Talk About Alatriste

This conversation took place during the opening of an exposition about Joan Mundet's illustrations, called Alatriste y su mundo (Alatriste and his world). The conversation among Mundet himself, Arturo Pérez-Reverte and Íñigo Marcos, producer of the film, was recorded and transcripted by Luthien for capitan-alatriste.com.

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Illustration by Joan Mundet
Illustration by Joan Mundet
 
After the introductions, Íñigo Marcos confirmed that the release date of the film is September 1st, and he continued:

IM: When we were reading Arturo's novel we said, "there's a movie here", so we started to work on the script, to work hard; but we didn't take into account this man worked much harder than us and he started to write novels and novels, so the scripts were outdated. In order to make a powerful film we decided to make a script in the United States; crass mistake, because the scriptwriters came here, and Mr Pérez-Reverte wanted to tell the Americans something about our history; they fainted...well, they were confused, and they sent us a bit of a strange script, which we couldn't understand at all.

AP-R: I wanted to explain to them something about Philip II, what Spain was like at that time, but one of them was of Arab origin and the other was a Jew, both talking about the Spain of the Golden Century, so they showed us as fanatics, inquisitors, dressed in black, the only good ones were the English...; the script cost a lot of money, because they charge you for these things whether they are good or not, so we realised that Alatriste wasn't easy to understand by someone who isn't in touch with the Spanish and European culture; we changed our minds, we realised the film couldn't be an American one.

IM: So in 2002 we were left with a useless script and lots of money wasted; when Arturo's new novel, The Queen of the South, came out. Agustín Díaz Yanes said he had to do that film, because there's a great film coming out of that book, and he gave us quite a good script, so...

AP-R: Yes, Agustín was going to do The Queen of the South, but one day the producer, who was drunk as a lord, said.."How about Agustín doing Alatriste?"...and since he was drunk he thought it was a good idea.

IM: There were five books already written, we had the script, besides Agustín has a degree in History, he knows the story very well...so a film of this importance with a budget of 23 million Euros, how should we do it?; Obviously we can't cover these costs in Spain, and we needed a star. We hadn't a star in Spain and the film had to be shot in Spanish, that was the author's decision.

AP-R: I couldn't imagine Alatriste saying "Voto a Dios!" in English, so I said "if it can't be done, it can't be done, it's ok", because the film had to be shot in Spanish. The most important actor in Spain, who would be Javier Bardem, wasn't enough for the producers to invest such an amount of money, so we were on the ropes.

IM: And the prospect of American actors who speak Spanish is quite limited, so we thought about Viggo Mortensen, but, would he come here after doing Lord Of The Rings? And after two years of giving and taking with managers and lawyers he agreed, and that's when the project truly took shape. We put the machinery into motion, and the project became a reality on March 7th in the past year, when we started the shooting.

AP-R: One of the problems we had was that nobody wanted us to shoot this film because, I'll explain it, in Spain expensive films are made with the contributions of the TV companies, so what was the matter? If we made a very expensive film then other producers wouldn't have money for their films, and there was a lot of pressure, no help from the government, from anybody except Telecinco; there were attempted boycotts from other production companies... and thanks to Viggo, who involved himself in the project, who wanted to do Alatriste above all, we could keep going with it.

IM: I've heard Viggo speaks Leonese Castilian...

AP-R: I met Viggo and invited him to my home in Madrid, we were in the wine cellar where I work, we were talking, and I liked him...I think all actors are "abnormal", and I'm meaning that in my opinion since they have nothing inside they are able to adopt anything from the outside. It's very curious; very few of the actors I've met are interesting people, except for one or two, but I liked Viggo very much because he's a guy with great awareness of a lot of things, he's a photographer...and he said he was determined to take diction lessons to domesticate his accent, and I liked him very much (because if I didn't like him I wouldn't sign anything). During the shooting of Hidalgo he bought the horse he worked with, so I said "this guy is a nice person, he likes horses..."; and he asked me "where is Alatriste from?", and I told him "wherever you want, he's a Spaniard from the Old Castile"; "Could he be from León?" he asked me. So he went to León, he called and told me, "Alatriste is from León"; and in fact even I think that Alatriste is from León. In the film, although sometimes his accent slips out a bit, but he's going to dub himself, the perfection this guy speaks Spanish with is amazing; The man read everything he could about the Golden Century, and since he's a bit crazy he wore Alatriste's clothes even the days he didn't have to shoot.... And there's something very interesting; Agustín Diaz Yanes is the son of a bullfighter, and he told Viggo that the attitude of the bullfighter is the attitude Alatriste has, in the contact with death, the steel as a companion, and he was with bullfighters. And there are scenes in the film in which Viggo is composing his gestures, his attitudes before the enemy like a bullfighter...

