As Empire’s Big-Massive-End-Of-Year-Shindig-Review-Thing heads towards the bit where Samuel L. Jackson turns up and everyone cheers, it’s time to take a look at the stories behind the stories. In a gallery of behind-the-scenes images so compelling, curious and revelatory we recommend you don’t drive or operate heavy machinery immediately after looking at them, here’s the movie year in on-set photos. Welcome to our, if you will, shoot-enanny.
The Desolation Of Smaug, A.K.A. Bilbo And His Pintsize Pals Learn How To Spell ‘Wyrm’, returned Ian McKellen to New Zealand for more wizarding adventures. This time he was dwarfed, on screen at least, by Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt, the even lankier skin-changing bear-chap Beorn. Not that he was letting that bother him, since he had Radagast to hang out with. “I feel very proud to be part of the first buddy-wizard movie,” he enthused in Empire. “I hope Christopher Lee isn’t too upset. We got down and boogied in the first film, after all…”
An alpha perfectionist on both sides of the camera, the New Yorker has had Walter Mitty in his sights since 2011 when the long-gestating adaptation of James Thurber’s tale emerged from turnaround with a spring in its step and a dream in its heart. Even for a man with three billion-dollar franchises to his name (Night At The Museum, Madagascar and Meet The Parents), it’s been a rocky ride. But he’s emerged with newfound Zen. “The last two years”, he eugoogoolised in Empire, “I’ve really tried to take a step back and say, ‘This, here. This being right here. This is good.’”
The appetite of moviegoers for taut thrills, both sweeping and intimate, powered the jumbo-sized successes of The Conjuring ($316m), The Purge ($89m) and, this, a $118m worldwide hit that boasted Donnie Darko, The Wolverine and him out of Ruby Sparks in an exploration of the dark side of a parent’s love. Here Canadian director Denis Villeneuve confers with Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman on location in Georgia, USA.
Vera Farmiga’s exorcist Lorraine Warren wasn’t calling herself “the New Peter Venkman” in The Conjuring, but she wasn’t not calling herself that either. Here she preps for a scene alongside director James Wan and the creepiest music box we’ve ever seen – and we’ve seen some creepy music boxes. The Aussie helmer, one half of Saw’s creative team, had a mixed year. It started with The Conjuring sweeping all before it and ended with Paul Walker’s tragic death and Fast 7’s subsequent suspension.
“Whedon and Shakespeare are a perfect match,” concluded Empire’s review of Mister Marvel’s swiftly-shot adaptation of the Bard’s comedy, neglecting to point out that Whedon and anything is a perfect match. As far as we know, he’s the only major Hollywood director to shoot a movie in his own kitchen this year – a 12-day shoot squeezed into a gap in The Avengers’ schedule. Here Amy Acker, the giddy Beatrice, consults Whedon before continuing her oft-parlous romance with Alexis Denisof’s Benedick.
The relationship between director and producer/star can be a fraught one, with its upside-down hierarchy and uneven power balance. Brad Pitt, here on set with co-star Mireille Enos, and Marc Forster were pushing dysfunction to new levels according to a punishing Vanity Fair exposé in June. Bruising the shoot may have been, but when Empire caught up with an open and honest Forster at the end of the year, the wounds were already healing. “There was a lot of press about how difficult World War Z was”, he said, “but shooting Kite Runner was much more dramatic…”
While World War Z survived poisonous word of mouth to score decent grosses and earn a likely sequel, similar negativity left The Lone Ranger in toxic shock. Even veteran producer Jerry Bruckheimer recoiled in the face of his blockbuster’s laceration by American critics. The film itself, while undeniably saggy, was far from the shocker of repute. But if Bruckheimer, Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer believed they’d found their culprits in America’s critics, they neglected to explain the success of equally derided projects like G. I. Joe: Retaliation and Oz The Great And Powerful. Here, with Gore Verbinski to the fore and Depp’s bird hat also in attendance, the film’s brains trust compares notes.
Alexander Payne may be okay with being pigeonholed as the reigning king of the road-trip comedy, but he'd be damned if he was going to answer a million questions about filming in black and white. Journalists were sent a pre-interview briefing explaining the decision and pointing out in a gentle, Payne-like way that, if it was all the same, he’d rather talk about other things. Luckily there were plenty of other things to talk about, like the casting of June Squibb and the Oscar-tipped Bruce Dern as Nebraska’s seasoned stars – in Dern’s case, after brief flirtations with Gene Hackman, Jon Voight and Tommy Lee Jones.
