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Michael Apted | Is More Than Apt
an emily blunt interview


Michael Apted's "little" indie film Enigma is filled with the highest quality of actor. It's also terribly British, in that Masterpiece Theater-ish cinematography and pompanstance so Northumberlandy one gets chilly just watching way! If you have not seen this gem of a yarn, I can tell you it's a wonderfully intelligent thriller that exudes style.

Michael Apted knows I adore the film and we sat to chat, with a lovely pot of tea, about how he went from Bond to bonds. That's a bad WW2 pun...

Enigma is a code devise used by "our" side during WW2. It was real and designed in the infamous Bletchley Park. That's where Alan Turing, the father of computers (and Apple's logo inspiration) worked way back when...

Mike added some swell talent into the story's cauldron of yummy bits; Kate Winslet, Dougray Scott, the edible Jeremy Northam and Saffron Burrows. Enjoy!


Emily: The subject is very intelligent. Did you have to do a lot of research?

Michael: Well, yeah I did, you sort of have to because the book was very well-researched, but it was very hard to do the research because not a lot of the people who worked and are still alive are happy to talk.

Emily: Yeah, I imagine not..

There's a lot of both human and literary research that you don't really research as much as you want to. So there was lots and lots of opportunity for it, they could send the actors off to spend time with the people who'd been actually a part of it, so that was kind of fun. The hard thing about the film was to get the balance for me between the kind of emotion of the story, the kind of romantic in me, and all the scientific stuff because I didn't want to trivialize the scientific stuff, but I didn't want it just to be about that and I didn't want to really rub an audience's nose in their ignorance, which is so funny because I have no idea how these people broke these codes to this day, I mean for a minute you might be in grasp of it, but as soon as you try to explain it to someone it evaporates. So I always felt that it could only accessible if the romantic in me might add some power to it. But really the fight, well, it really wasn't a fight so much, but a difference with Tom [ Stoppard the screenwriter] , he preferred all the scientific stuff, all the codebreaking, and I am trying to push him to build up all the women's parts and to try and make it a bit more romantic and accessible.

Emily: Doug Ray is perfect as the half-wackers mathematician. How'd you decide on him?

Michael: I suppose I'd seen his stuff and I'd met him and I just thought he was a fresh idea. He's very young, he's only in his very early thirties, and I just met him and liked him. I'd just done the …. Thing, I hadn't worked in a long time, and I knew it was going to be a kind of a struggle because it was fairly underbudgeted and I was going to have to get through it quite quickly so I wanted someone who could work quite quickly. More from the end of the independent film than from the kind of studio base. He and … had worked on independent films and I just liked his viewpoint. I sort of feel like Dracula kind of biting up young blood and feeding on it. No, I'll say it was trying in some ways, but one of the things that appeared throughout the story was it was all about young people who had actually been very powerful whom the military establishment and the British government had been beholden to in some ways, and I wanted to try and deal with that,. It was quite nice to have some young people around me when I was making the film.

Emily: Why did you make the film and not wait for a studio?

Michael: I'm not sure that any studio would have been interested. I think they would have really put a lot of perimeters on it. I think they would have want a lot of kind of midAltantic casting and I think they would have, without being necessarily disrespectful I think they would have wanted it dumbed down a bit. It just didn't seem worth doing. I wanted to give it a British voice and I wanted it to be as smart as it could, and I felt it would be a struggle with a studio and that they would torture me and put me through all things and I'd end up with something kind of half-baked at least for better or worse, whether you like it or not, we wouldn't make the film we wanted made. It would be nice to have the character and the machinery of a big studio to sell the film, that's the double-edged sword. When you go independent you can make the film that you want, but then you don't have the power to distribute it in the way that only a studio can distribute it. It's a trade off that I felt with this film, the studio virtues would probably be horrible.

Emily: And how did you get people like Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels and Mick Jagger involved? Lorne's usually producing comedy films no?

