This is an interview with Eddie Izzard, Robert Halmi Sr., and Thomas Vitale on April 26, 2012 about the television movie Treasure Island.
Eddie, Long John Silver has been portrayed so many times. Did you have any particular inspiration for your version or how did you make it your own?
Churchill was my inspiration. It sounds kind of weird, but obviously you're looking for a fresh take. And the interesting thing is with Silver is that he keeps changing sides, he keeps shifting the ground. Sometimes it's pushed upon him but sometimes it's him manipulating and moving. Churchill has been voted by the British people as the greatest British person ever in a television poll program that they did. This is someone who changed his political party twice, which is called "Ratting."
So Winston Churchill was not only a rat, he was a double rat, he changed from the conservative party to the liberal party, and then back to the conservative party. He should have been vilified and dead and out for the count. In the end, because of 1940, because of setting up against the Nazis, he's become our greatest person ever.
In Long John Silver you do tend to think Robert Louis Stephenson based him upon a friend of his who was actually an editor and a journalist, and a poet who actually wrote the Invictus poem. So the writer of the Invictus Poem, which is the one that influenced Nelson Mandela when he was in prison, is in fact the basis for Long John Silver.
And it's about the indomitable spirit which is in that poem, so this spirit, this changeability, this determination to get the gold and the treasure. And we worked out the treasure was the equivalent of something like $500 million, 300 pounds, about $500 million. So imagine what you would do to get $500 million if it was buried on a treasure island?
That's the essence of Silver and that's the story we wanted to do. And we wanted to do a real kick-ass version as opposed to a campy version, which I think has been done before. This one was with teeth, 20 main characters go out there and only about 4 come back. I wanted Silver to be this engine behind this that's just determination to go. And I'm a very determined person. I'm a determined and I like to bring that to my characters.
What were the high and low moments for you during the production? Because it looked pretty grueling.
Yes that is very true. Acting is a long story for me. I was seven and I said, "I want to act." And I was ten when I realized that films exist and dramas, and I wanted to be in that. Not a comedian, I wanted to be a dramatic actor. The essence for me, films just seemed such fun and such a great thing to do. To do a drama that's a film and it's on location, two locations here, we're here in Dublin in Ireland, the capital of Ireland, doubling for Bristol the West Coast of England, and then Puerto Rico for our treasure island.
To be on location with such great actors as well, with Donald Sutherland and Elijah Wood being from America, but great British actors as well in Danny Mays and Rupert Penry-Jones and Philip Glenister, these are real top line guys. And these were highs, just to be with that team. And I always try to be the captain, I encouraged everyone to play soccer, a lot of soccer was played, a lot of football as we call it. So I liked team activities and so these were the highs, just doing the work were the highs.
The low was it was bloody freezing in Dublin. Dublin was the coldest in the UK at this time. It was snowing, you see the snow in the film. That's real snow. We didn't buy the snow in that was actual snow. So we were freezing. Some people got frostbite, some of the extras got frostbite on the day when we're running around and I'm trying to trip up Jim Hawkins at the beginning of the film. And then in Puerto Rico it was extraordinarily hot. I had to hide under an umbrella between takes because it was that hot. So the temperature differences was the crazy thing. I suppose those were the most.
Can you talk about how you first became involved in the project?
Robert Halmi, Sr.:
I was asked by Sky in England to become Exec Producer to produce it. Sky had a script which wasn't too good. So it had to be redone and Sanksas, wonderful writer, redid it. And they had to find a director and my good friend Steve Barron came on board who really is the responsible how this picture looks like, the look of it, which is fantastic.
And you know as Eddie said, "We had to film in incredible weather." Even the cameras were blown away it was such a storm. I personally was blown from one set to another, and then in Puerto Rico with the heat. But that gave the reality to this piece. Because of the pirate's times in the end of the 1700's, and the beginning 1800's, was the most romantic period in the water.
