Catatan Produksi Film Macbeth (2015)
About the Production
MACBETH is directed by Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) and stars Academy-Award nominee Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave) and Academy-Award winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose). The film also stars Paddy Considine (The Bourne Ultimatum), David Thewlis (the Harry Potter series), Sean Harris (Prometheus), Jack Reynor (What Richard Did) and Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby).
MACBETH is the story of a fearless warrior and inspiring leader brought low by ambition and desire. A thrilling interpretation of the dramatic realities of the times and a reimagining of what wartime must have been like for one of Shakespeare’s most famous and compelling characters, a story of all-consuming passion and ambition, set in war torn Scottish landscape.
Academy Award winners Iain Canning and Emile Sherman of See-Saw Films (Shame, Tracks, Mr Holmes) produce with Laura Hastings-Smith (Hunger). See-Saw developed the project alongside Film4. STUDIOCANAL majority financed with Film4.
Director of photography is Adam Arkapaw (True Detective, Snowtown) production designer is Fiona Crombie (Snowtown, Top of the Lake). Costumes are designed by Academy Award winner Jacqueline Durran (Atonement, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), make-up and hair designer is Academy-Award winner Jenny Shircore (The Invisible Woman, My Week With Marilyn). The screenplay was written by Jacob Koskoff & Todd Louiso and Michael Lesslie.
Of all of Shakespeare’s classic works, Macbeth must surely be amongst his most famous. Certainly, in the more than 400 years since its first publication, it has been one of the most frequently adapted; revived regularly on stage and re-envisioned time and again in the age of cinema and television. The tragic tale of a Scottish general haunted by his own ambition, and a prophecy that he will one day become King of Scotland, has long fascinated actors, directors and audiences, and on the big screen has led to adaptations by directors from Orson Welles to Roman Polanski.
But with a new generation of British actors commanding the stage, as well as screens big and small, producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman of See-Saw Films felt the time was right for a new approach to Macbeth. “You’ve got actors such as Tom Hiddleston and Jude Law playing the leads in Shakespeare plays,” notes Canning.
“And I think it’s interesting to see this new wave come in and reinterpret the plays – discovering again what they mean.”
The timing was right from a topical point of view too, with greed, and its effects, on the agenda more than ever before. Notes Jack Reynor, who plays Malcolm: “Greed is a really terrible thing that can corrupt on a monumental scale, and it can destroy people’s lives. So the story of Macbeth is particularly poignant when you take into account the economic climate of the past few years.”
The filmmakers felt that the globalised nature of the world today offered an opportunity to increase the scope of the story on the big screen and give Macbeth a modern feel. “What I think has been very strong in this adaptation is the sense of community and the wider world that exists around these characters,” Canning notes. “We’ve expanded the idea that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth exist within a world, that they were a product of it and that their actions affected it. We’re exploring the story from a much more modern, cinematic place.”
Preserving Shakespeare’s language was always key for the filmmakers. “You’d end up making a very different film if you’re not using the rules of the verse and dialogue,” Canning notes. “Our challenge was to cut the play in the right ways, and bring together the right filmmaking team so that people would forget they were listening to something slightly unusual or classical.”
“We approached it with simplicity,” says Michael Fassbender, cast in the role of Macbeth. “We never tried to work against the verse or just disregard it, but we kept things simple and tangible, and the idea Justin had from the beginning was to be a lot more intimate with the text than we’ve seen before, but always truthful. As with any script, you don’t set out to sabotage this tremendous writing but you work with it and ground yourself within it.”
Continues director Justin Kurzel: “You’re bringing the verse into the cinema, and there’s something about doing it to another person one-on-one as opposed to a live audience, and I think something happens when you have another actor opposite you and the camera is so close and intimate. You forget about projection and instead play to the intimacy.”
“We had to really work at it because Shakespeare can be hard to understand, even for English people,” notes French actress Marion Cotillard, cast in the role of Lady Macbeth. “But it created an energy that carried us the whole way.”
“It was terrifying,” admits Reynor. “But it’s one of those things where, if it wasn’t going to be difficult then it probably wasn’t worth doing in the first place and I really did relish the challenge. It’s been amazing to have the opportunity to bring this verse to life with this cast, with no formal Shakespeare training.”
What the verse offers, though, is something Shakespeare has always been renowned for: the use of language as manipulation. And in Macbeth, manipulation is very much the name of the game. “You watch Michael with Marion or Michael and Paddy and it feels like a scene out of Goodfellas, with all these characters trying to manipulate one another in very clever, very conniving ways,” explains Kurzel. “There’s a subtext to that which is unspoken and it’s really interesting in Macbeth in that there’s a secrecy and tension that happens which is almost conversational as opposed to artificial.”
