PARIS — After earning international acclaim — and an Academy Award — for his debut film, the dark Cold War drama The Lives of Others, German-born director Florien Henckel von Donnersmarck wanted to try a slightly different change of pace. And he couldn’t have gotten much more different tonally than The Tourist, a big-budget romance caper starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Henckel von Donnersmarck spoke with Metro about fixing up the film’s script, cutting out laughs and why Angelina Jolie doesn’t have any female co-stars.
You’re credited with writing the film, along with two other writers. Can you take us through the process of each writer’s contribution?
Since so much of it was before I came on board, I don’t really know. I read a script that Julian Fellowes, Christopher McQuarrie and, I think, three or four others had contributed to. Or four or five others. I mean, it was massive. And still it was a script that nobody — and I’m sure those two actors — would have been happy with. It was just one of those scripts that had been just developed into so many different directions under so many different influences, you could tell that it was a slightly somehow schizophrenic script. And so I just wrote based off that and just off what I imagined the film to be like.
What were your biggest changes to the script when you took it on?
I wanted to make it into a true love story between these people, and I also wanted people to think throughout the whole film, “Is this guy the person they’re looking for or not?” And for them to flip back and forth, for this not to be a film that somehow a surprise comes out of nowhere at the end, but for it to really be a constant cat-and-mouse game. And then it was also in shaping in the characters, giving them a kind of humour and humanity and not just making a run-of-the-mill thriller with car chases in garages, which is what it was before.
The finished film has a distinct sense of fun to it.
The interesting thing -- when I screened it for the first time, just a rough cut for some people -- it played really well, but it played too much like a comedy. People were laughing so much, and then I realized I’d gone a little too far in that whole kind of comedy thing. So I actually started cutting out a lot of the humour. And the studio at first was a little worried because they said, “Hey no, no, wait. We don’t take comedy out of things.” And I said we’ll still have enough of it, because I don’t want people to be laughing in this film, I want them to be smiling.
I noticed there are hardly any other women on screen besides Angelina Jolie.
There’s not a single other female speaking onscreen. I feel she’s so scintillating and exciting as a woman, it’s hard for other women to really be able to shine next to her. And also a lot of these people are just cops who are chasing her. If some of them had been women, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time explaining how did they, as women, feel about this incredibly beautiful woman. You know, do they feel jealous about her? Do they feel a camaraderie? And that’s why there’s not a single other word spoken by a woman other than Angelina. She’s enough woman for an entire film.