They were incredible characters, and John Silver represents the composite of those wonderful characters. There's so much - so many sides of it and it is so exciting. This movie, this book, started depicting how a pirate should look like with one leg missing and a parrot on the shoulder. That started with this book and I must say Eddie had on the crutches and with one leg back behind his back. It was a very physical demand on the actors and especially on Eddie.
I should speak up with that because I was asked if I wanted to do it. I think it was Sky that came to me first. Actually it was through another production company working with Sky. And they said, "Do you want to it?" And I said, "Well I'd like to do it, but I'll only do it if the script has teeth and is gritty." Because I feel the story has been portrayed in a somewhat lighter fashion over the years and has got watered down.
So I said, "It's got to be harder than Pirates of the Caribbean," which is fun, but sort of fun and a bit flotsam and jetsam. I wanted something with teeth. So that was me coming in. And we went to the script, Stewart Harcourt in the end came up with the final version of the script that we did, which had teeth in it. Working on the crutch I must say, "Is tricky." I didn't actually have my foot strapped up in the back, but the green screen took it out. But I never used my right foot, it never actually touched the ground in any scene.
So even if they said, "Oh we're shooting you from the waist up," I just never put it down, I just wanted to be in there. And it's very hard to use just one crutch. Normally you'd use two crutches and you'd have a crossbar but I just used one. So the toughness of doing that added in to the character. But three years ago I ran 42 marathons in 51 days, and so Steve Barron saw me do that and thought, "Well this guy can play Long John Silver because of the determination???"
From the network side we've had such a longstanding relationship with the Halmi Company, and they've given SyFy some of its best, highest rated, most popular and highest quality programming, including Tin Man, which is SyFy's highest rated thing ever, that any time we have an opportunity to with Mr. Halmi we are honored to work with him and to pick up his programming. And this is a special project and we're just thrilled that we were able to work with him on it.
Eddie since you mentioned Churchill as an inspiration, can you elaborate on why that worked for you in understanding who John Silver was to you?
It's all about the indomitable spirit. These lines from Invictus written by the character, who like I said, was based on. I am the captain of my soul, the captain of my destiny, master of soul. It's about just not giving in, which is a trait of Churchill, which is a trait of Lincoln in America, a trait of Washington, a number of people that I respect, I think that the vast majority of people respect if you've got a good heart. And the interesting thing about John Silver is he has a mixed heart. He will blow different weathers, you know. He's kind of with Jim, and he supports Jim, and he says he will be as good a buccaneer as anyone. And there's no real proof of that in the story.
I had to base this upon Toby Regbo, the actual actor, who is a very feisty young actor. And he kept throwing himself on the ground when I was tripping him up. I tripped him about 16 times in that cold weather where kids were getting frostbite. So I took that and added that into the character of Jim Hawkins. So Silver's heart is not there. He is a greedy man or a man who has worked hard to steal a lot money and he feels he deserves his $500 million, or at least his share of the $500 million. So that is how I portrayed him.
If you look at the history of Churchill it's all over the place; he was against India getting its freedom; he kept changing parties. He was on the wrong side of the right decision many times. Like in World War II he was in the right decision. And in the end with Long John Silver you do think, "Well I think I'd be okay having a beer with this guy. I think I like him. I'm not sure, don't really trust, but I think I like him."
Do you have any interest in maybe doing a follow up or participating in a future version of this film?
Yes, we're already talking about Treasure Island Two. It's a dangerous thing to do a follow up to a classic and you can fall flat on your face. But we would like to do one and I think Sky would like to do one. So we will see how that progresses. But yes, I think there is. I do believe that it was TV series that actually only happened in Australia, but that was about John Silver and his continuing exploits. So I think it does actually have legs. I think the story has legs, and John Silver has one leg, but yes we would like to do another one.
Eddie you had mentioned your cast mates, Donald Sutherland and Elijah Wood, could you talk a little bit about working with them?
Elijah Wood came onto the scene and he was just a joy. He had no attitude, no size to him. He just joined us, hung out with us and was great. I'd love to work with him again. It is quite an honor to work with these people. And then Donald Sutherland coming and playing John Silver, that's crazy. And I have worked with Elliot Gould on Ocean's 12 and 13. So both, Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould were in MASH.
