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Live for Films chats to Julius Avery and Wyatt Russell, the director and star of OVERLORD

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Wyatt Russell and Julius Avery

Overlord – released in the UK on the 7th of November – is the latest feature from JJ Abrams’ production company Bad Robot (Lost, The Cloverfield franchise) and gives the war movie an injection of monster movie DNA.

On the eve of D-Day, American paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines to carry out a mission crucial to the invasion’s success. But as they approach their target, they begin to realize there is more going on in this Nazi-occupied village than a simple military operation. They find themselves fighting against supernatural forces, part of a Nazi experiment.

Overlord is directed by Julius Avery and stars Wyatt Russell and I recently gave the boys a call while they were in Sitges for the film festival there. Wyatt you’ll know as Zook in 22 Jump Street or from his roles in Black Mirror and Everybody Wants Some!, while Julius Avery has just been announced as the director of the new Flash Gordon, although we did this a while ago now so I obviously couldn’t ask him about it because y’know: linear time.

THEM: Hey there!

 

Hey guys! How’s it going?

WYATT: Good, how are you?

 

Great, thank you. I loved Overlord – so it’s great to get to talk to you both.

JULIUS: Great! Thank you!

 

First off, how did you both get involved with Overlord and what was it that attracted you to the project?

JULIUS: Yeah, I got a call after I screened my film (Son of a Gun) from Bad Robot. They called and asked me what I wanted to do next. We spitballed a few ideas and then JJ presented me with the script for Overlord and said to check it out. And I checked it out and I loved it. It was bonkers and bat-shit crazy and kind of like Indiana Jones on acid so I was in, you know? I was like “Fuck, yeah. Let’s do it!”

WYATT: For me it was honestly JJ and Julius. Knowing that the movie was in good hands and that they would really execute all the stuff that was in the script and for it to be made memorable was really the thing that drew me most.

Cool. Julius I really like “Indiana Jones on acid”, I’ve been describing it as “Band of Brothers infected by The Thing”….

BOTH: (laughing)

 

…but what were your influences in making the film?

JULIUS: Yeah, I mean I watched a lot of movies in preparation for making the film and read a lot of books, but my journey really began with my grandfather. He was in the Second World War, in the North Africa campaign, and he had all these photos from his adventures over there and I’d sit there for hours bugging him and asking him questions about what this was all about. So it struck me – even as a kid – that this was something big. That this was much bigger than me, much bigger than him even, so I’ve always wanted to make a war movie. Even a crazy version like the one we made, but it’s always been a dream of mine.

 

Wyatt, your character Ford is initially a stoic tough guy but then you get to really cut loose later on. How did you approach playing him and did you do any kind of special preparation?

WYATT: Yeah, sort of. I watched a lot of documentaries. I tried not to watch a lot of movies because I didn’t want it to be derivative. You know something gets in your head and all of a sudden you’re copying… So there were enough documentaries out there that I could go on the elliptical machine and put a documentary on and sort of watch it while I was working out. You see how people really… how they walk and how they talk, and it helps. Then we did this boot camp that Julius put together with the military advisors. We all got to go into the woods in England for four days and get to know each other and kind of share time with each other so that when we started working we all had a really good base of knowledge to work from. It really helped with the chemistry that we have on-screen. I think you can see it, I think it’s palpable, I think it was a really important aspect.

 

That definitely comes across in the movie. Julius can you tell me about your directing style?

JULIUS: I’m a performance director at heart. So I try and make everything as actor-friendly as possible, to try and do everything in-camera and to make everything practical so that there’s a tactile reality. That can be as wide-ranging as putting a whole set on a giant gimble machine so that you can shake everyone to their very bones. That feels very real and it really helps the actors in the war part of the movie, and then there’s the special effects makeup which we put a lot of time in to getting right and that’s great because people get their arms, legs, face blown off and we did that with prosthetics. It takes five hours, but it really helped because it’s real. So the reaction to that awful simulated stuff is real, so shocking. My directing style is all about having the kind of environment where actors can do their thing and feel empowered. The other thing I love about a practical set is being able to change things on the day which you can’t do if it’s all green screen.

