With Syfy airing their miniseries event, Alice [Sunday & Monday, 9/8C], beginning tomorrow evening, they held a conference call with writer/director Nick Willing and his Alice, Caterina Scorsone where they talked about the experience of making the miniseries and some of the themes that were explored against the canvas of this updated version of the classic Lewis Carroll books, Alice in Wonderland and Alice: Through the Looking Glass.
Taking part in the Q&A swssion were: Steve Eramo [SciFiandTalkTV.com], Abbie Bernstein [iF Magazine], Lisa Steinberg [Starry Constellation], David Martindale [Hearst Newspapers], Troy Rogers [thedeadbolt.com], Julia Diddy [Fancast.com], Mike Hughes [TV America], Michael Hinman [Airlock Alpha], Fred Topple [SciFi Wire],Je Nazaro [Film Review Online] and Cassandra Farron [popculturemadness.com].
Good morning Nick and Caterina. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.
Caterina Scorsone: Thank you.
Nick Willing: Thank you. My – our pleasure.
Nick, I was wondering if you could perhaps tell us a little bit about the prep you had to do for this particular project going in and maybe some of the challenges associated with that for you.
Willing: The most difficult thing was finding Alice. I must’ve seen 500 actresses for the role of Alice, both in America, Canada and the UK. At one point we even thought of casting an (English) because she was so hard to find.
But in the end we found the perfect Alice, Caterina Scorsone, who I believe is on this call. And the prep, otherwise, was more to do with – we – the script was pretty much done when we started prep.
We were quite pleased with it. But it was the – it was really getting the design concept right, a look at the film, getting the tone of the film both visually, you know, in costume and in the set.
And in the visual effects, and the look of the flamingoes, for instance and the jabberwocky and all the creatures in Wonderland; creating that world effectively and doing it in a new, original way.
Sort of following along Nick’s answer, I wondered kind of, Caterina, what maybe first attracted you to this particular role? And then what were some of the acting challenges of you stepping into the Alice character?
Scorsone: Okay. Well the attraction was manifold. I mean it – you know, Alice in Wonderland is a classic piece of literature and most of us have, you know, either read it or seen various adaptations. And so, you know, that’s a huge draw initially. And then I was sent Nick’s script and it’s incredible.
And not only does it have kind of all of the classic characters and many of the themes of the book in it, but it’s been re-imagined into this fantastic adventure and a kind of journey of self-discovery for the character.
That was pretty hard to resist for an actor. And so yes, it was just attractive all ways around. And then I met Nick, and he’s so irresistible.
And I think everyone in the cast will agree; once you meet Nick you’re like well where do I sign? And so that was not a tough decision. And what was the second part of the question?
Just maybe some of the acting challenges you find initially stepping into the role?
Scorsone: Right. Well, let’s see. I mean, all of the challenges were really – I mean we were kind of (midwived) by Nick. We met in Vancouver before we started shooting and we had this very extensive rehearsal period. And so, you know, any and all of the challenges were kind of brought up and explored in this really kind of safe rehearsal environment.
And we did a lot of kind of discussion about what we wanted to pull out of the characters and out of the script. And so I think, you know, the biggest challenges were that we kind of covered just about everything in the script, you know.
There’s this rainbow of emotions that we kind of were playing with every day in – while at the same time doing, you know, gigantic action sequences and, you know, fight scenes, and horseback riding and, you know, CGI. And so it was really kind of quite a 360 degree workout physically, dramatically, psychologically. It was – no, it was a good time.
You had done Tin Man for Syfy a couple of years ago. So I mean, how did Alice come about?
Did you come to Syfy and say look, I’ve got a new take on Alice in Wonderland or did they — somewhere in there — say to you so now that we’ve done Wizard of Oz, what else can you reinvent for us?
Willing: Well they – I had already made a version — I don’t know if you know — made a version of Alice in Wonderland in 1999 for NBC which was very well received then with Whoopi Goldberg and Marty Short, and Gene Wilder and Peter Ustinov, and many, many other famous stars.
Scorsone: Ben Kingsley.
Willing: And Ben Kingsley. And so I wasn’t initially – I wasn’t suggesting of it because I felt I had quite a rough time trying to translate that book into a movie.
The thing about Alice in Wonderland is that there isn’t a particular strong classic film story in there. It’s a series of vignettes, of poetry and so on.
And the character is also quite passive. So – but Robert Halmi – it was Robert Halmi, Sr., actually of RHI who called me and said listen, I’d love you to try and do it again, you know, because I know you had such a hard time with it. What if you did your own kind of groovy version of it because it’s ten years since we did the last one? Why don’t we do it again?
And it was that – it was kind of that experiment. We felt that we had discovered in Tin Man a new way of reinventing, re-imagining the classics. And so we wanted to take another classic that was fantasy-based. And there were none better than – there was nothing, you know, in his opinion better visually than Alice.
So I took a little bit of persuading; like ten minutes, and then started writing. And Syfy jumped on board pretty much immediately. They were very excited about it from the start. So it was – that’s how it happened.
It was – it grew out of Tin Man – really out of the Tin Man experience of translating a classic story that we all know and love, and spinning it in a different way. I think that’s what excited most of the people who were involved with the Tin Man and saw Tin Man.