While the writers worked to adapt Shakespeare’s play to the big screen, the producers first thought turned to the casting of Macbeth himself, a choice which they knew would form the backbone of the entire production.
“After we had made Shame, we really wanted to work with Michael Fassbender again,” notes Canning. “We were working on this adaptation and thought we’d send it his way anyway, but the more we thought about it, the more we realised that we couldn’t think of anyone else capable of bringing the unique style of performance we were looking for.”
For his part, Fassbender, who has fast emerged as one of the world’s most accomplished and popular actors, immediately saw the potential in a new adaptation of the play. “It was comprehensively engaging,” he says of his attraction to the project. “It’s an amazing piece of writing and you’ll only get one chance to do it. So I tried to be as well-prepared as I could be and making sure I uncovered every stone so that you’re not leaving anything wanting at the end of the day.”
Fassbender grounds the character of Macbeth in real humanity, says Canning. “It’s not from a place of theatricality; you really get into the mind-set of the man. What’s so special about that is seeing the madness unfold. You’re watching it knowing you have no control, and that there’s no way to help him, so you’re seeing the events unfold and it feels surprising in a play that everyone knows relatively well. There are still plenty of emotional surprises within it.”
With Fassbender on board, attention turned to a director who could complement the lead actor’s unique style and add a new layer to this classic play. And with Fassbender’s name attached, the job was highly prized. “Michael provided a solid foundation with which to attract others,” Canning notes.
It was a screening of Snowtown, by director Justin Kurzel, which convinced the producers to send the script Kurzel’s way. The Australian native has a storied history in the theatre in his home country, and his feature film directorial debut won awards at festivals all over the world.
“We were lucky that he responded to the material,” says Canning. “Snowtown is about how a murder, or a set of murders, can affect a whole community, and how that community ends up being groomed by that killer. It’s something that’s as topical, unfortunately, in contemporary society as it was when Macbeth committed his crimes.”
Adds producer Laura Hastings-Smith, of screening Snowtown: “Here was a director who really got down into the layers of a character’s psychology.”
“Justin has brought a world to life that combines his theatrical background with a look at the truth of medieval life,” notes Canning. “But it also has a look towards life in the frontier; the Western. This is a difficult landscape, where people are trying to live and prosper, and I guess Macbeth chooses the ultimate murderous act in terms of bettering his life in a harsh frontier world.”
Kurzel found that world in his research, looking at the true history of Macbeth as a jumping off point. “What was that time like and how brutal was it?” he asks. “It reminded me a lot of a Western, and of a landscape and atmosphere that felt much more dangerous than I’d ever seen before from adaptations of Macbeth.”
But it was the notion of Macbeth as a warrior that made Kurzel sign up for the project. “The shadow of war, and being able to bring that to the screen cinematically – how Macbeth responds to war, or is a product of it, and how that plays into his ambitions to become king – I found all of that really interesting in terms of a character replacing a kind of trauma, or a grief, with a kind of kinship.”
And Fassbender’s attachment was essential to Kurzel’s involvement. “I wouldn’t have done it without Michael,” he says. “I’d met him after I’d finished my first film and he’s one of the greatest actors of his generation by far, so he was someone, as an artist, that I desperately wanted to collaborate with. As soon as I heard he was attached I wanted to do it straight away.”
In fact, it was after Fassbender saw Snowtown – before the idea of Kurzel directing Macbeth had even been mooted – that the actor asked his agent to set up a meeting. “I immediately felt that I wanted to work with this guy,” notes Fassbender. “Just from the sort of feel of who he was as a person and the conversations we were having, I knew we could collaborate. It just sort of built from there, and the love and respect I have for the man and the way he works, and who he is as a human being, just grew from there.”
He continues: “His insight into the piece and the clearness of what we were looking for in each scene really brought a clarity to each beat.”
“Watching Justin direct the actors on Macbeth has been exciting,” says Hastings-Smith. “You’re seeing a bit of a master class there. Almost instantly the actors were under his command and in a very short amount of time were willing to trust his vision and do whatever was asked of them. They’ve travelled to some very dark places together, and Justin is an actor’s director in that way.”
Agrees Reynor: “Justin promotes a real sense of camaraderie on set, and everybody feels encouraged to trust him. He’s disarming to be around and work with, and I don’t think there’s a single person on this show who doesn’t trust him completely.”
