Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
THE LAST WITCH HUNTER opens nationwide today, and Fresh Fiction had the opportunity to sit down with stars Elijah Wood (THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy) and Rose Leslie (GAME OF THRONES) on their tour for the film. We discussed working in the witch-hunting world, the costumes, women in action films, and other films, naturally.
You seem to be at a point in your career where you just do only the stuff you want to do.
Elijah Wood: “I hope so.”
With MANIAC and COOTIES– What was it about THE LAST WITCH HUNTER that caught your attention?
Wood: “Well, I think it was the fact that it was based on an original concept. At this budget level, it’s pretty rare to find something that is as on this scale but is not based on a pre-existing book, or graphic novel, or the reboot. That was the initial thing that was intriguing. I was really surprised by the script. I was surprised by the level of detail in the storytelling. The world-building that it was doing, creating a new mythology. It has a lot of fun with itself, I think, especially recontextualizing witches and putting them in the modern world, living amongst us. I thought it was a lot of fun.”
Right. And being on this particular set with Vin Diesel, who many people probably be surprised to know is a huge D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) nerd.
Wood: “Yeah, yeah.”
An insane-level dungeon master. This is him getting to play D&D, essentially.
Wood: “That’s the deal, yeah.”
Rose Leslie: “Perfect for him, isn’t it? His cup of tea.”
Was he just nerding out the whole time?
Leslie: “[To Wood] He definitely did that with you.”
Wood: “He did.”
Leslie: “Yeah, he queried a lot about LORD OF THE RINGS.”
Wood: “He did. He got Tolkien on me. He started talking about THE SILMARILLION, so he goes deep. He was saying, ‘Hey, you got to tell Peter [Jackson] that he has to make THE SILMARILLION, and I have to play a character in it.'”
And you were like, ‘Oh, OK. I’ll make that happen?”
Michael Caine, though, here.
Wood: “Yes, indeed.”
Leslie: “Pretty sensational.”
Wood: “Yeah, that was an element that I was particularly excited about. It’s somehow having Michael Caine in your film raises the quality level immediately.”
Leslie: “Yeah, there’s a certain caliber with him. Certainly for both of us, knowing that we were going to be sharing a scene with him– My scene, he was asleep. Michael was asleep [Laughs]. But nobody needs to know [Laughs]. I told my family, they didn’t need to know that, but we were all very excited about it.”
And [Wood], you got to rock a priest get-up.
Wood: “Yeah, different kind of priest. It was my first time as a priest. It’s funny that immediately, putting that– What is that collar called?”
Leslie: “Dog collar.”
Wood: “A dog collar?”
Leslie: “Yeah, a dog collar.”
A clerical collar.
Leslie: “Is that right?”
It is right, but I’m sure it has other names.
Wood: “There’s something about that, that immediately makes me think of THE EXORCIST, but that’s just me.”
Yeah. Well, then you had to rock a turtleneck, which is not easy for anybody.
Wood: “Thanks, dude.”
Leslie: “He can do it. He can pull it off. Exactly.”
The costumes are such a fun part, too.
Wood: “They are.”
Of getting into your character. As actors, I’m sure that the costumes you guys wear in this, one where you’re just– They help infuse with the priest.
Then, also, [To Leslie] the leather that you got to wear as the witch.
Can you guys talk a little bit about your costumes?
Wood: “Yeah, it goes to great lengths in regards to crafting your character.”
Leslie: “It does. It does. Would help, certainly, with Chloe being a modern-day witch, I put on skinny jeans every morning. Of course, the leather, absolutely, that helps, but still that helped ground me with the fact that this a modern woman living in New York City. It was more really knowing of Chloe’s skill and her ability as a dreamwalker that really helped me get into her mindset rather than the clothes, only because they didn’t really transport me. They were just– They could have been mine.”
In regards to the set design, the cave scene at the end–
Wood: “It was shot in a mine.”
Leslie: “Yeah, we were a half mile underground for a couple of weeks.”
Do you have claustrophobia? Did you get uncomfortable?
Leslie: “There was a little element of that. Obviously, it was pretty vast. It did stretch out, and obviously, claustrophobic in the way that we were down there for so long with a lot of people, as well, because there were sometimes when we were cornered for a particular scene. It was difficult to shoot down there at the best of times.”
I think, in modern-day filmmaking, everything is seen as a new franchise and a new trilogy.
That’s what drew you to it, was that it wasn’t based on this preexisting material. You very much get the vibe that this is trying to launch this new franchise.
Leslie: “[Diesel] is the, yeah, he’s the king for that, isn’t he?”
[Laughs] I would say so.
Leslie: “The franchise king. Yeah.”
Wood: “Yeah. Well, he certainly indicated that there’s going to be sequels.”
