Universal is set to release a live action adaptation of Philip Reeve’s best-selling book series The Mortal Engines on December 14, 2018.
“Thousands of years after civilization was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, humankind has adapted and a new way of living has evolved. Gigantic moving cities now roam the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller traction towns. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan)—who hails from a Lower Tier of the great traction city of London—finds himself fighting for his own survival after he encounters the dangerous fugitive Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar). Two opposites, whose paths should never have crossed, forge an unlikely alliance that is destined to change the course of the future.”
Last year our own Ashley Victoria Robinson was fortunate enough to visit the set of The Mortal Engines and interview many of the creative forces behind this major motion pictures – including Colin Salmon. Genre fans will recognize Salmon from his work on both Arrow and, most recently, Krypton. He plays Chudleigh Pomeroy in Mortal Engines.
Is that your tie clip pin?
COLIN SALMON: This one?
The one above it.
CS: Oh, this one. You know who this one is? That’s Bilbo Baggins. I got it. Yeah, I think we discovered it when we were passing by New Zealand and we captured it. But we took that little town, that tiny little island. A little town called Wellington. Yeah, cool. Mind you, we were so just like when we got there we were like, “Really?”
We were just watching the scene where Pomeroy was talking about, which he had the courage to take action. Can you talk a little bit about his conflict and role within the world that he hasn’t felt like he could take action?
CS: Yeah. I think was really clear with this world is the history guild, the engineers roles are really clearly defined. You do not cross worlds. The levels are really defined. It’s quite brutal work, so therefore crossing the lines can be quite extreme. So he really does tend to live in his world.
You know, I think that thing of being a guardian of history, it’s really part. I feel like I’m a guardian of art, but not producing it; protecting it. Because I just think in a world where are really a premium, so that library is really, really important. I’ve found the Yate’s poetry in there and was just reading it between the scenes and you just realize, well, where there are no books, those things become so precious.
And we had the kids in the other day and they were looking at all the mobile phones and I was explaining how there was a point in history where everybody was looking at their mobile phones and they were no longer communicating and all the information was stored on them and no books were read and there was audio. I just thought, “I think I need to read more.”
But he really doesn’t cross his line. Katherine [Valentine]’s character, obviously is the daughter of [Thaddeus] Valentine and he is history guild, so Valentine’s daughter was spending a lot of time with me, so I’m like a surrogate father to her. So it actually makes it even more poignant because I’m putting her in potentially harm’s way, but she’s also got her friendly scenario with her dad. It’s a major signage, which dawned on me about the tenth take.
Can you talk about your relationship with Tom Natsworthy as well, a little bit, because you’re an important figure to him as well?
CS: Yeah. It’s interesting with Tom, because I feel with Tom I’m aware that he is in my guild and works with me, but there’s something more about Tom, and he essentially could have been an aviator. Some of us are just desperate to be historians or history guild. Tom has wanderlust, so this is really interesting, that he does go off on an adventure of his own.
He has his own odyssey, and at the top, when I’m storming in, totally ignoring the chase. It’s an interesting moment, because I’ve been working with my son on classical civilization, and there’s that wonderful quote, you know, give them a sense of bread. Give them–the chase becomes entertainment and my character is walking away from it. And Tom is, like, in it. And that’s the difference between–I see him and I’m very–I’m enthralled by his spirit and I am a very forgiving of him.
And then there’s Tom. Yeah, Robbie [Shehan]. Robbie is extremely curious. He reminds me of one of the Rolling Stones. There with him going, “My God, it’s Mick Jagger.” He really has that thing. He’s quite extraordinary. Yeah, Tom I love it very much dearly, but I don’t know how long we’re going to keep them. I don’t know what’s going to happen with him.
I’m curious about the process of building the character, both using the script and the source material from the book.
CS: Yeah. I think one of the things that I picked up very clearly in the book when I read it was that it wasn’t originally written for children. I did a bit more research about that because I find it so political and so sort of, yeah, a very cautionary tale.
I went in and did the character, and obviously his name is Chudleigh Pomeroy, so I could just see myself, and I just did this thing where I actually modeled Derek Walcott, who is the poet, the Caribbean poet whose knowledge of poetry–he spoke Latin. He had this incredible knowledge that he used in his work and he had incredible diction.
So I thought because of the–and it’s funny, doing it in Kiwi, because it’s all part of the Commonwealth, and there’s an interesting scenario whereby often people of the Commonwealth look at England in a different way to the English actually live. So a lot of the values and aspirations of England are in us because we come in this thing, and my dad, when he arrived in Jamaica, he had a hat and suit and then he went, “Oh, not everybody wears a hat and suit and plays cricket properly” and things like that.