This was especially true of Marion Cotillard, who signed up to play the crucial role of Lady Macbeth, despite English being a second language. “I knew that one day I would play Lady Macbeth,” says Cotillard, noting the special connection she’s always felt to Scotland and this particular play. “But I thought it would be in French, and on stage. When I got the offer I was surprised, to say the least.”
But as one of the most talented actresses of her generation, Cotillard was an obvious choice for the part of Lady Macbeth. And while the character is originally Scottish, her casting adds another layer to the film. “It has allowed us, at the centre of this story, to place a character who has an otherness,” says Canning. “There’s a slight sense of separation now, in Lady Macbeth, that she exists in the community but somehow has a slightly different agenda to the other women in that community. It adds complexity to the Lady Macbeth role, and I think combined with her incredible performance will be a totally fresh way of looking at Lady Macbeth.”
Agrees Jack Reynor: “It makes perfect sense that she’s maintained her own accent in it, and it just adds a different layer to the whole project. She’s incredibly strong too, and there are moments in the film in which she really takes command. It’s been an honour to work with her.”
Kurzel says Cotillard worked hard to learn the Shakespearian language despite the language barrier. “It was huge for her in terms of how foreign the verse was,” he notes. “When I first approached her – and Michael and I were both really keen on Marion being a part of the film – she never thought she’d have the opportunity to do anything like this, so for her I think it was something she couldn’t say no to.”
“I couldn’t miss this opportunity to play this character in English,” she concurs. “We all worked with Neil Swain on the language, who is much more than a dialogue coach, he’s a Shakespeare expert. Our work with him was about going deep into Shakespeare’s world, and it was about more than just finding the right accent, rhythm and energy.”
Cotillard says acting opposite Fassbender was easy, since the pair formed an immediate connection. “Sometimes you meet someone and you feel like you’ve known them your whole life,” she notes. “That’s the feeling I had with Michael; he’s creative and inventive, but his power of invention never gets in the way of simplicity. He surprised me every day.”
In the end, Cotillard’s wholehearted embracing of the challenge is reflected across the production, and, thinks Kurzel, is what made the collaboration so strong. “There was fear across the production,” he says, honestly. “Not just Marion tackling verse, but Michael doing Macbeth, and me directing my second feature after doing this small, Australian film. There was massive fear, but I think that’s what creates good tension and what makes you committed to overcoming it.”
“I think in the end you’ll have great empathy for both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth,” notes Hastings-Smith. “Obviously they do terrible things, which can happen even to good people, but I think you come to understand the tragedy of that in a very human sense with this film.”
With the central roles cast, attention turned to the casting of the people around Macbeth. “We wanted to cast men in the roles around Macbeth from that same warrior world,” notes Canning of the crucial casting of Macduff and Banquo. “Sean Harris and Paddy Considine have been incredible in terms of showing the world of the soldier in the story, and I think we’ve been able to place the characters of Macduff and Banquo at the centre in ways that the dynamics of theatre don’t allow. Both of their performances help to bring this world to life.”
Considine’s Banquo is a “fiercely loyal guy,” says the actor. “He’s seemingly incorruptible and has a huge moral conflict as he sees his friend unravel. He’s less troubled by the prophecy than Macbeth is, but when he starts to see the change in his friend, that’s when he starts to question his motives.”
He says Kurzel’s note to him was to channel the work he’d done on Jim Sheridan’s film In America. “I enjoyed bringing those qualities to him,” notes Considine. “Hopefully he leaves a little mark on the audience.”
Considine particularly enjoyed working with Lochlann Harris who played Banquo’s son, Fleance. “Working with Lochlann was incredible,” says the actor. “Justin showed me a bunch of different auditions, and I couldn’t work out why he was asking for my input, but as soon as I saw Lochlann he stood out immediately; his physicality, his reflexes, everything about him was spot on.”
He continues: “Lochlann’s definitely got it. He’s got that spark that you see in young actors. I saw it in [This is England star] Thomas Turgoose and I see it in him.”
Jack Reynor plays Malcolm. With no background in classical theatre, Reynor’s attraction to the role was the package that had assembled. “I’d been acquainted with Michael before shooting the film and I really got on great with him,” says Reynor of his fellow countryman. “For me, I jumped at the chance to work with him, initially. And then subsequently I learnt Justin Kurzel was going to direct and I’d seen his film Snowtown. I thought it was an incredibly stark portrayal of that part of the world and that society, and it was very interesting. I thought, tonally, he could be great for this film.”
Reynor was attracted to Malcolm’s progression through the film. “He’s a young guy who’s trying to develop into a man and assume these responsibilities,” he says. “It was nice to play with the idea that when his father dies he would have come to pieces and retreated back to that boyishness and become very vulnerable, and at the same time, then have to gather and steel himself to come back and assume his responsibilities.”
