Film-Related & Film Reviews 2004

Interview with Director Joe Johnston

Source: Latino Review

Joe Johnston made his debut as a feature film director with the box office hit, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. Most recently, he helmed the blockbuster, Jurassic Park III, from the summer of 2001. Johnston has also directed The Rocketeer, Jumanji, and October Sky. A few days ago Jax had a chance to talk to Joe and here is what he had to say about his latest film.

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With Joe Johnston
With Joe Johnston.
© Touchstone / Buena Vista Pictures.
This film has a lot of the same feelings of adventure you brought to The Rocketeer, can you talk about that?

Well it is an old time adventure film, and that's one of the things that appealed to me about it. Especially if you factor in that we're going to go to Morocco and we're going to take Viggo Mortensen and Omar Sharif to some of these locations where they shot Lawrence Of Arabia with a hundred horses and all this great wardrobe and this great story. It becomes something that's almost impossible to pass up. I wasn't anxious to go back to work after Jurassic Park III, I was - it had been about six months and I was still in recuperation, but Casey Silver [producer] sent me the copy of this and he said, "I've got this great script I want you to read." And I said, "I'm not - I don't want to go back to work." And he said, "I'm not going to pitch it to you. I'm not even going to tell you what it's about, just read it." So it sat on my desk for about three weeks and I didn't want to look at it because I was afraid I'd like it, and then I started reading it and I couldn't put it down. I called him and said, "Damn you." I didn't want to go back to work, but I couldn't pass it up.

Where did you allow embellishments to the historical story?

Well there are fictionalized Hollywood elements in this that we created to make the story more entertaining, but there's a basis in fact that Frank Hopkins who was an endurance racer, a well known endurance racer in this country was invited to take part in this race because he was billed as the world's greatest horse and rider team. He and Hidalgo, and that he went - and a Sheikh who saw the show or was told about the show took offense to that and invited him to Saudi Arabia. He went and took part in the race and won the race. That's the basis in fact that was, that's the story it's based on. And we never set out to make a documentary. We wanted to make it as entertaining as it could be, so there are elements that are fictionalized.

Viggo has gone from being an actor to a huge star, how has this affected the film?

Just don't call him a star. You'll insult him. [Laughs] We wanted - it wasn't so much about Viggo and his level of stardom or recognition or anything. But we wanted him to finish the trilogy because to, this film was ready six months ago, could have been released in September. But to insert Frank Hopkins between Aragorn two and three would have been strange, and would have, I think, reduced the effectiveness of this character.

Was Viggo the first one you thought of for the part?

He was one of the first. It was a very short list, but I saw him in this picture, A Walk On The Moon, with Diane Lane, and there was something about his performance in that film that told me this guy could be Frank Hopkins. I hadn't seen the first Lord Of The Rings, before we cast him, I figured anybody that could sell blouses to Diane Lane out of a truck, he can do anything.

Viggo is known for getting lost in his roles, did he do this with Frank?

He did it, I think, to the same degree. He went home in his wardrobe, he camped in the desert with the horses and the wranglers and - I was amazed when I did see The Lord Of The Rings films that not only did it seem like, I mean it was obviously a different character, but it seemed almost like a different person playing the different character. He made a complete transformation, and now I know him as Viggo Mortensen playing Frank Hopkins. When he takes on his next role, whatever it is, he'll probably become unrecognizable to me. He'll make another transformation. He really got into it, he's also, he's completely devoted to the project and he was always there. We worked him a lot more that we should've, but he never complained and he was always there, dawn to dusk and beyond. He's largely responsible for making that whole aspect of the story work, just really amazing.
Last edited: 20 July 2010 14:44:32
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