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09 January 2009 @ 05:00 pm
Stuart Townsend rocks Lestat in Michael Rymer's Queen of the Damned  
I can't see how I ever missed posting this before but here it is now!

Stuart Townsend rocks Lestat in Michael Rymer's Queen of the Damned
By Patrick Lee and Cindy White


In Queen of the Damned, director Michael Rymer's upcoming movie based on two of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles novels, Irish-born actor Stuart Townsend takes a bite out of a role originated by Tom Cruise in the first Rice adaptation, 1994's Interview with the Vampire. Townsend plays Rice's most famous creation: Lestat de Lioncourt, an 18th-century French nobleman inducted against his will into the brotherhood of vampires.

Townsend appears opposite the late Aaliyah, the 22-year-old pop star and actress who died tragically in a plane crash last summer, and Marguerite Moreau, who will soon star in the SCI FI Channel's upcoming miniseries Firestarter: Rekindled.

Australian-born director Rymer faced the challenge of not only following up the previous movie, but also compressing the events in Rice's The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned into a single film. Townsend, Rymer and producer Jorge Saralegui took a moment recently to speak with Science Fiction Weekly about Queen of the Damned, which opens Feb. 22.


Stuart Townsend, how did you feel about the opportunity to do this and how do you avoid the cliches?
Townsend: For me it was an opportunity to fulfill all those teenage fantasies of being a rock star, you know? We all want to do it. But yeah, I mean there's a lot of resources to look at—all the old vampire films. It's so much a part of our culture. For me, I guess at the end of the day it's the script. Like a lot of people ask me, "Is it intimidating because Tom Cruise was Lestat?" and that kind of thing. But for me this was such a different story. It was rock and roll.

Did you ever worry that Anne Rice fans might not like you in that role?
Townsend: Yeah. When you're doing it, it's like, "Yeah, I can't please everyone." I can do the best I can and hope that people ... especially the fans, [will] like it. ... I went on the Internet once, and already they were saying, "Oh, he doesn't have blond hair!" I was like, "That's enough. I don't want to know." We hadn't even started the movie.

Did you feel you were stepping into Tom Cruise's shoes?
Townsend: I think it's a very different vampire. ... The Anne Rice themes are the same. That kind of question of eternity and existence and if you actually lived forever, the reality of that. ... Because we already toy with the idea of immortality, especially in this culture. And that's what I love about Anne Rice. She explored that existential question and the fact is, I'm with Lestat, I'd hate to live forever.

Really? Why?
Townsend: Because it would be a drag. ... I mean, why do we all watch movies? Reality is pretty mundane. But we have great imaginations. So there's plenty of beautiful things in this world, but I don't think I'd like to be around them forever.

What was it about the character that made you want to play him?
Townsend: The fact that, I guess, I thought there was a sensitivity. He loved music. And he was created, and he wasn't given a choice. He was just created, and then he was left alone. And he spent a couple hundred years hiding in the shadows, wanting to enjoy all these powers of, like, being able to play music and wanting to connect and usually just having to be this solitary bird, you know? And despising that. He's monstrous at times, you know, what he does is monstrous. And kind of having to deal with that along with existence.

Had you read the whole series of Vampire Chronicles books before?
Townsend: Not before. No. I'd read [Interview with the Vampire] and subsequently read the rest.

What was it like shooting the rock concert scene in the rock quarry? Did they have you up in a rig [to fly]? Was that scary?
Townsend: I got on stage, and I was tanked up on a bottle of tequila [laughs] with a few of my mates from Ireland who were there. So we sat in my trailer for a few hours and just got wasted. It was the only thing to do. ... It was a stunt man up there on these two little wires attached to his waist, and they said, "Are you scared of heights?" And I said no, which is a lie. But he didn't look that high, you know, from my perspective. He just looked like he was up there. And then they pulled me up, and it was nine stories high. ... If there wasn't 3,000 people watching, I would have been like, "Take me down!" But there were, so my pride came up and I was like, "I can do this." But it was pretty terrifying, really.

How long did it take to shoot that scene?
Townsend: We had 300 extras for a week, where we did all the stunts and all that, but we had one night at the actual concert, because we had 3,000 people come in. They weren't paid. They were just told to dress in black, fed hot dogs and given a T-shirt. We had DJs and stuff. It was an amazing night.

