by Will Davis
New film Eragon tells the fantasy adventure story of Eragon,
a young boy in the world of Alagaesia who hatches a dragon
egg and raises his very own dragon called Saphira. Together
they must save the lands from the evil King Galbatorix. The
film stars Ed Speleers as Eragon, Jeremy Irons as Brom, Sienna
Guillory as Arya, Robert Carlyle as Durza, John Malkovich
as King Galbatorix. It is directed by Stefen Fangmeier, who
also helmed Jurassic Park III.
The panel consists of an interviewer(Q), Stefen Fangmeier(SF),
Ed Speleers(ES), Jeremy Irons(JI), Sienna Guillory(SG) and
Q. Stefen, what difficulties did you have to surmount when
you set about bringing this world of fantasy and magic to
SF: Well firstly was to differentiate between anything that's
gone before. And what happens you know, you have all the
other fantasies, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and most
recently Narnia sort of really created an audience for it.
On the other hand there was also this pressure to take a
book which was certainly very referential and create a new
world and characters that would not necessarily just be reminiscent
of everything that's gone before. So, there's two sides to
that coin, one is that there's a built in audience, on the
other hand they want to be thrilled and excited and see something
Q. How difficult was it to create a dragon we could believe
SF: Well I think it was difficult
to create a dragon that everyone would like. I think there've
been dragon films gone before and they weren't really that
successful and that's actually one of those questions that
the chairman of the studio turns to me and said “Well why have all dragon
movies been flops?” and I thought Well, that's an interesting
question, I hadn't really considered it, but we'll make sure
we come up with a dragon that has qualities that hopefully
will make this a more memorable character than other ones.
JI: Well I think it's important for
an actor to keep re-introducing himself to a young audience.
The kids that this is really aimed towards only know me
as the voice of a lion, and I thought that they should
put a face to the voice. (dubious titters) Not only that – as an actor I try to take
what opportunities come to me on a very wide range, so that
you cover the audience and can hopefully get audiences who
come to see this to go and see other movies that they might
not see because I'm in it. So it's just part of the sort
of career strategy. But the third thing is that I always
look for a good story, and I thought this was a good story,
I thought that this was correct for this story – it's
written by a sixteen year old, about a sixteen year old.
It's how he sees growing up, how he sees adolescence. It's
not an aging, academic writing for a nephew about what he
remembers. About sort of life when he was younger and fantasy.
And I thought that's a great, great strength, and I believe
I mean, who can explain why Eragon is such a successful book?
But I can only assume that it's because the kids who read
it really feel empathy with what they're reading, they understand
that world. An awful lot of it's about this boy growing up
and dealing with fathers and girlfriends and things they
want to be able to do and can't and think why can't they
do them? Growing into a stage where they realise they have
a responsibility in life where they can be master of their
own destiny. And this is a universal story, and I saw this
when I read the script, I looked at Stefen's designs which
were mind blowing, I knew his track record. And I knew that
if this was to work the dragons had to work and I had worked
with dragons before – as Stefen said: a flop – but
I felt that if anyone could make dragons work he could.
The book Eragon was vanity-published by author Paolini's
family, and quickly became very popular. After it was republished
by Knopf in 2003 it spent 87 weeks on The New York Times
Bestseller List. In North America it has sold 2.5m copies
in hardcover and paperback and has since been published in
38 countries. Paolini is 22 years old and wrote Eragon when
he was a teenager and was inspired by the surroundings of
where he grew up: Paradise Valley, Montana. It is the first
book in the Inheritance Trilogy.
Q. Robert, what did the family think of Dad on the screen?
RC: Ah, they're just too young. I
don't think they really understand it, even my oldest daughter – she thinks
that I go away and get photographed. That's what she thinks,
she sees these photographs and stuff like that and she says “You
make a photograph Daddy?” So it's a wee bit scary for
the kids. The ordeal was sitting through the make up. When
all that stuff is applied, particularly when your character
is losing his powers and he's become almost like an albino
sorcerer It took about three and half hours. It took about
an hour and a half to get it off. I mean it was unbelievable – she
was squeezing my face like that (squeezes face) Very difficult
when you go for a slash.
Q. What about your character, Sienna?
SG: Erm, it's just really nice to play a role that isn't
the damsel in distress the thing that I was really blown
away by was that this role was written by a kid that has
no understanding of women. And I've read scripts by seventy
year olds, sixty year olds, that have no understanding of
women whatsoever and I think it's a great opportunity to
play a role that's real.
Q. Ed, how easy did you find it to relate to your character?
ES: Well I think you know it goes
back to what Jeremy was saying earlier – that's why
I loved the book so much and loved making the movie so
much 'cos I was at that age, I was going through the coming
of age process and going on that arc of going from you
know young boy sort of entering young manhood. And I'm
sure I was a pain at times because I was going through
that transition stage.
Apparently, for the character of Eragon
a 'worldwide search, which rivalled the hunt for a cinematic “Harry Potter”.'
was conducted. According to the programme notes this search
included 'hundreds' of auditions and 'dozens' of screen tests.
Incredibly, Speleers was the result. Says SF, 'I got a strong
sense of Ed's sparkle, of his life. It's the kind of thing
where you just know he's destined to become a movie star'.
Q. Sienna, how did you find working in fantasy?
SG: Erm I've never really been a big
fantasy person but again, like Jeremy (who incidentally
is now smoking, eliciting painstaking smiles from SG and
ES at either side of him) said it's just such a novel story.
