't wait to meet this guy.' He was working with James Cameron and another film that was like a Bourne drama, so I realized he must also be physical. I had to meet him and it was instantaneous, like love at first sight. The humility, the charisma, the physicality-actors are not born buff. They have to train to become athletes. Just the perfect Perseus-completely different from any Perseus I had imagined. I thought that Perseus would be this guy with long, black hair-not this short guy with an Australian accent. He changed my mind, just convinced me. He's just a great actor because he commits to everything he does, whether it's the emotion or the comedy or the fights. Very, very dangerous stuff like fire and high jumps we would use the stunt men, but the rest was all Sam. Sam just jumping up, jumping down. The first scene we started shooting was the Medusa scene and I broke him, I broke my actor. Sweat and tears at the end of the first week. And he said it was the hardest work he ever did and the best time ever. And for me, also. I hugged him and thanked him so much. It was pure, great cinema. I knew I could now start seeing the movie. It was week one and I knew we had the movie. Thank you, Sam! And then we had Mads Mikkelson, Danny Huston, Nicholas Hoult-not to mention the heavies, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Pete Postlethwaite, Polly Walker, Vincent Regan-this is an amazing dream come true cast. It's humbling. When would they realize I was a fraud? When would they realize I was a guy who walked into the studio one day, sat down in a chair and said 'Action!' I was really afraid, but they were just fantastic.
I heard you met with Ray Harryhausen?
No, never, never, never. I talked to him a few times and wanted to meet him, but as I understand, he never really loved the idea of remaking this movie with CGI technology. I was trying to convince him that I was the right guy and I would be respectful, but he's 88. He wants to have a peaceful life and I didn't want to bug him too much. I hope he gets to see the movie and I hope I get to meet him-I just want to kiss the ring. That would be great. To say, 'Mr. Harryhausen, I'm a huge fan. Thank you very much.'
What do you want people to talk about after they've seen your version?
I want people to open books and read mythology. That's what I want. I want them to say, 'This was great, I loved the action!' and then their parents or their cousins or their aunts to tell them that this universe has some great stories. Then they'll be like you and me, Amy: Greek nerds.
What's next for you after Clash?
I don't know yet because I'm working seven days a week. It's been a great, long, but for this kind of movie, short-ish ride. I've just been concentrating on Clash. That's the way I like to do my movies: one at a time, pouring my heart and soul into doing it. I'd love to revisit this universe-it's fantastic.