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While Robert E. Howard’s Conan novels have fascinated
millions of readers, not all his fans are aware that the legendary author also
created, in 1928, another dark hero: Solomon Kane. A 16th-century Puritan, Kane
is a somber man who wanders the Earth with no apparent goal other than to
battle evil in all its forms, and he makes his big-screen debut in a film
currently on VOD and hitting theaters this Friday, September 28.
Produced by Samuel Hadida, a veteran of the RESIDENT EVIL
and SILENT HILL films, among many others, and Paul Berrow, the screen
adaptation of Howard’s Kane adventures (mostly published in the pulp magazine Weird
Tales) was entrusted to the talented hands of British filmmaker Michael J.
Bassett. Having previously helmed WILDERNESS and the much-praised WWI ghost
story DEATHWATCH, Bassett (who subsequently landed the job directing the
October release SILENT HILL: REVELATION for Hadida) courageously decided to
take an iconic character with a small, but dedicated fan base and create a
fresh origin story for him. Without pandering to fans or alienating them
completely, Bassett has managed to take a fun, dark hero and make him
accessible to a larger audience.
FANGORIA: Why did you choose to bring this character to the
MICHAEL J. BASSETT: Solomon Kane is probably not as famous
as Conan, but for those who know him, he is an icon. I love his stories, and I
wanted to introduce him to a wider audience. In order to do that, I wrote a
completely new backstory about his origins that isn’t in any of [Howard’s] tales,
but I did my best to preserve his integrity. I thought I could make a good
action movie, as I grew up with them and enjoy action movies with theme and
power and heart. I think James Cameron is the best action director around.
FANG: How did James Purefoy win the role of Kane?
BASSETT: We have known each other for a long time, and we’ve
always wanted to do something together. Unfortunately, he wasn’t at the top of
the list; we had other names in mind and we were thinking about big stars, and
James knew that. But when he came in to read for us, he was just so perfect,
and it was foolish of me not to think about him before. When he auditioned for
the part, he was so passionate about it that he immediately convinced all of
us. He came with his 12-year-old son, who read the script and said to him,
“Daddy, if you don’t do this, I’m going to kill you!”
James has a masculine presence; he’s not a kid, he feels
like he’s lived a life. I didn’t see all that straightaway, but now I believe
he’s one of the best things about the movie. His performance is deep as well as
being physical, and he’s perfect as the hero. We also wanted an actor who was
willing to continue to play Solomon Kane, as we intend to film more adventures,
and James was very happy about that.
FANG: Solomon Kane’s appearance in the movie is reminiscent of
Hugh Jackman in VAN HELSING; was this intentional?
BASSETT: No; Kane’s look, with the hat and the cape, is the
one created for him by Robert E. Howard, and that came before Van Helsing or
any other character. So when we decided to make a movie about Solomon Kane, he
had to have that. We couldn’t say, “Van Helsing also has that look!”; he was
the one who copied it. Kane came first, we had the right to use that look, and
our choice was to be very faithful to the aesthetics of the character. VAN
HELSING, to me, is a comic-book film, a children’s movie, while SOLOMON KANE is
more adult, sophisticated and intelligent. His hat gives him a Puritan look,
and Kane is very Puritan; I wasn’t going to take it off him just because I was
worried about a movie that was made seven or eight years ago! Solomon is a
honest character, and that’s the most important thing.
FANG: What responses have you had from audiences so far?
BASSETT: You never know what the reaction is going to be.
Some people are going to love the movie, some people are going to hate it, and
you have to take both to improve yourself as a director. I screened the picture
in Toronto and in Austin, Texas, and everybody liked it. Even hardcore fans,
because I’ve communicated with them on the forums; I’m a movie fan myself and
like to talk to fans. I love Howard’s writings, and since I was a kid I wanted
to see the adventures of Solomon Kane in a movie, and he has always been on my
mind since I began my filmmaking career; I just had to wait for everything to
fall into place. And I’ve said all along: I don’t want to do anything that
spoils the well for Solomon Kane for later movies. I decided not to adapt the
stories Howard wrote, because I wanted to do his origin tale and then more
movies, and at the end of this film, he is the Solomon Kane of the books.