It was – they knew the original story but this was – kind of found new and different things in it, and explored new and different areas. So that was really my – how this thing started.
And then it took a year to write, obviously, because we had the writers’ strike and we had a financial apocalypse, and various other things.
Would you say that the key to this was — I mean, because the original is a quest in its way — but finding the purpose of the quest? And once you figured out that, did the rest of it sort of come into focus for you?
Willing: The first thing that tickled my fancy was the idea of imagining Wonderland as it is today; 150 years on from the original. Alice in Wonderland was written in 1850 or so; a long time ago – 150 years ago. And I thought wouldn’t it be, you know, delicious to imagine a world – that world as – in the way that we have evolved, also changed? And how would it be today?
Perhaps we’d have similar characters but wouldn’t they be different? And wouldn’t they have similar quests? But maybe they have changed as ours have too.
It was an idea of kind of bringing it into, you know, modern focus that attracted me.
Nick, is I know that there’s some great names in the film along with the name Kathy Bates. And I was wondering how you were able to kind of rope her along into the film.
Willing: Ooh, yeah. Kathy Bates was literally my first choice for the role of the Queen of Hearts. She is, to me, one of the most spectacular actresses in the world and I don’t know anyone better to play a vicious character with a huge heart.
And when I sent her the script she said yes almost immediately. It was one of the easiest things we had in the film. I mean, it was incredibly, fantastically easy.
And what was the second part of your – was there another part of your…
I was just asking how you were able to kind of rope her into the project and get her on board.
Willing: Well it was literally – it was reading the script. I mean I didn’t – I did talk to her a little bit after she read the script. But she was already keen.
It – the part of the Queen of Hearts in our story – one of the things that we — and you should ask this of Caterina as well — one of the things that we tried to do in our story is find in deep famous characters, very three dimensional, emotional personalities.
And the character of the Queen of Hearts in our film is quite a complex person with, you know, very complex goals. And so she was greatly attracted to that.
Initially, she was a bit tentative about doing the English accent. I mean, I couldn’t get over the fact that the Queen of Hearts to me had to be English because she’s such an iconic English character from literature.
So she did – but she did one of the best English voices I’ve ever heard any American actor do. But it’s also true of the character of Alice, isn’t it Caterina, that she was not quite the same character as in the book?
Scorsone: Right. No, not at all. It was quite a project. I mean, for one thing she’s much taller than she was in the book. She’s grown substantially.
But yeah, I mean what was really great about this script that Nick wrote — which is different from Lewis Carroll’s book — is that Alice in this story has a real emotional journey of her own whereas in the book she’s kind of this, you know, wide-eyed young girl who’s walking through this fascinating land. But she, herself, isn’t terribly fascinating. And in this version, you know, the fascinations of the land, you know, in some ways almost act as a metaphor for the fascinations inside her personality.
And so there was a lot to kind of grab onto and explore as an actor. And so yeah, it was really – yeah, it was – once you read the script – I think every actor that was involved was pretty thrilled about being asked to be involved.
You know, Matt Frewer and I talked about it and, you know, he’s playing the White Knight. And everything is there for him. You know, he’s funny and he’s sad. And he’s, you know, heroic and tragic.
And, you know, there was just so much – and Andrew-Lee Potts’ character, Hatter, you know – every character there was kind of the initial presentation.
And then as you – as we journey through Wonderland, kind of all of these layers start to be revealed about how they got this way and, you know, who they are and why.
And so I mean, it was great fun because we got to have this, you know, wonderful Technicolor adventure but we also really, really got to play as actors with, you know, with each other and with the script. It was…
Willing: And it was so good – I mean, Kathy and – well, we all made good friends on the set as well. We had tremendous fun doing it. And Kathy is still – I still talk to Kathy regularly. We’re still good friends.
Scorsone: Yeah, I think all of us are still…
Scorsone: I mean, really it’s one of those odd, magical projects where everybody kind of gets together and you might actually have chosen these people to hang out with in your life.
And we really – I mean, it was incredibly ego-less on the set. And everyone was just super excited to get to work and play with the material. And it wasn’t about kind of the personalities. It was about the characters and the story. And I mean, we just had a blast. It was great.
So then Caterina…
Scorsone: And Nick was very much responsible for that tone as well on set. And it was just – it was the cast but it was also the crew. And whenever that happens you very much want to look to the director and see what he’s doing because it is this kind of trickle down effect of if he’s positive and has humor, and is inspiring people to do their best they’ll do it for free.
You know what I mean? And that’s very much the situation we were in on this movie.
So then Caterina, it’s safe to say that the chemistry with the cast came pretty easily then for you all?
Scorsone: Absolutely, yeah. It was – I mean, and, you know, we were all staying in Vancouver which is such a gorgeous city. And yeah, and we had this wonderfully rich rehearsal period in the beginning. So we kind of really got to know each other. And there were so many physical challenges on the movie.
So not only were we kind of exploring it, you know, psychologically and emotionally; but, you know, we had to learn to horseback ride together, you know, and things like that. And so I think, you know, it’s like going on a long camping trip. Like when you’re facing all of those kinds of tasks together, you bond in a way that’s special. And I think we had a really lucky group to do that with.
I saw a screener of the movie and enjoyed it. Caterina, you’re really quite wonderful in it. First of all, Caterina, were you surprised, happy, relieved that Alice didn’t have to be blonde necessarily?