Reynor has especially enjoyed working with David Thewlis, who plays Duncan. “The first time I ever went to the cinema it was to see one of David’s films,” Reynor enthuses. “It was a brilliant experience to be on set with him. What he’s done with the character of Duncan is he’s played him as a quite self-conscious and indecisive king. You empathise with him – your heart bleeds for him – because his only crime is that he isn’t quite as strong as his father was.”
Iain Canning adds “Normally with the role of Duncan, there is a tendency to cast an actor who is quite considerably older than Macbeth – we wanted to find an actor who posed a physical and mental challenge to Macbeth as his contemporary. David was the perfect choice for Duncan as he brings a combination of power and vulnerability to the role that explores a real depth to the character that is not often shown.”
ON LOCATION WITH MACBETH
The film was shot over seven weeks, on 36 shooting days, each and every one of them on location. Only six of those days didn’t involve exterior work. “It was all to do with authenticity and what our director wanted to achieve,” Hastings-Smith notes of the decision to work on location. “Justin wanted to create a world that was truly believable and had a logic within it, and he talked about it as a sort of Western. The harshness of the world of Macbeth made the landscape a very real character in the film, and therefore it was important to be out in that landscape.”
Notes Kurzel: “It was a deliberate thing to shoot all of it outside, and it brought a lot of challenges, but what it really brings is a kind of grounded-ness and a reality and a sense of the landscape being connected to the words and the performance, which I think you can really feel in the film. It gives it an earthiness which I think is quite unique to the verse and to the storytelling.”
Shooting provided plenty of challenges, not least because it involved a lot of location work in the cold winter months. “There was a point on this film where we felt we were being judged one way or another by William Shakespeare himself,” laughs Canning. “He was either occasionally supportive of what we were doing, and making sure we had the right weather for all the stormy scenes – and we were filming those scenes whilst Britain was having some of its worst weather ever – or perhaps he just wanted to stop us in our tracks. We’ll see!”
But Canning says Macbeth is as much a story about weather as anything else. “It’s so much about how the storms reflect what’s going on in the action, and we definitely wanted to harness that. But we thought maybe we’d be doing it through special effects rather than it coming naturally.”
According to Hastings-Smith, it was Michael Fassbender who led from the front and helped the cast and crew push through the difficult conditions. “He is so committed and so physically strong and so focused on the role that he’s a leader for us all,” she notes. “It’s like, if Michael’s doing it, then we can do it along with him.”
In fact, all of the actors embraced the difficulties of the environment without complaint. “Marion had to do some extraordinary scenes, barefoot and out on the heath in hail. She, too, is a consummate professional. And I think it’s because they believed in the film and believed in Justin, who carried them through those scenes, that we achieved what we did.”
Notes Cotillard: “When you’re carried by the energy of a great director and of telling this story, then, yes, it’s cold, and sometimes it’s hard, but when everything comes together and you can feel the magic of it, you find the energy to do it.”
“There was something incredibly bonding about it actually,” says Kurzel. “In a very old-fashioned way, when you see your production designer fly across the camera because they’ve literally been picked up by the wind, or you see Marion Cotillard disappear down a bog hole as she’s walking along, it brings you all closer together.”
Laughs Fassbender: “All you saw of the crew was these little eyeholes poking through wet weather gear – people who’ve been in this industry for 25 years experiencing the worst conditions they’ve ever seen, weather-wise.”
“You do kind of pinch yourself and think, ‘Wow, this is crazy and silly,'” summarises Kurzel. “But I think you will feel the effort, and hopefully in the film you can feel how the landscape plays an integral role in Macbeth’s psychosis.”
“Justin’s an artist and I think, as an artist, you can’t not be touched by the power of the elements in Scotland,” says Cotillard. “There’s something about them, and about the nature of the place, that is kind of mystical and you feel it whenever you look at the country. There’s much more to it than you see.”
The film features a battle sequence that lasts for a remarkable ten pages in the script. This was an opportunity film allowed that the theatre did not, says Canning. “It’s a battle that’s normally delivered via Banquo in the form of a description of it, rather than it actually being shown, it was very important to the core of what we were doing that we join our characters on that battlefield and then follow them to find out what their lives are like, and how they’re affected, away from it.”
In the shooting of it, Kurzel chose to focus on the main characters’ points of view of the battle, as well as that of the witches who are a central focus of these early scenes, feeding Macbeth the prophecy that will dominate his thoughts for the remainder of the story.
