Louis Leterrier was born in Paris, but studied film at NYU, and has worked largely with English language films. His directorial efforts include the Jet Li thriller Unleashed, the sequel The Transporter 2, the remake of Clash of the Titans, and the controversial reboot of The Incredible Hulk. He scored a surprise hit this summer with Now You See Me, a film that featured neither superheroes nor robots nor a series of young adult novels at its heart. (It does have some cool magicians though.) The Blu-ray version was released last week, complete with a longer director’s cut and the expected number of bells and whistles. In an exclusive interview with Mania, he talked about what he hoped to accomplish with the film, as well as his thoughts on the movies in general.
Question: What’s the connection between stage magic and the movies? What do you think that connection is about, and how does this movie talk about it?
Louis Leterrier: They’re two branches of the same tree, magic and the movies. The problem is that they’re Cain and Abel. Movie magic is incredible, but it’s diffuse, separated. It’s an optional illusion creating by film moving at 24 frames a second, but it’s not immediate. It’s achieved by special effects and editing tricks. Stage magic is visceral and live. It achieves its effects right in front of your eyes. Movies kill the specific thrill achieved by stage magic, performing wonders in their own right, but at the cost of the very thing that makes stage magic so exciting.
We did a lot of thinking about how to incorporate stage magic into this movie. It’s a movie about stage magic, and as such it needs to capture that immediate, visceral reaction. You see tricks along the way, but in the end, it’s not about the tricks. It’s all one big trick that only reveals itself at the end. That’s the point where movie magic and stage magic intersect. I hope we found that spot, that intersection, the way we needed to.
Q: How hard is it to make cuts for a theatrical release? You have a director’s cut, presumably, and then you need to trim it to fit the studio’s demands…
LL: My cut was always there, but right before the movie was set to come out, we replayed some scenes and thought we could tighten the way that they flowed. The director’s cut lets us explore more of the characters, more of their journey, but the flow wasn’t quite there for the theatrical release. So we trimmed about nine minutes – that’s a lot of time for a theatrical release – and it made things a lot tighter.
The Blu-ray, for me, is a chance to show a little more of the story and the characters for people who are already fans. It lets them see more of who these people are and why they act the way they do. Hopefully, you see the version in the theaters and you want to know more, you want to see more. That’s the right place for Blu-ray: a more thorough examination of the story. I’m very happy with both cuts. They’re both right for the medium we developed them for.
Q: What’s the appeal of characters like this, these rogues and outsiders? Beyond the fantasy of breaking the rules?
LL: Society has become so weighted by rules and boundaries. The fantasy is one of escape, of freedom, of stepping outside the apparatus that binds us. That’s why shows like 24 found such an audience for so long. Kiefer Sutherland was doing the right thing, but doing so outside the rules, and the show dealt with the costs of that as well as indulging in the fantasy of freedom. These characters aren’t entirely dissimilar. They want to do the right thing. They’re just doing it with the freedom that most of us don’t have, and have to pay the price for taking that alternate path. It’s the same with some of the characters in my other films. The Transporter. The Hulk. They’re all cut from the same cloth as far as that goes.
You don’t want to see a mirror of your life when you go to the movies. The movies are a way of giving us new experiences, and seeing things from new points of view: things we could never do if we didn’t have this medium. And part and parcel of that is exploring – and to some extent sharing – that sense of freedom and escape.
Q: You’re French, but all of your films have been English language films. What kind of perspective do you think you bring to your movies because of that?
LL: France is a cornerstone of cinematic culture. We have as many films opening every week in France as there are in America. The movies there come from all over the world: Asia, India, China, Russia. I got to see five different movies a week growing up. We had a great system in France: you could play, say 100 Francs a month, twenty bucks or so, and see all the movies you wanted to in that time. With all that variety, it was a pretty rich diet. I discovered some of my favorite movies by accident, just walking into a theater and seeing what was playing. There was this weird mix of cultures, all bound in the common medium. It gave me a lot of influences, which I think and hope I bring to my movies. The canvas is so wide, you can approach a movie from so many levels, that all I want to do is take the best advantage of that. Someone could look at the movie and see a good time; someone else could see it as a comment about the politics of the day; someone else could see it as an homage to another film they saw long ago; someone else could see it as a new way to approach a genre that they thought they knew. The audience brings all those influences and thoughts to the movie, just as the movie reflects whatever influences went into making it. My job is to use what I know to try and engage the audience on whatever level they choose to be engaged. If I can do that, then my contributions to this wonderful art form will be worth it.