Scorsone: Oh yeah. I was surprised, happy and relieved. I remember Nick and I had an initial conversation about it. And I think we kind of decided — Nick, correct me if I’m wrong — but that, you know, essentially her hair is the first thing you see of Alice in the movie.
There’s kind of this shot, you know, from the back of her head in the beginning of the film. And, you know, and so I think we decided that this is a very, very different movie and it’s a very different story. And so, you know, the initially visual of a brunette Alice immediately informs the audience that they’re in for a different kind of ride. And so it worked for what we were trying to do. But yes, my hair is so grateful for that coincidence.
Yes. Also, Alice is a woman who steps up and takes action even when it’s just impulse. Do you…
Scorsone: Sorry, and takes – what’s that?
You know, she kind of steps up and takes action even when it’s just an impulse to do so. Do you see yourself as being like that? Are you the kind who, you know, pressure, crisis, panic situation – are you the one to step up or do you curl up in a fetal position?
Scorsone: I think I would be one of the types to step up, particularly in a crisis, panicked situation. I think that anyone who is in the film industry for any period of time almost has to be one of those types because I think every audition and then every day on set with, you know, the limited number of hours you have to shoot massive amounts of stuff, it feels like a crisis situation.
So you definitely have to have a good relationship with your adrenaline. And so yeah, I would say – there’s like a fantastic quote in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland — what is it Nick — where it’s like the Cheshire cat saying – Alice says she’s not mad and he says something like you must be mad or else you wouldn’t have come here.
Willing: Yeah. Everyone here is a mad person. But I can tell you that…
Scorsone: Yes and I…
Willing: …Caterina – I had to – Caterina had to fall in the freezing cold, Canadian water several times throughout the film. And all I said was all right love, step up and drop in. And she’d take a huge brave gulp of air and throw herself in this freezing water as many times as I asked.
She would do anything. I mean, I have to say in answer to your question, she is very much a person who takes her own – you know, is very brave, very courageous and does whatever.
Nick, what are you saying about instant gratification? Is this a bad thing in our culture? Have we gone overboard in our love of instant gratification and our loss of patience, do you think?
Willing: Yes. I mean, yes. I think that if it starts to take the place of deeper, more lasting things that ultimately will give you a greater sense of security and pleasure, that instant gratification can be very dangerous if we’re simply led by our nose; whatever sense your impulse takes us.
Then often that may lead us in the wrong way. It’s very important, I think, for all of us to find and get what we want for our lives. But it’s important to also do it in a way which is informed and which draws on more lasting things. And that, I think, is something that we’re losing particularly as we bring up our children.
What compelled you to weave that into this particular story in this particular way?
Willing: Well, it’s something that I always regarded as part of the Queen of Hearts character in nature. She was a person who acted – she simply said and did, and acted in the way she simply wanted to act. And she always got what she wanted when she wanted it because she was queen of the scream. And if she wanted to cut off somebody’s head, she’d cut off somebody’s head.
So I translated that. You know, as I said earlier, one of the things that attracted me about this story was trying to find things in it that would connect to our modern world. And that is one of the things that I translated into a world which she has influenced to act as she would act.
In what ways do you see today’s world as a wonderland?
Willing: Caterina, that’s your question.
Scorsone: All right, yes. There are so many levels to that question. I think that, you know, that the one that I – that we kind of talked about before and why Wonderland would be such a relevant story right now is that since 9/11 so much has happened in our world to kind of turn it into this, you know, topsy-turvy place that, you know, people wouldn’t recognize 20 years ago.
It’s – you know, politically and economically so much change has happened in the last little while that I think people are all kind of walking around with wide open eyes like Alice going what on earth is happening? And so that, I think, has made Alice very much a story for our time. Yeah, Nick, can I turn it over to you for another go?
Willing: Well Wonderland is a place where extraordinary and amazing things happen in the original book but also very dark and frightening things happen, as you know. And we used both books as inspiration: Alice in Wonderland and also Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Alice Through the Looking Glass is a story where everything is literally — as Caterina has said — turned on its head, where opposites are how to behave. And I think there’s something in what Caterina says; that maybe our world has become – it is now possible to act in ways which may seem strange and insane, but are, you know, part of the norm.
I do think also one of the things about our world is that we have advanced technology to such a point where we can get what we want to get when we want to get it. We can get somebody on the phone. We can get – watch a TV program when we want to watch a TV program. And we can enter into worlds of fantasy at the touch of a button.
That certainly wasn’t possible when Lewis Carroll wrote that book 150 years ago.
Caterina, what was the mandate for this version of Alice or were you given free reign to play her the way you wanted?
Scorsone: Well, you know, I think usually – especially when you’re working with a director who enjoys being a director, you know, you – it’s a collaborative process. And so, you know, Nick had written the script which was also great because, you know, he could very – I mean, he knew exactly what – where he’d been coming from.
But then once we were in the rehearsal period, you know, there was a lot of discussion. And Nick had ideas of, you know, that he had, you know, conceived while writing them.
But he was very open to, you know, exploring what I brought to the character. And so I don’t know. I mean, I think there was so much in the script to discover. But there was still a level of freedom to kind of go beyond that or find an angle to it that hadn’t, you know – that wasn’t quite as obvious and kind of pull that out, and make it more prominent in the film.
