Graphic of a two-headed lizard from eXistenZ

Transcript: Eastern Promises: Research

VIGGO MORTENSEN: When he proposed that we make Eastern Promises together, we shared tons of e-mails. I mean, lots of information. It was - It got to feel like I was working together with another obsessive actor, or detail oriented actor, than just a normal director. You know, with an artist who is inquisitive and who was happy to be telling the story he was telling. So, we exchanged, I don’t know, thousands of thoughts about – in the case of Eastern Promises – related to Russian literature, history, music, obviously the criminal underworld that the story’s related to, Russian politics – anything, really, anything was open to discussion. We re-read Russian novels that we hadn’t read since we were younger, both of us. It was just fun. It’s really fun to work with someone who thinks that way. You know, we had even less need to dissect things on the set. We could just get to work. He could give more attention, if needed, to actors that hadn’t worked with him before. So, you know, it just got better and better.

CAROL SPIER: Eastern Promises’ restaurant was built in a studio. We started out and I thought

“do we go modern, do we go old...?” But because it was being run by an older man who was from Russia, I thought we wanted it to have as much Russian influence as possible. So I started looking at everything I could find on Russian architecture. And then I thought “I’ve got to go to Russia.” So I just got on a plane on the weekend, talked the production manager on the show to go with me, spent our own money, flew to St. Petersburg and spent a long weekend there, just going to the Hermitage and trying to get a feel for everything.

The whole restaurant was based on things that I saw when I was in Russia, and research I had done on Russian architecture. I wanted it to look as traditional as possible. I think that if it was the son who was running the restaurant, it would’ve been a totally different design.

I think the fact that the restaurant had that slight ominous feel to it was the fact that it was all vaulted. It was all vaulted ceilings, so you had that sort of claustrophobic kind of pressure. I left openings in it so that Peter could light through it so there were these fake sky lights, but it still was a little more oppressive because of the vaulted ceilings. And the dark red colours, and the dark greens.

VIGGO MORTENSEN: What I did is worked early on as soon as I knew that I was going to do this, play this character. I suggested to David that it would be valuable to hear Russian spoken as much as possible and to have it be authentic. I studied with someone – just in case – where I translated everything I had to say in the movie and learned everything how to say it. Then I worked with other people who said, “Yeah, well, that’s correct but a guy who’s from that world, that underworld, would use different vocabulary.” So I kept fine-tuning that. By the time I showed up on the set, I could say everything necessary and we did add a few more things that weren’t planned in Russian and I thought that was effective so you could jump in and out of English, Russian-accented English in the character, and speaking Russian, as to some degree was the case for Armin Mueller-Stahl’s character and Vincent Cassel’s character. And I think that helped make the movie be a story that felt authentic and that as an audience you felt that you are, in a voyeuristic sense, you’re getting a glimpse of a world that you didn’t maybe know that much about. Or if you did that you would feel that it had some sense of truth. It’s a movie, but that there were something authentic about it. So, first it was language, and also the tattoos, it was an important language of its own, the Russian criminal tattoos – the traditional ones. There we got help from a lot of, well, several sources. I met a Russian who was a boxer and also an ex-convict. That was helpful. Also, there are two volumes, two books that are called the Russian criminal tattoo encyclopedia, which has a lot of images, photographs, and drawings and a lot of background information of the origins of these particular tattoos, what they mean, what they say about you. The people who know that language can look up your body, like they do in the movie to some degree and they can tell what experiences you’ve had: which prisons you’ve been in, what crimes you’ve committed, how long you were in those prisons – all kinds of information just by looking at you – what your specialties are as a criminal, what your proclivities are as a person, maybe even sexually, all kinds of things. That was fascinating. I was able to speak also to some other people who had been in Russian prisons, just to make sure in terms of the language tattoos, to be able to make a final selection of the tattoos that I’d wear. It also was helpful in terms of the tattoo that you see on Vincent Cassel in playing his character Kirill.