TROY STORY - by Fred Schruers
A horse may be a horse,but in Troy,it`s a lot more spectacular,when paired
with the likes of Orlando Bloom,Brad Pitt,and Eric Bana.This epically expensive
tale of passion,pride-and,of course,that face-might be one of the greatest stories
IT ISN`T PRETTY,WHAT THEY`RE DOING TO ORLANDO BLOOM.HE`S FLUNG himself onto
the hard-packed Mexican dirt several times now,enacting the turning point of
a complex scene in which his character,Paris,has just taken a gawdalmighty battering
from Brendan Gleeson`s Menelaus.The characters`differences are quite irreconcilable.The
Trojan youth Paris,in this story that has survived nearly three millenia,has
stolen the Spartan king Menelaus`s wife,Helen.With 50,000 of his fellow Greek
warriors massed at the gates of Troy,Menelaus has chosen this moment to make
it personal."Let me,"he`s just said to his brother Agamemnon in the
poetically tough-talking screenplay by David Benioff (25th Hour),"kill
this little peacock."Before the grudge cqn be satisfied,Paris's brother
Hector,in the person of The Hulk's Eric Bana,will step in to save the lad."For
me,"says Bloom,"this scene is the most intimidating part of this whole
shot,because I knew that I was going to have to run from this moment-I just
hobble and crawl away to my brother's feet.It's just humiliation,the lowest
possible point for a character to get to."
The shot that director Wolfgang Petersen(The Perfect Storm)is going for at the
moment comes just after Hector has dispatched Menelaus,and is beseeching his
younger brother to flee inside the gates even as the Greek legions come on the
run.But in a rash choice,the bloodied Paris sprints for the stubby bronze sword
of Troy that Menelaus had knocked from his grasp.The shot will show one man
running toward the angry horde."Just when you think he's gone mad,"Petersen
will later explain,"he's turned it into the quite heroic act of getting
the sword of Troy."
But Petersen isn't quite seeing what he wants in Bloom's gritty ten-yard sprint
and culminating dive to death,and he calls for a cut in an assiduously patient
This is day 100 on one of the most expensive movie shots ever.One insider estimates
production cost at $700,000 per day;and in other massive below-the-line costs
for for ocean-spanning company moves and matériel,plus the $17,5 million
Brad Pitt will fetch for playing the tormented demigod Achilles,and you've got
something around a $200 million price tag.
It's midafternoon on a typically oppressive 85 degree day here in Cabo San Lucas,and
even the normally roving local dogs are sprawled in the shade of the gates of
Troy,alongside a conked-out,burlap-clad extra who has succumbed to the heat
and perhaps a case of turistas.A few weeks ago the spot where Bloom is literally
hitting his mark was covered in brush,the property of a cattle rancher named
Atilo Colli."They call him Capitain,"says local location scout Luis
Barrientos."He's got forty cows he loves likes kids."the property,which
is accessed by a dirt road crowded at points with crude huts and camper shells
used as homes,"wasn't worth much until now,"notes Barrientos.Nearby,the
production has built an ompressive naturalists' lair where hired experts tend
the endangered local cacti,known as viejos,and plan strategies for protecting
the baby sea turtles that are just now entering their birthing season.
As the ecene is reset, Bloom stands inquisitively near Bana,with whom he's become
good pals."You look like you've got a basketball between your legs,"
is Bana's tough-love assessment of the younger man's dash,"or maybe a melon."
"My legs are a bit bow,"says Bloom resignedly,then he addresses Petersen
more loudly,but neutrally:"Are we doin' this again?"
Petersen gives him a wry nod.Bloom squints a bit to show that his next question
is only 25 percent or so humorous:"So,just...act...better?"
"What can I say?"answers Petersen,who even in his floppy white sun
hat carries some of the elegance of a master of ceremonies in a Weimar nightclub."Just
do it differently."Finally he gives in to the concept:"Better."
PETERSEN,A VETERAN GERMAN THEATER DIRECTOR,FIRST MADE his mark on world cinema
with Das Boot in 1981,and that model of undersea cinematic claustrophobia wouldn't
seem a natural calling card for this epic that he estimates to be "90 percent
outdoors",with early scenes filmed in Malta and much of the Greek assault
from beach to city shot here in Cabo,on a 2,800-acre spread that boasts two
miles of the mostly untouched coastline.After the sub movie,it took nearly a
decade for the director to find real traction with In the Line of Fire,followed
by the middling Outbreak.But 1997's Air Force One earned more than twice its
$85 million budget,and The Perfect Storm was a global hit.Sheltered momentarily
from the sun by a blue tarp,Petersen,63,considers what he's taken on:"I've
done big complicated movies,but nothing of this score.It's so complex.That is,so
to speak,the big one for me in the sense of the difficult logistics of it and
everything.It's very challenging."
