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At only 46, Michael Winterbottom already is a veteran of festival campaigns worldwide and has a host of experience mined from the Festival de Cannes. The director’s latest movie to come to the Riviera is based on Mariane Pearl’s book that details the terrifying and unforgettable story of her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The film stars Oscar winner Angelina Jolie as Mariane. It was shot largely on location in Pakistan and India and brought to the director by Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner’s production banner Plan B. Winterbottom spoke to The Hollywood Reporter U.K. bureau chief Stuart Kemp about making movies in Pakistan, shooting with an Oscar winner and working for a specialty arm with a big budget.
The Hollywood Re- porter: How did you come to be involved in “A Mighty Heart”?
Michael Winterbottom: About three years ago, Dede got a copy of the book to me. She got in touch and said she wanted to do it. The project was originally at Warner Bros. before Paramount Vantage got it in turnaround, and last year (Paramount Vantage president) John (Lesher), who used to be my agent, got in touch and we began prepping it.
THR: You shot “The Road to Guantanamo” in Pakistan. Did that experience influence your desire to shoot this project?
Winterbottom: We’d just finished “Road” in Pakistan and we had been in Pakistan for a while, so it wasn’t that great timing, to be frank. I didn’t really want to go back straight away. But I really enjoyed the book, and (Mariane’s) portrait of what it was like as an outsider in Pakistan was similar to my experience as a filmmaker there. The book is also about a time and a place that I felt I knew reasonably well.
THR: The film stars Angelina Jolie. Is there a difference working with a big star?
Winterbottom: It makes it easier to get the money to make a film that comes with such a brilliant piece of casting. Normally, the way we (with Andrew Eaton, Winterbottom’s producing partner) work is we develop projects ourselves. But for this, it came with Angelina already on board and they asked if I wanted to make it. We did interiors in India rather than Pakistan because of security concerns for Angelina because of her international profile. The nature and sensitivity of the story meant we had to go to India instead of Karachi for those interiors. Getting visas for our Pakistani cast to go to India to do the picture was very difficult as India and Pakistan have not always seen eye to eye.
THR: When the project was announced, a tempest in a teacup raged around Jolie’s casting because she plays the author who is mixed race. Was that a challenge for you as filmmaker?
Winterbottom: The first time I met Angelina, she was already on board and wanted to do it. Angelina and Mariane are friends and are very similar in many ways. It was very easy from my point of view to cast because of that relationship. Mariane has a Cuban mum and her dad was Dutch and her grandfather was Chinese, I think. It would be impossible to find an actress of that ethnic mix anyway, and Jolie is a great actress.
THR: Your films often deal with big sociopolitical situations. Is this something that as a filmmaker you find engaging?
Winterbottom: I guess so. I think, in this case, the book is a very personal explanation of what it was like to be in Pakistan at a time in such a difficult situation, but it also manages to give a sense of what it is like to be an outsider in that culture and intimates broader issues. It’s about the jihad, police, the military there and Western agencies and how they interact with one another. (The book) gives you a real sense of what it is like.
THR: Was “Mighty Heart” the biggest budget you’ve had to play with, and how does that make a difference?
Winterbottom: The budget was about the same as (2001 release) “The Claim,” which was the biggest budget I ever worked with. I said at the time (of “Claim”) that the budget wasn’t enough to make the film we wanted to make. But this was different because much of the story centers around Mariane, and five weeks of the shoot was in one house. We had enough money in this case as it was a straightforward and intimate shoot.
THR: What is it like making a movie for Paramount? Did they let you do your thing?
Winterbottom: The whole thing has been good and relatively straightforward and painless. Partly that’s because they came to us and John used to be my agent. Everyone had roughly the same film in mind, and both Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are friends with Mariane.
THR: You have such an eclectic filmography behind you. What is the driving force behind what you choose to direct?
Winterbottom: Whatever I think is going to be interesting over at least a year. Films take at least a year to make, and it has to be something that will engage me for that length of time.
THR: You’ve been nominated for a Palme d’Or three times — for “24 Hour Party People,” “Wonderland” and “Welcome to Sarajevo.” Does recognition by the Festival de Cannes help to get your films made?
Winterbottom: Normally, as a British independent filmmaker, there is a big advantage being chosen for Cannes because of the profile you get in the media. In this case, the attention probably won’t be that hard to get what with Brad and Angelina associated with it. From my point of view, I’m looking forward to showing it and seeing it in front of a real audience.
THR: You have an Out of Competition slot. Does that take the pressure off a bit?
Winterbottom: I’ve been In Competition and never won anything. Cannes is such a fun festival, and for me it’s about trying to take as many people down to the festival who worked on the film as possible and celebrate the film. It’s a good place to have a party.
THR: Are there other movies you are hoping to catch during this year’s 60th festival?
Winterbottom: There are loads of films that would be great to see. But I’m only down there for a couple of days, and my experience of Cannes is that, if you have a film there, you never get a chance to see other films because you are so busy doing press and meeting people. One film I am really interested in seeing is “Control,” the film about Ian Curtis.
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