Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson on HBO’s “CHERNOBYL”

Chernobyl filmmakers on the red carpet

In April 1986 the most catastrophic man-made incident the planet had ever seen occurred when reactor 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded during what should have been a safety test. The effects of the accident still wreak havoc over the landscape and containing the fallout has become an industry unto itself. It’s a job which will require centuries of human support. Tonight on HBO, Craig Mazin’s five-part miniseries, CHERNOBYL, dives deep into the the accident as it happened and the human cost and bravery it required to ensure that this tragedy did not engulf still millions more.

This past week at the Tribeca Film Festival, Mazin and his talented cast debuted the first two episodes of the series on the accident’s 33rd anniversary. The premiere episode was nothing short of a nightmare as the series delves into, in brutal detail, the accident and the shocking mishandling of both the initial fire and the surrounding population in those crucial first hours and days of fallout. It was a tense first hour and a brilliant setup into the second which saw the introduction of the scientists and politicians who then had to set about handling what was to come. The second episode in particular sees a stellar performance from Stellan Skarsgard as he plays a man coming to grips with his own mortality and entreating fellow countrymen to show selflessness so that millions can be saved. I spoke with Skarsgard, who also offered brief comments on his upcoming work in DUNE, as well as co-star Emily Watson on the red carpet about their own knowledge of the accident as it happened and the timely message this series has to offer in regards to listening to scientists.

“I think it’s a parable for our times. I think you ignore the truth and scientists at your peril. ” – Emily Watson

Emily Watson plays Ulana Khomyuk, a character created for the show as an entry-point into the role of a collection of European scientists in the fallout of Chernobyl.

Lauren Damon: Your character isn’t one specific person, but represents a collection of people involved with the accident, did you speak to people who experienced this?

Emily Watson: No. It’s sort of in tribute to many of the scientists who worked on the discovery of what happened. So I kind of had a bit of a blank sheet really to make up what I wanted to do. But Craig had written the character as coming from Belarus, which is a place that suffered terribly in the second world war. And she would have been a young child at that time, so that gave me a sense of just finding someone who was very very tough. It made her the perfect person really to go after the truth and find out what happened.

Do you remember when you were first aware of the Chernobyl accident in your life?

Watson: Yeah, I was a student at university and I remember there were students at my college who were on a year out, away in Kiev, and they all had to come home pretty quickly, it was very scary.

Did you have any misconceptions about the event going into this project that the script changed for you?

Watson: Oh my god, when I started reading the script, I had no idea that sort of within a few days–sort of 48 hours after the first explosion–there could have been one that was ten times worse. That would have taken out half of Europe.

In theory you could have been in range of those effects?

Watson: Definitely in range of radiation fallout…But yeah, it could have been much much worse. It was due to the heroism of the people on the ground who contained it and prevented it from being much worse.

What’s the biggest take away you’d like viewers to get from this series?

Watson: I think it’s a parable for our times. I think you ignore the truth and scientists at your peril.

Stellan Skarsgard plays Boris Shcherbina, the Deputy Head of the Soviet Government at the time.

What did you find surprising from hearing about Chernobyl originally in 1986 and then from working on this project?

Stellan Skarsgard: What I knew from ’86 was what you got from news media, which gave you a sort of superficial idea of what actually happened. What we learned through working with this material is I know now what technically went wrong, how the reactor works and what the mistakes they made were.

You also learn about it [was] more grave, the sort of the political system–the impact that had on the accident. When you have a system that is supposed to be perfect, you cannot allow any dissent in terms of somebody criticizing anything you do or any flaws cannot be accepted. And that then means that the truth was suppressed. It was all over the Soviet Union at the time. I mean truth is suppressed also for other reasons in the west now. I mean when you talk about Fukushima that was money that suppressed truth and created disaster there. In Boeing, you sent planes that are not fit for flying because you want to make money. So another way of suppressing truth and science. I think it’s important, an important film because it–not only because it talks about what we’re doing to this planet, the environment, which is really scary, but it also talks about how important it is that we listen to people who know what they’re talking about.

Facts are facts. They are not just individual ideas. Some facts you have to deal with and you have to accept and we have to listen to scientists. I mean 98% of the scientists in the world say that we are heading for a catastrophe in terms of global warming. We cannot ignore that. Do not ignore that.

Tell us about your character

Skarsgard: My character I’m playing Boris Shcherbina who was a minister in the government and who got the responsibility for cleaning up the mess. And he’s a man who spent his entire life working within the system and defending the system and he ends up realizing that this accident is a result of the system. And he has to question the system and he also has to decide whether he should keep on defending the system that is flawed. Or if he should start defending the truth.

