“Cloud Atlas” may tell six different stories set in six different time periods, with ten performers each taking on six different roles for every time line, but the trio of visionary directors at the helm make sure the film is anything but all over the map.
Andy and Lana Wachowski, the groundbreaking directorial siblings responsible for game-changing cinema in “The Matrix”, and the risk-taking German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run,” “Perfume”) pooled their considerable creative resources for an ambitious film adaptation of David Mitchell’s best-selling novel featuring uniquely interconnected story lines spanning 500 years. The filmmakers’ most inspired leap: tapping the primary cast members to assume roles of varying depth and importance in each of the half-dozen eras to create a karmic mosaic on inter-connectivity.
Several "Cloud Atlas" castmembers – including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, James D’Arcy and Doona Bae – sat down to discuss just how easy it was for them to find their latitudes on any given day during filming.
Halle Berry: It didn’t feel like six different movies, really. I thought it felt like one movie but with six different characters within one movie.
Tom Hanks: It wasn’t hugely different from making a movie that shoots in six very distinctive locations. We did play different roles, but those were all thoroughly prepped and researched. We had a lot of time to do it, and a lot was expected of all this. It sounds like this was very intimidating, almost impossible to keep track of process but Lana and Andy and Tom, they wrote this I think two years before they even talked to us about it, so they knew exactly what they were doing and we knew exactly what we were shooting.
James D’Arcy: As an actor you hope that maybe one day something will come along that will be a little different. And then this thing comes along and it’s not a little bit different – it’s completely different. It is a film, and then after that there’s really no comparison with anything else. There’s three directors, two units, the actors are playing multiple roles, there’s six different stories set in six different time lines. It’s so insane that there’s no question of ‘Well, I don’t know about that…’ Honestly, I couldn’t stop smiling for days at the idea that they might want me to be a part of it.
Berry: Honestly, it was like the most fun to stretch. I got to play a white Jewish woman in 1930 – like, when would I get to do that? So to put on that skin…the fun part was that we had these make up tests that went on and on which might seem like arduous work but when you’re an actor, that’s the fun of it, to create something that you’ve never done before and to be a part of that process.
Susan Sarandon: You’d be sitting there in makeup and Hugh Grant would come in, completely painted and naked and bitching about how much makeup he has on in a funny, funny way, and Tom (Hanks) would be sleeping through his third hour, and people were just coming in and out, so I think that was very different in terms of the whole experience. And I think that makes the experience of watching it very different. The planes of my face were different, and I had contacts in, and even though in "Enchanted" it was, I hope, unrecognizable, but I had my eyes. So when I looked at myself and my dog looked at me, she didn’t get upset. But when I did this one, everything was changed, my hairline was changed, and I really didn’t recognize myself, and that’s never happened to me before. And it was great to freak everybody out.
Doona Bae: I think I worked harder compared to Korean films, because I had to get so many accents down: Spanish, British, American – I would repeat lines whenever I went to sleep.
Hugo Weaving: The main difference was the addition of Tom Tykwer, but I would say it was very similar as it was working with Lana and Andy on set on the first ‘Matrix’: the sense of playfulness and enjoyment of each other. Lot of life, a lot of conversations on and off set about life and philosophies and the project you’re working on. I’m immensely fond of both of them. Of course they’ve changed, they got older, and changed in many different ways and they’re a little more open to the outside world than they were before – not that they weren’t open to it, but just protective of themselves within it.
They described Tom as their third sibling. And it’s not like they’re all one, but they’re certainly in sync with each other and I think he brings a kind of, wonderful infectious excitement and energy, and a great mind and a great musical spirit as well to the project. They’ve found a real soul mate in him. That said, they don’t work together on the day, not in person anyway, they run their own sets. They do all the preparatory work, but they’re more open to freedom within that.
Berry: I broke my foot two days in, so that changed everything – not just for me but every single person involved in making the movie. So where they had some idea of trying to shoot it in some order, that got thrown out of the window two days into shooting. So then it was all over the place and it was traveling back and forth to Majorca then Germany then we had to go back to Majorca when my foot got a little bit better and shot some of that stuff on the mountainside when I could climb. It was all over the place.
D’Arcy: There are two ways to work your way into a character. One’s from the inside out and the others from the outside in. And quite often, the makeup was so extreme that it was pointless to try and fight it. You’d apply these heavy prosthetics and after spending four hours being turned into a 78-year-old man, I felt really old at the end of it. You couldn’t help it. And you didn’t have to do anything. You didn’t have to try at all.
Sarandon: I think you had a sense that everything was under control, even though it was chaotic, so it felt more fun than scary, ultimately, once you decided to be part of it. I’ve been a part of movies that are much simpler where no one’s at the wheel and that’s really bad, but you always knew they were calm. They didn’t seem tense or cranky, they were laughing all the time, so it didn’t feel like you were thrown into it, you had to jump. You didn’t have time to hold on to your ego, but it never felt like it was out of control.
Hanks: “Castaway” was a movie where we thought 'We are breaking every rule here – is anybody going to give a s**t about this guy when he never talks and he’s on island and all it is about falling coconuts.’ Every movie is a huge minefield that you’re walking into – not if it’s going to be a success but if it’s going to be a cohesive story that people get. In this case they just threw so deep, and it was so attractive if only for that reason that you throw your lot in. Otherwise what are you going to do? Only make movies that are guaranteed to work? Well, guess what: we could be sitting here talking about ‘”Forrest Gump 6,” which is a lot better than “Forrest Gump 5”’ – Who wants to do that for the rest of their lives?
Jim Sturgess: I loved making this film more than I ever have any film before. I didn’t want it to end…Lana and Andy and Tom threw all these parties for us every few weeks where all the crew would come together with all the cast to watch what we’d shot together and we’d all get crazy drunk and get all emotional. I remember one of the drivers from the film came up and grabbed me and said ‘I think we’re making something amazing!’ Wow, even the driver feels like that. That was the kind of atmosphere that they gave everybody: that everyone was a part of this one thing. It was just fun – it had to be fun. Otherwise it was just terrifying.