And I've asked them both this question, because there's a whole section of MASH where they go off to Japan and they keep saying, "We are the pros from Dover," because they're these two great surgeons who are going in to work on some Congressman's son. And I said, "What the hell does pros from Dover mean?" And both of them said, "We just made it up, it's actually doesn't mean anything, but we just liked the sound of it." So it was quite amazing to have words with Elliot Gould and then to work with Donald Sutherland. And he was great and he gave me a book on Treasure Island and it kind of blows my mind sometimes working with people who I've known from a long time and then finally get to work with.
Mr. Vitale, I wanted to know how you got onto this project. What made you decide to do this? It's not really science fiction or fantasy, although it's a great adventure story. And I'm curious about the history of you got involved, why you chose it for Syfy.
The character of John Silver is such a larger than life character. He is a character that sparks the imagination. And what Syfy is about, it's about programming of the imagination. I mean we are a channel that airs science-fiction, fantasy, supernatural programming. We really are a broad-based entertainment channel. And I just felt that this was such an imaginative piece that the take on the story and the way it was done was so imaginative and so larger than life that it really fit our brand, kind of a broader definition of our brand, when you talk about the Syfy channel as a place that celebrates the imagination and celebrates larger than life heroes.
And you know we have such a great relationship with the Halmis that we know that they deliver quality. They deliver programming that the audience likes and watches. So we were thrilled that we had an opportunity to get involved with this project. But it is a story that stirs the imagination. Now I read this when I was very young and it stirred my imagination then, and I hope that we can do the same for our viewers and young viewers today.
The story of Treasure Island has been made into film many, many times. What do you think is the appeal of this particular story over the ages and into modern day?
I think, well it's interesting, villainy, crime plus time equals romance, the way it is. Because we know that with the Somali pirates I was born in Aden, which is city of Yemen, Arabic country. And the Gulf of Aden has all the Somali pirates going around. And we know that that's hellish down there. You get caught by those pirates, you just do not want this to happen. Now that's what the pirates back in the 1700s were like. But pirates plus time equals romance. And it's just - we have a different take on it. It's kind of weird that we do this but, yes it is this. But the story is interesting. We worked at it to fight for the soul of Jim Hawkins.
And Toby Regbo's great because he's 20 now, but 19 when he filmed it. And so he can play 17-18. He could be a young man or he can be an older teenager. So I think anyone in their youth can identify with that, even young tomboy girls and women can identify with him because he's not like a big macho man, he's kind of slight but feisty. So it's a story that anyone can identify with. What would have happened to you? Because he finds the map and it's his story of, "Should we go on the adventure to..." which is like going to the Moon. Going to the Caribbean in those days is like going to the Moon now.
Imagine there's $500 million on the Moon and you've got to find, like the Millennium Falcon or Hans Solo, could you go and get it? It's kind of one of those stories. So you do get caught up in it and it just gets nasty. And it's about death and blood and life and finding yourself and what would you do in those situations?
And it doesn't end with a Hollywood happy-go-lucky thing, the twist we did at the end with the treasure I think is (unintelligible) - no actually I think that was probably Stuart Harcourt, that came from one of the executives. And I like that idea. And the fact that I steal some of it anyway I think is great. So it's got all these things going on that can appeal to people across the ages. And I think it did in the U.K. already.
Robert Halmi Sr.:
But it's also remarkable that when it was written originally, Stephens wrote it for a younger age group and all of a sudden it became extremely popular for everybody, all ages. So this romantic adventure, and the incredible complex characters and the main relationship between a novice and an old wise pirate is remarkable and it's survived till today, and as I said, "Survived 30 remakes," and it will keep going on.
Robert, you've been doing all these great TV miniseries adaptations for decades. How do you decide whether to stay faithful to the original story or to just use the source material as like an inspiration? And do you have a preference of which type of project to work on?
