Try to imagine a galactic adventure where multiple lives are lived –in multi-ethnic bodies– over the course of five centuries. The thought borders on the unimaginable. But in the skillful hands of Oscar winners Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump”) and Halle Berry (“Monster’s Ball”), author David Mitchell’s CLOUD ATLAS, the 2004 best-selling novel turned motion picture epic reaches new heights of the creative imagination, taking us all on a ride for the ages.
As the consequences of their actions and choices impact one another through the past, the present and the distant future, one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.
Hanks and Berry lead a stellar international cast that also includes Oscar® winner Jim Broadbent (“Iris”), Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, Keith David and David Gyasi, with Oscar® winner Susan Sarandon (“Dead Man Walking”) and Hugh Grant. Each member of the ensemble appears in multiple roles as the story moves through time.
Everything is connected. Further, this film cleverly takes on the cause and effect of personal motivations and corresponding actions that run a close second to unpacking the legacy of ethnic atrocities. CLOUD ATLAS will tap into your thinking, expand your perspective and leave you with much to ponder.
Running nearly three hours, I sat on the edge of my seat, fully enthralled by the film’s mystique, technical artistry and range of authentic voices captured in Mitchell’s 500-page-turner, who was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.
Transference of Mitchell’s CLOUD ATLAS to the big screen was also in good hands, namely, acclaimed filmmakers Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski of THE MATRIX movie franchise.
CLOUD ATLAS is rated R by the MPAA for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.
I sat with the cast and filmmakers in Los Angeles to talk about this intriguing new film from Warner Bros. Pictures. In conversations with Hanks and Berry, they shared more than movie notes–
Talk2SV: Given the layers of the stories within this film, the length of it, the complexity of it, the filmmakers had to choose the right talent to keep audiences engaged throughout. What approach did you take knowing that the weight of this film rests principally on the two of you?
Halle Berry: Well, good thing I never knew that because I wouldn’t have done it. What I was so inspired by is that I didn’t feel like it rested on me, certainly not me. I felt like it was a classic ensemble. Every character, every part that everybody had to play was equally important to telling the story that the filmmakers had in their minds, that was most important. They had to take David Mitchell’s book and put it into a cohesive story that would translate to screen, one that hopefully audiences would want to follow along with. I was honored that they called me up and said, “We want you for it.” There was no mention of, and in my mind I think, well do I have to come in and meet and have conversations and prove to you that I can do it, that I’ve thought about it, that I understand. So I knew they were putting so much faith in me and I just wanted to live up to their expectation every single day. I wanted to help them make this dream come to fruition that they have been fostering for years.
Tom Hanks: They (the filmmakers) wouldn’t let us panic. They wouldn’t let us come in and be so freaked out about any individual choice; they were just so happy to see us every day and were so anxious to play in their repertory company. Without a doubt they steered us to some degree. Specifically, I was slashing Hughes’ throat with far too much vengeance, literally, and Lana was on me saying, it can’t be that way; you can’t be the guy who is seeking revenge; there has to be a different version because otherwise the whole story of Zachary is going to be blown. And that’s a faith in us in order to get there without any corrective measure. They were very, very gentle and very inclusive in the process.
Talk2SV: Considering the length of this film, approximately three hours long, how risky do you think this movie is?
Hanks: I think it’s as risky as Inception (the 2010 Leonardo DiCaprio film) was, quite frankly. Inception was a complete one-off; you saw it the first time and said to yourself, ‘how many movies are in this thing?’ Why is this James Bond movie suddenly breaking out in this thing? So there is this idea that, oh my Lord, it’s original and it has creativity and it’s not going to be a simple thing, you’re going to have to catch up to it as you go along. Well, good Lord, that’s what all movies used to be –and now they’re not– without a doubt. My joke was, hey, you know you can bypass all this by just calling Cloud Atlas II and everybody who loved the first Cloud Atlas will show up and see this and say, well, I think this is actually better than the first Cloud Atlas. So this idea that it’s risky is one that the marketing people put forward and the reviewers who think like well it’s not going to work, that’s the antithesis of what the cinematic art should be and yet that’s where we are. So we’ll just see if people show up and they’ll forget about it.
Berry: Well, I’ve always had that kind of philosophy of life. I’ve always believed in that. Tom and I fight on this subject. It just affirmed things that I’ve always believed. I think that I started off young in my life questioning, for a while, I was studying Buddhism…
I’ve always thought about what was I before I was this, and what will I be when I leave here (this earth). I really had a hard time always accepting that at some point I’m just going to turn to dust and ashes and that the journey would stop. So I just believe that we are souls kind of like a version of what our movie presents, that we are souls and we come here again and again until we arrive at our highest evolution. What happens after that, I don’t know, but I just don’t think it’s some abyss of nothingness and that we fall off and that our journey stops. I think it’s circular and I know that there are civilizations far more sophisticated than we are. I do think more sophisticated civilizations lived before us. I mean, when you think about how the Egyptian pyramids were built…today, I think people would struggle to figure out how we could do that. But look how many years ago that kind of technology and ingenuity was able to be possible so I just can’t believe that this is all there is. CLOUD ATLAS helped solidify that for me as I’ve lived with that level of thinking for so long and thought about it so much.
