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Author David Mitchell on 'Cloud Atlas' Adaptation Process -- "surreal," "primal" & "ingenious"

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by Beth Hanna
September 28, 2012 2:00 PM
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Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in "Cloud Atlas."

In the current NY Times Magazine, "Cloud Atlas" author David Mitchell provides his perspective on the production process of the Wachowskis' and Tom Tykwer's wild cinematic event, which spans continents, eras and every possible iteration of Tom Hanks' facial hair, and recently premiered at Toronto. Highlights from Mitchell's perceptive piece below.

TOH! reviewed "Cloud Atlas" twice, with varying results. Anne Thompson loved it, while Meredith Brody was less keen. See a new clip from the film, via the Playlist, below.

Mitchell on participating in the surreal first table read:

The first read-through of the “Cloud Atlas” script will stay with me forever. With three or four actors unable to attend, the film’s directors — Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski, who also wrote the screenplay — divvied up the spare roles. It seemed rude not to volunteer. I hadn’t been in a group-reading situation since my high-school English class, but instead of my 17-year-old classmates slogging through “A Passage to India,” here were Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Jim Broadbent delivering lines that sounded uncannily familiar. The whole experience felt rather like finding Gandhi playing Connect 4 with your plummer in the cupboard under the stairs.

On the importance of a not-too-faithful adaptation:

Wherever the “Cloud Atlas” screenplay differed from “Cloud Atlas” the novel, it did so for sound reasons that left me more impressed than piqued. (At the read-through, I sat next to Lana Wachowski, and when a line earned a particularly strong response, I’d whisper, “Was that one of yours or one of mine?” The tally was about 50-50, I think.) Anyway, film adaptations of novels are prone to failure not because they are too faithless but too faithful: why spend all that effort producing an audiobook with pictures?

On admiration for actors:

I acquired a heightened respect for actors too: There was nothing computer-generated about the water drenching Halle Berry up to her neck; and David Gyasi, who plays an English-speaking 19th-century Moriori islander, riffed from a pitch-perfect Maori accent to Caribbean and then to African with the ease of a man changing hats. Thanks to my cameo appearance, I also learned how many hours are spent in the trailer for every minute on screen. Little wonder some actors become voracious readers.

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