Robert Halmi Sr.:
I always said that television did a horrible thing, took the books out of the hands of young people and almost everybody else. Book publishing is at the lowest point today. So to revive stuff that was written 100 years ago and is exciting and it's of value and of meaning, is a wonderful thing to do. And you have to use a different language, different morality, to sell it to today's people who never read the book. And that is what I like to do.
I can pick up any classics and make it for a modern adventure or a modern fantasy or a modern sci-fi, whatever modern history, whatever it is and retell the story that people understand it. When I did Gulliver's Travels for example, Simon and Schuster called me and they said, "They sold more Gulliver's Travels books after the movie was shown than five years before."
Robert Halmi Sr.:
Eddie, I want to talk a little bit about just the look of the character. How important was it to you to find that specific look? Because I think it's very unique to this character? And once you found it, was it easier than to sort of put the character on every day?
Once you cut your hair off, you don't have to put anything on there because you don't have to worry about if your hair's in the right place. Shaving the head was the big dramatic departure. Because we were playing around I didn't have any set ideas on how it should be. We obviously knew there was going to be a lot of crutch work, which is really important in how he moves. And we worked with moving people on that.
But the shaving the head sort of defines it. And I'd been trying to do a role where I could shave my head for some time. And if you ever do choose to shave your head, people out there, it's all about the skull shape, you've got to have a good skull. Some people have an unfortunate skull that doesn't quite work. And you don't know that until you get down there. So I knew this and had literally for eight years I've been saying to makeup artists, "Could you do a bald wig on me at some point during some other production and I just want to see what it looks like when I have no hair, find out if it works."
But anyway Steve Barron came in to me with one of the people who he works with who does imaginations of different design ideas. And he'd done a mockup of me with no hair in a look, in a Long John Silver look. And I immediately said, "Yes." They're, "Would you think of doing this?" And I said, "Yes," immediately because I'd been trying to do this for so long.
So we went down to a very short buzz cut to just check out the skull shape. And then I thought, "No this is going to work." So I cut all my hair off, when I got to Dublin this was. And it seems my skull works, I don't know how, it was just genetic luck. But I was very happy with my skull shape. So that changed everything and made it interesting.
The accent I that I use is a London accent. Now this may not resonate for Americans, but Long John Silver, if you listen to him he actually, there's a West country accent. He was always seen as West country, which is Bristol, which is to the West of England. And it's much more "Ooh-aarr, Jim lad," and all that, that West country accent that's like this. But can be seen as a comedy accent in the U.K., in America, probably not so much.
I decided to move him to London. I had this idea of, "Why not make him more London," there's a lot of villains in London. And London was huge at that time, this is 1700s. It became a city of a million people, the last city before that of a million people was Rome. So if you could imagine that, there was Rome, everything collapsed after Rome and then it builds all the way back up. And then the 1700s, early 1800s, London becomes the size of what Rome was. So it was a really pumping city. And out of that a lot of villainy was coming.
I had no hair. The makeup, the tattoo, that came up from the makeup designer. He did brilliant job, wonderful punk edge that was pushed for by Sky, which we liked. And then Steve had designs on me, Steve Barron the Director, had designs on the crutch. And learning to use that was very tricky actually. And I did my back in and I setup an assault course in Steve Barron's actual flat so I could come up and down stairs so I could get to use it and practice. But in the end I got very comfortable with that crutch which is now sitting at home here in LA. And I will use it in Treasure Island Two as well because I know how to do it. It's quite tricky to use, but I've gotten very comfortable on it. I saw it as part of me in there.
The look of the entire production was really so striking and worked so well with the production. Was that one person's vision? Was it a lot of people getting together? Did it evolve along the way?
That was a lot of ideas. That was from Imagine, I think help from Steve Barron, a wish from Sky back in Britain who were part of the Producers and the money. We all wanted to do something different. And this look, which I feel is like a 1700s punk thing. Also the colors, the skin colors of the actual actors is very important because we feel that's what the pirates would have been like. In a lot of films through the last century, you had a lot of white pirates, a lot of white things, a lot of white people. And no, this is people, oriental skin colors, black, brown, white, a whole mixture in there. And I really liked that. And I think that's going to resonate because that's what the world really is.
