Ghost in the Shell
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Jamie Moss (screenplay), Masamune Shirow (based on the manga by)
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Juliette Binoche
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In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it. As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others. Based on the internationally acclaimed Japanese Manga, “The Ghost in the Shell.”
Pilou Asbaek is a Danish actor best known in the United States for his recent role as Euron Grayjoy in Game of Thrones. Recently, he played Batou in Rupert Sander's Ghost in the Shell and I was able to interview him regarding his experience in the film!
So, you're Danish
I was wondering if you find a lot of differences between the Danish film industry and the American film industry. If so, could you elaborate?
Asbaek: I think the biggest difference between the two, American verses Danish films, is the size of the budget. I think one weeks catering on Ghost in the Shell is like one big budget Danish film. So, you know, that's a big, big, big difference but, story wise, it's exactly the same. You wanna tell good stories, you want to create good characters. So the approach, in my job, is the same besides the language because as an actor you want to feel free, you want to have control. It's like driving a car, you navigate. It's the same thing with characters. If the performance is going a little bit too slow, you press a little bit on the gas, you shift gear. So, um, the language is difficult but everything else is the same.
I know you're very used to working in shows or movies that work with a very fictional reality, but did you find any aspect of Ghost in the Shell particularly difficult considering it's set in such a, to me at least, unimaginable future?
Asbaek: Yes, but actually I think that what Rupert (director) created is a very- I think he created a very interesting thing in the film because for me it's actually, I think- I think it's possible, what he created in Ghost in the Shell. I think that future might be the future of our world where, and I'm sorry to say, there is more and more artificial intelligence that is going to be a part of, maybe not our generation, but our children's generation. So, I don't see a big difference between doing Game of Thrones or Ghost in the Shell. It's just different genres, but it's the same work and the size of the character- the size of the character, it doesn't matter if it's the supporting character or the lead, the work is almost the same because you have to be prepared. That's at least how I work, so, no, I think- I don't see the big difference between doing social Danish realism and big American science fiction films.
Speaking of preparation, how did you prepare for this film particularly?
Asbaek: Ugh, I was in the gym so much! I hated it, I hated it, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! There's nothing more - I hate it. [laughs] I, uh, started working out the moment I got the job, because I don't want to start working out before I get the job, uh, and then we went down to New Zealand two months before we would start shooting and it was a production decision that they wanted to bring all the cast to New Zealand- to Wellington- before we would start the film because they wanted that Section Nine, uh, spirit, you know. It's like an elite unit. And, you know, we would work, we would do tactical training, we would do weapons training, counter terrorist training and we would be working out and we would do that for five hours everyday and then we would go rehearse the script or we would go do fittings or we would go do prosthetics. I had a lot of prosthetic tests because, you know, we had to make those eyes look not idiotic. They still look a little bit funny but we did the best we could. [laughs] And it took four hours of makeup to get these on before I would do four hours of shooting.
But could you see through them?
Asbaek: No, I couldn't see shit so when I was doing stunts... I couldn't see! My peripheral vision was like zero! So, when I had fight scenes with Scarlett or I would be fighting with some guys at the bar, you know, I would like [hit] Scarlett! Because I couldn't see anything! [laughs] But she's okay, she's a tough girl so she can take it.
Were there any obstacles or challenges you had to face other than going to the gym when you were making this movie?
Asbaek: Yes, there was a big challenge regarding the- you know, it's based on the manga. It's like the written cartoon in the 80s and then they made the anime in the 90s, and it was a very loved manga, it's a very loved anime. And, I've learned from Game of Thrones, that when people are very fanatic about it, they don't want you to touch it. They think they own it, but it's, you know, that's selfish thinking that you own the whole franchise! Like, no, it's mine, you can't do that! I'm like dude, I've got just as much right to interpret Batou as you have you know, drawing or whatever. So you have to take ownership of it, you have to have a little bit of disrespect. Not for the material, but for the fans. To own it. And I loved it as much as the hardcore fans, but it was a big challenge. It was a very big challenge, and there's been some controversy about the whole Asian / American adaptation and stuff like that. And it came as a surprise honestly because I think it's such a- such a loved story and you know, Hamlet! Hamlet has been a black guy, he's been an Asian guy you know, Hamlet has been everyone and I come from a country of 5 million people. You know, whenever you see Vikings on films they rape, I'm like, dude, okay, thanks a lot! [laughs] So, you know, I'm just glad that it's a great discussion and we need to [make] it again and again and again because Hollywood needs to open up, you know.
You play easily one of the most significant anime characters of all time, really.
If you could do it again, if you could do any anime, comic book, video game character right now no matter who, who would you be?
Asbaek: I want to make Twisted Metal into a movie. And I'm actually writing on it right now.
Who would you play?
Asbaek: I don't want to play anything, I just want to write it. Honestly, I swear to god, I never wanted to be an actor. [Interviewer laughs] No, I hate it! I mean, I don't hate acting.