The slate of a crewman is marking up with black ink notes that the scene in
question is 94C.The prelude has been Hector intercepting Menelaus("I'll
kill him at your feet.I don't care,"growls the cuckolded king) and plunging
his sword in until its hilt meets the king's breastplate.(Some of the film's
spear and sword strikes are done with telescoping blades and spear points;others
will be mimed thrusts with the nasty parts filled in via computer graphics.)Then,as
Benioff's script describes it,Agamemnon(Menelaus's brother and fellow gerenal
in the Greek force,played by Brian Cox)shouts a wordless cry of rage and "the
entire Greek army surges forward...Fifty thousand soldiers charge at Hector..."
What Petersen has,before the magic of computer-generated regiments,is one one-hundredth
of that number.He watches his first assisitand director,Gerry Gavigan,positioning
the 500 extras for the charge up the hill.They are outfitted variously as Myceneans,Spartans,Thessalonians,Ithacans,Salaminians(led
by Ajax,played by outsize actor Tyler Mane,a.k.a. Sabretooth in X-Men),and,most
fearsome,the black-clad Myrmidons(who are led by Achilles,albeit not in today's
scene.)The spear-carrying knot of 500 is there to form the nucleus of a horde
that will be multiplied by computer renderings in the final picture.Standing
nearby,visual-effects supervisor Nick Davis,much honored for his work on Harry
Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,is keenly interested in Petersen's camera
placement."You have to look at each camera and say,'No,that won't work,'
or 'Yes,we can do that'We've got one superlog lens which will really stack[Bloom
and Bana] up against the extras.It will look great.And then the other shot,it's
ideal to to get a wider lens further and further away.There's a lot of storytelling,a
lot of beats that need to happen between that lot[he getsures toward towards
the extras shambling into place]charge and when they meet the Trojans here.There's
a finite stretch you can do before people say,'Nuh-uh,they've been running forever.'"
In Davis's favor is the innovate London effects house Moving Picture Company,which
is writing arcane strings of code designed to make computer-generated warriors
look real."They've programmed an artificial intelligence system to govern
our armies," he says."We've done a huge amount of motion capture of
people running and charging and fighting and tripping,all the variations they
could do.Then we've written software that can take all that motion capture and
blend it together so the soldiers can think for themselves,go slower or faster,and
they can conform to a terrain.Every soldier has a slightly different shade,every
shield is slightly different,dented or dirty.And randomizations of movement
make it look real-it's good to have one guy trip,then a lot of people have to
Davis,Petersen,and director of photography Roger Pratt(12 Monkeys,Harry Potter
and the Chamber of Secrets) discussed all this first thing in the morning,as
they always do.What Petersen chiefly hoping is that the long lens sitting well
behing Bloom and Bana,the one that will "stack" them against the ordinary
army to create a sense of urgency in the compressed space that results,will
lie for him:"It's very tricky because on a shot like this,these are fifty
thousand,after CG.They're advancing toward the twenty thousand Trojans that
are on his side.It's more dramatic if there is not an endless gap betzeen these
"But what would it take in real time for an army to come from there to
here?Something like fifteen to twenty seconds?The scene[on film] will definitely
be a minute.So you cheat a little bit and stretch it and hopefully you find
the right amount of cuts so you can make it believable.It's just finding out
in the editing room later on how much you can stretch it and where you really
have to say,'Okay,now they have to clash.'"
With a gesture to Gavigan,Petersen indicates that he wants to see the rush of
the meant-to-be terrifying army.They're huddled downslope on the dusty field,mostly
in comfortable breezy skirtlike getups that unfortunately are topped by all
manner of rubber and plastic armor.Put a man in a long,itchy wig and a large,tight
rubber helmet out in a field to kill time for 40 minutes under the midday sun,and
the production aides coming around with backpack rigs full of water aren't much
consolation.Thick with local hires as well as a sub-army of more than 200 Bulgarian
jocks,the group is not quite surly but is certainly far from ecstatic over being
lined up to rehearse their uphill sprint.They watch as the camera crew scrambles
aboard a dolly rig that is to be impelled alongside the charge-but they know
that the money part of this shot,Cox's Agamemnon surging alongside in a chariot,will
be filmed later.An assistand director palavers to them in a tone that's at once
wheedling and threatening,then hollers up the hill toward Gavigan:"What's
Gavigan,trained to respond quickly,barks out a not entirely commanding,"Ummmm..."A
pause."Charge!How about that?"
