When fanciful visualist Tarsem Singh was first offered the chance to direct "Immortals," initially he wasn't having it.
"Genre rarely interest me, so when everybody wanted to make the film, immediately I said, 'No interest,' " the director recently admitted in an interview at WonderCon. Eventually Singh was swayed, but not before he demanded to put his stamp and overhaul what he thought was fairly predictable material. "The script I [initially] got... in the end it reflects nothing of what I originally came to it with," he said. "I just saw the script and said, 'right now it’s a genre,' but that will…let’s say open the vault [to other things]." After marinating on the basic idea, the director of "The Fall" and "The Cell" thought, "I can I bring enough of my DNA to get into this particular film. It will take me at least a year and a half to design it, and a year and a half to make sure that enough of what I want to do ends up in the movie."
"Originally I think Henry’s character was the King’s son and blah blah and everything, in the end he’s the son of a peasant now. I knew it was going to evolve," he said. "Forget about when the Romans imagined them, when the Renaissance came in and they saw the Greek tales they switched them up, especially in painting renditions of the war, and I said, ''If I’m making it today I don’t want to remain true to a particular period. I didn’t go as far as Romeo and Juliet in Mexico, which I adored, but I had to kind of figure out, what are the rules that apply to this world and it’s not consistent in that particular form."
The filmmaker demanded a hand in the casting and "everything." And of course some of his choices were second-guessed, including lead actor Henry Cavill. But the recent casting of Cavill in Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" suddenly made Tarsem "look like a genius," he said.
Though Singh sounds tough, Isabel Lucas ("Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"), who plays Athena in the film, said he was easy to work with (and easier than Michael Bay). "He’s not a boss at all, that’s the point," she said. "He was more like a friend, we’d all be going out for dinner all the time and shouting at dinners everywhere and yeah, like very technical and very vision-driven director, but also an actor's director and really encouraging us to explore our individual creative styles. It’s very different from Michael Bay, with him you’re nearly like a chess character and you know that’s what you sign up for but with Tarsem it’s much more creative in a way."
As for knowing Roman and Greek mythology well and sticking to those folklores, Singh said, "it was drilled into us in school," but he didn't feel obligated to stick to either legend if it compromised what he wanted to do with the narrative. Changes were necessary.
"Do I think I followed it enough? I don’t think so," he said. "It’s a story about Odysseus, it’s a caveman telling a caveman story in dinosaur times, they do not exist together but if it solves all of your theatrical problems you try to go with it."
"I mean I loved [the 1981 film] "Caveman" with Ringo Star and dinosaurs in it. I saw that movie in India and I thought it perfectly worked until someone said, '[Dinosaurs and cavemen] never together,' he said as an example of the necessity for changing history for dramatic purposes. "When I look at Odysseus being intervened with the gods, I took what I thought worked with the tales of the gods. The issues of immortality, do you really want to live forever? So those subject matters I was interested in I said okay, gods stay and we put them in the time of Odysseus. [But no], they were never together."
Singh also preemptively told purists to stick to their books if they're going to complain as the two are simply different mediums. "If you are really a literature fan, I suggest you should read more literature, because I don’t think films should stay that close to books because literature’s brilliant and books are brilliant and if the two don’t mix …don’t."
"Immortals," is set to bow into 3D theaters on November 11.