This film could play all 'round the world and people in different countries could say, "Yes I see - I could be in that, I could have been a pirate." So that was the look. And a lot of different people from costume design and makeup design and Steve Barron's overall design going into that. And we all fell upon that.
And having the different buzz cuts, different Mohican cuts. It looked just like Mad Max meets Pirates of the Caribbean meets Goodfellas, it's quite a mix that goes in there. And I think we've reset the bloody production, but I do think that we've reset Treasure Island. This is the benchmark, I hope, which everyone's got to measure Treasure Island books by.
Robert Halmi Sr.:
Yes, Steve Barron should get lots of credit for it. This is the fifth movie he did for me and his vision and his technique, it is almost like a small art movie kind of thing. And inventing completely a new look, and with wonderful actors, resulting in a very entertaining product.
Eddie, obviously the character is kind of un-loyal at times and everything. How did you elate to him? I mean what part of you did you bring to the character?
I'd say the determined bit is very central to me if you know anything about me as a transvestite who's gotten this far in my career. If you remember all the transvestites you know who are out transvestites who are doing okay in their careers, it's not a big group. So obviously I'm determined; I run marathons, I'm going into politics, I do productions, I've played Hollywood Bowl, I do gigs in French language so that I shoved into him on the chassis. But also his fallibility, it is at the center of all of us. I don't believe in god, I believe gods and devils are within us, it's our own battle, our life's battle is to appeal to the gods within us and fight the devils within us. And to be weak and to be greedy, it's a potential for all of us there.
If we look at Nazi Germany, the German people are not bad people. But if someone grabs hold of the country and says, "Agree with me or I'm going to kill you," then a lot of people sort of fall into line. Some people don't, some people fight it, some people get out, some people become part of the resistance, but it's a difficult thing to do. And that's - these are the stories of our life that should mold us and hopefully make us better people.
So within watching Silver I tried to appeal to my demons. Because I know that I have done things in my life which I'm just, "I shouldn't have done that, and I'm ashamed of that, that's no good," and I try to push for better. I try to be positive, I try to be generous, but at times you're not, sometimes you're very selfish, your ego gets involved. You kind of want to be a Buddhist monk, but only Buddhist monks get to be Buddhist monks, so I don't think I am that. So you just got to dig inside you.
And he's a real person, and he was also trying to do a very difficult thing. If you analyze Silver, and he says within the book but we don't articulate it in the film, but all the pirates are saying, "Kill them, kill them all. Kill them now. Kill them immediately. Kill all of them," all the straight guys, all the officers.
And Silver says, "No look, the captain, Captain Smollett is a good captain, he's a good seafaring captain. If I had my way," he articulates this in the book and didn't have time to put it in, but he says, "If I had my way we'd go with the officers to the island, we'd help them and they'd help us get the treasure out, bring it back, put it on the boat, then we'd all sail back and then we'd kill them just before we got back to the U.K., when we're in the middle of the Atlantic, because they're good sailors and because they're bodies, you can use them."
Now that's long-term thinking. So he's kind of like that. But he's dealing with a bunch of greedy, avaricious pirates who are way worse than him, so he has to keep them saying, "No, steady. Have patience." They're going, "I'm getting sick and tired of hanging on." They just want to kill people, drink, and get stoned and have sex and have money. So how you organize that, it's very difficult. It's very difficult politics. So anyone, if you analyze what you would do if you were Silver, you'd have a bloody rough, tough time. So he does as good as he can do.
Eddie, after doing so much comedy in your career how have your goals as an actor changed in recent years with projects like this?
I don't know if my goals have changed in the recent years, I think my opportunities have changed. Now I'm being offered Treasure Island, Long John Silver, I was offered a film called Lost Christmas in the U.K. which hopefully will come out this year, which I'm really pleased about. I've just been offered Mockingbird Lane, the pilot is coming out Brian Singer and Brian Fuller in America.