I would hope! [laughs]
Asbaek: No, I love my job, but I never wanted to be an actor. I always wanted to be writer. My wife is a writer, my best friends are writers. I wanted to be journalist when I was younger, and I still wanna! But, I went to school, and I had to take this acting [class] and- it's a classical, cliche story because there was a girl and I wanted to hang out with her and get a little bit closer to her and she took acting lessons. I was like [shrugs] I'll do it! And I came into to class and we had to prepare a text and then it was my turn up and I just went blah blah blah blah blah blah and the teacher was like, dude, I'm so sorry, but you gotta be an actor. I was like no, I'm going to be writer, I'm a writer, I'm smart, I want to do smart things! [laughs] And I found out later that acting was- there was a lot of challenge but, uh, she pushed me in that direction and I was 21. I was a pretty late bloomer and now I'm sitting here talking to you guys 14 years later!
Were you a fan of the anime before getting cast or did you just find out about it afterwards?
Asbaek: I was a teenager when I saw it for the first time. I'd never heard about Shirow's (Masamune) manga, I had never heard about it, but I saw the anime and you guys know, it was like- this is what I hope is going to happen with the film. Shirow created the manga in, I dunno, 88 or 89, the audience was [small], it was not many people that read it, but they were like pretty hardcore fans, and then Oshii (Mamoru) created the anime which traveled the world and became this cult thing, right, in the late 90s and the audience grew. They loved it! They loved it so much that they're like don't fuck around with it, you know. And now we're doing a live action version and Scarlett is such an incredible, talented actress that [more] people are going to know about Ghost in the Shell. Some of them knew about it already, but there's a lot of people that didn't know about Ghost in the Shell and if we, with our film, have shown it to some people who weren't aware of the source and go back and watch the original anime and read the original manga? That's fucking awesome! Then we've done our job well because this is one chapter in the whole story of Ghost in the Shell, but, was I a fan of it? Where I come from, fan is a very strong word. I'm from the North, from the cold countries, you know, where we don't show emotion so, even if I was a fan, I'd never say it. [laughs] But I liked it a lot.
Asbaek: There's two things I loved about it. I loved that it was a cartoon that took itself seriously. I'd never seen that before. And I loved that it was a strong female lead. I thought that was pretty cool, you know, I'd only seen that once before in Nikita, a French film I thought was pretty cool, and then they did a shitty American remake and it turned into a TV series.
Was it nice working with Scarlett again after working with her on Lucy?
Asbaek: Well, in Lucy, I got to to meet her you know. I mean, how close can you get with a person in three days? I mean, she's a professional actor and she's there to work and so am I so it's not like you- I wanted to just be like hi! You know? You wanna go out and grab a cheeseburger or something? [laughs] But that's you know, that's not how it works. I got to meet her and we did a scene and she was incredible but it was not until Ghost in the Shell where you're like six months in Wellington and six months is a long time on that island. You're kind of isolated you know? So we got very good friends and I'm very proud of her, I'm very proud of calling her a friend.
Do you think there's any aspect of Batou that you relate to?
Asbaek: Yeah, he likes beer and pizza. So do I, so do I- and he likes dogs! When I saw the anime the first time I actually didn't connect with him very much, I connected to with the Major. When I got the job, and I had to audition, I made like three or four tapes for Rupert and then Paramount and DreamWorks weren't super happy with my tapes. They didn't think I was smiling enough. So I flew to LA from Denmark, that's a 14 hour flight, to have a meeting with Paramount and DreamWorks where I sat through out the entire meeting like this. [sits back and smiles very wide] Smiling! To persuade them that I can be charming if I want to, but he's not a charming guy. He's a serious guy. The heart and soul of Batou is all the looks, all the pauses, it's not all the actual, do you get what I'm saying? When you see a good actor on screen you think what the hell is she doing because the lines are information but what you do between the lines is art, okay.
Asbaek: What was the question again, I forgot. [laughs]
Are you similar to Batou?
Asbaek: Oh right, yeah, so I didn't connect with him and I saw the anime again and again and again and I ended up going back to the original manga and I found out- because Batou in the anime is much older than I am, much more quiet. So I thought, people are going to give me a hard time because I'm not old enough for this role, you know. I'm the first one to know, I'm the actor, I know what I'm doing, I know what people are going to say are the strengths and weaknesses. And then I went back to the manga and realized, oh shit! He's not old at all! He's much younger in the manga! It was Oshii, when he created the anime, that made him much older. So I can go back to Shirow's manga and go I'm the right age! He was the guy fucking up the character! [laughs] I mean, of course Oshii didn't fuck up, Oshii did the most beautiful Batou. What I wanted was the visual looks of the manga and the heart and soul of the anime, so that's also a personal homage from me to the two geniuses who created it.