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'Tolkien' Director Talks About Making A Biopic

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J.R.R. Tolkien famously wrote "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" books that inspired Peter Jackson's recent films. Now a film biography about the author hits theaters. I'll discuss the allure of Tolkien's fellowship, have a review of the biopic "Tolkien" and speak with the film's director Dome Karukoski about making connections between the man and his books.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:06 Welcome back to another edition of listener supported KPBS cinema junkie podcast. On Beth luck, Armando,

Speaker 1: 00:25 I have to confess a particular geeky obsession with Jrr Tolkien. For the past eight years, I've been holding an annual hobbit meals marathon where my friends and I watch all three extended cuts of the Lord of the rings movies and serve all seven hobbit meals. Even the ones Aragon doesn't know about, think he knows about second breakfast. What about 1130 lunch just after the teeth fella, so he knows about them. I wouldn't count on it, but at my house you can count on seven meals. Plus I throw in dessert, which I can't fathom how talking left that out. That means eating every two hours except for the dark times between luncheon and afternoon tea where there are three hours without food. I'm starving. We already know not the mega a red, but race day gain around. We have some weight. The rallying cry for the event is a quote from Tolkien that says, if more of US valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

Speaker 1: 01:33 Well, we try to make it a merrier world and the event brings my friends from all over the west coast to come and visit me in San Diego. We joke that it's about the fellowship, but in all honesty it is. There's something about the world Tolkien created in the Hobbit and Lord of the rings books that touches the heart with its sense of friendship and Camaraderie. What's most memorable about the books and the films is not so much the epic battles and the long journeys, but rather the touching humanity of the characters and their willingness to go to great lengths to help their friends. The new film toll king looks to tell the story of the life of the writer who created those stories and to convey a sense of what inspired him. Here's a clip from the trailer

Speaker 2: 02:15 journeys, the journeys we take to prove ourselves about inventions. We should form a club, a brotherhood. We changed the world through the power of art, music, poetry, and what about the talking? I want you to write something. It's about magic beyond anything anyone has ever felt before, what it means to love and to be loved.

Speaker 1: 02:48 Whoa, Tokyo.

Speaker 2: 02:59 All of the blessings of language God to tell you, Mr Kokee never come across anything like it. This is more than just a friendship. It's an alliance, an invincible alliance, a fellowship. If you've enjoyed any of Jrr Tolkien stories or fell in love with the fellowship vividly brought to life in the Lord of the rings films, then the new film toll king offers a nice introduction to the man himself here talking, played by Nicholas Hoult, shares his love of language with the woman. He will eventually marry Edith Bratt, played by Lily Collins. Tell me a story. The story, senator. No, I can't. Why not? When someone asks me to play the piece of different thing all together story in any language you want to Kiddos. Legend cellar door. I'm not a performing monkey. It begins with the arrival of a proud and opinionated princess that's you're right about that. She demands entertainment. Print just had a door. Is bored. Bored of cakes and muffins and exquisite China. Two longs for another life. It's not a name, something else. Celador it's not a princess. His name. It can't be his place supplies and an ancient place. Impossible to reach. Except by the most treacherous climb it hangs. No,

Speaker 2: 04:50 no. Let's what a climb. Just want climb shut up. Door path. It's path path through a dense dark forest. Oh, is it now? But at the heart of Salvador, which is actually a shrine, headstands stands and extraordinary side. Is it a proud and opinionated princess? It is a place which is revered by all her nerve. It's a sacred place mat at it's center by

Speaker 2: 05:25 my trees. The movie provides some fascinating insights into how king eventually came to writing actor Nicholas Hoult talks about his role in the media press kit for the film. Uh, I was fairly familiar with his work. I had read the Hobbit, um, off the filming about a boy because the whites brothers, the directors of that film gave me a copy of that book. Um, and then I'd read a bit of the Lord of the rings. I'd watched the films and was a big fan of those and then, and then played the card game after school or I'd stay behind after school and play the card game. So I like love the world and understood that. Um, but then really didn't know anything about the man behind those stories. Um, and that was what was incredible. I read the script and it was a, it was a beautiful story, standalone on it's own of these friendships and love and this young orphan boy who kind of found his safe place to create and then how that was all torn of, torn away from him through a World War One. Um, but also as a fan I was like, oh, this is where all that inspiration came from.

