Interview with Count of Monte Cristo Cast

Submitted by A Gent on Thu, 03/07/2002 - 00:52
Castaway and forgotten: Jim Caviezel counts the stones in a Castle D'If cell

Jim Caviezel, Dagmara Dominczyk and Kevin Reynolds on the dangers of adapting classics, swordfighting and working with Richard Harris.

Kevin, there seems to be a Count of Monte Cristo for most generations. Was there any hesitation to do another or to find another way of doing it?

Kevin Reynolds: Well, yeah I guess initially there was a bit of hesitation in that it was not a project that I initiated; it was something that Disney was going to make. But I've always kind of had a soft spot for the classic literature, and when I heard they were going to make it, you know, I sat down and said, well, somebody's going to have to direct it; it's going to exist. So why shouldn't that person be me.

Q: As a received piece how much input were you allowed to have into it?

Kevin Reynolds: Well, once I decided to take it on, I realised that there were so many previous versions that we were going to have to do something to make it fresh, to make it new. And I watched two of the previous versions - the 1934 version with Robert Donat and the seventies version with Richard Chamberlain. But after that, I felt that each one of those was very much of its own time, and I realised we were going to have to do something that would be of this time. I Also felt that, having read the book, which is incredibly verbose and dense and full of - it's probably got 50 characters and dozens of sub-plots, and you can't possibly incorporate into a picture, that while it made a really interesting read, it wasn't very cinematic. And we needed to do something radical with it in order to make it a movie.

So relying on the fact that probably 98% of the public had not read the book, despite what they say, we took a lot of liberties with the material and simply tried to stay true to the theme of it.

Q: Jim, you look pretty accomplished with a sword. Was this a chance to live out any childhood fantasies and what paces were you put through by Bill Hobbs?

Jim Caviezel: I think I'm playing my whole childhood fantasy out being an actor and taking different kinds of roles. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pilot and I wanted to be a doctor at once point; I wanted to be a pro baseball player. Being an actor affords you the opportunity to play all of those different people. Bill Hobbs - very thorough, taught us a lot, especially about safety. You know, I learnt fencing, I think the big thing is Guy and I both have athletic backgrounds, and I remember telling him, you know, let's do something with this - let's take it to the place that hasn't been. And I don't want it cut away, have Kevin put someone else in there because we were not good enough, you can ask him, everything we did there was us. We has stunt guys there to work with us all the time. And Guy has an excellent work ethic. I think one thing about me - my talent is just work ethic. I want to work hard and Guy equally had the same work ethic. And so elevated the fencing.

Q: Did you sustain any injuries between you?

Jim Caviezel: One time actually Kevin comes up to me and we were trying to get this scene down first time we shot it and he’s like ‘come on boys, you know, we’ve got to get this right. It’s the last shot of the day and everything, you know, just keep it real, keep it real’. And so we started rolling, and there was one point where I did this lunge and it was supposed to come under his arm. I missed his arm slipped and caught him on his side. And Guy never said anything except the next day, I came up to him and I said, I know I got you pretty good. And he said, yeah, and he showed me. And he says, "No worries, mate!" 

So he just had a hard time breathing for a couple of weeks.

Q: Kevin, as Jim mentioned, can you confirm that this was all for real and as hazardous [as Jim says] from your perspective?

Kevin Reynolds: Well, it was. I mean, one of the things Jim didn't mention is that he's left-handed. In the picture he does all this fighting right-handed, which was doubly difficult. 

My criterion for the sword fights was I wanted them to feel real, 'cos I hate these sword pictures where you see guys playing swords up here or down here [moves his hands up and down]. It doesn't look like real sword fighting. 

I've always felt that sword fights of old must have really looked like, it's probably closer to like Olympic fencing, theres a lot of dancing on toes and suddenly strikes, you can barely see. So the challenge was, how do we make it look real like there's a real sense of jeopardy here, but at the same time keep it safe? 

And the only way to do that is to know what the move of the other guy is, but not to show that anticipation. So working with Bill Hobbs, you know, we planned it out a lot, particularly the first fight you see in the Mondego mansion. 

The fight at the end of the picture was very different, that's why there are two styles were very different because we had such a short rehearsal period, and we came back to re-shoot the ending, we didn't have time to learn the whole thing, so we had to break it down really into like five or ten second segments, and get one piece and learn that, and then shoot the next and the next and the next. So the style of the two fights are extremely different.

Q: Why couldn’t he have been left-handed? Would it have mattered if you’d [Jim] been left-handed [in the film]?

Jim Caviezel: Well, Guy was right-handed it's kind of like a boxer. You get used to fighting a guy who jabs with his right, you don’t really switch that around. But you know, if that ever happened, and I got wounded so bad on my right I could just switch.
 

Dagmara Dominczyk, virtually unknown, plays the woman-in-the-middle

Q: As an actress you are aware of the scripts floating around so are you aware of other period pieces, or is this a one off as far as you are concerned? 

Dagmara Dominczyk: Right now? No - I love, you know I was trained in theatre, so while I - most of the things that you did was classical, you know - Shakespeare, Molière and Chekhov. Those are the things that I grew up with, and the things that I loved. I loved the fact that they're historical and they have intricate plots, but they don't sacrifice their characters, and yet the characters feel the things that we feel today. So that's why they're classic. So I'm always keeping my eye out for a period piece, you now. And the only reason I would stay away from period pieces is that sometimes the women are painted in a very stereotypical weakling kind of wall-flower way, and that's something that I - I don't want to do. I want to be correct in portraying a woman of her time - I didn't want to make Mercedes a feminist, because she was - you know, aware of another existence. But I do want to show strength in the woman I play, and a journey of some sort. And I think this journey that Mercedes goes on runs the gamut.

Q: Jim, what was it like working with Richard Harris? I've heard stories about him being difficult and some sort of a party animal? 

Jim Caviezel: Yeah, wonderful man. One of the great things I have about working with him is that all my scenes with him were in a prison - it was just him and I. I got to spend a lot of conversation, not acting - personal, athleticism - he's an athlete as well. And I remember one day he said to me, he says, "Jim, you need to lighten up, have a Guinness" [Laughter]. 

And I said, I think I can lighten up better if you sing, so at one point when we're digging down in the dirt there, he's actually singing that song. 

I love the way his thought pattern works with the script. I mean, one day he picked up his script and I'm looking at his notes, and literally see how he's circled one word and tied his thought pattern through. That's how he learns his material, and he's remarkable. The guy has - I've probably heard him tell a thousand stories in roughly two weeks. It's good. I don't remember all of them, I couldn't come up and tell you all of them, and the other parts were personal, but he's a wonderful man.

Filmmaking