The captain originated in Arturo Pérez-Reverte's imagination and came to life on the big screen under Agustín Díaz Yanes' orders. Alatriste, the taciturn soldier of fortune that hired his sword to the highest bidder in the XVII century, is the biggest national cinematographic project produced so far. A budget of 24 million Euros, a huge cast and a few more than 7,000 extras are the guarantee for a super-production that will be released in Spain in 2006. "I hope people and critics like it," says a confident Díaz Yanes.
In Alatriste, whose shooting finished a few months ago, there is a succession of great battles, sword duels and signs of courage. The cannons speak, and the lances, the shields, the steel, the soldiers... The film also recreates the painful defeat of the fearsome Spanish Tercios against the French troops in 1643, in the field of Rocroi, with the brave captain always at the command, the captain of the Spanish Golden Century. In this interview Díaz Yanes talks about the shooting, the actors, the responsibility, the money, the critics, the history... about a film that "can leave the door open for the big production phenomenon in Spain".
You needed 15 weeks to complete the shooting of Alatriste. Has everything gone as you expected?
We have done it in 14 weeks and 2 days, do not make it anymore (days)!. And yes, everything went very well. We have saved the day and we are very pleased with the outcome.
Alatriste had a budget of 24 million Euros and a huge crew. Did you feel the pressure of money when you were shooting?
All directors feel it. The pressure isn't there because the film is too expensive and you are obliged to change a series of things. You feel it because you don't want to fail, you don't want to exceed (the budget). You always have the pressure of money. I'm a normal man who lives in a normal house, and then I arrive in a place where one day of shooting costs 270 thousand Euros. Christ, that's a lot of responsibility!
Is it possible to recover the investment?
They (the investors) are very optimistic and think it's possible. Well, so do I.
Are you afraid of the critics?
No, I'm not. But I'm going to tell you the truth: I read every review they write about me. I prefer them to be good for my sake and for the sake of the film. However, I understand that, sometimes, there can be three, four, five or ten critics who think different than me. So I try to attach importance to it because, despite what is said, reviews have influence on films and their economic course. I'd like a great review for Alatriste.
When you started to shoot you said that, in your opinion, the film was like a "jump into the void". Did you need the parachute?
Yes, a little bit. At the beginning, when you see all that, you cannot say anything other than...'Jesus!'. You realize you have to keep your eyes open.
The film is spectacular in battles, resorts to galleons, swords, horses, heroism...And you have said this isn't an action movie.
The thing is that it isn't exactly an action movie. It has action, a lot, but, keeping in mind the differences, I'd like to make a reference to Braveheart, which is an action film with some feelings. Alatriste, however, is a film about feelings with some action.
You had more than 7,000 extras. For a project like Alatriste to work out, is it necessary that every one of them feels important?
Yes, of course. One of the things you learn as a director is that small details are very important. For example, you have that actor who comes to say just one line and you must take care of him. I mean he has to have his own space to be able to say the line in the best way possible. Why? Because the line, eventually, will be in the film.
How were things with Viggo Mortensen?
I can only speak wonderfully of him. What's more, we have become close friends. Without Viggo we wouldn't have been able to make Alatriste. He has done incredible things for the film, and the guy is a real treasure, yes, a treasure.
Pérez-Reverte said of him that he was "the exact image of a weary hero".
That's true. I think everybody is going to like his performance very much, because it's brilliant.
Besides Mortensen, you have provided yourself with a terrific cast: Javier Cámara, Elena Anaya, Juan Echanove, Eduardo Noriega, Unax Ugalde...Has the fact of having these kind of actors reassured you?
Absolutely, you don't know how much confidence that fact gave me. That was the only thing that has reassured me during the shooting.
By the way, was it you who kicked Gael García Bernal out to substitute him with Unax Ugalde?
No, how could I be the person responsible for that?!. Gael had some obligations that made it impossible to adjust to our schedule.
Could Alatriste open the door for the big production phenomenon in Spain?
It should, if the film works well and people like it. In Spain we are capable of filming big productions, it would be silly not to do them. The French have been doing them for a time and it has gone very well for them. We have a very important history and several historical facts that, because of the budget, haven't been able to be told in cinema with the necessary means. If Alatriste works out it will open the door for the big productions in Spain.
You have decided to shoot it in Spanish because you wanted to show a " hyper-realistic, crude and naked" image of the Spanish Golden Century.
No, it isn't because of that. It's true I said it, but that's not the reason. I asked Arturo Pérez-Reverte: "Shall we do it in Spanish?". And he told me: "Of course, without a doubt". It would be a bit ridiculous to hear a "How are you?" (sic) in the Golden Century. I'm not against making films in English in Spain, I'm against Quevedo speaking in English. I think that would be insane. I would never have done the film if it had been in English; Arturo wouldn't have allowed it either; and Viggo Mortensen, as soon as he talked to me, made it a condition: Alatriste has to be done in Spanish.
During the shooting, have you drawn on Pérez-Reverte?
We have kept an excellent relationship and I have consulted him about a lot of things. If I had any doubt, not about the story but the characters, I called him and asked him for his opinion: in the 99% of the cases I have followed it.