Speaker 1: 06:21 The scenes of young, tall king, especially at school or what the film does best. And I love any film that finds pleasure in the potential held by books and libraries. The film has some shortcomings, but it manages to leave you with the warm glow of fellowship that's so informed. Talking's writing. I'm going to take a short break, but don't worry. It's nothing as long as the dark times after luncheon. And then I'll be back with my interview with domain Cora Koskie the director of toll cane. Just to begin with, what was, what do you remember as your first introduction to toll keen?

Speaker 3: 07:02 Uh, I was at that time, I got to know in the later teens and then I think it was a teacher who gave me the Lord of rings to read. And I remember that I read the trilogy. I remember when Sam is back home and because partly because for me at that time it was an escape. And then I cried not just because the beautiful story, but because the adventure kind of escaped ended did that actually affected me very highly. It was very instrumental probably as a storyteller because then I started making my own fantasy stories. I started playing dungeons, dragons, board games, and creating my own stories and dad. So I remember that emotion where you're well,

Speaker 1: 07:48 and at what point did you become aware of the author's story? Like he his own story and became interested in him.

Speaker 3: 07:56 I think most of us know kind of the CS Lewis and the includes the Oxford era. And that was also my picture of him. You know, it certainly way I was, I wasn't very poor Kate also, so you didn't have running water. So you look at him as a privileged, almost elitist character in Oxford. And then when you realize this story that you know, he came out of poverty, he was often, you know, he had to really struggle and fight to be who he was. In a way there's a certain appreciation, appreciation against him even more. And you kind of admire it. And even more after hearing of this specific era that were depicted in the film.

Speaker 1: 08:34 And when did you become involved in this project and what was it that attracted you to trying to tell his story?

Speaker 3: 08:41 Uh, I had met folks just like a couple of years ago, I think it was 2014 and they had seen some of my older films and kind of like the voice that I have as a director and expressed that they would be very keen on working with me on something. And I was sent the script. And of course this script is several drafts ago. And what struck me most is the sense of destiny. So this time that it's based on his life and he's actually an outside, I hate it, no becomes often he's, he's the need to find friends and that is so vital and even in a manic level that I felt somehow destined that I did. That was, those were the emotions that I had when I was, you know, learning about if stories. And so it felt like, okay, there's something here. There's something definitely here that want to make the story. And we started developing, we riding, reshaping and several, several script drafts, drafts ready later and shooting. Yeah, we are.

Speaker 4: 09:37 And what kind of research did you do into his life to try and find out what his childhood was like and, and what kind of things influenced his writing?

Speaker 3: 09:46 Well, the difficulty of course is that there's not that much documentation of this era that we're depicting. So I would just read everything. I would listen to old interviews, I would meet somebody talk and experts that, uh, I could, and it was tricky is that one expert will be saying one thing and the other experts expert will be saying the other thing and everybody will have an opinion what should be involved in the film. And when you're doing an iconic character like talking, that's your biggest challenge as a film maker. So what happens to your biggest research is just listening, listening, listening, and then kind of finding through those voices, your own interpretation of the character and, and what you want to tell. What is the main emotion you want to tell about them, their growth. And, and if you look at this era of why, you know, after reading about in the more I read about the more research you felt, it's so instrumental in his mythologies. No, not necessarily if direct is inspiration, but more like it's really shaped him as an audience to create these stories.

Speaker 4: 10:45 And in making the film, what did you feel was the most important thing that you wanted to convey about him?

Speaker 3: 10:51 I think there were two things. One is that what was very important for me from what I read the first draft and then you know, kind of they will open new asleep. How do we dwelled into the mind of a genius regardless of you're talking fan or regardless about that you want to see by talking movie, you want to see how he's mine flourish. So said that was something I took very much care of. And the second thing is also the beautiful story of friendship and fellowship that the film have, you know, and these bration but your the fee or how they, how they embrace life, the beauty of life. That was very important that to bear hugs. When people walk, walk into cinema, even they were accidentally walking in not knowing anything about talking. They could walk out feeling inspired, feeling love and feeling this excitement and then you know, perhaps call a friend and go have a cup of tea with them and told us to tell stories.