Willing: Yeah, it – you know, one of the things that you’ll see from Caterina is that she’s extremely intelligent and articulate; very well educated. I mean, she knows a lot of this world. And so as soon as we started working on the film I wanted to know what she thought almost more than anyone because she seems to think a lot about a lot.
Scorsone: Too much.
I really liked Andrew-Lee Potts on Primeval. I wanted to know what was he like on this project as the Hatter?
Scorsone: He was wonderful. He was wonderful. And we were so lucky to have him and I was so lucky. I mean, you know, he’s (unintelligible). So he – his character, Hatter, is the companion of Alice through the whole adventure in Wonderland.
And so – gosh, I’m getting some feedback on my phone. But he was absolutely prepared as an actor and he was funny everyday, and great with all of the action and the physical stuff; and the CGI which I’m sure Primeval helped it. So he’s a great actor and a great person. And we were really lucky to have him. Nick?
Willing: Yeah he’s – you know, I think he’s quite unique among English actors because he’s one of these actors who loves fantasy and science fiction. And I know a lot – coming from England myself, I know a lot of actors. And that’s quite rare, frankly. Most actors won’t be doing, you know, Shakespeare at the National. But he’s a guy that really loves this stuff. So he came with so much enthusiasm and energy for the role.
And because he was trapped here on his own without his friends back home, he was – he invested almost everything – every muscle of his body in our project. And so I think we had – we were very lucky to get him and very fortunate to get one of the great performances of the film.
Alice is smart and feisty and strong. And she starts off as the rescuer instead of the damsel in distress. But she’s still permitted to enjoy a love interest or two. Can you just comment on playing such a multi-faceted version of Alice?
Scorsone: Yeah. I mean, it was a pleasure. It was really – you know, from the moment I got the script, I mean, I – you know, I read the script in one sitting and it’s quite a long script. But it was a page-turner. And I just couldn’t believe it. And it was so – I mean, it just came off the page so easily. You could kind of really imagine yourself having the adventures just reading it. So that was great.
And then when I got to set and met Nick and met the cast, and started rehearsing, and I started realizing how much everyone was passionate about the script, and how passionate Nick was about the character and about her journey, and about making sure that we gave the character the dignity of being multi-faceted, I mean I was elated.
You don’t often – especially as an actress, you don’t often have an opportunity to play a role where the whole range of the humanity of the person is explored. And so I got to do that with Alice. And yeah, so it was literally everyday on set, moments of pause where I’d be like okay, remember this.
Remember this because it doesn’t happen all the time. And so it was really kind of one of those special, special experiences for me.
Nick, you touched upon this a bit in answering the question about instant gratification but I’m curious about a specific angle of that.
There’s so many indulgences and vices that can roll the masses into a hypnotic state, as they say, and there’s so many great layers in this story with the bottled emotions for the Wonderland residents and the gambling for the oysters. Did you want to comment on addictions specifically, as a means of attaining instant gratification or was that just an organic option of the story?
Willing: It’s not – it’s – my story is not so much about addiction, necessarily. What I was keen – or in fact, about drugs per se unless you count everything in our world that titillates and fascinates us is a drug.
What I was interested in was being able to manufacture your emotions. One of the thing I fear may happen to us is that we swap genuine emotions for something that is given to us; that we, you know, cry at the television commercial and think that those tears are genuine.
And really what I’m – so what I was fascinated with, not so much in how these things could be addictive because all things can be addictive if you are that kind of personality. But how we are slowly constructing a world where we watch genuine emotions or something which is manufactured cheaply, and that’s what I find – you know, I see happening and I find interesting.
And it seemed to be – Wonderland seemed to be a good place to set that in because as I say, the Queen of Hearts has that kind of personality in the book.
And then if I could just ask you both really quickly: so many great, great other roles in this but Matt Frewer – can you discuss a little bit more – Caterina, was it hard to keep a straight face with – during some of those scenes?
Scorsone: Always. Yeah, I mean not during – all the time; camera rolling, camera not rolling. I mean, we were in danger. He’s a very, very funny man and also has a golden heart. Like he’s really a phenomenal person and was so generous. You know, I remember Andrew and I talking about it one day.
He is such an accomplished actor and, you know, you’d do this scene with him where he’d be doing acrobatics dramatically and then he would immediately – when you kind of – when Nick yelled cut, he would kind of turn to us who are so junior, you know, and compliment us on some aspects of, you know, something that happened in the scene.
And like he was just absolutely generous and just a really, really good man, as well as a hysterical human being and a great actor.
I got – turning back to the scenes of the show again, that maybe one of the things I was thinking about when I was watching it was sometimes we can get kind of safe and suburban and serene, and so forth. And we never feel – we don’t stir up as many real emotions as we used to in life.
And I got a feeling that that was for these people here; that they had to get bottled emotions from somebody else who still had them. So were you getting – is that some of your feeling that sometimes people can get too distant from emotions to the point where they have to actually go out and buy them?
Willing: I think – you know, well I think everybody is different. But one of the things that I feel is that we sometimes repress genuine emotions that are too raw and difficult to face, and perhaps too important to us, and replace them with something that is manufactured for the mainstream that seems to be what people consider as being the right thing to deal — as actors do — for the mass.