"Okay,here we go,boys,"hollers the AD.As the camera rolls,he gives
the order,and the 500 extras proceed to charge at baby turtle speed,with anemic,not
to say sardonic,battle cries."Cut,cut,cut,cut,cut,"comes the instruction,and
then,a bit wearily,"Let's go again."
Petersen is unfazed."It's an extremely difficult movie,as I said.Such an
outdoor movie.You know how vulnerable you are as a production.A lot of people
get sick-a big problem we still have.Hereespecially,Montezuma's revenge,the
stomach thing.It hits basically everybody.Some [are] in the hospital on an IV
drip.With these logistics and the sickness and the heat-I think what keeps us
going is that we have a really good movie.If there were any doubts about what
we are doing here,it would be almost impossible to go through this.It's Homer,it's
The Iliad.A wonderful combination of grand scale and intimate human relations,a
multilayered story." Preparing to head into the broiling sun and survey
both the troops and the shot,he gives a poker player's twist of the mouth,as
if reminding himself of something that that has served as daily inspiration:"One
of the great stories of all time."
"I GUESS THE BEST EVIDENCE OF THE POWER of the Trojan War myth,"says
David Benioff,"is that we're still talking about it three thousand years
later."Now one of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood,with Marc Forster's
Stay due later this year and a reconceiving of the classic For Whom the Bell
Tolls on his plate,he was still mostly a novelist looking to stray(although
he had adapted his own book The 25th Hour for Tobey Maguire's production shingle)
when he walked into Warner Bros. executive Jeff Robinov's office in October
2001.It was the first such pitch meeting in his career."I was terrified,and
not particularly articulate,I don't think,and Jeff was kind of staring at me.I
was trying to make it sound eloquent,but it really felt like I was blowing it,"he
says. "I felt like,oh my God,I've taken this great story and somehow made
it seem unappealing.Because he's got a great poker face.He doesn't give away
anything."Robinov asked Benioff to wait for a moment and departed-to check,it
would later emerge,with his then boss Lorenzo di Bonaventura."At the very
end of the meeting,he said,'Are you ready to start writing?' And that was kind
of a shock."
Benioff's story encompasses much more than Homer's tale of the war,it also uses
Virgil's Aeneid and various histories."The Iliad begins with the rage of
Achilles over Agamemnon's abduction of a slave girl,Briseis.In my script that
doesn't occur until page 82 or so.This is the Trojan War myth in its entirety,and
I've taken serious liberties,and been ruthless in terms of what to cut out and
what to change."
The screenplay he came up with was so clean that Warner Bros. took the extremely
rare step of sending it right out to Petersen,whose Radiant Productions has
a deal with the studio,and around the same time slipped a copy to Pitt.
Pitt had all but signed on when he met up with petersen:"We had a nice
dinner in a German restaurant in L.A. called Black Forrest,having a good time
with very heavy German food and some beers," the director recalls."We
talked about the script and the part and got very excited about it.We talked
also about Eric Bana,who I had met in the meantime-Brad had also seen his film
Chopper-and we both had the feeling that he could be a great Hector.And then
came the long hard work of casting the other parts."
Bana,a formidable presence at 34(when he was cast),needed a younger brother
who shared at least some of his chiseled features but could be the sheltered
neophyte to his veteran soldier-and the impetuous lover to the most dangerously
beautiful woman in the world.Bloom,then 25,had just burst into the scene just
months before as the earnestly heroic Legolas in The Lord of the Rings:The fellowship
of the Ring.He'd also had a small part in Black Hawk Dawn,as the trooper who
slips from a rope(much as,in real life,he once had a near catastrophic fall
from a drainpipe)-but otherwise he was untested.In a meeting at London's Dorchester
hotel with Petersen and producer Diana Rathbun,he was,Rathbun recalls,"most
articulate;he really understood the torment of Paris,you could see it in his
face as he spoke,see it take hold."
Recent history has of course shown their wisdom.During the weeks when Bloom
was on theater screens alongside Johnny Depp in the bmockbuster Pirates of the
Caribbean(Pirates and each LOTR installment have earned more than $300 million),most
Internet film and fan sites were getting as many hits for him as they were for
Depp and other,more ephemeral Web sensations.His stardom by now seems assured,and,to
most observers,likely to last;after Troy,he has no fewer than four projects
in various stages of production,including the leading role in the Crusades drama
Kingdom of Heaven for his Black Hawk Dawn director,Ridley Scott.