Skarsgard’s next film role is in the highly anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic, DUNE, where he’ll play the villainous Baron Harkonnen

Lauren Damon: Have you begun work on DUNE as Baron Harkonnen?

Skarsgard:I haven’t started shooting yet, we’re still doing prosthetics work

That’s what I was wondering! Because the Baron is such a grotesque character but when you were cast I remember looking at a shot of you as Bootstrap Bill [Skarsgard’s heavily barnacled Pirates of the Caribbean role] and thinking ‘This man can handle anything they put on him!’

Skarsgard: [Laughs] That’s very nice of you! Thank you. I will probably spend probably six to eight hours a day in makeup and it will look fantastic.

“I will probably spend probably six to eight hours a day in makeup and it will look fantastic.” -Stellan Skarsgard on his upcoming DUNE role

What are you most excited about in doing that project?

Skarsgard: It’s a great story. It’s a fantastic world and Denis Villeneuve is a director that I’ve always wanted to work with. So I’m really happy, he’s a wonderful man and a great director. So I think–except for the eight hours in makeup–I think I’ll have a fun time.

Chernobyl airs tonight at 9pm on HBO

Film Review “Jodorowsky’s Dune”

Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky and H.R. Giger
Directed by: Frank Pavich
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour 30 mins
SONY Pictures Classics

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

You would most likely have to be a true lover of cinema to be interested in watching this documentary. That being said, if you weren’t a fan of movies before viewing it; you definitely will be after.

I absolutely loved “Jodorowky’s Dune.” The film is a retrospective look at Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel “Dune” for the silver screen as told by all the key players involved: Alejandro Jodorowski, his son Brontis, producer Michel Seydoux, and visionary artists H.R. Giger and Chris Foss.

Regrettably – or fortunately – I have never read the novel “Dune” or seen the film that was eventually made in the 1980’s by David Lynch. However, after seeing this documentary, I feel like I have seen “Dune”, while also still wanting to see it, and concurrently loving it.

Jodorowsky himself carries most of this film, and it is an absolute joy to watch him talk cinema. At a young 85 years of age, he is sharp, extremely passionate, and quite funny. He fully believes, and will make you believe, that his version of “Dune” would have been the greatest science-fiction film of all time while simultaneously changing the world.

Being chock-full of fantastic and funny anecdotes about the collaboration between the artists that created the screenplay, costume designs, and storyboards for “Dune”, what is really interesting is seeing how the work done on the never-to-be-made version would eventually influence every sci-fi film to come out since. The team that Jodorowsky hand-picked would go on to be key players in some of the biggest films within the genre. Very notable for fans: it was the collaboration of Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger on this version of “Dune” that later gave O’Bannon the vision to call upon Giger to do designs for “Alien”.

I have always been inspired by watching documentaries about the making of all kinds of movies. Movies that were successful and even some that weren’t. And, on the rare occasion, documentaries on movies that fell apart during production, such as “Lost In La Mancha.” It’s probably all too common for movies to never make it pass the design stage. But how many of them are passed over for being too ahead of their time? Jodorowsky was trying to make “Dune” years before “Star Wars” was produced, using visuals and effects that were far beyond what even that film would achieve.

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” is funny, enlightening, entertaining and, more than anything, just a really great story. Though it’s unfortunate that his version was never made, at least film fans have this film to remind them of what might have been. And who’s to say that his “Dune” won’t ever be made?

I have one criticism to offer on this film: I just wish it were longer. I could watch Alejandro Jodorowsky talk cinema all day. Definitely check this out.

Frank Pavich talks about directing documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics

Frank Pavich is the director of the new fantastic documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”, which chronicles about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s never made film version of Frank Herbet’s “Dune”. He has also worked as a production manager on TV shows like “Paranormal State”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat “Dune” with Frank and find out about how he got involved with Jodorowsky and his passion for what he does.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you get involved with the documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”?
Frank Pavich: You just hear and read about these things like “The Top 50 Greatest Movies Never Made”. I was a fan of Jodorowsky and his movies like “Holy Mountain” and “El Topo” going back to even when you couldn’t get it except on like crazy VHS bootlegs. There was a small segment about his unfinished “Dune” in a documentary called “Jodorowsky Constellation”, but it only ran like five minutes. But during it you see his screenplay book and I thought to myself “What the hell is that book?” Once you see that book, you feel the need to just learn more and more about it. So I searched and search until one day, there was no more information out there that I hadn’t seen. So I decided to just find the guy himself and speak with him.