Do you see what I mean by that?
Willing: And I think we all – I don’t think it’s a political thing.
I think it’s to do with – perhaps it’s to do with how our global culture is being – is evolving. I mean, it’s not something that anybody is in control of necessarily.
It’s just how we seem to be evolving; that we can buy something that was made by somebody else halfway around the world and costs nothing, and then whatever the circumstances I don’t know. But whatever the circumstances, has brought it out in this rather unusual situation.
The other Alice in Wonderland that you did ten years ago, that was for Halmi too, wasn’t it?
Willing: That was for Robert, that’s right. That’s why he said, you know, do you want to give it another go?
That’s what I find so remarkable is that the same producer would authorize two different versions of the same story within ten years. It kind of somehow shows that Halmi has got this kind of remarkably facile mind or open mind to different things. Just…
Willing: Robert, he is a complete one of a kind. That man is extraordinary and special. And I hope that people really understand how special he is because he is – what – he is fascinated by fantasy; all aspects of fantasy because I think he genuinely believes that we are ruled by the world of the imagination; what Jung calls the unconscious.
And I share that belief. So he is always trying to find ways of telling important and classic stories in a way that suits us today. And as he sees our world evolving and special effects, being able to do things – and when we did Alice in Wonderland the first time ten years ago, we couldn’t do a whole lot of the special effects we do now. So we’re able to create fantastical worlds now much easier than we did then.
And so he wanted to say let’s do it again but this – give it a modern spin. Do it in your own voice and, you know, make it psychological, and do all the things that – he’s an incredibly enthusiastic and encouraging person.
Scorsone: Well and one of the things that I found remarkable about him when I met him was he talked a lot about wanting to reclaim fairytales for adults because in this kind of, you know, unconscious world that we express through fairytales, the original fairy story there was a lot of darkness. And there were a lot of those messy emotions that we’re talking about in this movie. You know, there was anger and there was sadness. And there was, you know, people did bad things and have guilt and, you know, regrets.
And so many of those fairytales have been kind of dignified and, you know, sanitized for children. And so a lot of the grit and a lot of the point of some of them have been lost. And so one of the things that he seems very passionate about is reclaiming these stories and bringing out the parts of them that we really need to look at to understand ourselves. And so I think that’s one of the things that we’re doing here with Alice.
We had a great time seeing some of the clips when we were up in Vancouver, you know, about a month ago now at least. But I think we got a lot of questions out during that time. But one of the things that I was thinking about when I was watching this, which I really enjoyed by the way, is – you know, and I was just curious Nick, you know, how much of – like when you were writing this, how much would you refer back to the original book or would you just try to, you know, try to make separations as much as you could?
And were there things that you deliberately not wanted to include in this film from the book?
Willing: You know, I – when I first wrote this I – it was hugely long. It was a six hour – I overwrote. And I wanted to include everything that I could. But gradually – I mean, it’s – writing is one of those funny things where, you know, sometimes the first idea is the best idea and sometimes it’s the worst idea. And you never know when you write it which one that might be. So I’ve found that the process of writing this was incredibly exposing of my character. I found myself in this story more than any other thing I’ve written. I used parts of myself that I’ve never used before, if you know what I mean. But – and – but one of the driving factors in writing it was in trying to make it as psychological as possible.
If the book is about a little girl who falls into her unconscious and written in 1860 it was an incredibly modern and exciting theory – idea to have because the unconscious is still something that was being, you know, discovered if you will then. But if it’s that then – and if we accept that the unconscious is a place in my dreams where we can work out problems that we have in our lives, then let us make this world or events incredibly psychological and helpful to her in discovering what she needs to discover in order to flourish and become and full and complete person.
So I would draw – what I did was I drew on aspects of the book. They were like triggers, if you will. There were things that – for instance the minute – when I first read Alice in Wonderland, I also saw Tweedle Dee as an odd thing. I always thought Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as torturous of her. I felt that they were like, you know, nasty little school boys who wants to pull the wings off flies and torture little girls. And that’s the opportunity they got for Alice. So in the film I actually made them the queen’s torturers and torture poor old Alice. So, the book was kind of a trigger, an inspiration, and then from there it spawned many things.
Actually – and Caterina, too from my understand that when working with Kathy Bates, that in between takes she is one of those actors that likes to remain in character. I mean even when the camera isn’t rolling. Is that true? And if so, what was that like?
Scorsone: Well, I don’t know if that’s always. I don’t know if that’s always what she does. It was, you know, the first day that we worked together, that was kind of very much what was going on.
And so that on the day, I mean it was wonderful, it was totally intimidating and exciting, and you know, made my job as kind of wide eyed Alice much easier. I don’t know how she is on most of her movies but it was great. And she was wonderful and I met her, you know, fantastic actor, icon, you know, hero of mine, who is also incredibly lovely and generous as a person.
And so, I don’t know, there was something going on with the planets and the stars that drew all of you wonderful people.
Willing: But (Kathy) never stopped speaking in the English accent though, did she Caterina? She always on set.
Scorsone: Not while we were on set. Yeah.