It's more about the fact that – especially now, when politically we don't know
who to trust, we don't know who's telling the truth – to
have a film that explains how we find the path of who to
believe, who to listen to, who to learn from and who to trust
and there's a difference between good and evil – I
think it's important and it clarifies it a lot.
Q. And what's it like acting against a tennis ball?
JI: tennis balls have more animation than some actors!
SF: I couldn't say that because, you
know, I'd probably never get anybody to work with me again
but it's the sort of thing that I a lot of experience at
seeing different actors deal with exactly that problem
and I was fortunate in specifically in Ed having someone
who was just quite a natural at doing that. I would try
to give him something to relate to – you
know, when the little one comes out of the egg, “Oh
this is like a little puppy”. But in general I think,
particularly just put something in your imagination that
became true and then, shooting the film I think as real as
possible at real locations, get an organic natural look,
I think allows us to integrate this artificial character
in a way where it became more successful rather than I wanted
this to be more the feel of Gladiator than of the recent
Star Wars because of that you know I wanted to make the movie
as real as possible so that the elements of visual effects
that went into it would be integrated to that. I mean so
they'd have an emotional reality in real settings and not
everything forced onto a blue screen stage where you then
create everything around it and automatically you then get
this sort of sterile situation going.
JI: What's extraordinary is that the dragon does have emotions.
JI: 'Cos that's what you miss on so
many of these special effects movies, that that element,
the wow factor is enormous, but you don't care. But there
is a real – I mean, thank
God! – that's one of the great strengths you've given
to the film, that there is a real relationship.
Q. And Sienna?
SG: Well, in some ways it's quite
liberating really – you
just use your imagination so you know you've got your perfect
idea of dragons, erm, and whether it looks like a sack full
of genitals or something quite beautiful, is there, and it's
(the panel descends into giggles. JI observes that the dragon
indeed seems to be lacking any genitalia)
SF: I felt that even though we wanted to be realistic I
didn't think it was necessary. Also we didn't have like in
Jurassic Park any shots of it pooping as you may have noticed
I think we can imagine what that would be like I think sometimes
you don't have to spell everything out.
JI: On aeroplanes they'd have to wear knickers, wouldn't
they, the dragons?
The creation of Saphira, Eragon's
dragon, was overseen by Visual Effects Supervisor Michael
McAlister, who says ‘With
a hopper of desire above me and an army of eager and talents
artists below, I took the broad desires of the filmmakers
and focused them into instructions others could act on'.
After much discussion and testing, Saphira became a slender
and graceful creature, 15ft tall with a wing span of 20-30ft,
weighing about four tons. She starts life as a baby, and
to make her look as much like a he the team studied wildebeest
cubs, lion cubs and wolf cubs.
Q. Sienna, what was it like when you first saw the dragon
SG: The first I saw of the dragon
was the scene – you
know I kind of got very attached to my big blue egg, had
these maternal feelings towards it, and then watching it
hatch open and a baby dragon come out was completely emotional
(makes gushing sounds). It was amazing. Amazing. Completely
blown away. And I think Rachel Weisz (the voice of Saphira)
really brings it to life.
Q. And what was it like for you, Ed?
ES: The thing is when I was imagining the dragon on set
you know I was imagining this combination of my mother and
my best friend so I was quite glad when I actually saw the
dragon not to see my mum standing there to see it come together
like that, she's a CGI masterpiece, you know, we were saying
earlier about how she has emotions and is different to anything
else and I think it is. It sets itself aside from any other
fantasy movie because of the fact that this character, the
dragon Saphira, has something to give, you know, she isn't
just a ferocious beast she is a mother.
Q. Robert, how was it getting into character to play the
The Dictaphone renders RC's reply unintelligible.
SF: I mean, I just sort of felt that in some way because
that's why I love Robert so much because I knew he could
be so, well to put it bluntly, so sort of evil without being
necessarily a big bully. I mean there was something really
Napoleon to me about it, a bit of a dandy for the costume
with the hair someone who took himself a little bit more
important in that way I felt that's how it always seemed
with Robert in this movie. That's why I said, that's the
guy that I want, so why mess with that when that is really
there, so the only concern might have been that the Scottish
was too strong, that the audience would have a hard time
RC: Oh fuck off!
Eragon was filmed in Hungary and Slovakia, and is one of
the biggest ever productions to be filmed there. The production
crew numbered over 500 and Budapest was its HQ. Christopher
Paolini says: 'I originally conceived of Eragon as a movie.
I saw the characters and action clearly in my mind. But since
I didn't have the money to produce a film, I ended up writing
Q. Ed, did you have a mentor on set? Good advice?
ES: Well I think I was quite lucky,
I mean the cast itself is just a bunch of mentors to me
each day I was working with somebody with such a great
track record, I mean, you know I don't want to blow his
trumpet too much but Jeremy was –
JI: You can't even touch my trumpet!
(lots of laughter)
ES: Jeremy was fantastic, he was there for me the whole
way through. I don't know whether it's because he was missing
his sons and I was missing my Dad and we sort of had that
kind of Father-Son connection, I don't know, whether it was
method acting or if it was genuine, but he was there for
me the whole way through. The whole cast it was just a real
special bond because we were working so closely together.
Eragon is released on 15 December 2006.