MG: How did you end up tracking him down and convincing him to do this?
FP: I wish I could tell you what made him do it. I think the only thing I can say was from my obvious unbridled enthusiasm. I was searching for him and I found that he has an agent in Spain for acting. I didn’t even know he acted in movies other than his own but obviously he does because he has this agent. I just sent her an email and explained my situation. She took my email and just forwarded it to him. So then a couple of weeks later, I just happen to wake up to an email from Alejandro Jodorowsky. It was awesome. If I remember correctly, I didn’t even open it for like a week. I was afraid if he wrote “Dear Frank….NO!” It would have crushed my dreams. So when I opened it included was a very short message saying “I hear you are looking for me? I live in Paris and if you would like to discuss doing a project like this we would need to meet face to face”. I was like “GREAT! You don’t have to twist my arm”. I made an appointment and went to his house to discuss. I gave him the short pitch and either he just thought I was crazy or deep down that we weren’t going to finish it but he agreed to do a few interviews. So we started and went back a few times to shoot more and more interviews over time. Overall, I think it worked out really well.

MG: What I loved about this documentary is that there wasn’t like a million interviews…
FP: Oh, I hate those.
MG: Right! You had the key 10 people involved and that is all.
FP: That is what I always wanted to do. I hate those documentaries where it is only 90 minutes long and features 90 people. I can’t follow who is who and I can’t follow what is going on. Each person comes on for a half a sentence and I just get lost. I wanted to keep it to a minimum number of people. We had the greatest storyteller in the world.
MG: I agree, most importantly you kept Jodorowsky in the spotlight…
FP: Thanks for picking up on that man!

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics

MG: What was it liked getting to review Jodorowsky’s screenplay book during your meetings?
FP: It’s funny because the first time I met him to pitch him the idea; we sat on these two chairs facing each other and in between us what this ottoman with books on it. He had actually placed THE “Dune” book on there but he never let me look at it and I didn’t ask. It was like he was teasing me with it [laughs]. It was so cruel but also hilarious. But the book was amazing. Once you get to go inside of it, you get to see that is in fact a complete film. It has every scene from the first to the very last. It also has every bit of dialogue and character details. It is something that I do not think was ever done before. It was ready to go and be filmed. What was also very interesting is that the screenplay was totally different than the book of storyboards, since it evolved over time. As he got all his “spiritual warriors”, it started to change. Just like if he would have gotten to shoot it, I am sure it would have evolved again. It is really interesting to see the process of his creativity.

MG: Tell us about the animation in the film and how was it getting to bring parts of Jodorowsky’s “Dune” come to life?
FP: We had this great animator, his name was Syd Garon. I met him through another friend and I thought that his work was perfect. He had that perfect light touch. I didn’t want to overdue the animation because it is not my vision of “Dune”, it is his vision. I just wanted to take those storyboards, which are primarily pencil on paper and breath enough life into them to elevate it off the page a little and hopefully then the viewer’s imagination will fill in the rest. It straddles the that middle ground between the storyboard and what the actual completed feature film would have been like. It was so much fun to do. We went through the book and literally got to pick out the scenes that we wanted to bring to life.

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics

MG: What was his reaction when he saw these animated sequences?
FP: He has this philosophy when he directs his movie for everyone to leave him alone and he doesn’t want to hear from anyone since he is the artist. That is great and that is why we get the kind of movies that he makes. So I was afraid that he was going to be over my shoulder the whole time but he was definitely not a hypocrite. He believes that for himself and believed that for me as well. He let me do what I wanted and didn’t bother me at all. The first time he saw it was at the premiere at Cannes. It was a really cool experience and a really great place for him to see it. Him and his wife were next to me watching it and kept trying to peak over at them to see if they were laughing, interested or sleeping [laughs]. I could see that they were really enthralled and into it. They were also both wiping away tears at the end, which is great because you always want to make an 85 year old man cry [laughs].

MG: Having seen the film a few times now and I agree the film is quite dramatic.
FP: It is so interesting. It all comes down to his world view. This story for somebody else could be a very depressing story or it could be a winy story or angry story. “Oh, look what I didn’t get to do”. For him though, he thought it was great. He didn’t get to make the movie but he made my movie and he also had a great career and a lot of other movies were influenced by his work. Even I get choked up watching the end of the film, where he says that you have to try and that it is all about ambition. It is great. He is such an amazing and powerful guy. I am very lucky to have had a chance to work with him.

MG: Tell us about the score in the film?
FP: Our composers name is Kurt Stenzel. It is his first film and he was just great. He has never done a score before. He is this electronic musician and does all this great synthesized music. But he and I go way back actually and we grew up in Queens, New York together. I first knew of him when he was part of the New York hardcore scene. His old band was the very first New York hardcore tape that I ever bought back in 1987 or something. It is totally crazy. So he has gone from the New York hardcore world to a career scoring films. He can be like the new Mark Mothersbaugh. We are also hoping to release the score down the line for the fans.

