The Making of Sky Captain - Part 3!
Source: Edward Douglas
September 14, 2004

When we last left director Kerry Conran and producer Jon Avnet, they had spent years using the latest computer technology to create the spectacular environment and effects for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. We now turn our gaze to those other things commonly found in movies-the actors. Jude Law, star of Cold Mountain and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, plays Captain Joe Sullivan, a lone fighter jet pilot who faces giant robots invading major cities. Although he usually flies alone, for this mission, he has agreed to bring along the pesky reporter Polly Perkins, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who also happens to be his ex-girlfriend. He also calls on the help of his former squadron partner Captain "Franky" Cook, played by Angelina Jolie. Filling in the cast, Giovani Ribisi, who appeared with Law in Cold Mountain, plays Sky Captain's sidekick and engineer Dex Dearborn, while Chinese actress Bai Ling is the silent but deadly assassin that plagues Sky Captain's every movement.

Recently, talked to Law, Paltrow, and Ribisi about their characters and their part in this very unique action movie.

CS!: What originally got you interested in being in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow?
Jude Law: I had been looking for this kind of role, because it's something that always seemed tempting and tantalizing as a kid. Having children myself, it seemed more necessary, because my son is always asking why he can't see my films. Kerry's vision was so clear from the six-minute teaser trailer, and there was such a sense of composition, a rhythm, depth of feel.
Gwyneth Paltrow: I was also taken by the way the short film looked, and the script was so witty. There was just a lot of style and I thought that this is the time to do a movie like this where it's kind of breaking into new territory and it's not your basic formulaic action-adventure movie. There's a new twist to it.
Law: The script showed me that here was a guy who understood what you needed to make a great film, which was to not rely on those visuals, but to come up with a really funny driving central theme, which was this backseat driver type relationship [between Joe and Polly] while they just happen to be saving the world.
Giovani Ribisi: I love CG animation, since I dabble in it myself and make models. Getting involved with that and learning about it from these guys who are masters was a new challenge for me.

CS!: What made you decide to take on the role of co-producer on it?
Law: To be honest, I loved the idea that for the first time in my career, my name attached empowered someone like Kerry to see his vision through. It was a world that I understood and that I thought I could contribute to. At the time, there was no money attached, and he was a first time director. It took us a year and a half to put it together and even then, we didn't have a studio deal. We made it on a leap of faith, because we believed that there was room for it in the market and that a film like this could be pulled off.

CS!: Could you elaborate a bit on what you felt made it so unique?
Law: I loved that it was an action-adventure with this non-cynical kind of approach. It was retrospective both in its look but also in its feel, and it wasn't relying on bad guys being drug dealers and gun smugglers. The good guys were clean cut, straight-up, no questions asked, "we're just going to save the world", which I think is lacking in a lot of these kind of family movies. After I made this, I did two days on this film for Scorsese (The Aviator), in which I played Errol Flynn, and I watched Captain Blood and Robin Hood with my kids. They're all wonderful, entertaining action-adventures that had romance and fighting, but there was nothing bloodthirsty or depressing. They had a clarity to them and a cleanliness, and I felt that this kind of film has lost its place in the market.

CS!: Was there any hesitation when you got a script for a movie from a first-time director?
Paltrow: I've always kind of worked that way. I was in Paul Thomas Anderson's first movie and in Douglas McGrath's. I've always followed my instincts.
Ribisi: Everybody's gotta have their first shot, and he brought something to the table, which was that six minute film that he spent four years on-which just shows you how much work CG and that whole world can be. You can do anything in computers, but his sensibilities and his sense of esthetics got me on board.

CS!: With that in mind, what was it like working with Kerry on the set?
Law: It was an amazing evolution. He's the most modest and shy and gentle man I think I've ever worked with as a director. I remember the day when both Angie and Gwyneth turned up for rehearsal, and he was clearly quite blown away.
Paltrow: I thought he was very sweet. It took me about an hour to get him to say anything.
Law: I remember watching him that day thinking that we'll see how this change over the next seven seeks. The one similarity between him and Spielberg and Mendes and Minghella is that they're all collaborative, creative, friendly and clear and strong-minded individuals. He just didn't have the experience. As he realized that everyone was there to see his vision through, that confidence grew, but his modesty and his shyness remained and that was a wonderful mix. I hope what we tried to do was really show him that we could give him so much more than what he wanted. Once he got the hang of that, he absolutely took to that like a fish to water.

CS!: The two of you worked together in Anthony Minghella's "The Talented Mr. Ripley". Was working together again part of your motivation to do the movie?
Paltrow: Law and I have a very good chemistry on screen, because there's an ease between us and we're friends. I just adore him, and I was so proud that he was finally going to do a starring role in a film.
Law: We had a great experience the first time, and we stayed in touch and remain really good friends. Like the relationship in the film, there's something rare and special about that kind of bantery pal type relationship between a man and a woman. The films of the 30's with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy created such a wonderful energy around that kind of relationship, and it's something that existed naturally between Gwyneth and I. When I first read the script and started to work on it with Jon, it seemed that the relationship would really pay off if it was Gwyneth. She's got incredible natural intuition for how to step in to something and get the atmosphere just right, and she knew immediately the tone of this piece and all the references to the old movies, so we could just step in and do it.