IM: Speaking of Viggo Mortensen there's an anecdote you have to tell Joan.

JM: He went to a department store and bought a lot of Alatriste comics, and he shared them out among the crew; he loved the comic.

AP-R: When I'm working on Alatriste, as I write the chapters I give them to Joan, so he can prepare the sketches...

JM: An illustrated novel for adults is very strange...and after reading (the chapters) I make sketches of what attracts my attention and send them to him.

AP-R: Sometimes he sends me such simple sketches, so simple that I say, "man, I don't understand anything, what the hell does it say in there? And, well, sometimes when we have to rectify something we do it, usually just a little, because sometimes he loses it and I tell him, "look, Alatriste was poor, therefore this baroque mirror shouldn't be there, because he would have sold it already to buy something else", but the artist is tempted...

JM: But in the end we put the mirror...

AP-R: I told him to break the glass, so the mirror has a broken angle. Joan sweated blood to make Alatriste, he even made scale models to imagine the perspective...he's an exceptional artist, besides painting he does other things, other "poofy things"...

JM: I sculpt, work with ceramics, a little bit of everything...

IM: How do you manage to make such a perfect character?

JM: First I read the descriptions, I do the sketches with intuition. At first I drew him with a nose like this...

AP-R: He drew him with a boxer nose, I don't know why. At first we had arguments, because he made him very ugly, and I told him "let's see, you have a wife?, ask her whether Alatriste is handsome.' "She says he isn't," he told me...the former sketcher never defined him completely, that's one of the reasons I didn't like him.

What Viggo has done when playing Alatriste is to adapt himself as far as possible; so at first they wanted him to have a beard, and I said, "no, Alatriste has a moustache; I couldn't care less, he's a Spanish soldier of the Tercios and he has a moustache". And we had to adjust Viggo's look to the Alatriste look; and there's truly a fusion, because in the movie Viggo, being Viggo all the time, is fairer than the dark-haired Alatriste in the books; so there's a superimposition of both images and Joan Mundet himself is influenced by that. In the course of time there will be an approach of both images, Viggo-cinema and Alatriste-illustration, there will be a perfectly compatible fusion.

IM: I don't know whether to ask you to tell some anecdote from the shooting, or maybe a sequence you especially liked.

AP-R: The film is a collection of anecdotes, but there was a very curious person, Mr. Bob Anderson, the swordmaster. There was a very important aspect; the choreographies had to be real, that is, in Alatriste people kill, and this isn't Zorro, who is spinning round and round. So we were a bit scared of this man, because he is 82 years old and has done more than 400 films, a former fencer of the Olympic national team who, because of an injury, started to work in cinema; he shared swords with Errol Flynn.

IM: He was Darth Vader in Star Wars, and he has done Lord Of The Rings, he has done everything. Well then, when the producers came to the shooting he was the only guy who stood up and shook hands with them, with 82 years; and when he was rehearsing with the actors he called them names...

AP-R: I have seen him working and he asked, "Do people kill here?", and I told him, "Yes", and he said "Good, good!". "And they kill dirty," I told him. Seeing him working is a spectacle. I didn't go to the shooting often, but one of the times I did, Enrico Lo Verso was there, a great discovery for this film, a tall guy who plays the baddie, and Unax Ugalde and Viggo. They were rehearsing and I saw it: they were sweating like pigs, he insulted them and beat them with a stick..."You're a sissy, this isn't done like that! You would have been killed already, you son of a bitch! Come on, do it again!!, Do you want to kill?. You can't kill s**t!!. You're a mug!!' Do not expect "ornate postures" in the duel scenes, because you're looking for the right moment to move in (for the kill), because if you make your move too early you'll lose. That's what Bob Anderson transmitted to the actors, that's how it was done in the Golden Century.

IM: I wanted to ask you, Joan, what are we going to see in the exposition?

JM: The work of 6 years, the book and comic illustrations, the role-play game, the complete first chapter of the comic, there are some oil paintings and the rest are Indian ink and watercolour paintings.

AP-R: They are also preparing the outlines of a design for T-shirts, at the request of the publisher, to sell them in bookstores; they'll try to bring them out along with the film.

IM: I've heard that Eduardo Noriega is splendid in the film...he's splendid, the Count of Guadalmedina was like that; Noriega is a wonderful guy, a gentleman, very polite, very nice, and he's extremely good-looking als ; when he turned up at a rehearsal one day and I was there I said, "If I were a girl I would devour him". That's a lure for women, because there are lots of handsome men; Viggo, who looks tremendous; Enrico Lo Verso, the villain Malatesta...when he was filming the girls at the shooting said "we like him more than Alatriste!" ; he's a skinny black-eyed Italian, with a tough guy face, a very interesting look; and then there's Unax Ugalde, I think he's going to be the great find of the film. I didn't know him, I said "well, he's a Basque actor, from Oñate, like the character", that was funny, but I didn't think he was so good; people will talk about this guy a lot; and the girls are also good...