So I wanted to be an actor when I was 7, a dramatic actor. That's all I wanted to do. I used to laugh, I don't think I really knew that comedy existed at 7, I just though you laughed. But I worked out that acting existed, and then I realized films existed so I just wanted to do that. So I've always been driving to that, but I went the big curvy route through comedy, and as the comedy started taking off, I started saying, "I want to do dramatic roles." So it's almost like a schizophrenic career, which drives agents and managers nuts. But I refuse to do a lot of comedy things, I just want to do dramas.
And now people are sort of believing me and sort of trusting me and I've got better at my dramatic craft. And they are different; drama and comedy is different. You need to know what the differences are, which I now do know; the bottom line of comedy is to be funny, the bottom line of drama is to be truthful. And you can be truthful and funny, but if you're not truthful in a drama than the audience leaves you, they go, "I don't believe in what he's doing. I don't believe." And you try to do that in every scene.
And with Treasure Island I'm very happy with it. There are a few scenes in there which I go, "I didn't land that like I should have." But there are some which I think, "I'm very happy with what I did." And to be working up against these other actors is great. Dr. Livesey, Danny Mays, British actor, what he does, the arch that was built in, it's not in the story. He plays a man of low moral fiber if he did have moral fiber he's lost it. His wife died in childbirth, he thinks he's to blame for it.
He lost his wife and his child. And he's addicted to drink. And then he finds the center of his courage, he's like the Tin Man who finds his courage in there. And a lot of people can travel on that story, and it becomes quite beautiful. And when he says that line to Rupert Penry-Jones, Squire says, he says, "I will go hunting," says Squire, and he says, "But we will not follow you." And then you know he's got metal back in there. And it's great. To be working up against that, that is beautiful. So the change recently is I've got better at my game. What I'm doing now. And now I can start to really grow dramatically. And people are sort of, hopefully seeing, they're sensing this. Some are actually giving me the chance to do that too.
Eddie, are you a science fiction fan, and if so what science fiction do you like?
I am a big science fiction fan. I'm a big imagination fan, which actually ties in with Syfy. The place of the imagination. Everything from Harry Potter, particular the end films. I haven't actually read the books, I'm a dyslexic person so I sort of avoid books. I did read Isaac Asimov actually, a couple of his books before. But there are so many books out there which I haven't read because I'm just such a slow reader.
At the moment I'm going through Netflix. Star Trek, Next Generation. So I'm a fan of the future. I do have a big vision, as I said, "I'm a transvestite, you just have to work out how you can get transgender admitted into society. So I do have vision. This thing that George Bush Sr. said, "He had a problem with the vision thing," I don't have a problem with the vision thing. I've had to have one because I'm trying to carve a place for myself in the future.
And so I like fantasy stories, science fiction stories because within that, hopefully there is a truth, there is a certain future out there that could well knit up. I mean Game of Thrones is very interesting, I just started watching that. Because that's like from before, but also in the past we do see our present and our future. Humans keep behaving the same.
So there are lots of great - Matrix, I was big fan of Matrix, particularly the first one. The second two sort of, I got a bit lost in. But those stories that are gritty and now and edgy and have human sensibilities and you take it to some other place, I love living through those. I think for a lot of people it gets them out of their normal lives which might be not that exciting and it's a place of crazy fantasy, "What would you do now?"
The bizarre thing with my life now, it has actually got to quite an interesting point where I am filming in Puerto Rico and Dublin doing pirate movies. So I think my life has almost become like a sci-fi film in a way. But one that I'm controlling and it's okay. So I'm very happy with where I am at the moment. But I am a fan of sci-fi.
In the U.S. Syfy is airing Treasure Island as one long 4-hour film, but in the U.K. Sky aired it across two nights. Do you think this changes the viewer experience at all?
Robert Halmi Sr.:
4 hours or get the second night successful is always a question mark and a problem. And I think I have to confess that Syfy to do it one night and one night actually is shorter than two 2-hour nights. And you are hooked to the story and you don't want to leave and you watch it through.