So we played with that and they went for it and that’s been really quite an interesting thing to do with it. Yeah, how do you model it? God, that’s a good question. That’s a very good question. It’s very difficult because the mythology around it is 1,000 years on. In my mind, when you’re isolated and when you’ve been outside in an island or cut off, I think you can really get into containing what you are to prolong the cultural heritage you want to be.
Your character, you want to have that thing. So why doesn’t anybody speak the same way, for example. So I think, you know, in my mind I may have some recordings of Derek and I may just keep that thing going as a tribute to my heritage. Interesting.
You mentioned the preservation of art is important. Are Minions considered art?
CS: In my house it is. In my house, minions are high art. With respect, I think in all seriousness I have four children and I went to see, for example, Beauty and the Beast the other day. I went to see the movie. It was amazing. It was amazing, you know, I mean, through my kids I learned that I could watch films again and again and again and again.
Like a jazz album, I play my jazz 1,000 times. I’ve watched a movie, I’ve seen it and then you go, “Actually, did you really see it?” You put it on again and go, “Oh my God, did you see?” And then eventually, after 1,000 watches, you might actually get the movie.
And when you see the amount of people involved in it, so yeah, I think it is art, very much so.
Well, speaking of that, I’m just curious what sort of little Easter eggs and things are–sort of stick out to you in the museum.
CS: Yes. Well, the Triceratops is weird, but equally very important, because you can just imagine. The minions is key. There’s a wonderful statue of a woman taking the arrow out of her back, and I thought she was scrubbing her back. That’s strange. Imagine making a statue of that. And then the art department set me right on that one. I took that.
… But I do think the mobile phones, actually. When I look at them like that, it sort of is a premonition, essentially, of what was to come. And that actually is quite humbling. Yeah, that would be my favorite.
And you go into the countryside and just the dramatic quality of everything. I hopped up to the roof they come to the top of my own you’re up there on your own with the wind blasting in and you’re like, “Oh, God. This is extraordinary.” So that is all in that museum for me. It’s great on it. It’s great on it. The name is very funny in my house. My children have fun calling me Chudleigh. I’m determined to make it called–if there’s going to be one child baptized Chudleigh, I’d have done my job.
You touched on this a little bit, but one of the great things about anything sci-fi or fantasy is that it can point out things about our current reality. It makes it easier to see, same way when you travel to a different country to see a cultural perspective. So for you, is it technology and that we are so beholden to it that is the key thing that you take away from this? Or that we are slaves to the machines, in a way? Or is it about class systems? What is the one big thing that you would say?
CS: The one big thing for me, if I’m honest in my life, I think it’s the planet. You know, I’m involved with the Drawdown project and stuff they were doing in the Commonwealth now because of the 52 countries in the Commonwealth, 34 are threatened with disappearing because of water tables and things like that.
So I think this world behind the wall which everyone wants to attack is the world we need to get to, stay, grow and be nourished by the think we grow. I think there’s something familiar in that. The municipal Darwinism, survival of the fastest, that’s interesting. I say to my kids survival of the strongest and they sort of go, “Yeah.” But that changes, because that could mean the character. That means the ability to deny yourself pleasure.
Strength comes in many ways, but survival of the fastest, where were going at the moment, here in this world is really, really interesting. We devour each other, and then they just get the pick the bones of the mortal engines whose wheels no longer turn, and that sort of means we become dust. So yeah, for me, it’s the planet. No doubt, absolutely, 100 percent. And it’s proper I think within this story we have an open talk about that because I think we’ve got to generally lead kids back to it.
And there is a chance to reverse it that technology exists and we are working with those scientists in California and California wishes to Commonwealth, which will be interesting. But there’s a real well. Bloomberg and everybody; there’s a will and we need to be the voices of the narrative that says it can be done as opposed to accepting it. We don’t have to accept this, but we don’t have to scare each other either, or blame each other. We just need to sort it out. So that’s the end of that speech.
Were your children familiar with Mortal Engines and were they and inspiration for you to take on this role?
CS: No, my children were not aware of it. I wasn’t actually 100 percent aware of it. I think we’ve been, in some ways, so dominated by other narratives in the children’s literature world, shall we say. I see more and more fantasy. You know, I’ve just been reading the Greek myths to my son and I see some parallels within this world that are slightly less moralistic.
More, “This is how it is,” and how you deal with it. I think that’s really important in the science fiction and fantasy world. I find it much less moral, which I think is really important. No, they weren’t, but they will be. But my children are 27 to 17, so they are adults now. Which doesn’t preclude them from reading that stuff, and I got to be honest, I really enjoyed reading it. When you grow up and realize you’re a nerd, it’s wonderful.
Mortal Engines opens in theatres worldwide December 14, 2018.