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics

MG: How did the relationships between other films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark’s “Masters of the Universe”, “Prometheus” and others get recognized?
FP: It is weird. Some of them are obvious. When we were making the documentary “Prometheus” came out, so that was an easy one. I remember seeing the commercial and thinking “What the hell?”, since that was the Giger mountain. It was crazy. It was totally lifted from the “Dune” artwork. Then some of them we really had to search for and some we couldn’t even include. After he attempted to make “Dune”, he spoke about how he started his career in comics, he did “The Incal” and “The Metabarons” series and a bunch others. If you look at the “The Metabarons” comic, you can see images in there that ended up in the movie “The Avengers”. There was no way to put that into the movie because it would be an entirely different chapter showing how his work influenced this and that etc. But his stuff is everywhere. Even Kanye West’s last tour/album was inspired by “Holy Mountain”. So we can say that he touches everything from “The Avengers” to Kanye West. How can someone do that? So we just be searching around and looking at the storyboards and trying to see anything that resembled them. They think that there were about twenty of those books made and only two exist today. So where are the other eighteen? You see so many similarities in other films that somebody else has had to have seen this book over the years.

MG: Do you think the world will ever see Jodorowsky’s take on Dune?
FP: I think this is his take on the film. I do not think he has that burning desire to do it anymore. I think he feels that “You want to see the movie? Then it is here, watch the documentary”. I think in his mind he feels like it is done. I think he has moved on also since it has been so many years. Also can anyone make a “Dune” movie anymore? Lynch had a hard time. Syfy did a one over a decade ago. So many people have taken from the “Dune” source material, the book, which in turn has influenced so many other films. Maybe if a true representation of “Dune” came out people would think, “Oh, I have seen all this before”. They have seen in various films that maybe it wouldn’t be as exciting for them. Jodo is happy and he has no regrets. He is also very happy to have been able to tell his version of the story now in this film.

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics

MG:  What can we expect from the Blu-ray release in terms of special features?
FP: There is a ton of great material that we are passing off to our distributor, Sony Pictures Classics. I am not sure what is going to end up on the Blu-ray but I would think that they would want to include it all on there. We shot hours of interviews footage. So, we have hours and hours of interviews with Jodorowsky and all these people that couldn’t fit into the story we told. But it is still valuable stuff that I want to share with the world. If I was a betting man, I would say that it will be included on the Blu-ray release. It is too great not to have it.

MG: What do you have planned next after this film?
FP: I have a couple of ideas and projects in my head stirring around. But man, it is a challenge because this movie came out really good and I am really proud of it. It premiered at Cannes and went to Telluride and all these great film festivals. Sony Pictures Classics is releasing it. How much better can this be? What do you do to top this or complement this? That is the challenge for me. It takes so long to make these movies anyway. As far as I learned with this, if you are not totally in love with the movie you are making you are never going to finish it. Hopefully, I can find a subject that is as interesting as Alejandro Jodorowsky and his version of “Dune”. If you hear of anything left me know [laughs].

Kevin J. Anderson talks about books "Hellhole Awakening", "Mentats of Dune" and working with Rush’s Neil Peart on "Clockwork Angels"

Kevin J. Anderson is the known best for his work in the “Dune” universe working with co-author Brian Herbert. He also co-authored the book “Clockwork Angels: The Novel” with Neil Peart from the band Rush. He is releasing his latest novel, “Hellhole Awakening” this month and working on the next “Dune” novel, “Mentats of Dune”, due next year. Kevin took out some to time to chat with Media Mikes before he hits the road to promote his new novels discuss them and also what else he has in the cards for 2013.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about your latest novel “Hellhole Awakening”?
Kevin J. Anderson: Brian Herbert and I have written about a dozen other books together in Frank Herbert’s “Dune” universe. They are all international best sellers and we love diving into that universe. But after doing all those books together we decided to take a crack at our own universe. It is trilogy. “Hellhole” is the first one, which came out two years ago. And now “Hellhole Awakening” is part two and comes out at the end of March. Hellhole is a planet that is struck by an asteroid. Due to that, there are volcanoes, earthquakes, storms and most of the native life forms are extinct. Then you have a bunch of misfits that are trying to colonize it, led by an exiled rebel general. So, these desperate colonists are trying to make a new life for themselves on a very hellish place. We have a lot of various storylines with aliens, disasters, terrific space battles and some other really cool stuff. We are very excited about the trilogy. It is really epic. The story just keeps building after what the first book has set up. (I know I should have a good one-liner to describe it—HELLHOLE is about a colony trying to survive in a place where nobody would want to live.