Michael: Well they were involved from the very beginning. They were bidding against each other for the book. They both had ambitions as movie producers when the book came out five years ago, and so they were both bidding and they knew each other, so they decided to form a partnership rather than bid against each other,, and that's how that, they actually bought the rights to the book. And Paramount picked it up. They got Paramount to pay for it, because we all had a deal with Paramount and they got Tom to do the first draft. And then I came on and then Paramount put it into turnaround. Naturally. So there you go. And there the struggle started, and it was a long struggle to get the money and we abandoned it at least once because we didn't have enough money to make it. But it wasn't really until I did the Bond and Dougray did Mission:Impossible 2 that we had the money squeeze and the money started to come into England.

Emily: So the film's timeline was two, three years for completion?

Michael: I started doing a Bond in August of 1998 and just before that, in June we'd abandoned it. I'd been on it for a couple of years up to June '98 and we'd decided that if the cast we got couldn't raise enough money and so we would rather not do it. So we abandoned it. Then I got the Bond and then money started coming in for it.

Emily: Nice you have both Kate Winslet and Jeremy Northam [sigh].

Michael: Actually, we didn't get Kate until the very end. We only got her because she was pregnant and she couldn't do the film that she was supposed to do. But it is kind of sad, but it is something that comes out of it, I mean a film like that is financed on precept. You can't interest the Germans or the French in Jeremy Northam [his eyebrow raised in acknowledgment of my swooning when merely mentioning dear Jeremy's name...] and that's a reality of it. Reality is pretty cruel. If I'd had Tom Hanks in it, I could've had 60 billion!

Emily: And Jeremy, err, Mr. Northam, was already cast?

Michael: Yeah. You see he's really great. They're all good. We've got a whole lot of good actors in it. But I was very lucky to get Kate. I asked her to do it once, and she said she liked it, but she had other things to do. And she was developing her own contract and what she was going to do, but she couldn't do it because she said she'd be too pregnant to do it. She came back and said could she be in it, and I said absolutely. But that means I had to break shooting off and shoot her all first. Everyday another place would go, and we could hide her body, but she's quite a big girl. So we just about sneaked in under the wire. It was a joke we had going.

Emily: Curious...Did it do well in Germany?

Michael: Not that well, no. The point was that it was made by German money. There was no English or American at all, it was all German money which was kind of bizarre. So you'd think if they invested in it, they would say we'll would get our investment back in Germany. But they didn't really. It did extremely well in England, but really elsewhere it hasn't done that well.

Emily: Was it in trouble?

Michael: No, not at all, but it would have been nice to get his money back.

Emily: I remember reading in the original film notes about the pains taken to be true to the real spirit of Station X and the real people and really reality is woefully untold and Alan Turing - the man behind the device - is not a character in your film -had a terrible life afterwards though he was a hero.

Michael: Yes. That was a choice. It's such a great story that I didn't want to just put it as a side bar into this. I've taken a bit of liberty in that Dougray's character is a mathematical genius and was developing computers that the story of … is so that the Bletchley part is just a tiny part of the …. Story so I have also been extremely well done at breaking the code. I didn't want to get done up with. And you know Bletchley, that whole period is full of stories, and I chose not to deal with Turing that I could have done and he's mentioned in the book, but I felt that it was very unsatisfactory in the book. There's no one, I imagine around this table would know you were talking about selling a character of Turing so I thought why screw it up? Why complicate it? I think he's one of the great geniuses of the twentieth century, but his story's of high tragedy. So just to have him kind of casually high… I thought was disrespectful. So that is why he's not in the movie. Turing killed himself. You know Apple computers? Well, you know the Apple logo.

Emily: Yes, I knew actually knew that...

Michael: Bravo. Well that bite out of the apple is in honor of him.

Emily: That no one ever tells me -- HOW?