Actor, comedian, Childrens Hospital co-creator, Twitter and Daily Show stalwart Rob Corddry added ‘zombie’ to his skillset with another nicely judged comic turn in Warm Bodies. Grrrfffnnrring his way around a post-apocalyptic airport with Nicholas Hoult’s R, you’re never quite sure if he’s always getting the best lines (“Bitches, man”) or if it’s just the way he says ‘em.
The massively complex Cloud Atlas shoot saw actors playing across characters, race and period, turning Tom Hanks into Lon Chaney in the process and launching us into the most gripping game of facial bingo since The Usual Suspects lined up against that precinct wall (click here to play!). In this shot, 1931 vintage Hanks preps with co-director Tom Tykwer for his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turn as Letters From Zedelghem’s hotel manager. Except you can’t miss really him because it’s Tom Hanks with a giant honk on.
Roger Murtaugh may have been too old for this shit, but Robert Redford, now 77, wasn’t letting his vintage steer him from hairier life choices when he signed up for J.C. Chandor’s watery disaster flick. As the film’s not-quite ancient mariner, he’s left without name, dialogue and, soon, yacht, but emerged from the film’s largely Baja Studios-set shoot tipped for Oscar recognition. “[J. C. Chandor has] taken away the filters and barriers of dialogue, voiceover, special effects, what have you,” Redford enthused of the film in The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a pure cinematic experience.”
If Behind The Candelabra really is Steven Soderbergh’s cinema swansong – and technically, in the US, the swan had already sung with Side Effects – it was a helluva way to go out. As flamboyant as a Liberace piano flourish and utterly unashamed in its depictions of excess (booze, drugs, plastic surgery, candlesticks, you name it), it played like a period version of The Devil Wears Prada – except in this case, the devil wore diamante. Here director and star Michael Douglas, who’d met Liberace through his father and had knocked Soderbergh out with uncanny impressions of the entertainer during the shoot of Traffic, prepares for a little more Vegas razzle-dazzle.
In a year saw that saw the Katniss Express steam on relentlessly – at $672m in receipts to date, Catching Fire continues its tilt for the mystical $1bn mark – Jennifer Lawrence became the closest thing in Hollywood to a bona fide box-office banker. Her star rose in direct inverse proportion to her ability not to goof about like she was just on her way home from a pal’s house. Loveably accident-prone on and off-set, J-Law nearly brained herself with a bow in one scene and temporarily lost hearing in one ear when falling foul of a water jet during the cornucopia scenes. As long as she doesn’t fall down a big hole, Hollywood should have a mega star to nurture for some years yet.
The director of Captain Phillips chats with the actual Captain Phillips in one of the (few) quieter moments during the film’s shoot. A three continent affair that took in Malta, Morocco and the US, and ended up in the company of the US Navy off the coast of Virginia, the Paul Greengrass thriller stirred up controversy with Richard Phillips’ Maersk Alabama crewmates suggesting that in reality their captain wasn’t as, well, Hanksy as the film suggested. He still looked pretty darn Hanksy to us.
Things that made us go “Vrrrroom” #1: Rush’s race sequences. Expertly shot by director of photography Anthony Dod Mantle and overseen by Ron Howard, they brought the on-track battle of James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth, pictured) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) to pulsating life. The actors weren’t alloweds to drive real F1 cars so, juiced-up Formula 3 vehicles were used instead. Other than that, the film remained fairly faithful to the story of these two petrol-headed superstars - and we know this because we checked.
Full marks to whoever spotted that Blue Jasmine boasted one of Woody Allen’s first-ever actual plot twists – and it wasn’t that Cate Blanchett’s character turned out to be part of an alien colonisation (even if it looked like she might be at one point). The Australian actress, now a red-hot Best Actress favourite, drew on the post-Madoff fallout and her “fair share of rosé” to prepare for the role of brittle-as-biscuits Wall Street widow Jeanette Francis. Here she and her co-star Alec Baldwin chat with their director.
We like to think that in this pic Alfonso Cuarón is miming the diameter of the cigar he’s going to smoke when he sees Gravity’s box office. Which might have been the case had he been, say, Michael Bay instead of a down-to-earth Mexico City filmmaker with the eye of a visionary. “I’m pleased more than anything because it means people went to see the film”, he told the Empire Podcast, “but it’s not like the amount of money makes my movie any better. Also, how many movies make a lot of money but are crap?”