MG: Tell us about how this collaboration with Brian Herbert compares than your other books?
KJA:  We have been doing this since the mid-1990’s and every single year we have a new book out. We have spent most of the time in the “Dune” universe, and we really know how the other person thinks. We play upon each other’s strengths and are able to describe things and tell a story we find engaging. The “Hellhole” books gave us a chance to strut our own stuff instead of using what Frank Herbert developed in the “Dune” universe. It is nice to play with your own toys sometimes.

MG: Also with Brian, How is your progress coming along for “Mentats of Dune”?
KJA:  MENTATS is the second book (after SISTERHOOD OF DUNE) in a new trilogy set about 10,000 years before the original novel “Dune”. It is about the formation of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood and the Mentats School. “Mentats of Dune” will be out next spring. Actually when the phone rang for this interview, I was editing page 100 out of page 651. Brian and I are in our fifth draft, and we will probably go through ten drafts or so until we get it all finalized. We do a book every year, kind of like clockwork… which leads me into my other recent book “Clockwork Angels,” the steampunk fantasy adventure based on the new Rush concept album.

MG: I was just going to ask actually, tell us about the “Clockwork Angels: The Watchmaker’s Edition”?
KJA:  The Watchmakers Edition is the audiobook version of the novel. Not your typical audio book. It is unabridged and read by Neil Peart (the drummer from Rush, with whom I cowrote the novel). Neil has a gorgeous voice and he wanted to do this. This novel is very close to him and me as well. And what could be better than having Neil Peart read it himself? The novel and the audiobook itself were released last September. “The Watchmaker’s Edition” is a very snazzy special edition, with a modeled clock tower with a working clock inside. It has beautiful artwork all around it by Hugh Syme, the cover and album artist. (He’s done all of the artwork for Rush’s albums dating the way back to “2112”. ) It also has a nice poster inside with a timeline for the “Clockwork Angels” project for Rush and my work as well. Any die-hard Rush fan should have this.

MG: Let’s go back, tell us about origin about how this collaboration came about with Rush’s Neil Peart?
KJA:  “Clockwork Angels” is Rush’s latest concept album, like Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or The Beatles’ “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”. It is a steampunk fantasy adventure about a Big Brother figure called The Watchmaker and a crazy anarchist who wants to destroy everything—who meet up with a naive dreamer, someone who grew up in a small town. He wants to visit the big city where the Clockwork Angels are. The world has zeppelins, pirates, steampunk carnivals, and the lost seven cities of gold. Neil and I have known each other for about 25 years. He’s already read my books and I have always been a Rush fan. We’ve worked together a few times. Before CLOCKWORK ANGELS, we did a short story called “Drumbeats.” and Neil wrote an introduction to a collection of short stories I did. When he was developing the story for the”Clockwork Angels” album, I started brainstorming with him just because it was fun. At some point along the way, Neil suggested that this could be a novel also. This novel is something I’ve been waiting my entire career to do. Rush’s music has inspired many of my stories. During their “Time Machine” tour, they came to Colorado (where I live) and on a day off, Neil and I climbed a 14,000 foot mountain—because what else do you do on your day off? During the hike up, we plotted the story and came up with the characters. So while Rush was writing the album, I was putting together the story in my head. I was able to put in little references to Rush lyrics—not just “Clockwork Angels” but the entire library of songs. If you are a die-hard Rush fan, you will catch them, but otherwise the story flows just fine.

MG:What/when can we expect from the third Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. novel, “Hair Raising”?
KJA: HAIR RAISING is the third installment after DEATH WARMED OVER and UNNATURAL ACTS, and will be out in May. I’ve also done an original story, “Stakeout at the Vampire Circus” (available in all eBook formats), and I’ll have another new one, “Road Kill,” out in about a month. This series is a humorous horror series which follows Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., set in a world where all the monsters come back and live in a part of the city called the “Unnatural Quarter”. In HAIR RAISING, somebody is stalking werewolves and scalping them.
If you can’t tell, I have so much fun with my job. I love telling these stories. I don’t have enough time in the day to put down all the words in my head

MG: Tell us about your upcoming tour to support these?
KJA: I am about to start a US tour for HELLHOLE AWAKENING (San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, Atlanta, Dayton, Richmond VA, and Colorado Springs)—full tour schedule at http://kjablog.com. Unlike a rock concert tour, I will be there meeting with the fans face to face, give a little talk about working with Brian and Neil, and there’ll be a Q&A, door prizes, lots of cool stuff. I look forward to getting out there and meeting the fans.

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