 

I guess the CG really limits your creativity because you can only do what you’ve planned, whereas if it’s all really there you can just move the pieces?

JULIUS: Correct! And I’ve had terrible experiences with green screen where you’re lying to the actors because you don’t know what it’s going to be and you’re like “There’s this giant green monster with freckles all over its face and it’s coming and AAARRRGGGHHH!!!”

ALL: (laughing)

(L-R) Jovan Adepo as Boyce, Dominic Applewhite as Rosenfeld

Wyatt it must be a lot better for you and your performance to act against a real person in prosthetics instead of a tennis ball on a stick?

WYATT: Oh god, yeah! It’s a lot easier, that’s for sure. It’s a lot easier! I’ve done stuff opposite a paint can and a styrofoam ball, and there was one time when I was doing something like that and I was like “I don’t know what kind of reaction to give. How big is this thing?” and they’re like “Forty-eight feet!” and I’m like “Oh, I thought it was like seven feet tall!”

JULIUS: I had an actor friend who had the same thing and realised that his eye line was completely wrong for the whole movie because the thing is giant, and he was like “Oh. I thought it was like my height” so they had to fucking reshoot it all!

WYATT: Classic.

 

And this guy has just been intensely staring at the creature’s knees for the whole thing.

JULIUS: Yeah, the monster’s like “What are you staring at my balls?!”

ALL: (laughing)

 

Julius you mentioned the giant gimble earlier, was that for the opening airdrop sequence?

JULIUS: That’s right, yeah.

 

That was one of my favourite scenes in the film. Can you tell me more about making it?

JULIUS: Sure! So I wanted to put people inside of the action, instead of on the outside looking in and one of my objectives was to make it feel as real as it could. So we put a lot of energy into making that experience feel real for the actors and for you, so that’s why the long take and that fall, and for all the really intense stuff I wanted it to feel like you were hanging on for your life. So we had the plane on the gimble at a forty-five degree angle and the front of the plane actually on fire which we did practically. Then we got stunt guys in with the actors catching fire and jumping out while we tried to do it in one shot and it was completely crazy but really paid off in the end.

Pilou Asbæk

Wyatt you share quite a few scenes with Pilou Asbæk and they are all so full of energy and intensity. As an actor, what kinds of things are you doing and feeling right before you go into those kinds of scenes?

WYATT: Yeah, Pilou is amazing, incredible. He’s so good. And it makes it fun when you have a person who is like-minded. He’s the same kind of actor as me, he’s not looking for what’s going to make him look the best, he’s looking for what’s going to make the movie the best. That can be sort of hard on bad guys sometimes because there’s an under-appreciation sometimes that can go with being a good bad guy.

And we had so much fun. We stayed in the same hotel so we had beers the day before and talked about it, and what we could do, so that scene was so much fun just because you’re in such close proximity to that person and you’ve got to feel the chemistry with the bad guy too… and your teammates. You have to work that out because to me the better the bad guy is and the better the relationship is with the bad guy then the more satisfying the movie is. You can always tell, I think, when actors are having a good time – even when they’re beating each other up – I think it’s always really important to be able to see that people are having a fun time trying to make it as good as they possibly could. And he was so game for getting beat up, for getting punched! He was like “We can go more, we can go harder!” And then he got to do it to me so there was a fun reciprocity to it!

JULIUS: I think the mark of a good actor is when they give a really good performance for the other actor even when the camera isn’t on them, and I think with both of you – even when the camera wasn’t on you, you were giving a 100% and it was so great to watch these guys doing their thing.

Definitely. Thank you both very much for taking the time to talk to me today. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

JULIUS: You too!

WYATT: Thanks, bye!

 

Bye!

 

Overlord is released in the UK on the 7th of November. Stay tuned for our review.

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