Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson: The Titans Behind 'The Adventures of Tintin'

 Joe Pugliese

In an exclusive interview in Paris, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson reveal the secrets behind their first-time working relationship and the ambitious $140 million project that brings a beloved comics character to the big screen.

When you first contacted Peter, did you know each other?

Steven Spielberg: Well, I had handed him the Oscar statuette for the final Lord of the Rings in front of millions of people -- and that's how we met: on camera. And then we went backstage and spent a little time together.

Peter, were you nervous when he called?

Peter Jackson: Yeah, obviously a little nervous, but I was excited -- I mean, just to be asked to do something with Tintin and Steven, those two things coming together are pretty cool. And so we did a test for Snowy …

Spielberg: Which surprised me because Peter didn't tell me anything except they were going to show us that they could make Snowy interact with humans, and when I saw the [film] tests, all of a sudden [the character of ] Captain Haddock [appeared] in full [costume], and it was Peter [playing the Captain]!

Jackson: It was very embarrassing.

Spielberg: It was great! I wasn't ready to hire Snowy, but I was ready to hire Peter. He was wonderful, and he came out with a bottle, a little bit tipsy.

Jackson: I saw that just the other day, and I'm a little bit of a porker in it, a little bit embarrassing.

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Why did you turn to Weta in the first place?

Spielberg: I was drawn to whoever did the effects on The Lord of the Rings. I just loved what they did. I'm very loyal, of course, to ILM [George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic], but I had been blown away by the facial capture and thought, "If they can do that, they can maybe do a dog."

Did you have to tell George why you weren't going to ILM?

Spielberg: He never asked.

Peter, you subsequently became hugely more involved. How?

Jackson: It was organic. Steven and I started to talk about the idea that it's impossible to cast actors who look like the iconic characters that Herge drew, but you could create these characters in a realistic way using CGI animation. That started with Snowy and kind of grew. Then at some point, Steven asked me if I wanted to be more involved in the movie. Took me two or three seconds to say yes.

Back then, you were still thinking of doing it as live action?

Spielberg: Yes. But my big fear was if we didn't invite Herge's style into our process, we would be sort of doing Dick Tracy, where Al Pacino had prosthetics on his face and was barely recognizable. Then I would be making a very stylized movie, which I didn't want to do.

Did you ever meet Herge?

Spielberg: I spoke with him on the telephone in 1983 when I was making Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in England and he invited me and Kathy Kennedy, my producer, to come to Belgium and meet with him in two weeks' time. And then sadly he passed away before we arrived.

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What made you go with the three books this film is based on, The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham's Treasure and The Crab With the Golden Claws?

Jackson: We were drawn to Unicorn because it's one of the really great stories -- a lot of adventure, a really good mystery and a treasure hunt. But we both felt pretty strongly that we should memorialize the moment that Haddock and Tintin meet. And of course that's in Crab With the Golden Claws. We just made the decision to take elements of all three books and combine them into a sort of three-act structure.

And you had the rights to the whole 24-book series?

Spielberg: All the books.

What kind of approvals did you have to grant Herge's estate?

Spielberg: We had to build into our relationship, beyond even just the deal, a series of creative consultations so the estate could look at a character and reject it if they felt it wasn't close enough to Herge. They had to vet all of the characters, especially the main characters. They had consultation rights on the script and gave us great notes.

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