By Sherrie Li
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By Sherrie Li
Instead, it seems like you tried to be true to those iconic characters.
I sort of wanted to play with the mythology surrounding the celebrities. So you see Marilyn’s depression and Charlie [Chaplin]’s supposed sadism.
It’s strange, because this is not a Hollywood film by any stretch, but there are moments when the impersonators sell some of that old-time Hollywood charm. Their performance in the theater they build for themselves feels a bit magical.
Yeah, I think that’s true.
So when you said before how it may be deluded to try to bring these people to life, isn’t that essentially what you were doing?
Absolutely. Maybe it was all just an excuse for me. Like I said before, maybe I really just wanted to get a chance to work with Michael Jackson.
Diego Luna as Michael Jackson is surprisingly inspired. At times, he even shares the angular facial structure of a late-model post-Neverland Michael Jackson.
For some reason, from the beginning, I just felt strongly that Michael Jackson needed to be Mexican. Starting from there, I thought of Diego because of his boyishness. That’s what attracted me to the idea of Michael as the lead impersonator. Totally naive, symbolic of everything somehow. He’s the world’s greatest eccentric and still an abstraction of a person: without color; without sex; without gender; without age.
And on a permanent retreat from reality.
Yeah. And that’s an exciting idea if you think about it, despite the dangers.
There’s a scene in the missionary narrative, the one where Herzog as the priest is preparing to fly with his nuns over the villages to drop aid. He has this encounter with a guy on the tarmac, this stunning little scene, and it was actually inadvertent documentary, right?
That was one of those special moments. When I’m filming, I’m interested in mistakes. It’s often the mistakes that let you inside. And in that case, I was filming and saw out of the corner of my eye that Werner was talking to this guy who’s crying and holding a bunch of dead roses in his hand. I walk over and Werner says, “Quickly, put the camera on me.” So I did, and what you see there is the truth. Four or five years ago, that guy’s wife left him, and he waits every day at the airport in the jungle with some dead roses, hoping for her to return. Werner figured out his story right there, on camera, dressed as a priest, and then got him to repent. Somehow, Werner gets the guy to admit to “fornicating” and instinctively knew it was with five women. And the guy breaks down there and admits to his sin.
You have this long-standing relationship with Herzog. And, of course, he is a fan of the kind of filmmaking where you allow mistakes to speak to the essence of the film. So it’s kind of ironic that here this is happening in the person of Herzog himself.
That’s true. I never thought about it quite like that, but that is it right there.
I guess Herzog can’t help but extract some truth from the jungle. Did you always see him as the priest?
I’ve worked with him on the last two films. He has an obvious charisma, and I thought it would, in fact, be interesting to go back to the jungle with him. A Bavarian jungle priest who’s a hardcore boozer — that seemed to be perfect for Werner.
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