Jeremy Renner & Gemma Arterton Interview For ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’
Catching up with Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) 15 years after the traumatic incident involving a gingerbread house, the siblings have evolved into vengeful bounty hunters dedicated to exterminating witches. Over the years, the siblings became expert hunters, famous for their proficiency at tracking and taking down their prey. Although still recovering from their ordeal, their work is relatively easy as for an unknown reason harmful spells and curses do not work well against them. The Mayor of Augsburg recruits them to rid the town and nearby forests of an evil sorceress (Famke Janssen) who is planning to sacrifice many local children at the witches’ gathering during the upcoming ‘Blood Moon’ night in two days time. To make things worse, the duo also has to deal with the brutal Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare) who has taken power in Augsburg and conducts a very indiscriminate witch-hunt of his own. Directed by Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow), ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’ is pencilled in for a January 25th release in the US and a Febuary 22nd release in the UK.
15 years after Hansel and Gretal hatched their escape from a child-snatching witch, they’ve become these fierce, formidably skilled bounty hunters dedicated to tracking and terminating witches….
Gemma Arterton: Yeah. I love the original fairy tale and this starts there, then it makes a real departure. The film joins up with Hansel and Gretel in the midst of their fame as witch hunters. But it’s also a time when they’re starting to wonder who they are and why their parents abandoned them when they were kids. They’re doing their job and its become quite mundane – even though it’s killing witches (laughs)! But then something comes into the story which elevates everything and makes it more tense for them. Lots of things come together.
Jeremy Renner: Hansel and Gretal have become bounty hunters, they don’t like witches, for very good reason, right (laughs)? It was really important to all of us for Hansel and Gretal to have a deep bond, that was really really important – in going through such a tragedy, when you only have each other. They don’t have parents, witches have tried to eat them and what Hansel and Gretal have taken away is that you’ve got to take your personal anger and pain and do something good with it.
The brother-sister dynamic between Hansel and Gretal always stays at the heart of the action. Was that something that appealed to you about this film?
Jeremy Renner: Definitely, there was a lot to explore there. What was interesting for me was that there was a lot of room for character, and a lot of room for developing an amazing bond and relationship and behavior in a really fantastic world. When I read the script, my first thought was, “I can’t believe this hasn’t been done yet.” It’s such a great idea with so much potential. That dynamic was definitely a big thing, I loved that what Tommy wrote left so much room for character.
Gemma Arterton: Hansel and Gretel have this unstoppable bond but they’re also so different from each other. They sort of have the same instincts and the same mind, they’re very in-tune with one another. Yet, they are so different. She is the brains of the operation and he is the brawn. He’s the joker and the show-off. She lets him do that (laughs), that’s how it works. She’s very much more the watcher, the researcher, the one who tries to really understand witchcraft – the serious one (laughs). The thing that I loved about the script was that at the heart of it there’s this brother and sister relationship, a brother and sister who have been through loads. They’ve lost their parents, they don’t know who they are, and they’re reliant on each other. The sibling relationship is such a great one to explore.
I think it’s rare to have a brother and sister duo, you know? And especially an action duo. They support each other, it’s not like two police cops or something like that, there’s an emotional drive for the both of them that’s inexplicable. That was really fantastic to play, that was kind of the central core of the piece.
Jeremy, I was told that there was a one-sheet that grabbed your attention, even before you read the script?
Jeremy Renner: Yeah. The initial attraction came from a little one-sheet I got, before I even got the script. It was something that ended up being in the movie, it’s of Hansel and Gretal walking away and a witch burning in the background, fire going up in the air. Hansel had a shotgun and Gretal has a crossbow, and they’re just walking away on this poster. I found it incredibly interesting, I don’t know why (laughs), but it was. And then actually shooting the film, it was how I imagined it would be – and even more so sometimes.
How was it building the sibling rapport?
Gemma Arterton: That dynamic was great to work with Jeremy on. He can do all of this action stuff, he’s a pro, he’s amazing at it. But also, he really does have the sensitivity as well, he accesses that when needed. There’s a lot of fun to their relationship as well. I think Jeremy and I, from the offset, got on incredibly well, it was immediate. We had that banter, and we behaved like brother and sister on and off set (laughs). That was fun.
Jeremy Renner: Gemma is a real gem, that’s for sure! We were lucky to find her, we read a lot of really great actresses, it took along time. But the real trick in finding the right girl for this was… well, we kind of look a bit alike, but there’s also a weight she brings to things without actually having to do much – I don’t know what that is, I couldn’t tell you, but she has it (laughs). And between us, there was something already right there, it was natural. We couldn’t have been more lucky to find Gemma, she brings a wonderful depth to Gretel. She’s great.
What was it like working with writer/director Tommy Wirkola on this vision of his?
Gemma Arterton: Tommy, he’s incredibly collaborative. He’s got this sick mind, in terms of violence and story and comedy, all of these things. His previous movie was so unique in its tone and he brings that into this. Even though he wrote it, he wanted to have our input – that made it an incredibly rich experience. Also, he was really strong with his ideas, with what he wanted with this film. We had not so much CGI because of that, he was really like, “No, no, no. I want this animatronic, I want it to be prosthetics…..” And that was great for us.