Speaker 4: 11:44 Yeah. You mentioned doing research and looking for things, uh, about him. One thing told keen is famous for having said is that you know, you shouldn't, that the book is just the book. It's, it's nothing more. It's not about war, it's not about politics. How do you kind of take what an artist's says about themselves? Can we always believe like what the artist says or do you think you have to kind of dig below what they're presenting their work as?

Speaker 3: 12:15 I think he said that that specific line he said in regards of the Nazis and then at that time, you know, so many people were trying to find, you know, allegories in the Second World War. Of course I do, but he also said there were several things that is fired in directly. One on one, like when Edith office in the forest that inspired him to write the better Newseum and they are, there are different elements that he admitted that were inspirations that I do agree with him. That is not a direct analogy. Oh, died lord of rings, the Bay Catholic work, you know, it's, it's very religious. It's hard core. But again, it's not directly coming out of, you know, the Bible. Uh, it's more of like who we are as audience. We use the emotions, the feelings that we have boys, he would mention the war. It's not more dawn. And I agree that it's not one on one more as an inspiration, there's more more door, but in a way with an emotional journey into mortal and emotional experience. Him as an innocent soul or any of the men going to war. I think confronting this turmoil and that we want to show that those emotions that you felt and experienced and I'm pretty sure he used those emotions and writing his art.

Speaker 4: 13:31 Now we live in a time of, you know, media being everywhere or computers or cell phones. And one of the things I really loved about the film was this celebration of books and like being in a library and kind of the magic that just the written word can have.

Speaker 3: 13:50 I agree. Actually that's a very personal thing for me. I, I we're not, once I got to know my father, he loved language. He studied English language, Galen and you know, I'm half Finnish, I'm half American and we would debate about language in his kitchen here in New York where I am now. And the passion, you can have a language in the beauty of it then he would, he was right. He was a writer also. It was a poet is something I really read from Tokyo and I always taught that. Okay, how do you make language intriguing in a film? You know, especially as you said, given the times. So we approach it so the language can be part of the music of the film, that he can enjoy it as music almost. It's very lyrical and poetic on when you can just sit there and the cinema just be fulfilled with that. And I think that's something that's something beautiful that r gives us sometimes that allows us to be silent. The allows is the are that you or here? The beauty of the world and what we as humans have being able to create this level intelligence for ourselves and it is. It is a Hamas. The film has also on ice to that.

Speaker 4: 14:59 Well, I think some of my favorite scenes are the ones between Nicholas Hoult, Derek Jakoby.

Speaker 2: 15:05 My class is full Mr Tall, full with students who can translate old English at least as quickly and skittles. I live already. I do. Dms do establish themselves. Good afternoon. Hello professor. Since childhood, I have been fascinated with language, obsessed with it. I've invented my own full complete languages. Look, this is everything from the breast heart, my heart, the treasure of the breasts and the drawing. I made stories, legends of the, what is language for is it's not just the naming of things is it is the lifeblood of a culture of people. Yeah, exactly. Could you write 5,000 words on the influence of North's elements in Goldwing? Yes, absolutely. When would you like it by this evening?

Speaker 4: 16:08 That was a scene from the new film told King featuring actors, Nicholas Holt and Derek Jacoby. I'll be right back with more of my interview with director Domain Karu. Kosky. Those scenes at the university are great and they show how toll king's life changes direction because of a professor

Speaker 3: 16:31 around speaking. And they were so passionate about language and perhaps it would have been kind of Oxford. It was difficult because they also loved the German language, German enemies. So they would meet in secret speaking German language that would go in and sellers and somewhere to meet you speak the language they really loved. And if you think about that passion that they, something that you want to be a fly on the wall watching them. And I hope we can deliver that and phone.

Speaker 4: 17:15 And talk a little bit about your casting of Nicholas Holt as Tolkien. What did you feel that he had that you felt embodied that author?

