Anna Karenina: A Collaborative Production
Arriving in US theaters on November 16, 2012, “Anna Karenina” is acclaimed director Joe Wright’s new vision of the epic story of love, stirringly adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s great novel by Academy Award winner Tom Stoppard. The film marks the third collaboration of the director with Academy Award-nominated actress Keira Knightley and Academy Award-nominated producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Paul Webster, following their award-winning box office successes “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement.” The film also stars Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams and Emily Watson.
When gearing up to make a movie, director Joe Wright is known for his intense preparation work. The filmmaker actively collaborates with many of the same talented craftspeople and actors from movie to movie, which creates a familiarity and the feeling of a company of players – an important personal and professional link to the world of theatre he grew up in with his own family. For Wright, this familiarity is a vital part of his moviemaking process.
Part and parcel of the team effort as well are Wright’s permanent production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer (who have also done the “Sherlock Holmes” movies); his regular costume designer Jacqueline Durran (“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”); his frequent hair and make-up designer Ivana Primorac (“Hanna”); his past (and now present) film editor Melanie Ann Oliver (“Jane Eyre”); composer Dario Marianelli, who won an Academy Award for “Atonement;” casting director Jina Jay and supervising location manager Adam Richards (both of “Pride & Prejudice”); and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, who was Academy Award-nominated for “Atonement” and went on to shoot the record-breaking “The Avengers.”
Given the preparation period, the brainstorming commences early and often. As with “Atonement,” Marianelli composed much of the music in pre-production, which in turn allowed the movie’s integral and thrilling choreography to be rehearsed and fully imagined by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui prior to filming as well. The producers’ call went out to Richards to confer with Wright and Greenwood before, and while, scouting and securing locales ranging from Britain’s vast Salisbury Plain to the manicured maze of the U.K.’s Hatfield House to Kizhi, a remote island in Russia.
“Anna Karenina” was an epic production filmed over the course of 12 weeks on 100 different sets, across 240 scenes, with 83 speaking parts. More so than before, it was imperative that the team’s latest production ran as a well-oiled machine. To supplement the meticulous research that Wright personally carries out, he actively encourages his cast and crew to do the same – and to bring their ideas to the table. In addition, Wright storyboards his films to visualize them in full, the majority of the time following them almost to the frame once the camera rolls; he prefers to shoot chronologically to build up the characters’ emotions, yet he remains flexible and open to the seizing the moment.
With the actors, Wright embarked on an intense cast rehearsal period of several weeks. Tom Stoppard visited one day and spoke to the actors at length, articulating how love suffuses the story. Beyond character development and interacting with their fellow cast members, the actors were educated about Russian cultural life of the time through research presentations and discussions to help inform their understanding of the world their individual characters existed within.
In addition, cast members worked with dialect coach Jill McCullough. Some were required to learn physical skills, such as the riding of horses and how to handle weapons.
With the director and choreographer, the actors developed not only the dance sequences but also their individual character movements. As choreography is a vital element to the film’s presentation, some two dozen professional dancers appear throughout “Anna Karenina” in a variety of different guises. These range from aristocrats at a ball and a soirée, to servants and wait staff, to exotic dancers at a decadent French boîte, to clerks in an office.
Every piece of preparation would contribute to a greater understanding of the story Wright wanted to tell. When the actors finally set foot on the theatre location, they did so with a familiarity not only for their characters but also for the surrounding people and society. Strengthening this feeling for actors and crew alike, they were joined by hundreds of Russians based in the U.K. who had been hand-picked as extras through an open casting call.
Film editor Melanie Ann Oliver states, “Joe Wright gives everyone the license and the confidence to go further, while through the performances he will keep the movie grounded.”
With such a bold visionary approach to “Anna Karenina,” the director needed his cast to fully embrace the theatre concept, as they would be required to perform their roles with no self-awareness of the artifice surrounding them. Through their efforts, movie audiences would be engrossed in the classic story like never before, transported not just into 19th-century Russia but also within the characters’ worlds.
With the lead actress setting the tone, the rest of the cast rose to the challenge as well; producer Paul Webster notes, “They took the text, and Joe’s more simple and classical approach, very seriously. There could be no hint of self-consciousness, and no post-modern rationalization of the story. The theatricality of the vision had to be of a piece with the seriousness of the actor’s performances and their belief in their characters’ arcs.”
Producer Tim Bevan elaborates, “When we are first introduced to Anna Karenina, her family, and the aristocratic society within which she plays a pivotal role, emotions are artfully withheld as they would have been within the high society of that time and place.
“When private feelings arise irrevocably to the surface over the course of the film, hearts and souls are awakened, causing reverberations throughout society.”
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