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Jaume Collet-Serra arrives in Berlin with the amnesia thriller Unknown, which is set in the German capital and stars Liam Neeson as a man robbed of his memory and identity. The Spanish genre wiz spoke to German Bureau Chief Scott Roxborough on the appeal of the thriller, why Neeson makes an ideal action star and his reasons for shifting the film’s story from Paris to the streets of Berlin.
The Hollywood Reporter: The amnesia thriller is a genre we’ve seen a few times before. We’re you worried audiences would feel they’d seen this all before?
Jaume Collet-Serra: Well, I’d never seen a reverse amnesia movie, which is what this is. Where a man loses his memory then he gets it back and the rest of the people don’t remember him. Other than maybe in a Twilight Zone episode I’d never seen that. We don’t’ explore the amnesia story that much, it takes up maybe 30-40 minutes of screen time. But its clear pretty soon that something else is going on. It becomes more of an international spy thriller.
THR: What appeals to you about the thriller as a genre? It seems to be making a bit of a comeback.
Collett-Serra: I am a real fan of the 1970 thrillers like Three Days of the Condor or Frantic. Those thrillers where normal people are put in a situation bigger than themselves or anything they could imagine. I think thrillers are going to be back in fashion really soon because audiencew want to see things that have more depth to them. Look at the success of Inception. I think there’s going to be a rebirth of the genre, which makes me happy because it’s my favorite genre. They are hard to write because every thriller has a hole in the middle of its story and you have to find ways of hiding that hole.
THR: Why did you pick Liam Neeson as your hero?
Collett-Serra: The fact is in this movie you don’t have much time to get to know the character before he goes crazy. I needed someone who, in a very short time, would give us something to like him, to root for him. And I knew Liam would deliver. He has the presence. Anything he says as an actor you believe.
THR: The film is set in Berlin and the city plays a major role. Was that in the script from the start?
Collett-Serra: The original book was set in Paris but we didn’t want to do it in Paris because it is too familiar and too romantic. I mean losing your identity in Paris wouldn’t be so bad. I wanted a city that was less familiar and a language that sounded harsher, like German, not so melodic like French. And Berlin is perfectly suited to the story because it’s a city that’s still looking for its own identity. The city itself resonates with the themes and character and the story. It was very easy to create a visual language for the film.
THR: How was the shoot? You shot during one of the coldest winters in years in Berlin.
Collett-Serra: It was my second movie in the freezing cold. I did Orphan in the freezing cold of Montreal. So I still had the jackets and everything. But the cold took us by surprise. We asked what the weather was going to be like. And the people in Berlin said oh it might snow little bit and be around zero degrees (32 F). When we got there it started to snow and never stopped. And it was minus 20! It was a logistical nightmare. The traffic and doing chase scenes on the icy roads was a pain. All the canals were frozen. The accident when the car goes into the river had to be delayed for a month.
THR: What are you doing next? You’ve been attached to Warner Bros’ new Dracula film Harker.
Collett-Serra: I’ve been working on that but I don’t know if it’s going to be the next project or not. It’s a very interesting project because it’s a new take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s bigger and scarier and more visual than the vampire story that we’ve been seeing in the last few years. The story is about Dracula coming back from the grave and saying to all the little vampires ‘I am the scariest of them all.’ But I have other projects I am considering. We’ll see. But I will be shooting a movie this year, whether its Dracula or something else, probably by the Fall.
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