By Adam Ray Palmer
Today Cineroom brings you a special chat with Dutch filmmaker Martin Koolhoven. Martin’s career spans 20+ years as a director, actor and writer with lots of acclaim along the way. We caught up with Martin as his latest film, Brimstone, is doing the festival rounds.
We saw the powerful Brimstone at Venezia73 but it’ll also be showing next month at the 60th London Film Festival. Catch up with our review of Brimstone here.
Brimstone is a period drama that centres on a woman named Liz (Dakota Fanning) who we follow through different stages of her life. We see her presently, we see her as a child and as a young woman. All through her life, she has been trying to avoid a man who we know as The Reverend (Guy Pearce).
A BIT OF TRIVIA:
Martin signs off his fiction films with ‘xxx!
Hello Martin! It’s great to have a quick interview with you following Cineroom’s visit to Venezia73 and catching your new movie Brimstone.
ARP: Could you tell us what your new film, Brimstone, is all about?
MK: It’s a dark and epic story set in the American old west. As soon as the new reverend arrives, Liz – a mute woman – knows she and her family’s lives are threatened. In four chapters, we see how she must fight him, but also the events leading up to this story.
ARP: What made you want to write a film like Brimstone? It’s such a hard-hitting and relentless film.
MK: I’ve always been a big fan of westerns, but at some point I realised that why I liked them so much was based on a half truth. What I love is the boyish sense of freedom and opportunity that comes with the lawless land that was west of the frontier. But this Mark Twain-type of adventure was only possible for men. I was reading a book by John Carlos Blake and at some point a young woman runs away from home. It said that there were only two options for her; either she would marry somebody or become a prostitute - that made me think. Also, I wanted to make the movie as Dutch as the spaghetti westerns were Italian, and I thought the Calvinistic, protestant religion was perfect for the story. It also made it personal, because I was raised protestant. So Brimstone became the story of how a religious zealot violently controls the women in his life.
ARP: What was your reasoning behind casting both Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce in their respective roles, apart from being huge talents? I read Mia Wasikowska was originally attached to the film, any specific reasons for their departures if true?
MK: I have been a fan of Guy for a long time. As soon as I saw L.A. Confidential and saw that this was the same man I had seen in The Adventures of Priscilla and Queen of the Desert - I realised just how versatile he was. So when I approached Guy, I was very happy to learn he was so enthusiastic. He was the first actor we signed for Brimstone. With the female lead, I had several actresses that I was thinking about and had conversations with. There aren’t many great roles for these ladies currently, so there were a lot of them who wanted to do it. Dakota had been on my original list, but I never spoke to her, because she had already signed for another movie. I had a very good conversation with Mia Wasikowska so eventually I chose her. Then, only a few weeks before shooting, she had to pull out for personal reasons which was a terrible shock. Then we had to reschedule slightly because the other film Dakota was in, also rescheduled. Suddenly, Dakota had become available and I was very lucky she wanted to meet me based on the script. We hit it off straight away and I saw Dakota being very motivated to do the part. It is unbelievable how good Dakota is and how easy to direct. She has been doing this since she was five and I have never met an actor who has so much understanding of what I am doing. She hardly needed any direction at all. Most of the time she already knew what I was going to ask her after she had just finished a take.
ARP: Brimstone is your first English-language film, how did this come about? And will you being doing more English-language films in the future?
MK: I might…
ARP: This is also your first film in eight years, what have you been up to?
MK: Mainly Brimstone but I also started my own production company, together with my producer Els Vandevorst, called N279 Entertainment. We produced some movies by others – although I was writing most of that time. It took me about three and a half years to write Brimstone, then it took about two years to finance it, and then a year and a half to shoot and edit it.
ARP: What filmmakers have been your biggest influences in your career? And relating to Brimstone, were there any films that inspired you to make this movie?
MK: I am a huge fan of directors like Orson Welles, Sam Peckinpah, Billy Wilder, Sergio Leone, John Carpenter and many others. Probably Hitchcock is the biggest influence, but I don’t think about it so much. The Night of the Hunter was a conscience inspiration on Brimstone. Now that the film is finished I can see some Cape Fear and Pale Rider perhaps, but your guess is as good as mine.
ARP: What’s next up in your career, Martin?
MK: I have some ideas, but I haven’t completely sorted out yet what will be next…
ARP: Finally, what is your favourite film? Or your top three if that is too difficult…?
MK: There are three that are above all the rest. Once Upon a Time in the West, Some Like it Hot and Touch of Evil… but I can’t choose between them.
Thank you for your time.