The new “Wrath of the Titans” trailer is out, promising epic battle scenes with larger-than-life monsters from Greek myth. Director Jonathan Liebesman (“Battle Los Angeles,” “Darkness Falls”) takes the reins in this sequel to Louis Leterrier’s 2010 rendition of “Clash of the Titans,” which received mixed reviews but was No. 1 at the box office for two weeks straight, bringing in $493 million worldwide. Sam Worthington, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson reprise their roles in “Wrath of the Titans,” slated for a March 30 release. Hero Complex’s Noelene Clark caught up with Liebesman about the film.
NC: What drew you to directing “Wrath of the Titans”?
JL: I’m a huge fan of epic films that create a world you can escape to and experience the spectacle and awe of gods and monsters. Creating that world in “Wrath” has been incredibly satisfying. I had just completed “Battle Los Angeles,” so I felt comfortable with the scale of the narrative and the spectacular journey Warner Bros. wanted to deliver to the fans of the franchise, both in terms of the effects-heavy creatures and the epic quest of the hero’s journey. Ultimately, we wanted to take all the spectacle and awe of Greek mythology and give it a more grounded, human element. The mythology also has a wealth of brilliantly devised archetypal characters that we were able to introduce to the narrative in order to create a richer world.
NC: Can you talk a little about the new monsters we can expect? Which is your favorite? Which is the most horrifying?
JL: We’ve been lucky that the source material for a project like “Wrath of the Titans” is so vast and epic in nature. We were afforded the luxury of finding the most incredible aspects of Greek mythology, like the highly imaginative and gruesome monsters, and work them into the more traditional narratives of the mythology. I’m a huge fan of the Makhai, a vicious warrior demon composed of two fallen souls from the underworld that have been conjoined, forced to fight as one creature for all eternity. We’ve worked some fantastic stunts around their unusual corporeality.
NC: You’re working with an all-star cast. What’s it like to direct the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy and Sam Worthington?
JL: I have been extremely lucky to work with actors of this caliber. They bring their whole life to the characters, and to watch them work over the course of the film has been a lesson in filmmaking. All of our cast were extremely generous with their performances, and we had a very open set in terms of collaboration and discussion. When you are working with actors as talented as them, you really trust their instincts and take their ideas on board. “Schindler’s List” is a really meaningful film to me, and to have Liam and Ralph together for some of our scenes was incredible. I think we really made the most of their relationship in our film, and we deliver scenes that the “Clash” fans might not expect.
NC: What departures are you taking from the first installment in this series, and what do you think was done right that you plan to keep?
JL: We are grateful to have the architecture from the first film(s) in terms of narrative; the world and characters have been set up and we were allowed to take it and run with it. We wanted to bring a reality to the film in terms of the characters — obviously, when you’re fighting a 1,000-foot monster made of lava, nobody is giving you a gold star for your use of cinema verite, but when you really believe what the character is going through and the emotional journey they’re on, then you start to genuinely hope for their victory against the 1,000-foot lava monster. That investment was very important to us. Sam was instrumental in providing this grounded, gritty performance. We looked at a lot of westerns and some [Akira] Kurosawa films to try and create a journey for Perseus that was real. When he gets beaten up by the monsters, he isn’t impervious to the pain. He’s not a superhero. This is a guy struggling to stay alive and save his family. It’s an extraordinarily real performance against the magical backdrop of the “Wrath” story world, and I think that grounding in reality will help the audience get on board with the world of “Wrath.”
NC: There’s a lot of backlash against this franchise from Laurence Olivier fans. What would you say to those folks?
JL: We wanted to make a film that had the same heart as the original “Clash” film, but take advantage of the huge leaps in technology that afford us the luxury of creating a fresh new world for the story. I would hope that they look at the film and see that we are paying homage to the original film that Sir Laurence Olivier was a part of.
NC: How has your experience up until now played into directing “Wrath of the Titans”?
JL: I think that every film you direct provides you with a new understanding of one of the many aspects of filmmaking. I have had the chance to work with Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez on “Battle Los Angeles,” and that taught me a lot about the process of excellent actors. Obviously, creating the aliens in “Battle L.A.” and forging a very effects-heavy world prepared me for the world of “Wrath,” just as the horror films I’ve worked on have strengthened my capability in creating a very specific emotion-state for the audience. I don’t think we ever stop learning. The technology is constantly evolving. No two actors work in the same process. Your method of storytelling changes. I think the secret is finding projects you’re passionate about and surrounding yourself with the people you trust to go on that journey with you and create the world you want to create.
NC: South African filmmakers are getting increasingly more recognition. Do you see the country as a new breeding ground for Hollywood talent?
JL: I don’t think it’s South Africa in particular. I think that with the advent of filmmaking technology and the ease with which you can share your work on a global scale, filmmakers everywhere are getting a better chance at creating film and having people actually watch it. When I was a young kid in South Africa, I had to move to the U.S. in order to focus on film, and I’ve now been in L.A. for 15 years. But I think nowadays, people can create their films anywhere in the world, shooting on a D5 and editing it on their Mac and uploading it instantly. It’s opened up the world to new voices all around the world. That said, I think South Africa is an incredibly rich and vibrant community of storytellers, and the country has a very complex undercurrent of narrative running through its history. Everyone has a story, and thankfully it’s now much easier for them to share it with the world.
— Noelene Clark
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