This past weekend was the junket for the James Cameron-executive produced Sanctum. Lovely affair at the Four Seasons here in Beverly Hills. In attendance were director Alister Grierson, writer/producer Andrew Wight (on whose personal experience the film is based), actors Richard Roxburgh, Rhys Wakefield, Ioan Gruffudd, Alice Parkinson and James Cameron himself. These were group Q&A style of presentations, in three segments. The first was with Roxburgh and Wakefield, the second with Gruffudd and Parkinson and the final one with Grierson, Wight and Cameron. There were about 20-25 media outlets there, so questions – especially in the panel with Cameron – were sometimes at a premium. Here are the ones I managed to fire off.
Session #1: Richard Roxburgh and Rhys Wakefield
I had the most success with Roxburgh, who’s quite a nice bloke, and Wakefield, whom, I wonder, if his mother knew where he was ( I jest, he was a proper young lad as well). I managed three questions. But in the 20-minute session, I didn’t get a turn until about 12 minutes in, whereby many of the obvious questions had been fielded. So I had to go off grid for my opener.
Me (to Roxburgh): A few years ago there was sort of an odd, loosely associated trilogy of films you did. You did a take of Sherlock Holmes in Hound of the Baskervilles and then that led right into The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen [Moriarty] and then to Van Helsing [Dracula]. And all of these characters were based on literary figures. Were you feeling a pull more toward literary characters at the time or was it just happenstance?
Roxburgh: No, it was very much happenstance. It wasn’t as if I was having a leaning to playing these sort of famous, Edwardian literary figures. It just kind of fell that way, really.
Me (later, to both): What did it mean to both of you to film this sort of in your own back yard [the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia] as opposed to other places it could have been filmed like the Caribbean or Hawaii?
Roxburgh: Well, it was handy. But it was also…what was appealing I suppose was that having the characters being largely Australian, lends the thing a kind of, a measure of authenticity. And also, the story is attacked with some rigor, so that I think that the character I play is really tough. I mean, he’s just a tough, hard man. As indeed, these men seem to be…they’re mainly men who do this. And I admire the way that it hasn’t been kind of softened unnecessarily and that the journey to some sort of rapprochement with his son is a difficult one and it’s forged in kind of a horrible terrain of circumstance that happens under the ground surrounded by water.
Me (later, to both): Recently, you’ve both embarked on fairly new phases of your career. Richard, you just created Rake, the [Australian] television show, and you’re also producing it, which I believe is something new for you. And Rhys, you’re getting ready to be introduced to the world in a big way with this film. Are you looking forward to those challenges and what’s in the future for both of you?
Roxburgh: Sanctum was sort of smack-in-the-middle of a spate of a mad back-to-back things. I went from Sanctum to producing, to creating this thing and starring in this series for ABC, which is fantastic, and has been great. I like mixing things up. I like…I get bored doing the same thing. Obviously with a film like Sanctum, there’s no risk of that. I don’t mean to say that I would never do another film like this. [But] I like the challenge of different things. I directed a film two years ago as well. So I enjoy the movement between all these things. I just finished a stage play in Sydney. So for me it’s important to get variety, because I find that that is very good nourishment. My main priority at the moment is to get back to my family and to spend some time with my boys – one of whom was conceived during Sanctum -and have some quality time.
Wakefield: I’m based here now in L.A. and I’ve been back and forward for a little while and now. And I really don’t know what to expect. It’s exciting and I hope that the film is well received. And yeah, there are a few projects that are in the works. But we’ll just wait for confirmation and see how it all goes.
Session #2: Ioan Gruffudd and Alice Parkinson
Only managed to get in one question with Gruffudd and Parkinson. Gruffudd was quite chipper and personable with the crowd, while Parkinson was a bit more on the serious side, yet very receptive to giving detail to her answers.
Me (to Gruffudd): You’re no stranger to a gigantic, James Cameron water-bound production. I was wondering whether or not your association with this film came before you knew what type of film it was going to be. And if not, if you knew this was going to be another James Cameron-associated water picture, are you a glutton for punishment?