The things that happen to him in my script are part
invention, part suppositions based on what Howard wrote and part just me making
stuff up. It was done with absolute respect for Solomon Kane and his creator,
though as a filmmaker, I wanted to put in my own sensibilities as well.
Luckily, I think we have very similar sensibilities: the grimness of the world,
the seriousness of the fantasy and the intensity of the action. It feels like a
very good marriage.
FANG: How was it to move from small productions like
DEATHWATCH and WILDERNESS to a bigger-budget picture like SOLOMON KANE!
BASSETT: I loved it, because this is what I’ve always wanted
to do. Of course, compared to DEATHWATCH, on SOLOMON KANE I had to think about
many different things at the same time, like having three cameras filming
simultaneously on one scene, or 100 people on the set, but it all went very
FANG: SOLOMON KANE was shot in Czechoslovakia, as was
DEATHWATCH, and in both films it’s always raining and the sets are covered with
mud. Do you particularly like rain?
BASSETT: Not really, but both scripts required a wet set in
order to give more drama to the stories and the performances. Life in the
trenches during the first World War was really as I depicted it in DEATHWATCH,
and Solomon Kane is a dark hero and his origin story had to look that way. This
is why I’m looking forward to go filming the next movie in the jungles of South
Africa, where Robert E. Howard set some of his adventures.
FANG: So we can expect a sequel to SOLOMON KANE?
BASSETT: We intend to film more of Kane’s adventures. The
first one has done very well in festivals around the world; now we have to wait
and see how it’s received by a larger audience. Our intention is to make a
trilogy, and if everything goes as planned, we will leave for South Africa to
start production on part two.
FANG: You’ve always loved movies; how do you keep the
passion for making them fresh?
BASSETT: I strongly believe that as long as you enjoy
watching movies, you’ll keep loving this job of directing pictures. The problem
is that the more you’re aware of how they’re made, the harder it is to get
involved in a film as you’re watching it, and you know it’s a good movie when
you forget that and just enjoy it. Like DISTRICT 9; I think that’s one of the
best films of the decade. I was stunned by it, and that was wonderful. But for
me to get that involved in a movie is a rare experience, and in genre films
like I make, it’s really hard. If I go to see, say, a comedy, I’m more easily
engaged by it, because I would never do a film like that; it has a completely
different vibe from mine. But the moment a movie starts to have action in it, I
begin thinking: How would I have done that? What if that was different? So it
becomes a sort of alienating experience, which is really a shame. Luckily, my
passion for movies has been so great since I was a kid, it’s kind of burning
forever; I’ll never forget that.
FANG: Which other directors do you admire?
BASSETT: Obviously, I like the movies from the ’80s and ’90s
that I watched as a kid; those were the films that formed me visually. Ridley
Scott is my hero; he’s one of the top five directors ever. Oliver Stone is also
an amazing filmmaker, and the Coen brothers, and Barry Levinson. He did some
great movies in the ’80s and ’90s, but because he fell down a little bit since,
people forget how great he was.
FANG: Would you be keen to make movies for American studios
as opposed to British independents?
BASSETT: Unlike a lot of UK filmmakers I know, I actually
love going to Los Angeles and meeting the studios and executives out there. I’m
not an art filmmaker; I’m a genre guy trying to make smart, well-crafted films
within those boundaries, and maybe push them a little too. In the UK, genre
films have long been something of the poor relation, but the Americans love
this stuff. Thankfully, more UK producers are enjoying spilling a little
blood—but still, big movies are very expensive, so you have to go [to
Hollywood]. The honest answer is, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to find
ways of making the films that excite me, that I’d personally go and see. Many
of these are the great big fantasy and action movies that the studios produce,
so I can certainly see myself doing that one day, if they’ll invite me.
Pick up Fango #318, on sale next month, for a feature
interview with Bassett on SILENT HILL: REVELATION.
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