Willing: Yeah, she was always – and after a while it’s funny because she would speak to me all the time. And there was one time we went for a weekend, and Caterina too, to a producer’s house and – for lunch. And she spoke in an American accent and I found it so disconcerting. And I said I told her to stop putting on that funny voice, and come back to speaking in English. So she did.
But it was – it’s very funny. She just laughed at it so well.
Scorsone: Yeah, but yeah, her focus on set is incredible. I mean that, if you kind of – you know, especially when you get to work with people who have made such an impact on a medium you kind of, you know, study them a little and go what do they do that is so special?
And I would say that was the thing that I kind of you know, picked up and made a mental note of. Her focus was absolute the whole time that she was on set, and that kind of inspired you as a young actor to work as hard as you can every day.
Caterina, what did it do for you to play Alice as a grown up woman?
Caterina Scorsone: Oh wow, such a good question.
See, you know, I think like Nick, it was – this movie was really special and incredible in that it was in – it was exploring topics that we don’t often talk about especially in our kind of, you know, pop culture. You know as an actor, you know, living in LA right now, usually I’m, you know, auditioning for procedural dramas. And you know, we’re trying to find out who stole the money and, you know, where the body is.
And you know, there’s not tons of room for you know, deep, psychological plumbing. And that’s why most of us got involved in acting in the first place, to do that kind of psychological exploration. And so having Alice in this script as it directed toward forward was pretty amazing for me as an actor and as a person.
And yeah, I mean – I think Nick – didn’t you say that this is the most emotional set you’ve ever been on?
Willing: Yeah, it was a very emotional set. It was.
Scorsone: It – for everyone – I mean crew members, cast members, it was – I think the subject matter that we were dealing with kind of that, just everyday talking about ideas of, you know, repressed emotions and feelings that we don’t want to feel and memories that we don’t want to have. And you know, it was just a really – it’s you know, agitated and brought up all sorts of really rich emotional experiences for everyone.
And I definitely think like Nick, by the end of working on this film had discovered all sorts of things about myself that, you know, might have been there and I might have been aware of. But I have never taken a whole day with lights and cameras and costumes to really think about and explore and articulate them. So it was definitely a journey for me. I’m really grateful.
Wow, so far every answer on this call has been way more profound than I ever expected at 10:00 a.m. Thursday morning.
Scorsone: That was what it was like on the film. Which I think is why it was such an emotional cast.
Nick, what were the most fun aspects of Alice and Through the Looking Glass to give a modern twist?
Willing: The flamingos I thought were very delicious. One of the things that you remember that Alice is invited to or appears at a croquet game with the queen. And she can’t handle her pink flamingo, long pink neck. And I translated that into a, you know, flying machine flamingo, that she has to sit on and manipulate its long pink neck to make it fly.
And it sort of looks like a Vespa, a cross between a jet ski or Vespa, but that flies. And that was very delicious. Also the jabberwockies, this huge beak, I’ve never seen a jabberwocky done before. There was a film by Terry Gilliam, but that was years ago and it only had fleeting glimpses of the actual jabberwocky in that film and I’ve always wanted, ever since I was a little boy, I’ve always wanted to make a real jabberwocky. And now technology has caught up with me and we were able to produce this amazing creature with a long neck and a goofy face, that was both funny and terrifying at the same time, which I think is what the jabberwocky is all about.
Scorsone: And it – which looked astonishingly like the (Tenniel) drawings…
Scorsone: …from the original fate.
Willing: Yeah, it…
Scorsone: …by the Lewis Carroll, yeah.
Willing: …it was the one thing that we kept quite close to the (Tenniel), you know, illustration. Those are my favorite sort of kind of groovy things to do. I really enjoyed those – doing them. But I, you know, I also enjoyed enormously working on the costumes with (Angus Strike), who’s a brilliant costume designer, and the sets with (Michael Joy).
The look of the film, how it, you know, we’ve got this kind of exciting, funky twist to the look, but retro modern. That was enormously good fun, you know, when you’re prepping. But my favorite thing, is always my favorite thing, most fun I always have on any film, but particularly on this film, is with the actors.
The actors are more intelligent than I think most – I mean they’re almost as bright as the people I know, you know, because I don’t know why. I think it’s because they make their life exploring, because they’ve got to bring emotions to the screen. They spend their life exploring their emotions, you know, and that makes for a very entertaining companion, because they’re always lively, they’re always usually quite funny. They’ve always got an answer and opinion on everything.
And it makes the day just wonderful, you know. So I always spend most of my time hanging out with the actors if I can and working on little bits of the stuff, and excuse to get time with them I always, you know, I think I have over a week of rehearsals mostly just because I wanted to hang out with them.
And speaking of these profound themes that have come out in this call, is that something you went into the film with or did those emerge as you were doing it?
Willing: Is that me you’re asking?
Willing: It was – I went in doing it really, because I felt that, you know, one of the things that I think about science fiction is that it gives us a popular risk platform to explore things that we wouldn’t – difficult things. And it gives us a way of finding out difficult things and exploring tricky things. That’s what science fiction is, it’s a way of kind of kind of making comment on the present by either looking into the future and see into, you know, or inventing and entire world.
And it’s that comment on the present, and that comment on our emotional personality that really excited me about this story. So I don’t want to make it sound like it’s, you know, high brow, it isn’t. It’s an incredibly commercial and popular story, it’s just it explores themes that we, all of us, in everyday life have to put with and bear and explore ourselves. So getting that out of the story and finding that with the actors was one of my goals early on.