Was there any discussion about you vocalizing any of the music or songs yourself?
Townsend: I think there was, and I was like, "There's no way I can do [KoRn lead singer] Jonathan Davis." That's not my voice. I mean, I didn't sing the songs, but I was miming, and there was such a big sound rate that I was singing to myself just to get into it. I had no voice after three days, so there was no way I was going to do his vocals.

Can you talk about working with Aaliyah? What was that like?
Townsend: Yeah. It was amazing. I wouldn't say you've ever heard a bad word about her. She was really a special person, and she was amazing on set. We'd walk on, and she created this fantastic character. But it was always a sense of fun. Like, the shoot was fun. Most shoots aren't.

Her death was obviously a shock to everybody. Did you ever ask yourself whether they were ever going to release the film?
Townsend: Yeah. I mean the first thing I asked myself was, "What about the family?" Because I've had death in my own family, and you're the ones who are left behind. So the first thing is, "How are they?" Because I knew they all came to Melbourne, they were so close. And that was the first question. And then the movie was second. Like, are they going to release it, or what's going to happen? And the press. You know, I'm sitting here. What are they going to do? But thankfully [Aaliyah's brother] Rashad is interviewing. And the family, I think, they want the public to see her performance, because it's wild.

Did you do any dialect coaching for this to change your accent?
Townsend: I wanted to just make my own accent up, so I worked with this coach to sort of throw in a little bit of French, not too much, and then a bit of my own voice, a bit of English. ... [We] worked for about a month trying to find his voice. It wasn't really from anywhere.

What did you specifically bring to the character of Lestat?
Townsend: I guess like the accent, coming up with that idea. It's weird, a lot of it happens on set. Because, you know, you go out and you research. ... I researched all these rock stars, I watched all these videos, like David Bowie, Marilyn Manson. And then obviously watched all the Nosferatu movies, Bela Lugosi, and the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But then suddenly the makeup comes on and you're in this scene that you've been creating and that's where most of it happens, you know. ... I tried to bring a sensitivity to him, actually. I didn't want him to be monstrous. I wanted him to be sort of redeemable as human, show the human side of him.

Even though this was a totally different movie, did you go back and look at Tom Cruise's performance?
Townsend: Yeah, I saw the film. For me it wasn't about Tom Cruise. It was never about Tom Cruise. For me, watching Interview was more about Anne Rice. And I was surprised, because when I saw the film when it first came out years ago, I remember just going, "Yeah, whatever." And then I saw it again before I shot the film and I was amazed. I loved it. ... And I think he did a great performance, but it was never going to be the same film.

Did you ever speak to Anne Rice about this?
Townsend: Yeah. I met Anne Rice in New Orleans. Very strange time. ... We chatted for about six hours. She was just amazing. But after about 10 minutes, she gave me this book The Witching Hour, and she said, "You're on page 46." And I turned there to page 46, and there was the life of Stuart Townsend. And I was like, "Aw, Anne. ... You've [written] me as a character in your new book. Is this your new novel?" And she said, "No, I wrote this 11 years ago."


Jorge Saralegui, how did the two of you hook up?
Saralegui: Warner Brothers brought us together. I met Michael after seeing Angel Baby, the way almost everybody in Hollywood did. But then I think it had been, I don't know, four years? Three or four years. I was at Fox, he was doing things at Paramount, and Warner's brought us together on this.

Do you both have the same sensibilities about the genre?
Rymer: We never really broke that down, did we? We agreed about what we thought would work for the film from the books and what wouldn't work. ... Basically, the film represents our sort of collective vision. ... I might like a little more of some elements and, I think, Jorge others.

How did you decide what to use from the books?
Rymer: Well, there's two books. The Vampire Lestat is an extremely episodic novel, which will make a brilliant miniseries, I believe. But it was not suitable for a feature. And then the third book is also enormous. I mean, there's dozens of characters and subplots and very gory things going on that you couldn't film. And things that, to my mind, didn't entirely pay off. So we just started culling, and we were quite ruthless about sort of focusing the story.

Did you get any input from Anne Rice?
Rymer: Yeah, Anne was there at the beginning. I met with her, and we talked about the style and the sort of casting we were going to do. Anne and the studio parted ways about which book to do. She, I think, would have preferred the second book if it had gone forward. But then she was copied on all the screenplays. She gave comments and has pretty much given us her blessing.

What about the physicality of Lestat? I understand that the hair is a controversial issue.
Rymer: Totally.

