By Jessy Williams
The premiere of Mortdecai – which stars Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor – landed in London on Monday January 19 and Screenjabber was on the red carpet. Among others, in attendance were the leading man himself Johnny Depp, his partner in crime Paul Bettany and director David Koepp. Here’s what we ascertained from some of the guests...
Was the British comedy element an appeal of yours?
Yeah, absolutely. The combination of the high and low is what really attracted me. The sense of great propriety along with the most absurd things you could possibly imagine. Johnny’s a big fan of that and so am I. We were really happy to get Paul Whitehouse in to the movie which was certainly emblematic of a certain style of British comedy.
How hard is it to direct physical comedy?
Comedy is tricky because you can’t let the sweat show. Making movies is always hard; things break, people get sick and there are arguments. When you get it right and it’s hysterical and everyone laughs, that’s a great feeling.
Was trying to contain the laughter one of the hardest parts?
Oh my god yes, I was actually the worst offender. I would laugh if I saw something funny, but if you’re recording sound that’s a big problem. I had to move my chair out of the room, down the hall and then into another room. But, that’s part of the fun. I was asked to leave more than once and I took it as a good sign.
What were the locations that you filmed in?
Primarily in and around London. We were in Manor House and locations all around the city for about 8 weeks, then 2 weeks in Los Angeles.
How did you get involved with the writing of Mortdecai?
I was over at Trafalgar Square 12 years ago and I walked into a bookstore and I found this great set of books on the “staff recommended” shelf, this Mortdecai trilogy. I picked them up and on the back of one of them it said they were like a cross between P.G Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler and I fell in love with it. I went out and I wrote the script, without rights or anything. I sent it around to everybody and everybody said no and then I sent it around again..and everyone said no! Then Johnny read it and said yes and then the film got made. That was 12 years!
Why did you choose to send it to Johnny Depp?
Well he actually read it as a sample of my work. I went it to meet his company and they said, “So what do you have that we can read to get a sense of what it is?” and I gave them Mortdecai and Johnny read it.
Did you think from then that Johnny would be the best person for the lead role?
It just happened! He is the perfect guy. I mean, he's the perfect guy to play any role. I mean, once he inhabits it and owns it, he makes it his. Then you can't imagine it any other way.
Have you thought about writing for either of the other Mortdecai books?
Is that going to happen?
I don't know, it isn't up to me. I wish it were up to me! I could write again and again and again. In my head, I've already written the next one. I've mentioned it to few people, so we've planted the seed.
How do you think the film is going to be received? Recent films with Johnny haven't been getting the best reviews from critics...
I think Johnny is the modern day Charlie Chaplin and is totally uncredited for it. Every take, every scene and every moment he is doing something. He's just such an extraordinary actor that I love watching him do whatever he does. I don't know why people love him in some things and don't like him in other things. I think he's great!
How about Paul Bettany, how did he get involved?
Through Johnny. He was the centre pole of everybody. Johnny got David and Paul. Gwyneth doesn't work that much. She does a film once in a while, but once it was Johnny it was like, “Oh yeah, I'm in”. It's pretty easy to get a movie made when Johnny wants to make it.
Tell us about Mortdecai, who is he?
Mortdecai is a penniless aristocrat who's an art expert and historian. He's decided that it's the time in his life to grow a moustache, like every other Mortdecai before him and it's become a line in the sand that he will not cross. His wife wants him to shave it off, but he won't. Despite their financial issues, this seems to be the biggest issue in their relationship, which is funny. I play Jock Strapp, his butler, driver, assassin...
What should audiences expect when they see this film?
It's a camp romp. It's like Jeeves and Wooster, but on acid.
Why was Johnny Depp the perfect guy to bring Mortdecai to the screen?
He loves the books, he's a huge fan. He was a really poor kid who came from a poor background and he grew up, for some reason, watching England comedies. He fell in love with English humour. I think it's great, because everyone knows how much he loves England. He is accepted making fun of the British. It's a real sweet spot for him. It's a homage to one of his heroes, who is Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers.
How did you get involved with Mortdecai?
I met with David Koepp and he liked some of the music I'd done in the past. He showed me the script and it was hilarious, so I jumped at the chance to do it.
If they were to make more Mortdecai films would you be up for that?
Yeah, for sure. I had a really great experience and it was really nice, because it's so different from writing my own music.
How did the experience compare to writing your own album?
You really get all this inspiration from these colourful characters; it's just two different things.
Did you and David Koepp agree on what the music should sound like?
Luckily, most of the time he did. There were times when he would be hearing something completely different and have a different view, but we'd work it out. I realise that's the nature of film, you have to re-work things out some of the time. I like that part, I don't mind it.
Did you get to go to the set and see the filming?
I was able to go to the set once and I met Johnny Depp. I was nervous, it was a big deal.