Michael: The story is amazing, we don't have time to go into it, but basically he put cyanide in an apple and bit the apple and killed himself. He was homosexual and had been busted for living with someone in England in '53, and plea bargained that he would agree to have chemical treatment to rid himself of homosexuality and was injected. He was one of great heroes of science, above them all. And he started getting … grew breasts, and so he killed himself. And he was I suppose in his early forties. It's just how England treated her war heroes, so you can see that Bletchley Park is a minuscule part of an incredible story.

Emily: When you make a movie from life and, are you happy

I always function with going to a Bond, doing Enigma, doing a documentary, then going somewhere else. I find that very stimulating, I mean I'm always driven by the best material I can find wherever I can find it, so I'm not always looking for big studio films. If it's a big studio film that I like, then if I can get it I like to do it. I don't set myself to die at the studio films or to die at the independent films, I just go where, and you know it's stimulating to do it, it keeps you on your toes!

Emily: In 42 Up you had the problem where the BBC reporter himself wasn't here anymore. Can you tell me why? Curious.

Michael: No - sorry - I can't. See, because I'm trying to keep on good terms with them in case they move around. The thing is there was never any agreement with them. They were just kids when they started. A lot of them, most of them are very angry that they were pushed into it when they became adults by their parents or by their schools, but with this one, these are adults who have agreed contractually to stay a part of it over the next ten years, so it's different in that way. Also with all the Up films we never knew what we were going to be doing anyway, we were just starting out as one film. With this one, the whole point of doing other than just doing another film about people falling in love is to follow it through so you can see how marriages that you become familiar with as an audience work.

Emily: What was the appeal to you in Enough?

Michael: Well, it is about women… and I've done a lot of films about strong women, and it seemed to me in a sense the logical conclusion of that. This is about a very difficult area of social life, domestic abuse, and this is really a cautionary story and we're not suggesting that women go out and wipe out their husbands, but we are suggesting that women don't take the role of victim if at all possible. So there is an element of Double Jeopardy, it is in that genre, but this is about a woman actually empowering herself and setting about doing something to deal with the situation she's in.

Emily: The last Bond film was more successful today than it's ever been - enormously successful. Were you approached to do the next one? Do you want to?

I was sort of approached and it was a bit halfhearted. I didn't want to wait around until they said, "We don't want to offer it to a director until we have a script we like." We all know that you have a script you like when you finish shooting. And this Jennifer film had came up, so I went to do that rather than hang around for 8 months waiting for them to make their great wonderful mind up whether they want to do a third. It had been most successful, and it was a tough hit. I don't think I want to, I enjoyed it and I might do another one down the road, but I think I just wanted to go straight into it and send the message that this is what I wanted to do. I probably would have done it if they'd handled it, but they didn't and so off any kind of dilemma that I might do, it would have to be what I've been doing. It was ridiculous. Then Enough came up and that seemed to me to be well worth doing.

Emily: How about working with J-Lo - I have to ask - she's media bullion [laughter].

Michael: Yes. Well, I think she's a very good actor. I was very impressed with her. She was incredibly well prepared, worked very hard. I think she has real talent. She's very real, I expect she has a lot of range, and this material is the toughest she's had to deal with. This is really heavy material. She's very good with other actors. I've always thought she was good, it wasn't like "oh my God what am I doing here?" Although there was that element about how she would conduct herself, whether she would show up or worse. But as an artist, I've always thought she's really good. She's sometimes maybe not done stuff which is that meaty for her, whether Selene or Out of Sight, she absolutely brilliant.


There you go a blunt talk with a great director. Rent or buy Enigma. Enough is a tough chickbabe film- great for an evening of women empowering man-bashing viewing. And J -Lo is really quite good in it. Apted's lifelong works, the documentaries 7 Up, 21 Up and so on, are really amazing to watch in a day - to see his subjects grow and become adults - with all their faults and glories right before your eyes as opposed to the years-in-the-making these gems took. Or maybe rewatch his little Bond film...


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