Peter Weir: You have to remember that people who had been in the gulags would have been very careful about what they say to one another. What Irena does is allow the audience to get to know the other characters in a different way, because they quietly recount their stories to her. You get a different perspective on their suffering and what has happened to them. In terms of the film as a whole I wanted to take the viewer on a journey with these characters. I didn’t want to have lots of flashbacks and long speeches. I wanted people to learn things as the characters learn them, and gradually to get involved with them.
Why did you cast this particular set of actors?
Peter Weir: It wasn’t just a case of picking the best actor for a particular role. The important thing was that I had to pick actors who were prepared to go on a journey in very difficult circumstances. I said to each of them, including those with considerable reputations, like Ed Harris and Colin Farrell, “There will be days when you don’t have much to do. You will be plodding on, and I will be focussing on somebody else. Is that Ok with you. ” It’s very much an ensemble acting job.
Apart from the actors who don’t make it, the rest are on camera all the time . They had to come on to the set every day having thought about what they’d eaten the night before and how they had slept, because the minute they were in a landscape, they had to be prepared for being filmed. There wasn’t time on set to discuss their particular characters. I think they were inspired by Ed Harris, who lived the part. He’d wander off and make something out of a stick or repair his shoes. It enabled us to move fast, because we had a lot of ground to make up each scene.
How tough was it to film in deserts?
Peter Weir: I think deserts are always tough to work in – i’ve shot in the Outback before. But they are inspiring, to you and the actors. The tough thing is getting to and from base every day to where you are shooting. It can take a couple of hours drive each way, which fills the day up with transportation issues. Sometimes you’re freezing, sometimes you’re very hot. You tend to just get on with it. Actually in Morocco we had a man whose sole job was to clear the area of scorpions, and we also had a snake man.