MEN AND MYTHS - by Gillian Flynn
The epic and expensive TROY will soon tempt the gods of box office returns.Can
Brad Pitt's face launch a summer hit?
DRIVE AN HOUR THROUGH THE Mexican desert and you'll spy a curious thing:massive
slabs of stone jutting defiantly from the sand.An impregnable fortress in a
Mediterranean seascape.The walls of Troy on the Baja Peninsula.Pass through
the gates and you'll see the sun flashing off Apollo's temple,high atop a cliff.On
the beach below,several hundred extras pant in their salt-laced armor,as Peter
O'Toole and Orlando Bloom prepare to film the discovery of the Trojan horse,which
looms like an ominous chess piece at the edge of the rowdy surf. After a smoke
and a touch-up,O'Toole is ready.He glances at two plague-pocked actors playing
dead,stares up at the 38-foot wooden beast,and regally purrs,"What is this?"
He does it again and again.A wicked wind blows waves of heat and needle-sharp
sand.Flies descend in petulant cliques.And a boom mike slips its shadow into
the frame.Cut."Oh,for f---'s shake,"O'Toole snaps.
The dead come to life-extras stretching,sipping,blotting,then submitting to
more painted-on gore.O'Toole kindly douses a dead man near him with some anti-fly
ointment.The snippet of a scene continues."What is this?""What
THIS-SAND,SUN,ANNOYANCE,GRANDEUR,MISERY,myth-is Troy,director Wolfgang Petersen's
take on the 2,800-year-old tale The Iliad.A sprawling,david Lean-inspired epic,Troyinitially
budgeted at $150 million,boasts 1,250 extras,a re-created ancient city,several
epic battles,and more than five months of location shoots in London,Malta and
Mexico.The stakes,like the film,are massive.
Troy has become one of the most expensive movies in history.In return for its
hubris,the ambitious production's budget ballooned to more than $200 million
as it suffered a string of costly crises:emergency relocation,set destruction,and
an injury to star Brad Pitt than postponed a crucial fight scene for months.See,Pitt,in
his first starring role since 2001's Ocean's Eleven,plays mercenary warrior
Achilles,and he...tweaked his Achilles."It's such a bad angle,"he
But a good Greek tragedy needs irony.And death,and love,and mayhem and guys
with names like Itssolongyourejustshowingoff-forus.For those who haven't dabbled
in Homer of late:Remember the face that launched a thousand ships?That's Helen,queen
of Sparta(Diane Kruger).Prince Paris(Bloom),on a peace mission to his Spartan
enemies,falls for her and rashly spirits his lover back to Troy.Helen's furious
hubby,King Menelaus(Brendan Gleeson) presents the problem to his brother,the
land-grabbing Super-monarch Agamemnon(Brian Cox),who uses it as an excuse for
war,and looses Greece's armies-and Achilles-upon Troy.
Sound gigantic?Makes sense-Petersen was also the director behind The Perfect
Storm and Air Force One.Says Pitt:"Wolfgang is a very savvy storyteller,he
knows what's going on,he has a dry sense of humor...and he does it BIG."
IT STARTED PRETTY SMALL,HOWEVER,OVER PORK SHANKS and beer.In late summer 2002,Pitt
and Petersen met at Knoll's Black Forest Inn,a German restaurant in Santa Monica,so
the director could savor some homeland eats and the two could discuss Troy.After
"quite a few beers,"Petersen remembers,they struck a handshake deal
for Pitt to headline the film.Must've felt nice:Both men had seen their previous
Warner Bros. projects fizzle.Pitt who'd spent months sporting a ragged Crusoe-esque
beard for Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain,was finally cutting bait after more
than a year of delays caused by budget issues and costar Cate Blanchette's pregnancy.Petersen
had been readying Batman vs. Superman when the studio decided to revive each
superhero franchise separately;Batman Begins got the go instead.
Fortunately,Warner had a spanking new script to offer,one that Petersen had
previously circled.It was David Benioff's Troy,commissioned before the writer's
25th Hour had even become a Spike Lee joint."I thought it was strange no
one had done it yet-that was my pitch,"Benioff says."[They] took a
hyge chance on someone who'd written one small,unproduced urban movie.If there
was one thing that made it an easier gamble,it's that I was really cheap."
