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Today we continue our exclusive chat with writer/director Neil Marshall, the acclaimed British director of DOG SOLDIERS, THE DESCENT and DOOMSDAY, whose latest film, the bloody Roman adventure flick CENTURION, opened in theater yesterday (see list of venues here). You can see Part One of our interview here.
FANGORIA: Watching an invading superpower like Rome battle the Picts, symbolism with current events can easily be found. Was this film made intentionally to draw parallels with today’s goings-on in the Middle East?
NEIL MARSHALL: It was not intentional when I first started writing it, but the more I wrote it, the more I kind of saw that in it. The allegory is there for all to see but I didn’t want to make it some kind of blatant allegorical movie. All it shows is that in 2,000 years, the same things are happening now as they did then and there might be huge armies, but all the superpowers are still going to be under threat from people fighting guerrilla warfare or terrorism or just defending their homelands or whatever. I thought, “The comparison is there, but let’s not make a big issue about it and just make the film that I want to make.”
FANG: The Romans are very much the invading and imposing superpower in the film, yet Michael Fassbender’s character is the protagonist. Do you think audiences may take issue with that or do you think they’ll understand it’s more about the actual characters, rather than the Roman army as a whole?
MARSHALL: Absolutely, it’s all about the individuals and whether you happen to agree or disagree with the war in Iraq, or the war in Afghanistan, we still root for the soldiers. We still want our boys to come home. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about the individuals. I knew that I was creating problems for myself by telling the film from the Roman point-of-view because it would be seen as supporting the invaders and that’s wrong and such light, but it’s like, “Yeah, but have you ever seen DAS BOOT?” It’s an amazing film and told about the Nazis and Germans. Even something like GLADIATOR, we root for Maximus, but in the opening of that film, he is very much the invading Roman army. It doesn’t really matter that much if it’s a character who you ultimately care about for personal reasons. But also, my feeling was that war is not as cut and dry as good guys and bad guys. There are heroes and villains on both sides. Both sides are capable of that kind of brutality. Yeah, it’s true the Picts are defending their homeland and the Romans are invading them, but it’s not a pro-Imperial movie. It’s not a pro-invasion movie. It’s nothing like that at all. It’s a survival movie about these guys trying to get home.
FANG: You have the Picts in CENTURION. DOG SOLDIERS revolves around werewolves in the highlands and in DOOMSDAY, Scotland is this quarantined, walled-off place. Do you secretly see Scotland as this lawless land?
MARSHALL: [Laughs] I see it as a great backlot to go and shoot movies on. I grew up spending a lot of time on holiday there. A lot of people mistake me for being Scot. I’m not, I’m very much English, but I’ve spent so much time in Scotland. I love the country; it’s the only kind of wilderness that we have in the UK, and because of that, I’ve got a lot of inspiration and story ideas from just being there. It’s a spectacular landscape. It looks incredible. So that’s the main thing, but it is fun applying this kind of lawless ideas to aspects of it.
FANG: Are you ever surprised when actors like Fassbender willingly take on genre projects?
MARSHALL: I don’t know. I’ve actually known Michael for quite awhile. I knew him before he did HUNGER  because I met him for a potential part in DOOMSDAY. So I knew he was interested in genre stuff and personally, he wants to try a bit of everything. I didn’t have any issue with it at all. He signed up to do this movie very early on and stuck with it.
FANG: Not that you would have issue with it, but some are very quick to judge genre projects.
MARSHALL: Yes, but I like to think I try to get the best performances out of my actors and I don’t want to be seen as making the kind of movies where actors are going to be slumming it in. With something like THE DESCENT, if somebody heard that it was about six girls in a cave, they might think, “Oh, it’s going to be six girls in bikinis,” but it’s not like that at all and it required a huge degree of performance from the actors involved. It was the same with this. Once Michael read the script and realized what this character involved and what he was going to go through, he was like, “Oh, this is going to be just as arduous and difficult and challenging as HUNGER was, but in a very different kind of way. So instead of being beaten up in a prison cell, I’m going to be running through the snow with no shirt on.”
FANG: Was it fun to get Olga Kurylenko a lot dirtier, savage and less pretty?
MARSHALL: I think I have a habit of doing that. I put women in my films in stronger positions, but I don’t necessarily film them in an obviously glamorous light. They look great. They look striking. They look spectacular. But they don’t necessarily look glamorous and pretty. It was always the case with Olga to try and make her look as savage as possible with the war paint, makeup, the hair and costume stuff like that. I definitely wanted to dress her down a bit; she is a model. You have to kind of work against that because you don’t want her to look too pretty but at the same time, I don’t want her to look pig ugly either. It’s just finding that balance.
FANG: Can you talk about the very chilly, blue color scheme of the film?
MARSHALL: The director of photography, Sam McCurdy, and I discussed it for a long, long time. We wanted this to be a cold movie. We filmed it in cold conditions and it’s a very cold movie as part of being the flipside of what everybody expects in a “sword and sandals” film. When I think of sword and sandals movies, I’m thinking deserts and the Middle East and sun and dust and all that kind of stuff. With this one, it’s like, “Yes, it is a ‘sword and sandals’ movie. Yes, it’s about the Romans, but it’s in their farthest, grimmest, coldest, wettest frontier. It has to have a totally different feel about it.” And so we wanted it to have this steely blue feel to the whole thing and make the audience sense what they were going through; the shivers and the chattering teeth and breath, that’s all real as we filmed it in subzero temperatures. In order to help the audience really sense that, we gave just a little of a blue tint to it. It just makes it feel a little colder.
FANG: Recently, the IFC Center in New York did a miniretrospective of your work up to this point. Is that a great feeling to have had such an impact so relatively early in your career?
MARSHALL: It’s unbelievable. I never thought I’d get to a place where people would be having a retrospective of my work. It’s fantastic, I love it, but I’m kind of bowled over by the whole thing. It’s like, “Really? You want to do that?” But people want to see all my old work as well, that’s a good thing.
FANG: What’s next after CENTURION and its press duties are done?
MARSHALL: I’m going to move on to other things. I’m producing a movie that [wife] Axelle [Caroline]’s written and is directing. We’re going to shoot in October. Technically, I’m executive producer on it, but I seem to be producing it. So we’re going to get stuck into that. I’m writing some stuff at the moment and developing a few projects, some horror, some not horror and just see what’s going to come off the ground.
FANG: Everyone’s salivating for BURST. Is that one of your priorities?
MARSHALL: BURST is ongoing, it’s a long development process so I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but it is going to happen.
FANG: Are you making a film about spontaneous human combustion as an antithesis to the very cold temperatures of CENTURION?
MARSHALL: Not necessarily because it’s set in the mountains of Montana in the middle of winter. I think it’s Montana, but either way, it’s bloody cold. Luckily, most of it is indoors. But I don’t expect that it’s going to be hot. I’m sure everybody around me, all my crew is saying, “When are you going to set something in Barbados?” One day.
FANG: With DOOMSDAY and CENTURION, you’ve departed from straight horror a bit. Would you like to continue with that?
MARSHALL: I think I’ve moved away from horror a little bit, and I’d love to come back and make a big splash with BURST or something else. I never want to leave horror because it’s just too much fun. But off the back of THE DESCENT, I was really hungry being given the opportunity to try something completely different. And my inspirations in movies aren’t completely horror, they’re postapocalyptic movies, or medieval movies, or Indiana Jones movies. I’m keen to explore loads of different genres and tell different stories. The biggest inevitability I’m going to face is when I have to do something that’s maybe not supposed to be as gory as everything else. I kind of like applying that violent sensibility to whatever I’m doing.
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