Newell Goes from ‘Potter’ to ‘Cholera’ Epic
by Paul Fischer
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British director Mike Newell has made films as varied as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco, to Mona Lisa Smile and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. His latest film, Love in the Time of Cholera, further demonstrates his variance as a filmmaker. Based on the bestselling novel, this epic tale of lust and rejection in this story of Florentino (Javier Bardem), whose rejection by the beautiful Fermina at a young age, leads to him devoting much of his adult life to carnal affairs as a desperate attempt to heal his broken heart. Newell discusses this and his next anticipated film, Prince of Persia, to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: Did you choose Love in the Time of Cholera partly for its antithesis to Harry Potter?
Mike Newell: No. After Potter, I simply wanted something that was completely differently orientated. I heard that this was around. I’d read it when it first came out and had liked it, but that was more than 20 years ago. My daughter had just been born, so, of course, in those circumstances you think you’re gonna live forever. Now it’s much later, I read the book again, and realized that aside from anything else, this was all about kind of mortality. I just loved the breadth of how humane it was and it’s about real people, real lives, and long lives as well, which is original.
PF: How contemporary is, given the fact that the book was published over 20 years ago.
MN: Well, you have to get it right as a period story and you have to see the stories unfold over a 50-year period. But you could fall into the trap in not having contemporary ideas in it and I felt that what was truly contemporary was that it wasn’t a kind of English heritage movie, like Room with a View. It should be that what Márquez had written was this great heaving work where colossal numbers of motives and energies and loves and hates all coexisted, and we’re all shouldering each other aside for—pushing for notice and it will be a very anarchic type of world. And that’s what we tried to do. And that was simply a matter of reading the books. It was before I’d seen South America and then I went to the city in which it was—it had been written.
PF: Is it stylistically challenging to balance an epic story like this with an intimate sense of character?
MN: Yes of course it’s difficult. But it’s the quality that enlivens, gives the juice to the whole thing. And my parents were about three or four years dead, I suppose, by the time I made this—they died very shortly, one after the other, and they’d had long and productive lives. There were no regrets. But I had watched their lives change radically, until what had been a stable and happy marriage was, in the last three or four years, not stable and not happy at all, with huge, colossal changes. And that was mysterious. I couldn’t understand it, so I was very, very taken with the idea of looking at a story in which whole lives have been—had been described.
PF: Now, as a filmmaker who started out with low-budget British films, how much do you learn in terms of navigating the politics of directing, through the Harry Potter experience?
MN: Well, that’s a radical experience, too, because the sums of money involved are so colossal. The budget is absolutely huge and the computer graphic budget for that was like, three times the size of most of the movies I’ve ever made. I think we worked out at one point that I’d made a couple of movies for something less than the catering budget, so, you know, you say quite rightly, what’s it like politically to navigate that? It’s very complicated, because at the same time, it does have political demands. But Warner Brothers, I should say, were immensely generous and completely laid back. I didn’t see them from one end of the movie to the other. They were magnificent. I think that that was a vote for the franchise, as opposed to for me, but nonetheless, it took some cool to do it. I was very grateful for it, but when those sums of money are involved, then not Warner Brothers, but lots of people involved in the movie are nervous, so they need to be calmed, and satisfied. And yeah, it’s a big thing.
PF: Would you do it again, if they ask you to do the last one?
MN: Yes, I would. But you’ve got to be asked, you know? And they have to want you. I can’t say whether they do or whether they don’t. One of the things that they’ve been very, very successful with, always, is that they’ve moved the director on a little bit each time. Now, in fact, David Yates is doing two, one after the other, so good for him. Chris Columbus did two, but each time they’ve changed, the whole take on the subject has gone a little bit squirrelly, and has probably gotten a bit deeper and a bit better. I think they’ve been very smart in doing that.
PF: What do you want to do next, any idea?
MN: Well, there’s a thing around that I’m very interested in. It’s not nailed to the mast yet, but it’s a thing called Prince of Persia, which is developed from a video game. But it’s a great, great kind of adventure love story that has elements of Lost Horizons. It’s a very satisfying love story and an action movie over that, so I’m pretty interested in that.
PF: So, when do you think that deal will be finalized?
MN: Well, I can’t say. I think everybody would like to make it work. You can imagine, things are confused at the moment because of the strike.
PF: How is the strike affecting you at the moment?
MN: Well, I don’t think it’s affecting anybody well. That’s what strikes are designed to do. I can sit and make screeds of elegant notes but nobody’s actually gonna start tapping for the foreseeable future. So, it slightly puts me into limbo.
PF: Well, hopefully it’ll be resolved sooner than later, although they say that—
MN: It would be good to think so.
PF: I know there are a lot of fans out thereof Prince of Persia who are interested to know what’s gonna happen with that, as well.
MN: Yeah. I think it’ll be fun. It’s another wonderful thing, where you go somewhere that you’ve never been before, into seventh-century Persia now.
PF: Do you have any idea where you’d like to shoot that?
MN: It’s very, very early days yet, but I think that it might be partly Morocco, partly Spain, partly Jordan, perhaps, and maybe a little bit in Northern India.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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