Leslie: “Before Lionsgate–“
Wood: “I don’t know if Lionsgate was aware, but yeah, certainly. It sets up a new mythology in such a way that it’s very much an establishing story, and you could certainly see it carry on with further adventures. And you could even imagine, considering that Kaulder (Diesel’s character) is 800 years old, you could also have films that take place in any time period in that 800 years as well.”
Yeah. Sequels, prequels, and then space.
Wood: “Then, obviously. Witches in space.”
It’s always got to go there. [Leslie], Chloe gets to stand on her own in a way. It’s not about the man that defines her, she gets to be her own. Is that part of what attracted you to the part?
Leslie: “Yes. Amen to that, because otherwise she’s just one of the many other female, sexualized roles within loads of action movies. She has backbone, and she’s fierce, and that was something that appealed to me without going down that route.”
Besides that, one of the things that attracted me to her was this idea of memory potions. [To both] Is there a particular memory that you wish you could go back and relive just to remember every detail?
Wood: “Oh. There are many. I suppose there are many. There–“
Wood: “Incredible childhood memories, yeah.”
Leslie: “I had a very lovely, happy childhood, so I would like to dip into that, I think. Certainly with my siblings and just– Oh God, I would say, climbing trees. Climbing trees and puddles. Yeah, that would be somethin– My memory’s not particularly good, so I’d like to go back and just watch that really on the side.”
The movie also talks about the idea of eternal life. It seems pretty clear in the movie what the answer is, but what do you think? You think eternal life is more of a burden, or more of something that you could learn to enjoy?
Leslie: “We debated this for a while, haven’t we? I certainly wouldn’t want to eternal life, no. I think I would get incredibly lonely after a couple of centuries. If we’re talking 200 years, then, yeah, it’d be a blast. I think the idea of all your loved ones constantly bypassing you and having to say goodbye, it’s very lonely existence.”
[Wood], do you feel differently?
Wood: “No. No, I agree. I agree. I think it would be terribly lonely. There’s obviously a romance to it, and I think it fascinates all of us, because it’s not something that we can achieve. There’s this romantic aspect which is that you are impervious to death and harm, and you can experience things that you wouldn’t normally be able to, and see time pass in a way that we can’t perceive, which is an exciting notion, and to live through different time periods. I think, yeah, it would be a bit of a curse if you couldn’t share that with anyone. I think, unfortunately, it errs on the side of being a lonely existence. Give me time travel. That’s what I want.”
Speaking of time travel, The big 2015 anniversary of BACK TO THE FUTURE II just happened. That was one of your first roles.
Wood: “That’s right.”
I was convinced we were going to have hoverboards, flying cars, and self-lacing shoes. Having been a part of that, and been on set, and seeing all that stuff, what’s that experience like through your eyes?
Wood: “It’s bizarre. It’s bizarre that we’re at the time period that they were in, that they visited in the future in the film. There was always people drafting their concepts of what the future would hold. The future always is way more interesting from the perspectives of those imaginations, rather than the reality of what it actually turns out to be.”
In the past, yeah.
Wood: “But we do have self-driving cars. We’ve got a lot pretty crazy advancements. It’s fun to revisit, and those movies are so incredible. That particular film is a favorite of mine, so it’s always fun to get culturally around it again, and reinvestigate it, and celebrate it, but because it’s awesome.”
The Cubs may even win the World Series.
Wood: “See, that would be wild.”
[Wood], I saw you at Fantastic Fest last month for THE WITCH, which comes out next year.
Do you think Vin Diesel could take on the witch from THE WITCH?
Wood: “F*ck no. F*ck no. That witch is so formidable. It’s Robert Eggers’ directorial debut as a feature. F*ck, that film is terrifying.
Yeah, it had a funny bit of backlash at Fantastic Fest. It’s because, well, it played at Sundance to crazy acclaim, and I think that people were building it up to an unreasonable place. I saw a friend after the movie and he was like, ‘Someone told me it was the most terrifying movie all time, and that it was crazy.’ I was like, ‘Who the hell told you that?’ I was like, ‘Whoa, simmer down. It’s a slow-burn, like-INSIDIOUS horror film.’ It’s not any of those things. I think the expectations were unreasonable. The movie’s a masterpiece.”
I agree. I think people felt the same with CRIMSON PEAK, too.
Wood: “I would disagree.”
Well, a lot of people expected it to be a very scary movie, and it’s more of a story with ghosts in it.
Wood: “I suppose, yes, in that sense, which is the first thing that Guillermo [del Toro] said. He was like, ‘This is not a horror movie. It’s a–” What did he call it?”
A gothic romance.
Wood: “That’s right. With ghosts. Which it is that. Have you seen it?”
I didn’t see it at Fantastic Fest, although I did see his Q&A. I saw GREEN ROOM instead.
Wood: “Wooh. How good is that?!”
It was a better choice, I think.
Wood: “GREEN ROOM‘s fantastic. Sorry, I can talk about movies all day.”
Hey, that’s why we’re here.
THE LAST WITCH HUNTER opens today.