It was amongst the first scenes shot. “It was quite focused and we got into it straight away,” notes Kurzel. “We focused on ideas rather than a kind of texture or narrative of war, and letting you go into all the different events that happened within the battle. This is more about Macbeth’s point of view, and how it’s affecting him.”
The film employed the help of a literal army of battle re-enactors, who were drafted to make sure these scenes looked the part. Notes Kurzel: “These guys spend their weekends doing these re-enactments, so their dedication and passion towards what they do, and what they were being asked to do for the film, was remarkable.”
“I think there were only two that didn’t come back,” jokes Fassbender. “Out of all the warriors on the field we only lost two. A lot of them were running around without shirts and it was bitter- I can’t explain to you how cold it was; it was the end of January, and you had rain and flooding that was fairly intense. They were an amazing bunch of people.”
One of the key themes Kurzel and the team were keen to explore, by presenting this battle sequence and then exploring its aftermath, was the notion of post-traumatic stress and what it does to Macbeth’s mind.
“Justin discovered early on that the character was suffering from PTSD,” notes Fassbender. “And so he’s already having hallucinations and there’s a certain element of psychosis there. That runs right through to the banquet scene where he says to himself, essentially: if anybody here knows me, then they know I have these strange fits. So that was obviously part of the man before the events of the play, and I thought that was a really helpful key into finding him, his reality and what’s going on inside his head.”
“Usually you start from a point with Macbeth which is about two characters wanting more,” notes Kurzel. “I thought it’d be interesting to flip it and after thinking about it for a long time, make it about watching those two characters try to fill a void – whether it’s inspired by grief or whatever it might be.” He continues: “Macbeth is a kind of weary soldier suffering from the suggestions of post trauma, and we’re also suggesting a loss within the lives of him and Lady Macbeth. That became really interesting in terms of the prophecy and the killing of a king; liberating these two characters in terms of them being able to move forward as a couple.”
Adding to the notion of Macbeth as a broken warrior general is how, in Kurzel’s film, this affects his relationship with his wife. Notes Canning: “What we loved about telling the story was the idea of exploring how Lady Macbeth has to cope with a husband who’s returned from war and is a broken fragment of the man she saw go off to war in the first place. He’s been changed by his experiences on the battlefield. It adds another layer to the complexity of the relationship between the two of them.”
Cotillard worked closely with Fassbender to nail the dynamic between Lady Macbeth and her husband. “Michael and Marion put everything into it,” says Kurzel. “And they did an extraordinary job of getting up to speed before we started shooting.”
THE LOOK OF MACBETH
For Hastings-Smith, the film’s visual style is perfectly married to its thematic intent. “It all has a kind of logic that clicks into place and you believe it as a real place in a real time.”
Production designer Fiona Crombie says the main brief from Kurzel was that the world felt lived in, and instantly familiar to a modern audience despite its period setting. “We didn’t want it to feel over gilded,” she says. “The primary impulse was to make sure we framed it in a way that it felt close to human experience.”
Kurzel wanted to honour the history. “We tried to be as studious as possible in understanding eleventh-century Scotland,” notes Crombie. “We knew what would have been, and we discovered things we were surprised about. The layout of Inverness that we’ve created is not far from how it would have been.”
Crombie says her natural inclination is to include as much detail as possible. “I want it to be as dressed as it can be, because that’s how I like to work, and I think it helps everybody. I have a long collaboration with Justin, and we have a pretty good understanding of how it’s going to work with one another now.”
With the set decorator, Alice Felton, Crombie worked to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s. “What are the incidentals in this world that we can layer up so that it doesn’t feel anemic?” asks Crombie. “We want it to feel like there’s mud on people’s boots and history to this place, even though we put it all there three weeks ago.”
The production shot on location at Ely Cathedral, which doubled for Dunsinane. “We came here really early on and there was something about this place,” explains Crombie. “It’s obviously incredibly beautiful, but what I love about it is that it’s imperfect. The walls aren’t necessarily symmetrical and the floor changes a lot so there’s a little bit of chaos there.”
Across the board, the hope is that this visceral, dark take on Macbeth will encourage a new generation of audiences to embrace Shakespeare’s tragic tale. Notes Canning: “We wanted to make this feel very real and very much that it could happen in the here and now. These characters could be alive today doing these horrific things, and we never wanted our audience to feel like they were getting a repeat of what they could go and see anywhere else.”
It will be fully cinematic, he insists. “This is an edge-of-your-seat experience. I think with a younger cast will entice a younger, broader audience to this than might normally go and see a Shakespeare film.”
Notes Hastings-Smith: “This isn’t the play as we’d experience it in the theatre or read it on the page. It’s truly a movie made for the cinema”.