Having the courage to always do the right thing in the most difficult situations is an important message that has reached children and adults worldwide in the famous graphic novel series The Adventures of Tintin. The beloved character Tintin, who was created and drawn by Herge, has also been admired by diverse cultures and multiple generations for his worldwide adventures.
However, Tintin has never ventured into the realm of film, and is making his feature debut in the new motion capture action-adventure The Adventures of Tintin, directed by Steven Spielberg.
The Adventures of Tintin follows the title character (Jamie Bell) and his loyal dog, Snowy, as they discover a model ship carrying an explosive secret. Pulled into a centuries-old mystery, Tintin finds himself at odds with Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who believes the young reporter has stolen a priceless treasure belonging to a notorious pirate, Red Rackham.
With the help of Snowy, the always drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), whose ship Ivan has stolen, and detectives Thompson and Thomson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), Tintin travels around the world. He’s determined to find the resting place of Red’s ship, The Unicorn, before Ivan does, as it holds a vast fortune and an ancient curse.
Speilberg, Bell and Frost discussed the process of directing, and starring in, The Adventures of Tintin while at a press conference at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City. They also spoke about what Tintin means to them, and what they would have asked Herge about the character if they had the chance.
Question: Mr. Spielberg, can you talk about what inspired your passion to collect Norman Rockwell, and how his images affect your films?
Steven Spielberg: Norman Rockwell has been one of my favorite artists and illustrators over the years. I was raised with Rockwell, because when I was a kid, we used to get the Saturday Evening Post at our house all the time, by subscription. I had nothing better to do than look at the pictures, and realize the cliche that one picture is worth a thousand words, which is really true with Rockwell.
His images spoke volumes about America and family and community and religion and faith. I was a collector, so when I started collecting art, the first art I collected was Rockwell. We had a very successful exhibit at the Smithsonian. George Lucas took his Rockwells and combined them with mine, and we had this amazing event there.
You’re probably seeing images that remind you of Rockwell in Tintin because of the color palette and because it’s bright. It’s a bright film, and Rockwell always painted very vivid paintings. Also because I allowed the camera, sometimes in a simple frame, to say a lot about what was going on in the story.
Q: Mr. Spielberg, you’re one of the most influential filmmakers of the last 40 years. What kind of pressure does that put on you, knowing that people take so much from your work?
SS: The pressure really is the actual production process of movie-making. Whatever happens afterward is none of my business. It’s never been my business, it just happens. It goes out into people’s lives, and affects them. Whatever effect any of my films have on audiences, I stop at the door. I make them, and go outside when they’re over.
Q: Mr. Spielberg, what is the key ingredient to creating characters that not only entertain your viewers, but also teach them life lessons?
SS: It’s actually a combination of things. There’s no one magic answer, because we’re an extraordinary art form, this business. It’s a collaborative art form, more than any other business and any other art form. There’s more collaboration going on in making movies than anything else.
I need to acknowledge the collaborative art that this is, because if I didn’t, then I would lead you to believe that I did everything. I couldn’t shoot Tintin without the best support team anyone could ever dream for. I couldn’t have made this movie if I didn’t have producer Kathy Kennedy with me for 28 years, trying to get this thing off the ground.
Then when we cast the movie, the greatest contribution, I think, that Peter Jackson made to this movie was to cast Jamie Bell as Tintin. It was Peter’s idea. They worked together on King Kong, and Peter came to me with the idea, which I thought was inspired. I think Jamie invested Tintin with a great deal of himself and a little bit of me.
Jamie had a complete understanding of what Herge wanted all those years. Jamie understood the poses, he studied Tintin’s poses. He became Tintin on the first day of motion capture, it was amazing.
Then Nick Frost, he’s not interchangeable with Simon Pegg. (laughs) I have joked around with you, you’re an entirely different human being, even though he looks like the other guy in Tintin. But they’re worlds apart, because the greatest performance was given by Nick. Simon didn’t do a very good job at all. (laughs) Nick carried him during the whole movie, Simon tried to play catch-up with Nick, he couldn’t quite succeed. But I would have said the same thing about Nick if Simon was here.
Nick Frost: Yeah, I do what I can. (laughs)
Q: Jamie, were you able to relate to your character?
JB: I’m not a particularly adventurous person. I’m more of an anti-traveler, kind of like Herge was. Herge was a guy who really didn’t travel the world at all, in great deal. He would buy National Geographic magazines, and sit in his armchair and draw it. He really didn’t do a lot of the traveling himself.