Not always the gentlest ringmaster in the Hollywood circus, Tom Hooper made a thoroughly amenable Empire Podcast guest back in January. He explained that his commitment to live performance saw him suspend shooting when Sacha Baron Cohen fell ill, rather than dubbing in his singing later. Hooper’s four-feature career has gleaned 20 Oscar nominations to date, so the insistence on, for example, live singing brings results. “It had never been done before in a movie musical to this extent,” enthused Eddie Redmayne. “It did feel unique. Tom had the strength to say, ‘This is my take on this piece of work, and that’s what we’ll do’.”
2013 might have seen Guillermo del Toro traversing Middle-earth in the company of some dwarfish fellows, but happenstance and Hobbit delays left him smashing up large swathes of actual Earth instead with a mecha-monster mash-up that thrilled kaiju fans big and small. Tom Cruise was originally attached to play Viper to Charlie Hunnam’s Maverick, but Idris Elba stepped into the breach when he stepped back. “When I watched Luther, that's the essence of the character,” explained del Toro. “I wanted somebody that you could have doubts internally, and very few guys can do that.”
Derek Cianfrance and Nicolas Winding Refn had a muse-off in 2013. Both had Ryan Gosling again toplining their latest films – The Place Beyond The Pines for Cianfrance; Only God Forgives for Refn – and both pushed him into extreme emotional terrain (although, admittedly, only one beat his face to mush). Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine follow-up, Pines, was a Greek melodrama of families and cross-generational strife that had a bleached Baby Goose hooning around on a motorbike in a way that must have given Mamma Goose a coronary. Here, Gosling and his co-star Eva Mendes hug it out with their director in Schenectady, New York.
A suitably shadowy behind-the-scenes glimpse of Danny Boyle’s Trance shoot, in which Vincent Cassel proves beyond reasonable doubt that even his profile is cool. Boyle, who shot the film during a break in his Olympics preparations and cut it after the torch had headed to Rio, looked at casting Michael Fassbender and Colin Firth in the role of Goya-questing gangster Franck before handing the role to the Frenchman. The chrome and glass interiors of The Lost House in Kings Cross were used for Franck’s apartment.
Thor prepares to get his dökkálfar smiting on as The Dark World takes shape. There were roughly 30 iterations of Mjölnir created for the film, each with a different weight and many using different materials, because, hey, hefting a great metal thing around gets tiring, even for hunky Chris Hemsworth. There were heavy ones, light ones, ones that lit up when lightning struck and probably one that went “boiiink” when you hit somebody over the head with it. For more behind-the-scenes Marvel business, head to our big Marvelpedia or our gallery of dazzling concept art.
A year bookmarked by Django Unchained and Lincoln at one end and 12 Years A Slave at the other, 2013 boasted slavery movies clad in very different garbs. Quentin Tarantino’s ‘southern’ was a consciously cartoonish depiction of the excesses of the slave states that introduced moviegoers to the dark arts of mandingo fighting and, in Christoph Waltz’s King Schultz, the most lethal dentist since Marathon Man. Waltz dislocated his pelvis prepping for the role, necessitating his character’s use of that horse-drawn molarmobile.
While Trekkers were torn by a sequel that echoed loud with action beats but skirted the harder sci-fi elements of Star Trek like a malingering student playing truant from a chemistry exam, the world-building was typically sumptuous. J. J. Abrams, here showing off iRushes to the crew of the Enterprise, worked with production designer Scott Chambliss to fine-tune the look of the ship. The work of Finnish/American architect Eero Saarinen, notably his JFK airport terminal, helped inspire the exterior, but, Chambliss told TrekMovie.com, “The interior, the bridge, all that iconic stuff, that was much more laborious”.
It’s not just actors who get injured (okay, it’s mainly actors) and Richard Linklater had the crutches to prove it on the set of Before Midnight in Greece. Only ten days before the two-and-a-bit day shoot commenced, he broke his ankle traversing one of the bumpier parts of the Hellenic world. Linklater, here confering with the trilogy’s star-crossed souls Ethan Hawke (Jesse) and Julie Delpy (Céline), won’t be drawn on the possibility of a fourth instalment (Before Horlicks?). “Life just has to be lived that much longer,” he told Slate. “We need to see how it unfolds, and where these two could possibly find themselves next.” Fans will nevertheless be hoping for something come 2022 or so.