It's tough to hook an the same audience to come the second night, it has to be something entirely different. And it's a challenge, and it's a wonderful thing to do it one night because it's much more satisfactory. And people are used to long movies. I mean there are so many 3-hour-plus movies around that you sit through. Here you can get up and wander around and still sit through a drama from beginning to end. I think it's a wonderful way to do it.
I actually screened the final product at home with my wife. And the kids went to sleep, we turned it on and we never turned it off. And we didn't feel like it was long, it actually flew by and that's kind of the way I made the decision, one night or two, as Mr. Halmi said, "It was more satisfying." For some stories just, you want to take in all at once.
It just felt right to do this over one night, and a lot of times these are very subjective decisions. And you have to make these decisions based on gut instinct, and you know, your experience doing this kind of thing over the years. And this one just felt right, both on my subjective experience, on my experience having worked here over the years, and deciding one night/two nights, how do you schedule various movies and series? And also for all the reasons that Robert had said as well.
This is the Godfather of Pirate movies. In Britain there has become this model of where you grab people on the Sunday night and then you drag them through to the Monday night. Where Sunday, everyone's saying, "It's a school day, the next day it's a work day, let's settle down and watch this." And then they get excited and maybe tell things. But I think there's always a slight drop-off over the next night. But then people TiVo things and re-watch them.
We did a screening for the crew in London and we had a 1/2-hour break in between. And by the end of the first movie you are going, "Oh, well what happens now? Come on." So you just go straight in. So I think it's like the Godfather, this is the Godfather of pirate movies.
I will also add that viewer habits are changing because of DVRs and TiVo and VOD, people are watching things differently. And the idea of marathon viewing, watching things all in one sitting has become more and more popular. That's how people are consuming a lot of series now. Because it is the Godfather of pirate movies, I love that, it's all right to watch all in one setting.
Yes, I'm good at marketing. But it actually does feel like that doesn't it? When Godfather came out it was too long. I was watching the Robert Evans documentary, The Kids Face in the Picture, where he told Francis Coppola, "Go back and make this an epic. Stop cutting it down, make the film longer." He told him to make the film longer. And Coppola said, "No, you're nuts." And then he did it. And then it became Godfather I, the first one became the classic. And I think that's what we've got. Maybe we could actually just release it.
Robert Halmi Sr.:
It takes time to develop complex characters, you know. In a 2-hour movie you don't have time to - for - especially for a John Silver character to develop and have a relationship with a younger man. You need a long time. And 3 hours is just perfect.
Hi. Is there something that you guys learned after making this film that surprised you?
On the last day, the last shot, we were all lying in sort of a car park up in the, some of the hills in Puerto Rico in a boat that was suspended off the ground, it was just sitting on the ground. We were shooting down at the boat and we were shooting the bit where everyone's floating around, having been pushed off the original boat by Captain Flint, by Donald Sutherland's Captain Flint, and we were just floating in the sea for many days. And that shot was done in a car park.
But some of the actors and these are very experienced actors. And as you know, some of them don't have that many lines but they're still very good and qualified people. And a number of them were saying - and threw Steve Barron and he says, "This is the greatest time I've ever had. This is the best filming experience I've ever had." I felt that it was my job, and I found that I've studied this on George Clooney, from George Clooney in the Oceans movies, because George is like he seems. He is what it says on the cover of the book of George Clooney.
And that is not the same for a lot of people, some people are completely different to how they seem. And George was always leading from the front, generous, all that kind of thing. And I worked out that you can set the tone, and you should set the tone, from the top. So as I had the role of John Silver, I was always trying to make everyone play football together, go go-cart racing in Dublin together, things like that so everyone felt included. All the officers, who were not pirates were annoyed that they were not pirates, so I told them that they were "Posh Pirates." So I tried to put that thing out there, and hopefully that kind of worked.
So what did I learn out of that or what did we learn; when you haven't enough time or you haven't got enough budget and you haven't got enough this and that, and it's really hot and it's really cold, and you can still live a life. We had a great adventure just in the making of Treasure Island. It is an adventure, and we had an adventure. And you can do this as long as you give a damn about other people. So yes, that's kind of what I learned.