Before long,Petersen had rounded out his cast with Bloom's LOTR compatriot Sean
Bean as Odysseus,19-year-old discovery Garrett Hedlund as Achilles's impetuous
younger cousin Patroclus,Gladiator veteran John Shrapnel as the battle-savvy
Greek Nestor,James Cosmo(Breaveheart) as Trojan general Glaucus,and the venerated
Peter O'Toole and Julie Christie as King Priam of Troy and Achilles's mother,Thetis.Then
came the search that would allow the director to brag,quite accurately,"We
have so many beautiful women here."The willowy Saffron Burrows(Enigma)
was cast as Hector's wife,Andromache,and Australian ingenue Rose Byrne,after
being discussed for the Helen role,was signed to play the slave girl Briseis."Only
Briseis calms Achilles down and pulls him back to earth,"says Petersen,and
Byrne agrees:"He lets his guard down a bit around her-not a lot,but it
shows his humane;vulnerable side."
Finally,the epic needed the woman who intoxicates young prince Paris and thereby
spurs all that follows."All the blood,all the violence of the war was initiated
by a passionate love story,"says Petersen.Helen of Troy had to be otherwordly,a
blond abberation among the swarthy Greeks;with her lambent blue-green eyes and
aristocratic bearing,German model-turned-actress Diane Kruger won the day.
In keeping for Petersen's wish for "fresh faces" it was not,other
than Pitt,the costliest cast.But as Warner Bros. prepared the budget with Rathbun,they
watched the cost inevitably rise.The drumbeats leading to the U.S. invasion
of Iraq were unmistakable,and with so much uncertainty and possible turmoil,Morocco
was scrapped as a location for the months of work by a beach.Massive props were
broken down and crated for the move to Cabo San Lucas in the bellies of Russian
Antonov transport planes.One of these was the 40-foot-high Trojan horse,with
which the Greeks manage to penetrate city's defenses.It had played its part
well in Matla,as Bean recalls:"I was expecting a trap door,but we actually
came through doors in the horse's neck,side,and flanks.It looked like it was
covered in insects."
For the cast and crew who were simply moving from one scorchingly hot coastline
to another,the decampment to Mexico was hardly a holiday-even though Cabo has
become a noted vacation destination.The work in Malta had been marred by one
tragedy-bodybuilder George Camilleri was injured in a waterbone action sequence,and
18 days after a pin was inserted in his badly broken leg,he somehow mystifyingly
died.There was also the hard_to_assess PR debacle of widely circulated paparazzo
photos of Pitt,helmetless and casual,gams attractively bare,talking on a cell
phone in the Maltese sun.
There's no escaping that much of the weight of properly bringing off this staggeringly
expensive epic rests on Pitt's portrayal of Achilles,whom Petersen calls "a
haunted guy,not necessarily really happy."Petersen grants the sceptics
their question-"I would say normally,'Is that Brad,can he pull that off?Does
he have that kind of dark side to him?'"But,he adds,"he absolutely
has.I think Brad had from the very beginning a very strong instinct about how
to play this part.He felt as an actor that he was born to do this.At some point
he even said to Peter O'Toole,'All the parts I [ever] did were like a preparation
for this part.'His whole demeanor every single day here-his physical preparation,his
mental preparation,the fact that he stopped smoking for it-he did everything
to get ready for the part and into the part."
On Super Bowl Sunday,Pitt leveled a sword at a huge worldwide TV audience in
a Troy trialer and promised an unseen Agamemnon,"Before my time is done,I
will look down on your corpse and smile."Petersen,who watched a cast of
mainly English actors spout the lines in the production's haute-English style(what's
called Received Pronunciation),admits that for Pitt,"there was maybe some
struggle from the very beginning,finding the right dialect.But he got control
of that very quickly and fromthat,following the mission of being the greatest
warrior of all time."
As Petersen worked through key sequences in the movie,important Achilles scenes
were stacked toward the shoot's last days-including a postcoital moment with
Briseis,an epochal battle with Hector,and a poignant encounter with Priam,who
pleads for a slain warrior's body.The battle in fact had to await a major set
rebuilding after a hurricane hit Cabo,as well as downtime after Pitt,in a costly
coincidence,hurt his Achilles tendon.
Pitt wasn't alone in being challenged.Bana brooded at length before accepting
the Hector role."It's the process of convincing yourself that you're up
to it,"he says,"because if you can't do it you're going to make a
monumental cock of yourself."
