Inkheart: Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent

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Helen Mirren

Certainly the filmmakers considered it one of their biggest casting coups to have secured Oscar winner Helen Mirren for the role of Meggie’s great-aunt Elinor. “To me, Elinor was a gift of a part–wonderfully amusing and with a great story arc,” says director Iain Softley. “Right from the start, Helen was at the top of my list. I’ve always admired her work and wanted an opportunity to work with her.”

Nevertheless, Pokorny admits, the timing might not have worked out following Mirren’s “royal” year. “In the wake of the success of ‘The Queen,’ we were naturally concerned that she would not be available,” the producer recalls. “As it turned out, though, she not only enjoyed the script but also had marvelous ideas for the character of Elinor. We were so fortunate to have her and couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the role.”

Mirren says that, in keeping with Elinor’s great love of books, her ideas for her character began with a literary figure. “I based my character on poet Edith Sitwell, who is famously quoted as saying that her hobbies were ‘reading, listening to music and silence.’ I think that’s where Elinor starts out–she’s buried herself in books and finds all the excitement she needs there.”

Softley adds, “Helen felt there should be more emphasis on Elinor as a lover of reading as much as a lover of books. Elinor was a collector of books because she wanted to read, not because she loved the artifacts. To me that was a brilliant idea because it brought to the fore something that was very evident in the book–the notion that books offer remarkable worlds to escape into that are in many ways as real as the one that we live in.”

Mirren has that viewpoint in common with her role. “Ultimately, books do have one major advantage over film. Film can lay it all out for you, but there is nothing like the power of your own imagination. So I loved the concept of playing with the whole idea of what is real and what is imagined and blurring the line between the two. Elinor is obsessed with the world of literature, but when that world literally becomes real to her, she thinks it’s outrageous and, of course, she can’t cope with that at all,” Mirren laughs.

The actress reveals that she was a bit nervous meeting Cornelia Funke, having, as she says, “changed the direction of the character somewhat.” But she needn’t have worried. Funke responds, “It was a dream to cast Helen Mirren as Elinor and I absolutely loved her interpretation of the role.”

Jim Broadbent


For another Oscar-winning member of the cast, meeting Funke was something of a surreal moment. Jim Broadbent plays the role of Fenoglio, the fictional author of Inkheart, the book within the film. He describes meeting the author who first created his character as “a strange sort of parallel experience because she was there seeing all her characters come to life in much the same way that Fenoglio is seeing his characters come to life. It was very valuable for me to see her excitement at seeing us and the world that had been designed and built. I could use that in expressing how Fenoglio would react to the situation. For Fenoglio,” Broadbent continues, “it’s a writer’s dream come true because characters he’s created have come into his world and he can interact with them.”

“It was wonderful to have Jim create that almost childlike sense of joy that Fenoglio has when he encounters his creations,” Softley asserts. “The first time I read the script, I said Jim Broadbent should be Fenoglio and everyone agreed. I just think there’s an understated eccentricity about Jim that was appropriate for the part.”

Broadbent says his decision to accept a role comes down to a simple formula: “If I think it’s a film I’d want to see then I want to be in it, and this was a story that excited my imagination at every turn.”

Mo and Meggie track down Fenoglio in hopes of finding any remaining copies of the book Inkheart. Mo believes that if he finds the book, he will be able to rescue his long-lost wife, Resa, played in the film by Sienna Guillory. Guillory comments, “The thing I loved about Resa was that she wasn’t your typical damsel in distress. She’s been held in this parallel universe for nine years, but she has never given up on her hope of escaping and being reunited with her family.”

Paul Bettany

 

The night that Resa disappeared into Inkheart was the night that Mo released three very different characters from its pages: the homesick fire juggler Dustfinger, the evil Capricorn, and his knife-wielding confederate, Basta.

Dustfinger is played by Paul Bettany, who offers, “It was interesting that when I was offered the role it coincided with my son reading the book, so it was a lovely, joyous time for me.”

“From the beginning,” Softley states, “Paul was the person I had thought of for Dustfinger. He has that mercurial and mischievous quality that Dustfinger has. And he played his emotional scenes with great depth and understanding.”

Bettany’s understanding came from a place of affinity with the character. “He wants to get out of this incredibly odd place and back to his home with his wife and kids,” the actor explains. “I realized that is very similar to how I spend part of my life–making a movie in some far-flung location, wishing I could get home to see my family. So I found I had a lot in common with Dustfinger.”