And are you guys glad to come out months before the Tim Burton, Johnny Depp Alice?
Willing: Well, yes. I suppose so. I mean we don’t – I didn’t really – the thing about that film is it seems to me that that’s a faithful – more faithful adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. They – we kind of – so different, that I don’t think there’s really any confusion, I mean apart from (unintelligible) you know, I don’t know.
After – we’re doing such different things and invading – you know tried to conquer different territory.
Well, yeah. We know it’s different, it just seeing the name Alice…
…you’ve got a good jump start.
Willing: Yeah, no, we – I think, you know, the people – and also it’s television. But I’m also – I will also go eagerly to see his film when it comes out.
I mean having done what he did ten years ago, you know, I’m really (unintelligible) to see what he’s done. Really.
Just to pick up on something you were talking about before, so in 1999, you teamed up with (Hallmark) to do your sort of lavish version of Alice in Wonderland. And now in 2009, you’ve gotten to do your sort of (dystopian) sort of dark city version. Have you basically sort of purged Lewis Carroll from your system at this point, or can we expect and even more outrageous version from you come 2019?
Willing: Yes, I’m going to be more in (Tenniel’s) time, I’m going to try something all of you guys would find (utterly frightening). No, I don’t know. I think – I mean as I say, to take your answer seriously, I think that one of the things that to me was exciting about this version was that it was so different. And because I’d already done one, I felt liberated from having to do that again.
I felt liberated from having to do a faithful adaptation. I took greater risks. I think if I had tried – if I hadn’t made that faithful adaptation, I’d find it much more difficult to be as fast and loose with the original material as I was. And – but I think that’s what helps this film is that I was able to – I didn’t worry about taking great leaps with the imagination and, you know, trying something new and different.
And you know, one of the interesting things about this is that now that I’ve had this experience, the next time I write a story of this kind, I’m going to take bigger risks. Because one of the most depressing aspects of adapting or working on a – from a book is that you’re fearful and afraid to change things. And often the movie and to make it work for a modern audience, it’s important to change things.
You are one of the new sort of successful practitioners of the mini series format these days that (keeps) – there’s always talk about whether the mini series is dead or people don’t watch mini series anymore. But you seem to have embraced that form and actually been very successful with it. Do you find as opposed to say feature films and smaller television that the mini series form is actually quite a good one to work in?
Willing: I think it’s one of the best. I really do. I mean and I’m not just saying it because I’ve made a few. And I’ve made a lot but it’s taken me a long time to figure out really how to make it work.
And I tell you why I think it’s very important. It’s like a movie in a sense that you are — it’s not an episodic thing like television series are. You get to tell one big sweeping story like you do in a big sweeping epic. But you’re given more time to develop the characters and to work in further twists and turns. And in – one of the things that (they say) also gets you because it has (act grates), eight (act grates) within one night. You have to think in terms of big surprises, huge twists, big thriller moments, big sweeping moments of the heart, big romantic scenes and you have to keep telling them over every ten minutes.
Now for a writer that’s extremely, extremely exciting in a way that in movies you don’t get to do and in episodic television you can’t do. So I mean I think that that – for me that’s what so exciting about the mini series and I hope that we keep making them because they’re, you know, iconic – from the mini series that I grew up with are still very much in my mind.
Caterina you mentioned before I think you used the phrase “junior cast members” or something along those lines. I can’t help wondering if you’re actually going to be sharing a scene with somebody be it Kathy Bates or Tim Curry or whoever.
As one of the sort of “junior cast members” does that sort of force you to bring your A-Game to the table and maybe work that much harder to, you know, to bring your performance up to a certain level based on the sort of caliber of actors that you’re working with?
Scorsone: Well I think so. I think, you know, and I think junior it doesn’t necessarily have to do with age. I think acting is one of those funny professions where, you know, so much of it is about a capacity to reveal your humanity through the filter of this character, you know, and reveal the character’s humanity.
I think it’s one of those funny professions where sometimes someone who’s 10 has that capacity and sometimes someone’s who’s 60 has that capacity or has lost that capacity or, you know, it’s a really funny – it’s a funny profession that way. But in particular on this project we were working with some of the best. I mean some of the best actors whose capacities to explore humanity, I mean we’ve all witnessed over, you know, decades as being, you know — I mean they’re part – I mean their personas as actors are almost archetypal parts of our unconscious at least for someone of my age.
Like, you know, I grew up watching Kathy Bates play these incredibly multidimensional female characters who were strong and so, yeah, you know, if I were, you know, thinking about the Queen of Hearts in my head I would ask Kathy Bates.
And so, yeah, the fact that we were working with Matt Frewer, Tim Curry, Kathy Bates, such icons and such skilled performers, I, you know, I won’t (unintelligible). I would say that I walked into the situation knowing that if I kept my eyes and ears open I would have a great deal to learn.
And so, yes, you absolutely kind of show up for those days prepared and, you know, rationing your coffee and making sure that you’re on you A-Game and it’s both so that you can keep up and also so that you can learn and also because it’s so exciting to play with your craft with somebody that is that talented and skilled. And so you’re just excited to come to work and go. Yeah.
