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Dreamwatch Interview: Kurt Wimmer
Achieving Equilibrium

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Winter 2003

Thanks to Queenie for finding this and sharing it with the site. Visit her website christianbale.net

This article is the property & courtesy of Dreamwatch Magazine

 The Interview

Miramax dumped it, critics hated it, but sci-fi fans are taking a more balanced view of Equilibrium as writer-director Kurt Wimmer tells dreamwatch
Equilibrium is the directorial debut of screenwriter Kurt Wimmer, who scripted the underrated remake of The Thomas Crown Affair and wrote the first (and best) draft of the overcooked turkey Sphere. Starring Christian Bale (American Psycho), Emily Watson (Angela's Ashes) and Taye Diggs (Go), Equilibrium is set in a future society where citizens are kept docile by an emotional repressant known as 'Prozium', and anyone caught feeling is classified a 'sense offender' and summarily executed by fascistic cops known as 'Clerics', who are trained in a deadly discipline ('Gun-kata') combining martial arts and firepower. Part Orwellian 'what-if' scenario, part kick-ass Hong Kong action-thriller, the film left Miramax marketing execs scratching their heads and US critics sharpening their poison pens. Now, as Equilibrium hits the UK, fans of offbeat movies can make up their own minds...

DW - What was the process of getting Equilibrium to the screen?

KW - It was an idea that was haunting me, and eventually I wrote it and put it aside. Then a producer friend of mine named Lucas Foster, who was working with Jan de Bont, liked it and said he'd like to make it. Jan de Bont liked another script of mine, Law Abiding Citizen, and agreed to produce Librium - as Equilibrium was called at the time - and suddenly I was directing a $20 million picture! I really liked the story, but once I had written it I felt like I'd told the story, and I needed a compelling reason to direct it... That's why I invented the 'Gun-kata.' I believe in smothering everything in entertainment, but I think what ultimately confused Miramax about how to sell it [to audiences] was that it had all the martial arts stuff and intellectual depth - it was neither fish nor foul.

DW - How did you come to shoot in Berlin?

KW - I was trying to create a world that looked different from other sci-fi films, rather than another Blade Runner clone. We couldn't afford to digitally create a world or to build it, so we had to find it existing someplace, and Berlin seemed pretty unique because it has some fantastic new architecture and some remnants of 19th Century architecture and the fascist neo-classical architecture, which we also found in Rome where we did some shooting.

DW - Although people forget Christian Bale is English, there are other Brits in the cast: Emily Watson, Sean Bean, Sean Pertwee, Angus McFadyen... Was that deliberate?

KW - With the exception of Taye Diggs and William Fichtner, the cast is primarily British, because they're the best. They're the best trained, and they approach the craft a different way. The American actors seemed, by and large, to approach acting from a standpoint of ego, whereas the British actors come to it as a vocation. I met Emily when she'd just won a BAFTA, and I was surprised to learn that she loves action and sci-fi movies, but never gets offered them. Christian I saw in American Psycho, of course, and I was convinced he was right for my film because I needed somebody who would have an inherent likeability, so that the audience would continue to follow them even if they did some pretty heinous things. He brought not only likeability, but also nobility.

DW - How did you know that he was up to the physical demands of the role, the amazing choreographed fight scenes and martial arts-style action?

KW - You know, being the rank amateur that I was, I didn't even consider that he wasn't up to it! I thought we'd just choreograph it and do it! I realised quickly that wasn't going to be the case. But Christian is a gifted athlete, and he's also a trained dancer, but more importantly he has an uncanny ability to remember choreography in a short period of time and execute it under pressure. We often only had one take because if there are multiple squibs going off, we didn't have time to reset for a second take. He was able to do it first take and get it right every time. He has tremendous timing, and he saved my ass. Had it been almost anybody else, the results would have been really terrible.

DW - Critics thrived on drawing similarities between your film and Fahrenheit 451,1984 and Brave New World, which seems to miss the point...

KW - Yeah, they didn't seem to see that the film had a different message than those stories. 1984 is about socialism; Fahrenheit 451 is about McCarthyism - subjects which I don't think have any resonance today - whereas Equilibrium is about something else: in America right now there's a trend among people or the government to try and control what we feel. There's a tongue-in-cheek saying, "Your rights end where my feelings begin," and in America it's scarily true because we're less and less able to voice what we feel. Look at so-called 'hate crimes.' Now while I in no way advocate hate, giving more extreme sentences to those who cause injury or death or damage to property for reasons of hatred involves a certain amount of mind-reading and is the beginning of telling us who we can and cannot love.

DW - Sci-fi fans generally don't like to be told what to think - so the Internet Movie Database 'user rating' for Equilibrium is virtually neck-and-neck with that of The Matrix...

KW - Yeah, the paying customers seemed to get it -if you look at the breakdown of the votes, over 50 per cent of the people who voted for Equilibrium gave it 10 out of 10, which is a bizarrely high number. And the IMDb uses a weighted rating system which disregards extreme votes, so if all of those people who gave it 10 gave it a 9, we'd be rating higher than The Matrix!

DW - As one of the writers on Sphere, Barry Levinson's adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel, can you explain why the film is so bad?

KW - It wasn't exactly a labour of love, put it that way. I was the first writer on it - Crichton hired me - then there were a couple of other writers, and Barry Levinson did the final draft. He said he wanted to make a movie like Howard Hawks' The Thing from Another World, where everybody talks really fast, so his draft came in at 188 pages. But nowadays it's not practical to have actors talking like they did in the 1950s, so his assembly [of the film] was Godawfully long, and he was forced to cut out all the filmmaking just to have the story. In a movie like that, it's about suspense, and suspense is all about the minutiae and building the moments, and in a two-hour movie it couldn't be done. So that's why the movie has absolutely no visceral impact whatsoever. It was critical mistake on his part, and ruined what could have been a good movie.

Equilibrium is released in the UK on 14 March [2003].

Interview by David Hughes

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