CS!: Had any of you seen the original serials or movies on which Sky Captain was based and did you use them for reference?
Ribisi: I was just being precipitated into this thing, so I had just one reference to make it really simple. It was mainly about the rhythms of the speech and how actors used to perform in the 30's, and cinematic references like Orson Wells and Flash serials.
Law: I knew this world immediately and I'd always been a great fan of these kinds of films and this period and indeed of the comic strips that Kerry was making reference to. It was a joy to watch them again with Kerry and Gwyneth. Because my involvement started much earlier on, it was like research by osmosis rather than intense research in preparation. By the time we got to shooting, I had been so involved in helping pull a cast and a crew together and working on the costume designs, I felt that it was all there. Gwyneth and I tried to see how broad we could take it and tried a couple variations on just how far we could push those accents and that banter. I tried doing it like an American using 1930's speak, but it felt like we were sending it up and what we wanted to do was to play it for real, so people didn't think that we were making a modern version of a 1930's movie.
Paltrow: I think Polly was more that kind of archetype rather than a specific performance. It reminded me a bit of Bringing up Baby or The Philadelphia Story, sort of a Katherine Hepburn, Roslyn Russell, Lauren Bacall…that kind of 40's "broad" that you see when you're watching AMC at night, flicking by old movies.

CS!: Did the costumes by Stella McCartney help get you into the role?
Paltrow: I think that she interpreted it perfectly. Sadie [Frost-film producer and the former Mrs. Jude Law] and I really felt that [Polly's] style had to be a major element in the film, and Sadie thought we should get Stella, who is one of my three best friends in London. We begged her to do the costumes and she took that 1939 silhouette but made it modern, which was exactly what we knew she would do.

CS!: What was it like working against the blue screen considering that you couldn't see any of the robots or things that the audience ultimately sees?
Paltrow: It was totally absurd, and I thought "What am I getting myself into?" There was an orange ball at the end of a pole, and then they're like, "Okay, the robot is to your left and then it falls down!" I just never imagined that I would be running away from robots!
Ribisi: There was a lot of mimery, because the only real thing that you see in the film is something like a laser gun and myself and that's it.
Law: There is a real sense of using the empty space, which is what you do in theatre more often than in film.
Ribisi: I had a hard time with it initially, because I took for granted what it is to be in a real environment and to have something there, even if it's just a soundstage. For some reason, I couldn't remember my lines. The blue was this whole thing, and I just couldn't concentrate.

CS!: Did you get a sense that you were making up a new acting style to make this movie?
Ribisi: You got the sense that you were a part of a new way of filmmaking, but not necessarily a new acting style. It definitely has a strong future in the industry, and I think that people do need to develop a technique of acting for it. I'm all for embracing that, but directors and actors need to get together and decide what is going to be the easiest thing. Sometimes people don't like to look at something like the big robot that is a broom with an orange thing on top of it that the first AD is running around with.
Law: Giovani is right. If they're going to make more films like this, they're going to have to start teaching it.

CS!: With that in mind, what was your first reaction when you saw it on a big screen with all the stuff that Kerry added?
Law: I was totally psyched! You always get a sense of what you're making and with this, I had no idea. I saw a couple of the scenes in stages when I visited Kerry and crew, but it wasn't until then that I realized just how brilliant Kerry was and therefore, what a huge leap of faith we had made. When I saw how much he added and what vision he had, it was clear to me that we had really stuck our neck out for this guy, but he pulled it off.
Paltrow: It was a shock, but a good shock when I saw the film. I never thought that it would be a disaster, because I had so much faith in Kerry and I loved the way it looked so much that I thought if anything it was going to be cool.
Ribisi: I haven't seen the movie yet, so my recollection of it is literally blue and that's it. At the Comic-Con, we were on the panel and there were screens in my periphery, so I saw a few bits.

CS!: Do you think that this kind of moviemaking where everything's done later in the computer is going to become more common?
Law: No more common than it has been in the last 25 years. What is happening with this is that they're developing a way to make them that's more actor- friendly. Kerry and Jon worked really hard on creating a world where we were allowed to play and do whatever we wanted and Kerry then fitted it in around us. What he realized was that he was taking a lot more from us and adding, rather than us adding to what he had already given us.
Ribisi: Maybe, if only because the idea of making something this epic, just economically alone. It was charted to be a five million movie, and Kerry said that he could have pulled it off and had the film be in its current state, but it needed to be shot in England for various reasons, so the budget got inflated.

CS!: Would you make this kind of movie again?
Law: Sure, as long as you have the same sort of creative, high-speed atmosphere to it. There was something very spontaneous and educational about it. We were on set moving really fast, and we were very much involved in the creation of it. As long as we maintained that, I'd definitely do another. also talked to Gwyneth and Jude about their careers and where they were going in the next few months, which you can read about here.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow opens September 17 nationwide.


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