Gruffudd: Well I survived the Titanic. You’re absolutely right. In fact, the character I played in Titanic was a survivor. He was a real character that survived that horrible ordeal that evening, a Welshman from North Wales. Goes to show how thorough Cameron was in his casting. He wanted a guy that came from Wales because the character came from Wales. In this circumstance, the movie was directed by Alister Grierson, we mustn’t forget that. Cameron, obviously an adventurer in his own right, and one of his best buddies, Andrew Wight, an adventurer, a cave diver. So this is how the movie was conceived, you know, by these two fantastic guys. And to have Cameron there overseeing us as a presence throughout obviously gives us a lot of confidence moving forward. But let’s not forget, Alister Grierson is the visionary behind the story and the one that brought this to life. And Cameron is very proud to run with it I think.
Session #3: Alister Grierson, Andrew Wight, James Cameron
This was the main event. In preface to this segment, before ever coming out to Los Angeles, there were a handful of celebrities whom I knew if I ever had a chance to meet it would be a bucket list item, even though I hate that term. But James Cameron is one of those people. The man’s movies are at the core of why I’m a fan of film. They’re gigantic spectacles on which I’ve grown up enjoying. So there are umpteen questions I could have asked about a number of his films, but considering the setting and his fellow panelists, I had to sort of go with the underwater route.
Me: Two quick questions please. First, Mr. Grierson, was it a challenge at all coming into the [established] collaborative relationship that Mr. Cameron and Mr. Wight already share? Second, Mr. Cameron, Mr. Wight, are the any other shipwrecks that hold your interest in exploring considering your work on both the Titanic and the Bismarck, such as the Edmund Fitzgerald, the Andrea Doria or the Lusitania?
Alister Grierson: It wasn’t hard, it wasn’t difficult, it was wonderful. The fist thing that Jim said to me when we met was that “This is your picture. It’s your vision, it’s what you want t do with it. Just let me help you make the best picture you can.” So it was really about Jim handling all creative control to me. I was then fortunate enough that as I worked through all the preproduction process and the preparation before that, designers, preview artists and so on, I’d send my material to Jim. He’d run his eye over it, if he had any feedback he’d give it to me. But he was very busy with Avatar at the same time. So once we were of shooting, Andrew and I were off doing our own thing. But I think Jim’s biggest influence on the picture was during post production where I could actually bring versions of the film to Jim and screen them for him. And the end of those screenings, he’d give me sort of streams of consciousness feedback. Then I’d go back to Australia and work closely with my editor to…get as much, to milk as much as as I could from the film. It was a wonderful learning experience and I learned a lot about making this style of a picture.
James Cameron: Shipwrecks? Yeah we love shipwrecks. There’s plenty of good ones still out there as well. Actually, the Ed Fitz is one I wanted to explore. You know, because we have the technology, the robotics to go inside and map the interior. We’ve already done that with the Titanic and the Bismarck. It would be great to go look for the Indianapolis. I’d love to dive the Yorktown and the other Midway wrecks. The thing for me is, I’ve kind of had an epiphany over the last year that I could do that kind of exploration, which is archaeology / history, for the rest of my life and have great fun doing it. But the aftermath of Avatar was that there was this really tremendous feedback from the environmental community and from the Indigenous Rights community that I had an opportunity to help them put a spotlight on issues that weren’t getting enough media attention. So I thought, “There’s a whole mission in this.” I need to focus on that for a while and quit exploring ships, quite frankly. And I also feel like we as a civilization, we’re really heading toward a cliff with issues of energy and climate change. And these are things that have concerned me for most of my adult life. So I thought, “Alright, fine. If I’m going to do documentaries, if I’m going to put that time and energy into a documentary film, because I know it’s very hard work to make these films – much more than I thought it would be – then it should be on those subjects. It should be something that’s actually doing some tangible good in areas that I’m deeply concerned about.” So shipwrecks are going to wait. That’s the long, roundabout way of explaining it.