We sat down with Wrath of the Titans director Jonathan Liebesman to talk Greek garb, monocular beasts, and changing the Grecian spectacle of Clash into the gritty monster mash that is Wrath. Plus, find out what's it like working with Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes on an action flick. Some spoilers ahead!
The tone of Wrath of the Titans is completely different from Clash of the Titans. How did you go about developing that?
Jonathan Liebesman: Can you tell me how the tone is? Because a lot of people are asking me that.
It seems like it knows what it is, and it's having more fun with it. "Let's give people what they want, let's give them lines you can put on t-shirts." We have massive stars in togas shooting lightning bolts out of their hands. Let's have some fun.
Yes I'm right there with you. We had more fun in a grittier way.
How did you go about deciding to change that?
Well, there were things I loved about the first movie. I loved the spectacle of the first movie. I thought that Louis [Leterrier] did a fantastic job with that. And I just wanted to believe that a little more. It's a different sensibility. I don't like massive glossy things, so I wanted to see if we could make it a little more down and dirty. And at the same time, yes, I think it's important when you're doing a massive fantasy that people have some fun. We tried our best to embrace that.
Where, in what scenes, with what characters?
Oh, with Sam [Worthington] obviously. Giving Liam Neeson [who plays Zeus] and Ralph Fiennes [Hades] their moment in the tent. It's just looking for opportunities for these characters to let us in as much as possible. Because if you take it very seriously and people know it's bullshit fantasy, they never fucking connect with it.
When you have two massive actors like Neeson and Fiennes, how much?
Were you scared?
I remember being in rehearsals with the two of them. And they're in Schindler's List, a fucking great movie. And you're just sitting there thinking, "Shit, I'm going to fuck their careers up." But the thing that reassured me was, I was thinking to myself, if it's not me here, it's going to be some other twit, so it might as well be me.
The other thing that helped me a lot was the fact that they're fantastic human beings. And I could just ask them questions, rather than give them directions. I could ask them, "What do you think would work better here, because I'm feeling this." They're so experienced, they can solve any problem. Ralph is a brilliant director in his own right. Just asking him questions as a director was awesome.
When the two of them have their big last stand scene, how much of that was improv?
That actually wasn't improv-ed. Which is a testament to the writing, because it feels really good. Liam and Ralph actually really like lines. They're old school in the sense of "we want our lines." So in rehearsals, we might have improved something and then that gets in to the script. But on set those guys don't like to improv too much, they like the lines. They feel comfortable with what they were given. And you can swap things around with the guys, but they're fairly traditional in that sense.
It felt like you had a fascination with the character Ares, who wasn't in the last film. Ares has a lot of screen time.
He was, in a way, the antagonistic force. I never thought Hades was a bad guy. You needed someone who was more misguided, in this film, to be the antagonistic thread before Kronos appears. Ares is such an interesting story. I think we cut this line but Zeus says to Ares, "You're a machine I just built for war, and Perseus is a man..." It's a pity we cut that. But the thing is, I think you understand, you have a guy that just wanted to make his dad happy. And he's been designed to do something where he can never achieve that. And I just thought that, that was pretty sad. He was always going to lose.
Where do we find Perseus now, what has happened to him since Clash?
Perseus is now a single dad, ten years down the line, almost like Kramer Vs. Kramer style in ancient Greece. His wife died during childbirth and he's raising his kid and trying to stay out of the God fray of things. And he gets brought back in.
How does a film like Immortals impact a movie like Wrath?
I'll let you know next week, I haven't even seen Immortals.
Why did you decide to make the cyclopses nice?
Why does everything have to be so angry all the time? I think it's nice that you think they're dangerous so you get the excitement out of the scene. But just make them fucking nice. They work with Hephaestus, they built the God weapons, why do they have to be dickheads? You tell me? Everything always has to be mean, I just think everything gets so mean I'm tired of it. Also Hephaestus has a really kind energy and it's nice to reflect that in his minions, so to speak.
Where are all the female Gods?
They're dead! No, we have a scene where you saw Athena dead, but people wanted to focus on the main storyline. It's fathers and sons — that's part of the theme, so unfortunately there's less space for female Gods. But if there's another one, I can tell you there will be a lot of female Gods.