Petersen,who'd read The Iliad in its original Greek as a young student,and
Pitt,who was eager to play the stormy,vengeful Achilles,got the movie a fast
start.Casting Prince Hector,Paris's big brother and Achilles' nemesis,was nearly
as zippy.Eric Bana had an admirer in Pitt thanks to his sociopathic turn as
a bluberry Aussie killer in the 2001 biopic Chopper."It's the next evolution
of Taxi Driver for me,"Pitt says."I was a sick fan about it."The
two had pledged to work together,and Bana had nice heat on him,thanks to the
then-much-anticipated bomb-to-be The Hulk.says Bana:"It was a combination
of loving the script and Brad and I not wanting to play the same role-which
was helpful,I'll say."
Helen,however,was a conundrum.Petersen gazed upon more than 2,000 faces before
he came across a videotape:Crappy lighting,bad setting,but helluva looker.It
was German actress Kruger.In Montreal shooting the upcoming Wicker Park with
Josh Hartnett,she'd filmed herself lying on the floor of her hotel room,performing
a Helenic love speech speech.."I said,WHO...is...that...woman?"Petersen
recalls,"Over 20 years ago I discovered Nastassja Kinski when she was 15,I'll
never forget it;it's so beautiful when you discover a new face."
Speaking of ardor:In the wake of The Lord of the Rings,girls around the world
were suddenly sporting "I love Orlando" T-shirts,making Bloom a no-brainer
for sensual prince Paris.But the actor was uneasy about playing a guy who steals
a girl and then runs away from a battle he started,making him basically a ...wussy."I
had a big moral struggle with it,"Bloom says."If you're faced with
life and love or death and honor,what would you do?Everyone would like to say
death and honor-at least as a guy-but Paris chooses love and life...It's an
intimidating thing,to make an audience understand what you're doing-so they
don's completely loathe you."
As Bloom pondered Paris' burning questions,Pitt offered up his own ideas.Benioff
recalls the actor reporting to meetings steeped in Achilles analysis."He'd
come with a binder with 500 pages of writing on Achilles that he'd underlined
and highlighted,"the writer says."So I'd get homework too." Throughout
the shoot,the team tightened the warrior's words."Brad is a very smart
actor,"Petersen says."He'd never be able to exactly say the lines
that even a great writer like David writes for him-Brad needs to shape it a
bit for his vision.He likes to be all sparse with the dialogue,and I totally
support him because I like that too."Pitt also quit smoking,packed on some
massive knots of muscle,and trained in everything from horseback riding to swordsmanship.He
found inspiration for his angry ancient in oddly modern places."I started
out with a lot of Audioslave or anything Chris Cornell-it helped with the aggression,"he
says."And Chris Webber from the [Sacramento] Kings.There's a real sweetness
behind his eyes,but he's pissed off." Fight Club fan Petersen had faith
his star could play a guy who,say,smacks his lover and brutalizes a family man."He
looks like a god," the director says."But he has some really dark,edgy
things about him/The tortured soul that Achilles is,that's Brad." Is that
right...Brad? "I'm not stepping into that one,"Pitt says."You
know,you live the part,you do what you gotta do...He's definitely a tortured
guy.But that's what I was drawn to."
While Pitt's character got tweaked,the rest of The Iliad went pretty darn Hollywood.Briseis,a
slave girl captured by the Greeks-speechless in Homer's tale-becomes a royal
priestess and love interest for Achilles(she's played by Aussie Rose Byrne.).More
notably,no gods interfere with battles in Troy."I didn't want them in,"
says screenwriter Benioff."You have Zeus played by an actor in a toga standing
atop his CGI Mount Olympus,throwing CGI thunderbolts-it becomes Clash of the
Titans." Mmmm...Clash of the Titans.We now pause to consider what might
"THE FIRST DAY I GOT ON SET in Malta,there were nearly 1,500 extras in
costume,and they'd perfected the entire city [of Troy]," says Kruger."It
was like being there.Outrageous."As was the record heat that quickly buckled
cast and crew,who were stuck there from May to June.A key scene involving an
evening banquet with fires to keep warm was filmed in...a sizzling warehouse
with a tin roof."It was like going from a sauna into the oven," Bana
says."Brendan Gleeson had so many clothes on I thought someone was playing
a trick."(Says the affable Gleeson:"I just concentrated on the dancing
girls.") On a day when papers proclaimed Malta the hottest place on earth,the
71-year-old O'Toole filmed King Priam of Troy's introduction to Helen on the
sunny palace stairs."I thought,Peter O'Toole is not the youngest,how can
he deal with this?" Petersen says."Between takes,he was taking off
his costume,sitting there in a light bathrobe,smoking like he always does."