However, Dustfinger has one attribute Bettany did not share: the ability to juggle fire. Bettany gamely tried to learn to juggle, starting with regular juggling balls, but says, “I soon realized that if this man is supposed to be the best juggler on the face of the Earth–at least in Inkworld–I simply wasn’t going to achieve that. So we did a different thing called poi.”

Poi is a form of juggling originated by the Maori people of New Zealand. Instead of tossing objects in the air, they are attached to ropes or chains and the juggler swings them in circular patterns. “I had two great lads teaching me how to do it,” Bettany says. “Mostly I had to learn to avoid smacking myself endlessly. It’s a painful learning curve, but a fast one because it really concentrates the mind,” he deadpans.

Through the years that Mo has been hunting for Inkheart, Dustfinger has never been far behind. He believes that if Mo finds the book, he will finally have a way back to the home and family he loves. Unfortunately, Mo refuses to help Dustfinger, afraid that if he reads from the book, he might lose another loved one to its pages. So Dustfinger turns to a dangerous ally who
was also brought forth from Inkheart: the villainous Capricorn.

Unlike Dustfinger, Capricorn has no interest in returning to his fantasy home. Cast in the role, Andy Serkis observes that his character “didn’t have much going for him in Inkworld, but he discovers he can build an empire in the real world and has delusions of grandeur. He loves everything about this place, where everything he lays his hands on is much more preferable, especially the material gains. He was used to sleeping in forests with the beasts; now he lives in a castle and has become acutely aware of fashion.”

The actor says that the contrast between two different milieus was also what drew him to the project. “I was excited about the project when I read the script. I thought it was a fantastic story, and I loved the duality of the real world versus the fantasy world.”

“I had been interested in working with Andy since I saw him as Gollum in ‘The Lord of the Rings,'” says Softley. “Capricorn is a deceptively difficult part. On one level, he is the deliciously wicked villain of the piece and has to provide a level of jeopardy for our main characters. But he also has a lot of amusing lines and is something of an entertainer. That can be quite a difficult balance to strike, but Andy handled it brilliantly.”

Capricorn has several uses for Mo’s talents as a Silvertongue, some of them mercenary. “We discover that Capricorn has made a splendid life for himself in this world,” Pokorny notes. “But now he wants Mo to bring him greater riches by reading them out of other books.”

There are fortunes to be found in many books, but Capricorn chooses the hidden treasure of 1001 Arabian Nights. As Mo reads aloud, gold, silver and jewels rain down…but that’s not all: a young boy named Farid suddenly appears, terrified at being transported from an ancient desert cave to this strange new place.

Farid is played by young actor Rafi Gavron, who comments, “At first, Farid is completely bemused. He’s looking around, asking, ‘Where am I What is this’ Wouldn’t you be if you suddenly landed in a completely different world, thousands of years later He tries to convince himself he’s dreaming, but when things start to fascinate him, it’s like ‘Wow.’ He sees a motorbike and says, ‘Well that beats a camel,'” Gavron laughs. “Eventually, with the help of Meggie, he becomes part of the group that’s trying to save the day, and he also ends up finding a friend in Dustfinger. I had most of my scenes with Paul Bettany and he is hilarious, just full of jokes and gags. It was great. We all had so much fun.”

Softley remarks, “One of the real benefits of having gotten together the group of actors we did was that they all enjoyed one another so much. When everyone is getting along and having a good time, it makes everything so much easier.”

Capricorn rules over his small empire with the help of his henchmen, led by Basta, whose weapon of choice is a knife. Jamie Foreman plays Basta, who is quick to leave his mark on anyone who crosses him or his leader. But Capricorn needed more muscle, so he went back to the source. Somehow he has found another Silvertongue: a timid little man named Darius, played by John Thomson.

Capricorn forces Darius to “read out” several of his old friends from Inkheart, including Flatnose, played by Steve Speirs; Fulvio, played by Stephen Graham; Cockerell, played by Matt King; and Mortola, played by Lesley Sharp. Darius also brings forth a variety of fairytale characters and mythological creatures from such classics as The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan.

Unfortunately, Darius has a speech impediment that directly impacts his powers as a Silvertongue: he stutters. As a result, anyone and anything Darius speaks out of books is less than perfect, as mostly evidenced by the lines of writing left scrawled on them as they were bounced through the pages. The telltale words were the idea of costume designer Verity Hawkes, who worked with makeup and hair designer Jenny Shircore to complete the look.

To carry out his evil plan–to call upon his most terrifying and powerful ally–Capricorn needs a Silvertongue whose abilities are not compromised. But when Mo escapes his grasp, the villain is delighted to discover that there is another within his reach Meggie.