How do you deal with that kind of stuff?
Rymer: I took it more seriously until I started to listen in to some of the Web site discussions going on. This was way back. It became clear to me that a lot of these kids would rather have a bad actor play the role if they looked right.
Saralegui: Actually, the truth is that we were going to make him blond.
Rymer: We had him in a blond wig.

Didn't you release pictures of Townsend as a blond?
Saralegui: No. Someone doctored it on the Web site.

Did you ever think about getting Tom Cruise back again for this movie?
Rymer: I think when I came on it was pretty clear that Tom Cruise was not going to reprise this role. He had no interest in it. He had taken a lot of hits for doing it in the first place. I think as a courtesy he was [offered the part].
Saralegui: Yeah, it was offered to him. He passed.

Has Anne Rice seen the film yet?
Rymer: Yeah, I went to New Orleans and showed it to her.

And what was the response?
Rymer: Very positive. She was very objective. She knew that it wasn't going to be the books. She was prepared to evaluate the film on its own merits. ... I can't quote her, but she's put some quotes on her Web site that are very flattering. So I'm greatly relieved.
Saralegui: She also cleared the use of her name. Which you probably see now in the materials. Not on the one-sheet, because that was already out. But now it's Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned. That was her offering it to us after seeing the movie, so that kind of speaks for itself.

What was it about the whole universal mythos that made you want to do this?
Saralegui: It being a vampire story. Tapping into the vampire mythos happens to have fascinated both of us throughout our lives. And that actually goes to your question about our perspectives. They're actually pretty similar. We never actually compared notes, but they are pretty similar. ... For me it's like dangerous sex. It taps into those feelings. The vampire, to me, stands for that. It's dangerous. It's sexy. It's forbidden. Although, to me, the movie's not really about that.

Was there ever an intention to make this even sexier than it is?
Rymer: I think vampires without their trousers on lose a lot of power.
Saralegui: It's a very sensual movie without showing a whole hell of a lot. And I think that's sort of the vampire thing.

What was [Aaliyah's brother] Rashad's involvement in terms of the looping process?
Rymer: He didn't replace any of Aaliyah's dialogue. It's all Aaliyah. And then underneath you'll hear a sort of whispered version. ... Sometimes it gives a little clarity to the consonants. It also adds a supernatural quality. The primary reason for doing it was to keep Aaliyah's performance, because I was very happy with that tack. But some of the dialogue got lost on the way, so it was just to add a little more sibilance to the consonants.

When you heard about the death of Aaliyah, what was your reaction?
Rymer: My reaction was shock and disbelief. My response was to throw myself into the work and do what she would have wanted, which was to make the best film we could.

Was there any part of her role that was left unfinished?
Rymer: Just the small issue of giving more comprehension to her dialogue.

What was it about her that made you choose her for the part?
Rymer: She brought a lot of grace and regal charm. She did really extensive auditions. She hadn't proved to anyone, including to herself, that she could pull off such a challenging role.
Saralegui: She really wanted the part. I spoke to a journalist a little while ago who interviewed her in Canada when she was doing Romeo Must Die, and he asked her, "What's next?" And she goes, "I don't know, but I'd love to play a vampire." Which is kind of amazing. She loved vampires and she knew a lot about Egyptology. So Akasha was ideal for her. She really wanted it and really pursued this guy [points to Rymer].
Rymer: [In] the audition process I made her do Lady Macbeth and Oscar Wilde's Salome. I gave her things that experienced actresses would say, "I'm not going to do that. Are you crazy?" ... She had every opportunity to freak out and go, "No, this is too hard." Or "You don't really want me." She just plowed through every obstacle.

Her accent was kind of interesting. How did that come about?
Rymer: I don't remember the specifics, but it was a combination of Egyptian and a little African. She had a dialect coach in New York that she worked with. I was in Australia. I just remember thinking, "Good job."

Would you do another one of the Vampire Chronicles books?
Rymer: I'm done. I've said all I have to say about vampires.

The music is such an important part of this film. How did you decide what kind of rock star Lestat should be and what kind of music to use?
Rymer: Well the obvious thing would have been the David Bowie route—glam. But that's not really relevant today, for starters. And secondly, I think with the combination of that and the whole homoerotic vibe of the Anne Rice thing I wanted music that was ballsier. You know, [full of] testosterone. And also darker. As dark as I could figure out how to make it. And Jonathan Davis was the man.