When The Matrix and Run Lola Run filmmakers -- Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer -- first met to talk about bringing David Mitchell's epic blockbuster to screens, it hit the brother and sister filmmaking team immediately. The Wachowskis had found a third sibling and Cloud Atlas collaborator!
“The movie suggests this idea that one person can come into your life and completely and utterly change the direction of your life,” Lana said.
“We love the idea that David Mitchell, like Adam Ewing (Cloud Atlas character who is a writer), was on his boat off a windswept island somewhere scribbling this novel. And this novel goes out into the world and Natalie Portman is reading it and then I see it and grab it, then I give it to him [points to Andy] and then he gives it to him [to Tom]. There were ideas and challenges that were in the book that would suddenly materialize and be part of our lives.”
In the film, fateful letters are passed between characters, eventually finding a place where fate would meet destiny. “The book landed in our laps in similar fashion,” Andy added.
Lana then finishes her brother’s sentence, something these siblings do often. “There was this instant, profound connection,” she said of meeting Tykwer.
“We knew that this meeting was going to alter the course of our lives. Him coming through that door to this moment with us sitting here talking to you… is dramatically different from where you’d imagine we’d be if he hadn’t walked through the door.”
Reflecting the directorial love fest that is the trio, Tykwer reported never experiencing a filming effort that was more multi-faceted and glorious. “I wouldn’t have done this movie alone,” he said.
The Cloud Atlas director not named Wachowski believes that at the heart of the trio’s film is a cinematic journey for which audiences are starving.
“There is an audience that is undernourished and wants to be fed. They love to soak up and think and have a full dinner just about what you’ve just seen and then take it to bed and wake up in the morning, still thinking about it. That’s how we fell in love with cinema. We cannot be alone because we meet those people all the time,” Tykwer said.
“Our desire to have good movies and substance and complexity connected to movies that are designed for large -- that’s gotten less and less. It’s hard to achieve. People only give you a certain amount of money if there’s a superhero involved.”
Cloud Atlas is based on the vast scope of a novel by U.K. bestseller Mitchell. Six differing stories cross time and space with Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and James D’Arcy exploring the potential of souls being connected and how fate and randomness has a field day with destiny.
“Everyone loved the project and the only reason it existed was because of that love,” Lana said.
With a novel so expansive in content, the filmmakers found joy with the most surprising discovery. “We knew we had the final draft of the script when every single scene in it was all three of our favorite scenes.”
“Because, if you know the book… there’s more,” Tykwer interjected. “We had to make a lot of choices in terms of what is needed with the narrative. It was a nice luxury, which is how it should be with every script you direct.”
It is mind-blowing, given the astounding potential canvas that is Cloud Atlas, how the film’s brain trust circled the globe trying to get financing and distribution for their film.
“We went to all the studios and they all passed repeatedly,” Tykwer said.
“With the cast in place,” Lana added.
Tykwer even said that they brought storyboards lit up with the visionary film’s optical pleasantries. “They were just stressed by the idea of this movie. We basically went to every continent and every country and we were passed over,” he said. “France! France didn’t buy this movie.”
“They didn’t buy the movie twice,” Andy joined in. “We went to Cannes with the cast and with us and the script, they said no. We went the next year with the movie! We showed the movie and they passed. Even the UK passed!”
Lana smiled and added her two cents. “The UK passed with Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess…”
“Based on a David Mitchell novel!” Andy finishes his sister’s thought… again!
Tykwer then reported how it does get done. “You've got to find crazy people who will invest in it anyway. They do exist,” he said. “There’s a huge optimistic part of this with us sitting here actually promoting this movie. It’s encouraging.”
Lana had a unique take on the lack of interest. She knew they were on to something special. “You can look at it as a problem, but also see it as a movie that testifies to the possibility of impossibility of this scale, by its own existence,” she said.
For over a decade, the Wachowskis have not talked to the press, and for the last four years… they have been all about Cloud Atlas.
They are the virtual White Whale of movie journalistic interviews. “We’re going to bring you down to the bottom of the ocean with us!” Lana joked when the subject was broached, winking at our Moby Dick reference.
“We don’t like talking about ourselves -- that is very uncomfortable,” Andy added.
Lana goes back to the beginning of their careers with The Matrix to explain the lack of Wachowski presence in the media as they made Speed Racer and V is for Vendetta.
“During the first Matrix, you feel like it was the beginning of the collapse of your way to inhabit the world. You have essentially anonymity, and that gives you access to a way to participate in civic space. When you lose that anonymity, you can no longer participate in that mode of being. It’s denied to you,” she said.
“We were not willing to give that up, that was too big of a price. We sat down and [it was] said, ‘You have to do press.’ And we said, ‘OK, we won’t make movies.’ Then they said, ‘OK, maybe you don’t have to do press.’ [Laughs]. Then, in the course of things, we changed our minds.”