There’s some intensive action in the film, with each battle against such magically empowered enemies being hard-fought. How did you find doing the action on this film? Also, there’s a mix of serious and comedy, so I can imagine that adds another element?
Jeremy Renner: There’s a lot of really arduous action in the film. One of the big difference in this movie is that while usually heroes win all their battles, Hansel and Gretel get their butts kicked numerous times (laughs). It’s very different to any other movie on the action side of it, it’s more of a western style of fighting. I had to really learn how to get beaten up, how to get my butt handed to me (laughs). But that was a lot of fun.
Tommy brought an incredible tone to the whole thing, like you said, a mix of serious and funny that I think gives the film the quality of a real adventure. And with Tommy, I always knew that if I could make him smile from ear to ear, it was like, “Ok, that was a good take or a good scene or a good suggestion.” He’s soft spoken and he’s quiet, but with that he can command the set, and he knows what he wants. He wrote the story and he knew what it should be.
Gemma Arterton: For the action, we worked closely with stunt coordinator David Leitch and his team. We worked for three weeks, intensive! I came in before anybody and met up with the stunt team. I worked with them intensively on my physicality, I learnt how to fight for this role. I’d done stunt training for three years when I was studying, but this was an intensive boot camp. It was so helpful, incredibly helpful. It just rooted me and made me so much more present with Gretal. There’s so much Gretel goes through!
And you’ve both got your own unique weapons….
Jeremy Renner: Yeah. The weapons have this modern flair to them. Also, because it’s a fantasy movie, we’re shooting witches, why not be able to have a shotgun (laughs)? They were made from what our surroundings were. There was something really quite weird and lovely about them. We had these great handguns, a knuckleduster. It was fun.
Gemma Arterton: I have this double action crossbow, which is pretty slick (laughs). My crossbow was actually really heavy, and I had to run around with it and do all these things with it. It’s very fast shooting, so it’s sort of like a cross between a gun and a crossbow. It looks really cool and it kills things efficiently.
How was it working opposite the witches prosthetics. I can imagine that helps with your performance….?
Gemma Arterton: I was just amazed, I’ve never seen prosthetics like it. They made people look repulsive (laughs). There was one with a tumor growing out of its face, you really were quite horrified when you saw them. Yet, it’s one of the things that I loved the most about working on this film: the comedy/horror style. The witches are funny as well, the way that they move and the way that they speak. But as an actor it’s great, you don’t have to imagine anything, it’s there, it’s truly, “Urgh,” (laughs). It was such a vision that was accomplished. The costumes and the make-up was incredible.
Jeremy Renner: Most of it is all practical, even the witches flying on the brooms – it was pretty much all practical. They were all on wires, it was awesome! There’s a scene were I come down from the top of a mountain with Pihla and I leave her with her machine gun, then I come down around and literally there’s 60 witches there. The rock structure was maybe 70 or 50 feet tall, it was massive, and I’d be shooting these witches and they’d just be flying off on wires. It was like if you switch on a light and cockroaches would scatter, it was the funniest thing. There’s nothing else like it, I’d have a good giggle about it (laughs).
I can imagine those sets were fun?
Jeremy Renner: Definitely. Having the environment and the world feel like it was, I didn’t have to do much green screen for the most part, so I got to use the surrounds as I would if I was there. I didn’t want to leave that world to be honest with you. I was walking around Augsburg in this cool-ass leather coat, I’d be getting off a horse, with a shotgun on my shoulder. I could just grab some fresh apples, I thought, “I would like to live like this, this is kinda cool,” (laughs). There was this old tavern where you’d scoop beer out of this trough. I dunno, there was something very primal that was really fun to me. I loved that (laughs).
And the costumes, they look like they belong in a fairy tale world, but they also have this badass bounty hunter look to them. What was it like working with the costume designers on that?
Gemma Arterton: Oh man. Marlene Stewart had come up with these drawings and everyone went crazy for them, I thought that they were great. Originally it was like thigh-high boots, it was very gothic looking. But then we softened it a little bit, made it a bit more hunter-like with the forest colours… but still leather pants (laughs). I mean, it’s a period movie but not so, so I could wear trousers – which was great, as I had to do a lot of running around. I think my costume evolved to being practical and quite tomboy-ish, yet still quite sexy. Honestly, Marlene done such a great job with were that costume went, I’d wear that costume down the street – I love it (laughs). Marleen, she’s such a clever designer.
Do you remember your initial reaction when you first saw the candy house?
Gemma Arterton: The candy house is so iconic. And actually, that’s what I first think of when I think of Hansel and Gretal: the candy house. So the day when I saw the exterior set of that, in the forest, I was really blown away. I took a photo of it because it was so iconic, to capture that moment.
Jeremy Renner: I sneakily took a little piece of it to see if it was candy, I had to check. But no, it was sort of like styrofoam (laughs). I thought they done a really wonderful job with the look of this movie, and that was one of things I was initially attracted to. The designers behind it were tremendous, and it wasn’t easy to make something that looks cool, but that is also very functional at the same time. It’s not an easy task because we had to be very fluid and we had to move around and get beat up, roll around and do a lot of strange things on these sets.
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