Speaker 3: 17:23 Well, it's, it's funny because I didn't, when I'm, you know, Nikos was talking to my list and the studio had actually worked with in just the pay favorite. So you know, he, he's really having a moment and I've seen a lot of his work than had I had just seen a Netflix film that he was in and understanding this is a young actor really blossom, really starting to love the camera. Lily has the same situation. So I met Nicholas when I really didn't have the script, wasn't we finished or it wasn't at that point wanted to, I didn't want to show them. So we just sat and talked about life without talking about the script and, and our experiences, how we've grown to be who we are. And I found out, you know, the young man that he's very intelligent, he's very funny. Um, and he's, he's a bit of a goofy, playful character.

Speaker 3: 18:08 This just one thing that I read that there's so much in him already that I read the talking hat lily has to sing. She's kind of the l and princess that's going to go back when I was 13 and imagine, you know this is time before internet, you can Google, he read a book and they can Google what does an elven prince two of like you have to imagine your own island printers, your first crush. So when you, when you talked to that's this explosive warms like almost like a shine. So for me it kind of felt like, okay that's the tall keen. I mean that's the element of princess that talking sees and then inspires to write all the, all those stories about Lithion and another album for instance. Yes. Could you spell that? They have this beautiful shine and energy together that they would be the cereal and I turn a love story that they are,

Speaker 4: 18:56 this isn't the first bio pic that you've done and I'm just curious, what do you feel are the particular challenges of doing a film biography and what are the particular rewards that you found?

Speaker 3: 19:09 Well the first and foremost rule is that you always have be true to the emotions of not necessarily facts. So you know, it's not a documentary, it's not a Wikipedia site. So I learned that the best buyer picks of the best films about real life characters come when you dig out. Then you flush out the emotion. If that the needs that you have to rewrite the dramatized some scenes and it needs to be done because then you are actually more true to the characters and just factually showing something of him. Cause people are going to Google whatever they want to know more. And I think that's what we also talking. We very much, I want it to be so that really, really flush out the emotion we're talking what is cactus wasn't I'm doing it in a way so that the audience can enjoy and be emotional and evocative being an inbox that it would you learn that, that good, really good bio pic allows you to come experience who the character is yet good at dramatic way. That's why we thought after and I really hope that people feel so

Speaker 4: 20:04 what do you feel is the significance or what do you think about the film coming out at this particular time? What do you think audiences Mike connect with or what is it about the film that you'd like them to kind of take away?

Speaker 3: 20:17 I think there's several things in the societal manner of course is that what strikes me, it struck me, I said is that he was a poor kid and he had to really jump classes to be who we was. And so we are, I think the society is churning in chemy society rather than the weak society. And I think it's very valuable that we don't create the social classes that, you know, it's difficult to jump from another class, another one. And secondly, I think it's just the need of warmth and inspiration with your friends. We do not have to connect so much with our friends. You do not, you, we do not spend that time or debate or the banter that these boys dead. And I think that people, when they're walking in the sand in my field that really hope that when they walk out, they enjoyed it and then they'd be inspired and they maybe call a friend and one of the close to each other. And I think that's something that in 2019 is needed.

Speaker 1: 21:08 All right. Well I want to thank you very much for taking some time.

Speaker 3: 21:11 Thank you very much.

Speaker 1: 21:21 That was domain [inaudible], director of the new film Tolkin and also with the recent Thomas Finland. Thanks for listening to another episode of KPBS and I'm a junkie podcast. The podcast comes out every other Friday, but I'll have a special podcast next week about John Wick three

Speaker 2: 21:38 John Week twice on your head is now $18 we will continue to rise until you bought. Okay. And the way we go, Mr went broke the rules and get he lives. I've been looking forward to meeting you for long time so far you haven't disappointed.

Speaker 1: 22:04 So looking forward to this film and I'll have a review to let you know if it disappoints. Plus all the feature and archive interview with its director and former stunt man. Chad's to Helsinki, who talks about how he and star Kiano reads worked on the character and the action together so Kiana can sit in, you know, one of our action meetings go, John Wick wouldn't run. He just rammed me with a car and his mentality is not evasion. It is destruction and collision. So check out the John Wick kickass addition of cinema junkie podcast next Friday. If you enjoy what you hear, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and leave a review. It's recommendations from people just like you that help the podcast reach a larger audience and thanks to those of you who've already left reviews and told a friend to take a listen till our next film fixed on Beth Armando, your resident cinema junkie.

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Cinema Junkie

Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place