The spirit of Tintin is the thing about him, he’s a beacon of excellence for children. His moral compass is pointing in the right direction. He is a document of the 20th century. He was the eyes of an ever-changing European continent in that time of history. He’s historical. The spirit of that is timeless.
He’s also a character that relies on nothing else than his own grid and his natural, fearless, heroic instinct. That’s a great message, you can be great just by being yourself. I think that’s awesome.
Q: Mr. Spielberg, you said Tintin is a part of you. Can you talk about what he’s meant to you in your life personally?
SS: Well, I always thought that Tintin never dropped the ball. He had laser micro-vision. Like Sherlock Holmes, he had the gift of deductive reasoning. He would figure things out by using his problem-solving abilities in order of the problems. I also feel like that’s the way I approach movies. Tintin is a reporter, a journalist, he goes around the world, he looks for a good story to report. He then gets involved in the story, and the story then becomes about him.
I go around the world, looking for stories to tell. Once I find a story to tell, I become very involved in the story, and I make the movie. In a sense, I’ve always admired Tintin’s preoccupation with the prize. He’s always got his eye on the prize.
Just like movies, we’ve always got obstacles in the way. I made a movie like Jaws, and I had mechanical problems. I had the weather against me. Tintin is trying to find the secret to the Unicorn, and he has the force of nature called Captain Haddock against him. But they’re best friends, it’s a buddy movie in a way. It’s really an Odd Couple story. But Tintin never leaves the path to discover his secrets, and that’s what makes it funny and breathtaking.
Q: Mr. Spielberg, how would you compare and contrast your relationship with Peter Jackson on this film, to the one you had with George Lucas?
SS: The big difference with George and me is that he gets very involved. He’s the one who writes the story and comes up with the story. We all work together on the script, so it’s a big collaboration, such as I have with Peter Jackson. Then when I start making the movie, George goes away, and I don’t see him again for maybe six, seven months, until I show him my cut of the movie.
With Peter, he was on my set everyday. But not physically, his head was on a TV screen. He’d be in Wellington, New Zealand, where it would be 4 o’clock in the morning. It was 8 o’clock in the morning in Los Angeles.
Peter appeared for 31 days of motion capture photography, just to be there to lend his advice and give suggestions from time to time. Sometimes I would walk over to the monitor to ask Peter a question, and I would find Peter sleeping. (laughs) We would go, Peter, Peter. (He’d say) Oh, about the last take. So I had a collaborator on set for all of the motion capture. I felt so safe with Peter.
Q: It’s been 40 years since Duel and Amblin’. As great as Tintin is, you wouldn’t be able to make it without the unlimited resources at your disposal. Does making something on such a small scale as your first films still excite you?
SS: They do, they really excite me. I’ve been doing some small scale work on television. But if I ever found a small story that empowered me to direct it, about a couple characters in a room, I would do it. I like all kinds of stories, I just don’t go for big epics.
It just so happens that some of these movies aligned themselves, and they have big production possibilities. But they’re also intimate stories. War Horse is one of the most intimate stories I’ve ever made. Yet it’s set against a big mural of history. Tintin is just fun entertainment. It’s just a big ride I wanted to go on, and take everyone with me.
Q: What does Tintin mean to everyone on the panel?
JB: I’m European, so I grew up with Tintin. In Europe, it’s hard to grow up without seeing Tintin and his dog. It’s a generational thing, it’s handed down to you. Friends of mine like to read Tintin. Being a massive fan before this film, and now being in the film, it’s a very massive responsibility.
The books have sold over 220 million copies, and have been translated into 80 languages. Lots of people internationally have ownership over this character. For me, it was important to evoke the spirit of Herge and the books.
NF: I think for me and Simon, the chance to play such iconic characters, Thomson and Thompson, and the chance to work with Steven and Jamie and James Bond (Daniel Craig) was great. I like being in films. The chance to bring to life these bumbling Interpol police officers was great as well.
SS: They have a much bigger role in the next Tintin movie Peter Jackson is going to direct.
Q: What details can you give on the sequel?
SS: It’s being written right now, and Peter’s going to direct it after he does The Hobbit. I’m going to produce it with him, as he produced this with me. We have the stories, and the book we’re adapting from Herge. We can’t wait to get started.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Steven Spielberg, Jamie Bell and Nick Frost for talking to us. Be sure to check out The Adventures of Tintin when it hits theaters on Wednesday, December 21.