Since shooting started,Bana has had no regrets.He came to regard screen brother
Bloom "as like a real brother",and was delighted to work opposite
the legendary O'Toole."To perform scenes with someone you feel genuine
affection for...because Orlando's playing my brother,Peter's playing my father,and
I've had some stuff with Peter inside the scene as we were playing-just really
special,"he says."We had an amazing scene this week,just before I
go off to battle Achilles-bidding farewell to my immediate family.Peter's character
is about the only one I allow Hector to show any emotion toward,so it was just
really nice,a total no-acting-required moment."
From the moment where Bloom and bana first met-a practise horseback ride in
London,with plenty of excited speculation about the film("two boys on their
horses,talking about the adventure to come,"recalls Bloom),and cigars and
more talk after-the bonding has been unequivocal."I look up to him,a real
honorable man,"Bloom says of his costar."Like Hector is to Paris,he's
a real rock."
As Bloom sits talking,studiously ignoring the long gash the makeup crew hascreated
on his right thight,he's mindful that,"I still have to shoot this scene
where I see my brother go out to fight Achilles.Hector is an honorable and skillful
and brave and strong fighter,you know.But Achilles is just a killer.So when
he goes out to fight-I still have to play this moment where I see my brother
do what I should have done."
"Paris is a very different role for Orlando Bloom,"says Benioff."Obviously
he was the kind of fearless hero in The Lord of the Rings who gets to run up
an elephant and shoot an arrow in his brain.And here,yeah,he is showing fear.I
would say in defense of Paris,I mean,I don't think many of us have had to walk
across a field facing a large angry man with a sharp sword who wants us dead
because we stole his wife."
"Amidst this epic,fantastic,huge sort of drama,"says Bloom,"it's
very human at the crux of it.It deals with very human issues:anger,hate,love,fear,and
all those things that lead a man to war,lead a country to war.
"As a young prince,Paris has been protected by the umbrella of that family
and that environment,"he adds."He's an archer,which is more of a sport,and
he's never really taken up a blade.He's left it up to his older brother to be
the warrior.He's a complex character,an antihero,dark.There are certainly a
lot of dark qualities about him because of the decision he makes."
Despite his treatment at the hands of Menelaus,Paris will live up to fight on
for Troy.In fact,those archery skills will,as readers versed in Homer's story
well know,lead to a crucial enemy's death in a way that's anything but gentle.Just
as Brian Cox's Agamemnon was induced to slaughter a hugely sympathetic character
in the person of a man he much admires-"It was nervewracking,"he says."On
my first day I killed one of my icons."-Bloom must unleash his arrows at
Pitt's Achilles."He's a demigod,the most incredible warrior known to man,and
the fact that I have to [do that] was such a challenge-to try and make an audience
understand the motives behind this character's actions so they don't completely
despise him.In the same way that for Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator his actions
were based in greed,envy,and lust,wanting something else,Paris is trying to..."
Bloom pauses as a seabreeze that's accompanying the arrival of dusk sends a
half-hearted dust devil across the ground toward him.Just behind it is an assistand
director coming to say Bloom is wrapped for the day.Many a young actor would
be halfway to the trailer in a heartbeat,heading for the hotel pool and a beer,but
Bloom politely asks for a moment and walks a few paces to get his benediction
from Petersen.He gives an inquiring look,ready for a last thought,but the director
just gazes back with obvious fondness and gives him and acknowledging nod. Well,then,Bloom's
manner seems to say,as he brings forth his hand with a slightly formal hitching
motion to shake Petersen's."A pleasure doin' business with ya,boss,"he
says.Trudging through the giant plaster construction that is the city gate,he
finishes his interrupted thought:"Paris is a young man,and I'm a young
man.And as a young man,you're coming to terms with an awful lot that you battle
with.It's the seven deadly sins,you know,everyone's trying to understand what
they mean to him.And so it's been a challenge."He waits a beat,making sure
of eye contact so it's understood that if the next words are the expected ones,they're
not empty:"But a really exciting one."
Pirates of the Aegean:The filmmakers imagined that the Trojan horse would have
been built "out of pieces of burned ships,"says director Wolfgang
Petersen."The idea is brilliant,very realistic."
"My biggest challenge,"says Bloom,"was to step into the shoes
of a character who is fundamentally doing something so wrong."
Brad Pitt,as Achilles,who's "following the mission of being the greatest
warrior of all time,"says Petersen."And killing people.I think he
really hates himself for that."
Peter O'Toole as King Priam of Troy."My grandmother had a heart attack
when she heard I was filming with him,"says Kruger.
Helen's husband,Menelaus(Brendan Gleeson),and his brother Agamemnon(Brian Cox)
plot revenge."Agamemnon is the juggernaut trying to bend this city to his
will,"says Cox."The stealing of Helen is just a wonderful excuse to
get what he wants."