I just want to comment on how I loved how you kind of set this up as a second-coming of Alice reference to the first 150 years kind of gave Lewis Carroll his glory there as well.
My question is – and a lot of my questions have already been asked – what was your favorite moment on set? Like how basically your favorite moment acting, favorite moment with characters with the actors?
Willing: My favorite moment was when Caterina had a very important date to go to and we were out in the rain and I left it for the large part of the day I said, “Okay we’ve got to — I’ve got to climb up a ladder and throw herself in the water.” And the water was freezing cold. And because she had to run off and do this very important date though I can’t tell you what it was but she – and poor thing she’s like, “Really? Do I have to do it?” And I said, “Yes, yes, yes, quick, quick (unintelligible).”
Scorsone: This is the only time.
Willing: And she did it and she ran up the ladder and threw herself in the water and it was hilarious and everybody was so impressed. And then she swam out…
Scorsone: Across a lake in the freezing cold in (unintelligible). Yeah. That is a (unintelligible).
Willing: I have to say every day was fun. You know, but can you think of any other interesting anecdotes from the set?
Scorsone: Gosh, I mean it was — oh, gosh, it was really, really pinch-me moments the whole time. I mean, you know, it’s not shot — I remember that day when we were in the woods and a (staffer) was making — had somehow – someone had brought a barbecue and like put the barbecue in the woods. And they were like barbecuing hamburgers like off the side of the set because it was so far to get food. And I think we were out on open water in like a, you know, 1970s, you know, James Bond speed boat with the sun setting and riding horses across a desert with a thunderstorm going on.
I mean it was just – you know, and then there was just snapshots of, you know, our inhibited laughter all the time. I mean it was really kind of endless the moments of fun. It was great. And in all directions, you know, (asking) later then laughing so hard and then, you know, incredible moments of generosity and intimacy, you know, during heavy emotional scenes where you kind of looked to Nick or looked to the other cast member and knew absolutely that this person wanted you to find that special thing that was going to crack open the heart of your character and the heart of the audience and that you had this incredible support and curiosity that (can handle these) that the whole team was participating in.
Willing: I agree. I’m sorry, I just want to jump in with my least favorite moment which was when I (unintelligible) poor Matt Frewer he was wearing a – for him it felt like he was wearing huge Volkswagen but it was actually a suit of armor and he had run about behind in line of (Phyllis Enshouder) and shoot an (arbelet) which is sort of this Roman, medieval weapon which is like a big crossbow on wheels while there were diving men on flamingoes dropping bombs on him. So he had all these bombs going off.
I said, “You run over here, you run over there and the bombs…” so he ran slightly off into the (race) and blew it up. And I thought, “Oh my God. Oh my God.” And, you know, but then he was fine because the suit of armor that he was wearing that he kept cursing protected him from getting blown up.
But then the very next day I had him in a hammock, okay you swing out the hammock and you run over here. Well he’s not the youngest guy and of course he swung and the hammock broke and he fell on the floor and he kept shooting because again the suit of armor that he kept cursing was the very thing that saved him.
Scorsone: And then I think the other difficult moment was in the casino when we were shooting in a barn and it got to be about 150 degrees and people were like dropping like flies.
But then I think probably the favorite moment for the boys was this sexy burlesque dancer.
Willing: Oh, yes. Very sexy girl…
Willing: …very, very sexy girl.
Scorsone: …sort of ground to a halt and you kind of looked around and these fantastically talented burlesque dancers are doing this very involved routine on this mirrored stage and they’re wearing feathers and, you know, sparkle things in all the right places. And you look around and it was like uniformly in like 360 degrees every male member of the crew and cast had their mouth like their jaws had dropped.
Caterina Scorsone: It was funny to observe.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure movie or TV show?
Willing: Caterina, what’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
Scorsone: Goodness, I have so many. That’s what this movie is all about. My favorite – my very favorite movie which I suppose is a bit of a guilty pleasure in that it’s like, you know, every scene, you know, pushes every button is True Romance directed by Tony Scott with Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater and it’s a fantastic, fantastic film, very violent, very romantic.
What about you, Nick?
Willing: Get Smart. You know, I know I grew up in Portugal as a little boy speaking Portuguese and I learned to speak English through Get Smart. Yeah, and he…
Scorsone: That explains everything.
Willing: Yeah, exactly. And 99, I had a terrible crush on 99 who was just the most (unintelligible) thing in the world to me when I was 5. And so that was my – that’s my — nobody knows it so don’t tell anybody that because it’s so embarrassing.
But my favorite film is the first time I ever watched — when I was growing up in Portugal I watched it in a (bit like sort of a parodies) I watched it in a (bond) when the cinema came to town and it was Pinocchio and I went along and the drawings were moving on the screen. I couldn’t believe how that was possible, you know. It had been 1923…
Is that what inspired you to continue with the cartoons?
Willing: Yeah, I started as an animator when I — as soon as I – because I was drawing even then. I was 5 and was really drawing. So when I got to 10 I started making flicker books and then animated cells when I was 12. And that’s what got me into the films. It was completely just because I wanted to do that, make those pictures move. It was so amazing. I still remember that feeling – that first – one of the greatest feelings I can ever remember is seeing the opening shots to Pinocchio and thinking, “God, this is pure magic.”