AP-R: Well, some are better than others...

And Echanove plays a great Quevedo; for me that's the best part of the film, the characterization; and Blanca Portillo is amazing; Javier Cámara playing the Count-Duke of Olivares, who represents the power, the man who managed countries and kings with one hand. Eduard Fernández plays Copons, a friend of Alatriste's, who follows him from Flanders to Rocroi, where Alatriste dies. Don't worry! Alatriste's death won't be seen in the movie, but it's known that he dies in Rocroi.

There's a moment, when they are in Rocroi, you see Iñigo is writing, and when the French cavalry charges Copons tells Iñigo: "If you survive this tell what we were", and all the members of the crew were moved to tears. One of my favourite scenes is when the French are attacking the Spanish Tercio, when they are about to be wiped out, a French negotiator goes over to the Spanish field with a white flag, and tells them: "The Duke of Enghien admires your heroic resistance and offers you an honourable withdrawal", or something like that; and then the captain steps forward and says: "Tell the Duke we are very grateful for his words, but this is a Spanish Tercio"... It's a very touching farewell.

Everything is very good, there are things I like more and things I like less; I especially like the dramatic, dark, moody vision of it. At the beginning of the film you see a large map of the world with all that was the Spanish Empire marked in red, and a voice-over says: "In the 17th century Spain still dominated the world. Flanders, America, and so on joined the Portuguese colonies... all that vast empire was supported thanks to the professional armies, whose principal group were the Old Tercios of Spanish infantry; this is the story of some of those men". Camera fades to black, and you see a Dutch canal, at night, in the fog...and the armies, all dirty, are waiting to slit the throat of a Dutchman in a surprise attack...

IM: People are quite worried about the fact that Captain Alatriste has to die...

AP-R: We all die...How could Alatriste not die?. The adventures begin in 1623 and end in 1643. Those are 20 years of Spanish history, 20 years are enough for a lot of things, I can write all the books I want as long as I don't kill him yet...We know he has to die in Rocroi, but there's still history left; so if some day I want to tell his death, I'll tell it. What I mean is that Alatriste has to die in Rocroi because of what Alatriste represents. Rocroi is where the invincible Spanish infantry is finally destroyed and so the Spanish hegemony ends and the French one begins. In that battle the Old Tercios let themselves be destroyed for reputation. Instead of fleeing they decided to fight, and they were holding their positions, in formation, fearless, without capitulating, for reputation; eventually those who survived surrendered. I loved that way of being destroyed for Alatriste, because he represents the end of the Spanish empire, therefore he had to die there.

IM: Joan, do you have the image of a dead Alatriste in mind yet?

JM: No, not yet. I tried once...

AP-R: But he has already drawn him old. A young guy sent me a letter saying, "You haven't realized, but Alatriste posed for Velázquez, Alatriste went to Velázquez' studio and he needed a model, so Alatriste posed for him...he painted him as Mars, Alatriste is Velázquez' Mars, in age, look, everything.."; so you realize there are things the readers know and you don't, and Joan has painted the scene where Alatriste is posing for Velázquez...

JB (moderator): I wanted to ask you about the promotion.

IM: We have something in our favour, that we are working with a trademark, Alatriste is a trademark.

AP-R: Alatriste is a registered trademark. The level of bitchiness in this world is so high...one day I was told, "Have you realized that anyone could use Alatriste to name a chain of hamburger restaurants?"; so I registered the name.

IM: Now we are working on promotion. The web site is about to come out...an official web, fantastic, out of the ordinary, it's beautiful. But then we are going to do the typical campaign, since Telecinco is the principal co-producer we'll make good use of the channel to do the campaign. Besides all that is the publicity, we are trying to do a travelling exposition with all the materials we could gather, clothes, cannons... in order to do something beautiful that can be seen all over the country. And we will also do the promotion with the actors, Viggo is coming to go on tour in Spain, promoting the film, going to premieres, etc...

AP-R: There will be Alatriste everywhere! By the way, there's an Alatriste site on the Internet. Some wonderful guys, I don't know who they are, have one of those unofficial sites, where they have put pictures and information during the whole shooting. It's a fantastic site, they had everything about the film before anyone else did. Since there's always some infiltrator - I presume there will be one here today, there's always someone from that site - you can tell on my behalf that I'm very pleased with it.

JB: What public is the film suitable for?

IM: In this film people kill, slit throats...so it isn't recommended for kids under 13.

AP-R: If they aren't 13 years old, could they go with their parents?

IM: There's no prohibition, it's just a recommendation.
Last edited: 7 August 2006 04:12:57
© Luthien66. Used by permission.