Devotees of David Mitchell’s audacious, mindbending 2004 novel have been eagerly awaiting the filmed version of "Cloud Atlas." But how to film a story that weaves history, philosophy, science and suspense into six separate narratives spanning oceans, continents and centuries?
Filmmakers Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run") and Andy and Lana Wachowski ("The Matrix" trilogy) chose to split up the directing chores, casting actors in multiple roles and subverting the book’s chronology. The result is a collage of eras and landscapes — from a 19th-century voyage through the Pacific to 1930s Belgium, from California in the 1970s to post-apocalyptic Hawaii — arranged thematically to highlight the book’s underlying message of a universal human experience.
Tom Hanks, one of the film’s stars, likens each of his six roles in "Cloud Atlas" to, “a piece of origami. … You keep unfolding, unfolding, unfolding, so all of our roles, all of our characters, are made up of many other folds of the other characters that we play.”
Tom Hanks, actor, producer, writer and director, currently starring in "Cloud Atlas"
On Hanks' decision-making process to be part of the film:
“Every job you do is going to have some kind of incredible challenge in doing them and a huge amount of fun you’re going to have, I think that is why I am an actor in the first place. But when Tom and Andy and Lana first approached me on the phone, they said, “, look, we have this impossible book that we have adapted into what we think is a nearly impossible movie to make and we’re going to send it to you. And reading that, I came across something that was the most dense and the most original screenplay I have certainly ever come across. Without a doubt, a huge risk, but equal to a very good trapeze artist flying without a net. There is no movie, I can guarantee you, that I’ve made or even has been seen in a long time, that is going to unfold the way “Cloud Atlas” does.”
On being a lover of history:
“Well, I am a lay historian. It’s the only class in junior college that I truly did well in and that was outside of the theater building. Because I viewed this as a long string on human behavior. All the history I read, whether its currently the Phillip Kerr detective novels that are set in Berlin or William Manchester’s book “A World Lit Only by Fire,” I see people struggling along in the same exact way that people struggle along today.”
On the appeal of a movie with such a large historical undertone:
“The movie I think, “Cloud Atlas,” is really just an exposé on how interconnected human history is and therefore it is also the story of humankind, as well.”
On the challenges of external and cosmetic transformations for the various roles played by Hanks in the film:
“It’s a very exterior process of you go in a you begin work on these six different characters. And yes, we have fabulous makeup people, fabulous wardrobe people. They are helping you build these looks. And yes, they glue a lot of stuff to your face, and yes, they put very odd clothes on your body, and yes, it takes a very very long time, not only to figure out the first time, but then hours to apply every time you show up to work every day after that. But, that is secondary to the work that I do as an actor, anyway, which is begin to behave like that person.”
On Hank’s portrayal of Dermot Hoggins, a writer set in present day England who is ‘rough around the edges’ and has an especially violent scene:
“Dermot Hoggins comes from a very violent background and the first place he probably goes to in dealing with feelings he can’t quite understand, is one of violence. So there in the midst in the glitterati of London’s most magic night of nights, he reverts to himself. But quite frankly, the critics should have known he was going to react that way, having read that autobiography that he so dismissed. In some ways, you could say everybody was operating according to type.”
On working for directors Andy and Lana Wachowski:
“The Wachowski’s, they complete each other’s sentences. They were the co-directors on one of the units. And on those, you shoot a little and you talk a lot. Then you shoot a lot then you talk a little. And then you talk some more and you shoot a lot. It was a very hands-on, corralling of the scenes, trying to get down to what their shared vision of what an individual moment was.”
On working for director Tom Tykwer:
“Tom Tykwer works in Berlin all the time, he made movies like “Run Lola Run.” So he’s working with his very lean movie-making crew over there. And he had a way of doing things, in which we would talk for an hour and a half or two hours before we shot anything. And in the talking, we went through all of the different variations we could play or what the scene was about, so by the time we actually got around to rolling the film and the guy with his steady-cam was all up in his harness, we were two or three takes away from making manifest what we had spent so much time talking about theoretically.
On the connection of the various stories throughout “Cloud Atlas”:
“Each one of the stories follows one specific character, and that one specific character is played by six different people... All of us are in one way or another, are on some sort of voyage from enlightenment, either up the enlightenment scale or down the scale of kindness and humanity...It’s almost like every role, every actor is like a piece of origami. There’s the one that you recognize, but you you keep unfolding, unfolding, unfolding, so all of our roles, all of our characters, are made up of many other folds of the other characters that we play.”
On the future of the film industry:
“I’m afraid that stars don’t mean anything to to movies anymore. They don’t. The only thing that matters, the only thing that is going to land in the consciousness of a discerning audience, is they hear a movie is really spectacular. It doesn’t matter who is in it anymore. The quality of the movie is the only thing that is going to matter, which I think is a double edged sword. Because, quite frankly, if you are making a small movie that you have lost the opportunity to see in the theaters, it is going to live on in any of those other mediums that deliver films in front of your eyeballs.”