Petersen had trickier problems than overheated elder statesmen. Troy was slated
to move to Morocco for major battle scenes in June;sets had been built in anticipation.By
March,it was clear the impending war in Iraq could turn Morocco into a hot spot.With
the major stars boasting clockwork schedules and pay-or-play deals-meaning they
got the cash whether the movie was made or not-Warner could neither postpone
the production nor dissolve it.Studio head Alan Horn canvassed the actors and
Petersen,most of whom preferred relocating to Mexico."We could have forced
the issue," says production president Jeff Robinov."But if it had
gone south and anyone was injured,it would have been a disaster-and not even
strictly from a financial point of view."
Three months into shooting,10 weeks to go: The Troy travelling circus headed
to tourist mecca Cabo San Lucas.(Says Gleeson:"I found it slightly ironic
that this tale of great war retreated from the war.") The spot was more
secure-but vastly more expensive than Morocco,ballooning the budget further.Oppressive
heat continued to vex the filmmakers."We had so many people who fainted,"
Petersen admits."Not actors-the real poor people were the extras,who had
to stand and fight in the sun."Alternating with the heat were tropical
storms that threatened to turn into hurricanes,a couple of which did."My
house got wiped out," Pitt says."I was living in a cliffside house.I
wake up at four in the morning,hear this waterfall.I get out of bed and I'm
standing in an inch of water.The thing had sprung leaks all over the place.The
ship was going down.So I slept through the actual hurricane-I was so tired from
the night before."
At the end of September,a second hurricane desroyed the supposedly indestructible
walls of Troy.A costly reconstruction occured for the one scene yet to be shot:
Pitt and Bana's big showdown.Unfortunately,just before the hurricane,Pitt had
sidelined himself.Filming a fracas,the actor jumped up to land a death blow...and
hit the ground in pain.A damaged Achilles,literally.Estimated healing time:
about three months.Bana jetted home to Australia,under orders to keep himself
intact."It was very odd and weird," he says."having all the usual
temptations around me like my motorcycle and my racing cars and not being able
to touch them was very surreal." Bana flew back once to Mexico set-only
to be disappointed."He was not happy about that," Petersen recalls."He
came all the way from Australia to do the fight,he's all poised,and Brad was
still limping.He was waiting and hoping and waiting and hoping and then the
doctor said no way."
Six weeks later,just before Christmas,Bana and Pitt had their final fight.More
than 12 months after they'd signed on to the project."We all aged a year
in front of the camera," Bana says.Cox,whose Agamemnon wasn't needed for
the final scene,had left,filmed another movie,and was heading home to Europe
on Dec. 21 when he glanced around the plane and saw the Troy crew."For
about five seconds I thought I'd dreamed the time I'd done this another film."
Pain and exhaustion aside,the cast members remain impressively fond of their
director."He's open to what you think your character should do," Bloom
says."He humors us: You do your cute little acting thing and if I don't
like it I'll cut it!Fair enough,that works." Adds Bana: "Your brain
tends to expand because he's asking you your thoughts.Whether it's a trick or
just his personality,he makes you feel like you're making a film together-he's
a very,very giving filmmaker." And how does that compare with Hulk director
Ang Lee? "They're different," Bana says.How so? "They're different."
Cast adulation,however,doesn't necessarily translate into box officse success,and
Warner needs that badly.Petersen estimates that tax rebates will drop the price
tag to about $175 million.But that's still a wildly expensive film-Gladiator,by
contrast,was a cheapo $103 million affair.On top of the budget,the studio must
add about $40 million in domestic marketing costs alone.Scary figures,considering
that Troy is two and a half hours long and rated R-and a Petersen film has never
grossed more than Perfect Storm's $183 million."I know I have a great responsibility
because it's a very expensive movie,and I make damn sure if I can that the money
comes back,or even more," Petersen says."I am very,very keen on seeing
how an audience will react.You say butterflies?Of course."
Bana's more mellow: "Whether it explodes or not doesn't affect my self-esteem
at all.If there's one thing I can admit to being really,really good at,it's
relinqishing the things I have no control over."
Considering the film's source material,it's probably the most appropriate reponse:
Place Troy's fate in the hands of the gods-and hope thay're in a benevolent
Petersen says Pitt "has the brilliance and godlike appearance,but at the
same time he has some really dark,edgy things about him."