Reel People

John Curran, Filmmaker

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 27, 2006

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Deserves props for: Making the Australian drama Praise; returning to his American homeland for the brutal relationship battle royale We Don't Live Here Anymore; and heading to China to shoot the W. Somerset Maugham adaptation The Painted Veil, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton as a dysfunctional couple stuck in a cholera-ridden village.

So far you've made films that take place in the present day. What did you want to bring to the period piece genre?

"I wanted to feel like I didn't have to change my approach to relationships or interactions just because it was a period piece. Generally people were going through the same stuff they're going through now. I didn't want to fall into the trap of trying to rarefy it or do something arch or do an homage to a period film."

You've slightly changed the time it takes place in to 1925, during the infancy of the Chinese Nationalist Movement. How did you want that subplot to affect the central story?

"It became clear that in 1925, which is what we moved it to because it was easier to recreate, the movement caused one of the most pivotal times in Chinese history. It presented an opportunity to fold this into the story in some way. Instead of just being concerned about cholera, we wanted to compound these two events."

Did you want Edward Norton's Walter to come off as a symbol of English imperialism?

"I think Ed was really interesting in bringing out that side of Walter, to have him represent that kind of arrogance abroad. It also helped the film echo certain ideas about today."

Naomi Watts' character has traces of modernity. But late in, she confesses that she's really just a simple girl with simple interests.

"It was Naomi's idea for her to have some sort of creative inner life. One way we did that was by having her play piano, and Naomi did learn her own pieces for the film. I think the thing was to give her more complexity and give her more to work with and not make her seem like she's some kind of feminist icon or some kind of evolved creature--that she was probably more evolved in her head than she really was."

Did you ever want Watts to emulate Greta Garbo, star of the 1934 film version of the book?

"No. God, no. We watched the Garbo film and we barely got through it--it was terrible. I couldn't see the reason in remaking a really good film, but this was a really bad melodrama that was all shot in a studio and was really heavy-handed."

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