- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
Rupert Sanders rose to directorial prominence through television advertisements before making his big-screen directorial debut with the 2012 hit Snow White and the Huntsman. That film demonstrated Sanders’ command of the impressive production design, integrated visual effects, and the pressures of big-budget filmmaking. His follow up, a big-screen adaptation of the 1989 manga series, Ghost in the Shell (written by Masamune Shirow), and the 1995 anime adaptation directed by Mamoru Oshii, is a project well-suited to his design and aesthetic sensibilities.
Home Theater Forum recently sat down with director Rupert Sanders to discuss Ghost in the Shell, to touch upon the casting controversy, and to explore the powerful performance that Scarlett Johansson brings to the film.
Ghost in Shell is currently available to stream, and will be released on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K on Tuesday, July 25th.
HTF: I'm curious when you reflect back on the film, what's the one thing-- if you had to boil it down to one thing that you're most proud of?
Rupert Sanders: That's hard. I'm proud of the film as a whole. It was an incredibly ambitious project. I think probably Scarlett's performance. As a director, I think that's really what our goal is. The world and the look of the film and the action of the film, really, is only ever in support of the human story at the center of it. And I'm most proud of the collaboration between Scarlett and myself to create that character.
HTF: I have to say that I was most impressed with Scarlett's performance, how she was able to emote with stillness and carry so much emotion in just her eyes and a relatively blank expression given the kind of character that she's playing. And if I was to boil it down to the single most impressive thing out of the film, it would be her performance and how she carries the thoughts and the questions of the film so innately. But Scarlett Johansson’s casting was a source of controversy, with the role of Major not being cast by an Asian actor. I’d like to get your thoughts on that controversy.
“Ultimately, I wanted to make a Scarlett Johansson movie, and I wanted to make "Ghost in the Shell." And I think that Oshii said it best, who directed the [1995 "Ghost in the Shell"] anime, that she was, hands down, the only person to play this in the world. And I stand by it entirely. And I think when people see the film, they'll understand it.”
Rupert Sanders: Look, I think there are very few people who can do what Scarlett does. I mean, she's played some of the most iconic characters since she was 11 years old. She's made two to four films a year since then, from Lost in Translation, to Under the Skin, to Lucy, to Her, to Girl with a Pearl Earring, to The Horse Whisperer. She is one of those rare, one-in-a-billion actors, and I think that is what makes her so unique. And to me, she felt like the perfect fit for the part. She is very articulate as a woman, as a working mother. She's very political in her communication of that. Like you said, she's always kind of take the piss out of me because I'd basically taken away anything an actor relies on to inhabit a character. There's no fidgeting. There's no eating. There's no smoking. There's no holding a walking stick. There's no tics. There's no funny voice. All of those little things that actors use she's [had taken away and it's really boiled down to, like you say, that kind of stillness. And I think the part was very hard for her. She said she learned so much about her craft through this role because she had to literally do it with the barest, and I think that's testament to her experience. And I don't think many other actors can do that. And the controversy, I think, comes from a vacuum. I think most people who were controversially outspoken about the film never saw the film or never really understood the anime or the manga. Ultimately, I wanted to make a Scarlett Johansson movie, and I wanted to make Ghost in the Shell. And I think that Oshii said it best, who directed the [1995 Ghost in the Shell] anime, that she was, hands down, the only person to play this in the world. And I stand by it entirely. And I think when people see the film, they'll understand it.
HTF: And you had previously talked about that one of the great things about this film is that it's an action picture, it's a thought-provoking action picture with drama, but it's got a female lead and there's precious few of those at the multiplexes. And it's important that women get cast in these kinds of roles because, A, representation matters and, B, it expands the language or the literature of cinema in new and interesting ways, so it's not the same old, same old. And that representation matters and you've had strong female leads in your two big films. Is that consciously something you're drawn to?
“We made an original, thought-provoking film, but we also made one where a woman wasn't taking any shit. And I think that's rare.”
Rupert Sanders: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of directors find that female characters have more of a range of expression because they are women. And I think I like strong female characters, and I liked this character so much because of so many of those reasons. And I think the controversy-- too many people were looking at trying to recast someone that they weren't actually looking and celebrating, going, "Wow. You guys are actually the first film to make a kind of a female superhero who's not beholden to the men around her, who's not having to wear bikinis. She's doing it through intelligence and strength." And I think that's something that I think was sad, that people didn't really herald that, in a way. We made an original, thought-provoking film, but we also made one where a woman wasn't taking any shit. And I think that's rare. And I think there's films that have come behind this that have been heralded over that but I don't think that they are kind of on the finer points-- as feminist with this film.
HTF: You worked with James Newton Howard on Snow White and the Huntsman, and out of that came one of my favorite James Newton Howard scores of the last 10- 15 years. You worked with Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe on Ghost in the Shell. And the music in your films works so incredibly well. What is your working process like with the composers that you work with? And what on God's Earth do we have to do in order to get a score release for Ghost in the Shell's wonderful soundtrack done? Who do I need to call [laughter]?
“…music is harder. But I think it's about getting people who are collaborative, who want to help you on the journey do something different, and I'm really proud of the originality of the score.”
Rupert Sanders: Well, we will endeavor to do something. I think it's a valid point and I think a digital release is a fairly inexpensive way to do it. But I work with the musicians as closely as I work with so many of the other collaborators. And as a director, your role when working on that side of the film is to inspire and excite those people around you so they give their best work. You're not in there telling them what key the opening should be in, but you're trying to give them as much of your vision of the film sonically as possible, and guide them as much as possible so they understand what you're trying to do. And that's really the hardest thing, especially with music, because you can't draw it. And it's very hard when you're not musical, like myself, to talk in phrases and musical expressions because I don't really know many of them but I can draw the shit out of a prop house. But music is harder [and] I think it's about getting people who are collaborative, who want to help you on the journey do something different, and I'm really proud of the originality of the score. And I will follow up, and I will make sure that there's a release. And as soon as it's released, we'll email you a link [laughter].
HTF: Well, that would be terrific!
Rupert Sanders: You have achieved something, Neil, in our quick 10 minutes [Laughter]
HTF: I feel quite accomplished now [Laughter]. Thanks for taking the time to talk to Home Theater Forum Today.
Rupert Sanders: Well, lovely to speak to you!
HTF: Best of luck in the future. Thank you.