Today we had the opportunity to participate in some press functions for the upcoming Season of the Witch, which included interviews with actors Ron Perlman and Robert Sheehan along with producer Charles Roven.
Season of the Witch is a medieval tale of two knights tired of the senseless killing that accompanies the holy crusade they were charged to take part in. Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Perlman) turn their backs on the church and wander the countryside as outlaws, but God has need of them still! In a town ravaged by plague, a young woman is said to be the cause. Now that she is caged and chained, the local priests seek to deliver her to monks who will see if she truly is a dark witch or if there are other, unseen hands at work. If Behmen and Felson help to complete this task, they will be free men so into the woods they go with a young would-be knight; an aging, war-torn knight; a thief who can navigate the roads; and a priest who can see past the trickery of the seemingly innocent girl.
Around 2001 the journey of Season of the Witch began with an award-winning script bought by MGM. For reasons those involved aren’t willing to divulge, they couldn’t get enough “traction” going to get the thing made while at MGM. In 2003/2004, when MGM was essentially obtained by a number of concerns, Columbia earmarked projects for themselves, and Season was one of those. They got so far as location scouting, but the timing still wasn’t right. In 2008, when the project moved to Relativity with Dominic Sena attached as director, Nic Cage was offered the role and agreed, having worked with Sena on Gone in 60 Seconds. The movie was finally shot in 2009, and the rest is history!
Shooting on the wet, murky countryside of a genuinely medieval looking landscape didn’t seem to dampen Ron Perlman’s spirits or his acting abilities. “It helped. You’re making a movie with this spiritual mindset in the characters…the times they are living in…it’s just uncomfortable. The task that Behman and Felson are fleeing from and then lured into (again) is very uncomfortable. It just helps when you’re in an environment where the elements are playing into you, breathing life into this world.”
Sheehan, who plays Kay, our knight wannabe, remembers those cold nights but seems none too eager to relive them. “I remember one night it went down to minus 15, and that was the same time my mother and some mates decided to visit me. They came on set in Converse trainers and jeans and hoodies, and they stood there for about two minutes and nearly caught hypothermia so they decided to get back to the hotel as quickly as possible. When we went up into the Alps, the snowfall was amazing. It helped to get your mind in the right place.”
From a production standpoint, the extremes in weather can be a blessing and a curse. Producer Roven explains, “It didn’t matter how much forethought you put into planning. We obviously tried to make the actors as comfortable as possible with heated tents as close to the shooting when it was practical to do that, but it was impossible to anticipate all the issues you would run into. If you were ready for snow, it would rain. (and vice versa) We had a whole rigging system for how to move the wagon (on which sat the cage in which Claire Foy, aka The Girl, spent most of her time) in one set of conditions, and of course we’d end up in another set of conditions and got bogged down, having to jerry-rig things to get the shooting days done. When it was (just) cold and not unbearable, the views were just staggering. At the end of the day, I think everyone thought it was a positive part of the experience.”
Perlman seemed to have a flashback at the mention of the wagon and remarks, “What was that Werner Herzog movie where they try and move a piano across a jungle? I looked at this fucking rig…it was, what, 28,000 pounds or something? And I thought, ‘This is the movies, man!’ We are supposed to be creating illusion, and this thing was completely unworkable and…that’s all I’m gonna say! I couldn’t believe how much we put ourselves behind the eight-ball because of the moving of the wagon. I hope it plays on film as formidable as it was in real life.”
The answer to that would be hells yes! For much of the film our heroes are pushing this wagon with their caged witch across muddy forest floors and, at one point, a bridge seemingly made of matchsticks, creating a feeling of unending toil. Not only does the band have to avoid any supernatural pitfalls conjured by their captive, but they’ve got a giant iron cage to push up into the mountains as well! To say this plays out like some Greek hero’s trial is putting it mildly.
To have a film that centers as much around relationships as it does around the supernatural elements involved and have it play believably is no small task. Perlman and Cage spent some time before shooting to cement their past relationship, and after hearing these details, the crew tweaked the script to include some of those touches. Perlman explains, “The audience is given to believe that these guys have been friends for decades and have fought back to back, shoulder to shoulder. They are like two sides of the same coin. In this case it was really important, even if the audience never experienced it, that we built a very strong back story; but at the end of the day, rapport is sort of a chemical thing. It’s real easy to work with Nic Cage. He’s a very generous actor.” It was hoped that that relationship between Behmen and Felson as soldiers would be relatable by today’s audiences without being too heavy-handed (in drawing comparisons to those returning from war-torn nations.)
Speaking of war, having the Crusades as a backdrop is one of the tallest orders you could demand on a movie set. Of course it was important to have everything feel as authentic as possible, and in the middle of it all, you’ve got a big man like Ron Perlman, sword in hand, swinging for the fences. The actor stated that at his age, in those physically challenging environments, you want to get it in one take, and that means making it all look REAL. Many stuntmen brought home many bruises on those days. Ron has been known to take a hit now and then as well and invited a female interviewer to view the newest bruises after the press conference. “I’ve broken ribs and toes. Luckily I’ve never broken a limb. Luckily (knocks on wood) the wounds have been superficial, and you just limp around for a couple of days and then you’re fine.”
Casting “The Girl”, aka hellspawn bitch with no remorse in a cage, is a challenge if you are looking to really grab your audience. In Claire Foy the crew saw someone who could handle the many facets to this character’s personality, showing vulnerability in those big wide eyes for the gullible and a knowing, devious smirk to those who have learned of her evil from experience. She was the obvious choice to all who saw her perform. According to Sheehan, “She is a wonderful all-around actress, and she shows herself to be just that in this film. She shows a great many elements of her talent.” Roven adds, “Without her being able to do all those things, this film wouldn’t have a chance of working.”
Look for Season of the Witch in theatres on January 7th, 2011, and click on the poster below to sample lots more eye candy in our photo gallery.
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