Robert Halmi Sr.:
It was also a great adventure producing it. Just imagine a 3-mast schooner, an old one, sailing from England to Puerto Rico, really. And that journey must have been - of course we weren't on it, because we just needed the ship in Puerto Rico, but that journey alone must have been an adventure.
Yes, I forgot that we'd done that. That boat really sailed, as Robert said, "It sailed the Atlantic." We filmed in Dublin, then they had to leave early because they were going across. A number of those sailors who were on it, they did their first ever Atlantic crossing. And they did it just like they did back in the 1700s. They had to sail right down to off the coast of Africa, and then go across using the trade winds, which are lower.
I didn't even know this stuff. And the - there's some shots in the actual movie where you can see some really gnarly kind of seas, these big swells and bad weather, those are from the actual crossing. Those are real shots, nothing CGI, really that boat out at sea in the Atlantic, miles from anywhere.
Robert Halmi Sr.:
This was a realistic pirate movie.
We talked about the complexity of the character of Long John Silver. And I just wondered how you were able to get into the mindset of someone with such contradictory personality traits?
Well I would say I think most of us are actually like that. It's written larger because he is John Silver and there is $500 million at stake and everyone's wanting to kill each other, and it's life and death struggle. But if you just look at the gossip pages online, petty bickering and, "What are they doing," and "Who's wearing what," and all this rubbish, this garbage that kind of almost kind of take over human life. And that's not an American thing, that's a human thing. That happens in Britain, that happens in Russia, that'll happen anywhere.
When people are not being generous they fall back into gossip and bickering and that stuff, which is part of all of us. It's just sitting there. So tapping into that, all you've got to do is just start feeling less generous and you'll know that stuff is all swimming underneath. And the story drives him forwards, backwards, backing up Jim when no one is, then against Jim, then he's for him and then they give him the black spot, and then he doesn't need the black spot because Jim tells him the boat's 'round the back. He flies by the seat of his pants.
But it's interesting, the high point for Long John Silver is sort of almost it he middle of the film, the high point, is when he does the flag of truce and he comes and talks to Captain Smollett, captain to captain. And Captain Smollett gives him his due and says, "Yes, you're a captain." And after that it actually goes downhill because they laugh that he has a bank account. He has a bank account, which is very rare. I mean the equivalent of one of us having a merchant bank account, working with one of these big merchant banks on Wall Street or the city of London. So it's sort of a laughable thing. But he is an intelligent bloke, this Silver, and an ambitious one. So you've just got to take ambition and greed and smash them together and it's probably at the center of most people.
I'd love to know what's coming up RHI and Syfy?
Robert Halmi Sr.:
Quite a few things we are working on. I cannot quite announce them yet, we'll have an announcement. But I'm working on at least three major exciting projects for Syfy which probably will take me to the end of my life.
I understand the parrot was real and not CGI. Eddie what was it like working with a parrot?
The parrots are all real. There was, as you might guess if you know about the film industry, it was three in the U.K. and two in Puerto Rico. It was curious. I wasn't worried about being upstaged by the parrot, but I just didn't want to get too parrot-centric. Parrots have to act into the wind, and they're of course not acting, they're just standing there and trying to be parrots, but I didn't know this. If you think about it, because birds feathers all go - move backwards from - on their body if there's a big breeze coming up the wrong way. It's like it's just blowing all the feathers the wrong way. So they will turn around and face into the wind.
So this was a practical problem and you could only do scenes that faced against the direction of the wind. If you started turning, he would turn with you and in the end he'd be facing backwards and you're talking forwards and that just looked bizarre. But I'm sure normally if you were a pirate, you wouldn't do that, you wouldn't worry about it, but just in the camera it just looked bonkers. So that was the big problem.
And the other one was that the parrots get attached to you. So you have to be sort of positive and confident with them, but not friendly. You can't be friendly. If you're too friendly with them then they get to like you and then they won't leave you and it's a slightly fine line acting with parrots. So I was happy to be in a number of scenes but I didn't want them to just take over the film.
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