Hanks: I am a lay historian by nature and I seek out an empirical reflection of what truth is. I want the whole story. But I’ve always sort of thought unconsciously that all history, all human history, is that connection from person to person, event to event, from idea to idea. For me, I think this movie is quite profound. In the beginning when for example, we hear one of the character’s say, ‘Truth is singular. Version of truths is mystery.’ I thought, well holy smoke, that’s the deepest thing I’ve heard anywhere. Later into the film, one of Susan Sarandon’s characters says, “from womb to tomb. we’re all connected, your choices reverberate through eternity.” I think that is such a simple and profound explanation for how we are all connected that I had never thought of it before, but now, I got it. I think that it actually supports this embracing of the mysteries that had been enough for me prior to making the movie.
Hanks: Listen, I knew it from the get go. I met Rita Wilson (his wife of the past 24 years) and said, ‘It’s all over, something really is different now.’ What I think is really beautiful about it is my favorite role in this film is Isaac Sachs because he is literally a version of myself. He’s consumed with equations and the atlas until he meets Louisa Ray, realizes he’s fallen in love with her and now things are profoundly different for him. I relate to that because that’s what I went through in my life. You’ve got to be lucky enough in order to stumble across your soul mate. I was lucky.
Berry: I’m just going to pass on that.
Talk2SV: Tom, we rarely see you in the tabloids whereas Halle is in them quite frequently.
Hanks: Because she’s hounded by thugs.
Berry: I want to tell (paparazzi) them where the —- you live.
Talk2SV: Is this what comes with celebrity status at the Oscar level…the public fascination with everything about you?
Hanks: Oh, please, there’s money to be made off of hounding this pretty girl, that’s what it comes down to. And there’s money to be made for persecuting a woman trying to raise her daughter. It’s an ugly, ugly fact. Often, I drive past a preschool on Sunset Blvd, and usually, literally a platoon of very ‘thuggy’ looking guys who are trying to make money with their long sports lenses off of someone trying to take their daughter or their son to preschool. I can’t tell you how loathsome I think that makes me feel. Look, it’s one thing – when we go to movie premieres, take our picture, we go out to dinner, and take our picture, that’s fine, we show up all the time; if we’re out doing something go ahead. But if you’re going to follow us just because we’re a pretty girl or we had a kid or our boyfriend or girlfriend has something that’s coming out, I’m sorry, I think that’s ludicrous.
Talk2SV: But it’s the curse and kiss of success, the kiss and curse of extreme beauty, you can’t get away from it.
Berry: But here’s the thing, I’ve never wanted to get away from it. I want my daughter away from it because she hasn’t made a choice to be in this business. She needs to grow up as a little girl and be afforded all the normalcies of every other kid. It’s my job, as her mother, to provide that for her at whatever cost and that’s what I’m going to do. What’s not fair is what happens to children. They shouldn’t be subject to that. Me, I’m not complaining about me, I can deal with it, I’m a grown up. She’s four, she doesn’t even understand, she has no mechanisms to deal with this. I don’t want my daughter to be the guinea pig, as a result, when she’s 18, if she’s a hot damn mess because I didn’t take her out of it when I had the wherewithal to do that, it’s too high of a price for me to even consider paying.
Hanks: You only see the photographs; you don’t hear what those guys yell out at you.
Talk2SV: How can you, how do you avoid it?
Hanks: First of all, I’m not pretty; I’m not a world class beauty. I’m just a guy who is slow going and stuff like that. I was never that brand of news.
Talk2SV: Are you saying that you’re on the boring side?
Talk2SV: I understand you suffered an injury while making this movie. How did it affect the process?
Berry: It affected every decision, every moment for the rest of the time after I broke my foot. It was a challenge for every one…every co-star, every director, and every costume designer. Everybody was so gracious in supporting me in every single way possible because they didn’t want me to go home. The day after it happened, I heard, “Lana and Andy want to come see you,” and I thought, oh God, they are surely going to give me my papers, send me packing and bring in somebody else. I never was so touched and never had I cried so hard when they came to me and said, “No, it’s just a bump in the road, we’re going to fix this.” I couldn’t believe it because so many actors, so much scheduling had gone on for years to make this all work and they were willing to say, “We’ll throw it all in the wind, we want you to stay on this movie and we’re going to work it out.”