Paul Bettany interview

Star of new 3D vampire flick Priest talks to Time Out


Priest has it all – vampires, graphic novel origins, 3D, a futuristic dystopia, the Wild West and monks turned martial-arts masters. It’s the story of a priest warrior (played by Paul Bettany, with a Clint Eastwood gruffness) living in a post-apocalyptic world in which humans are confined to walled-in, miserable cities run by the church because pesky vampires dominate the world outside. And these aren’t dreamy Pattinson-like vamps – these are salivating alien creatures that aren’t interested in sharing lingering gazes with tween girls. Bettany’s character, a hero during the great Vampire War, breaks the rules and heads out on a hunt again when his nubile niece is stolen by the decidedly un-dashing vampires.

Cue spiritual moments and high kicks. Based on graphic artist Hyung Min-woo’s manhwa novel (that’s Korea’s answer to manga), the film focuses on the future, which doesn’t look bright, while the comic series goes back to the crusades. Director Scott Charles Stewart (pictured bottom right) is best known for directing Legion, a religious action film starring Paul Bettany – we see a theme here. Scott has a phenomenal career in visual effects: think Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter, so we’re expecting a visual feast. We spoke to him about vampire trends, Paul Bettany and the link between surreal movies and our current society.

This is your second time around working with Paul [Bettany]. Why did you decide to count on him for your second film?
We had a great time working together on Legion. While I was still finishing the first one [Legion 2 is out this year], the studio called me and asked me to look at Priest. I was a fan of the comic book and a really
big fan of Cory Goodman’s script, and I thought this was something that I could have a good time with. Immediately the question was: who should be Priest? This character has a very Clint Eastwood/Steve McQueen vibe. He’s this laconic, silent, tough guy, and Paul really embodied that in the last movie we did together. Legion was more of an ensemble cast; this one is more about Paul’s character’s journey.

Did you try to stay faithful to the comic book, or was it a free interpretation?
When I read the script, I thought: Wow, it’s pretty different to the comic book in some respects. But it’s emotionally very similar. I feel like it’s a collaboration between me and Cory Goodman, who wrote the screenplay, and Hyung Min-woo, who created the comic book. We all put our ideas in. I had Min move out from Korea before we were in pre-production and showed him all the artwork. I’d taken some of his imagery and integrated it into the film and some of the iconography of his books, because his artwork is so good. And he, much to my relief, was really excited about it and really inspired. So much so that he went back – because he never finished the Priest graphic novel series. It includes 16 books, but it was a soap opera – it never ended – and he hadn’t worked on it for a few years. He was so inspired by what we’d done that he went back and started writing again, and wrote a whole new series. It sort of takes what he’d done and connects it to what we were doing. The graphic novel was the past – it takes place in the 1880s, and the film is the future. That is the way we decided to do it.

Actors Cam Gigandet and Stephen Moyer have played vampires before. Did you choose them because of this ‘experience’?
It’s funny; we were joking at one point that we were going to try to make sure that everyone we cast in the movie had actually been a vampire before. Ironically enough, it actually had nothing to do with that. But we realised that there are so many vampire movies out there that it’s difficult to find an actor that hasn’t played one before. In fact, Cam and Stephen play people, not vampires. Our vampire movie is really different to most of the others around these days – the Twilights and the True Bloods. Our vampires are not people. They don’t look like people. They’re feral, dangerous creatures. They don’t speak English. They’re a mysterious culture and they’re not an obvious metaphor for being different or for repressed sexuality. Our interpretation of vampires is completely different. Vampire mythology is very enduring, and every 10 years there’s a resurgence of vampire stories. Our vampires are the other race that we war against and have warred against for centuries.

So there’s an affinity with the real world in this movie…
That was why I was interested in doing the movie. I read the script and I did some work on it, and that was one of the elements that I really tried to bring out, because I felt like that resonated with me personally. I think it would resonate out there in the zeitgeist. We’re a world at war and have been for a long time, and people are tired. They’re tired and they’re kind of broken by it and they become desensitised to it at the same time. The people who go off to fight are sacrificing so much; it’s hard to even comprehend how much they’re sacrificing. And then the other aspect is how much their family is sacrificing, their loved ones may come back having suffered through really unspeakable things and they’re not the same person any more – what do you do with that? That’s why I think Priest is not a vampire movie. Vampires just happen to be in it.
Priest is in UAE cinemas now.

Director’s chronology

Priest director Scott Charles Stewart’s career highlights.

Ten Tiny Love Stories (2002, producer)

A world away from demons, this story features 10 female monologues on love. With Debbie Mazar and Radha Mitchell, it’s an flick that typifies the start of Scott’s career, when he worked on several indie films about love.

Legion (2010, director and co-writer)

Also starring Paul Bettany, this camp thriller sees a diner becoming the unlikely epicentre of apocalypse. Bettany plays an angel on a mission with firearms. The story was panned by critics, but no one could deny how palpable the gunfight scenes were.

The Mortal Instruments (2012, director)

Based on the Dean Koontz trilogy of the same name, this flick about a woman abducted from her NYC home is in pre-production and is scheduled to film in the Big Apple to show the skyscrapers in full 3D glory.

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