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 Ronan Raftery. Raftery is an English actor known for playing Langdon Shaw in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. He plays Bevis Pod in Mortal Engines.
For Bevis, getting into this character, what you kind of latch onto first and what it’s been like developing him through production?
RONAN RAFTERY: Well he’s a changed quite a lot since I first read it. You know, I think one of the most exciting things about working with these guys is how they’re not afraid to change things and they allow things to evolve as they go on.
But initially I loved how Bevis felt like an outsider desperate to be involved in some way in helping his city without a clear path, without a clear understanding of how they could do that. So not like you’re kind of main hero who has a–generally has a clear idea about that. I was kind of enjoying his confusion on what to do, and it’s only until he meets Katherine and understand more about the world that he can formulate a plan, an idea and an impulse for what to do.
I notice you have hair. Was there a discussion about whether he would be bald as the character is described in the book?
RR: No. Not to my knowledge, anyway. No, they definitely wanted to do something with the engineers and with Bevis in general. I’m sure it was definitely discussed at some point. By the time I got involved, which was in December, I think a long time ago, but Peter in particular wanted there to be kind of a cultish aspect to the engineers in general like there is in the book.
So in the book, they’re all bald and they all wear these long, white clothes and rubber gloves and everything. So I’m not dressed like that, but we’re all quite gray and silver and kind of monochrome and we all have this grayish/whitish hair, so it’s a pretty clear interpretation of that, I think. But fitting their aesthetic for this role.
Did they spend a lot of time putting the dirt under your nails?
RR: That was pretty easy. I just don’t wash for weeks. No, no, it’s just a little brush. It never comes off, though. Four days later, still have black under there.
We heard a little bit about how you guys had some guidance and training with motion and simulating that you’re on a moving city. Who’s the best at it, and who’s the worst?
RR: I’m the best. Absolutely the worst. No, that’s more of an internalized thing for us. It’s not so–we’re not all kind of swaying around like we’re on a ship or anything like that. It also has to do with the volume in the place and the fact that it’s moving on this massive machine and that there’s a lot going on.
We don’t move in the same way, but it’s not quite as specific as watching your feet on–that stuff is more for the smaller cities, like Saltzhagen and some of the others. They are really quite small. They only have a few hundred people around them, so that is very much like where on a boat or something like that. For us, it’s more of an internal awareness.
Is there a specific set piece that’s been the most, located to maneuver around?
RR: No. All my sets so far have been pretty straightforward. It’s about to get messy for me, I think. We’re climbing stairs today, which–it’s a ladder we use, it’s not stairs. Yeah, we’ve got some set pieces of us running through London for the chase at the start, which I’m involved with a bit as well.
And then kind of the final third of the film for us all kind of been the big payoff for all the action stuff is so we got to shoot a lot of from myself and Katherine’s perspective. So no, I’ve just been sitting in chairs, really, looking into the distance.
Can you kind of expand on his relationship with Katherine Valentine and maybe how Tom Natsworthy complicates it?
RR: It’s very different from the book.
How much of the script is evolving after your shooting?
RR: Not much, not much. I’m in, the story is what it is. They know what they’re doing. They get minor tweaks and they go back and review things that they like and then maybe pages, which highlight stuff that came out in stuff we’ve already shot. So it’s all completely manageable. They’re not rewriting the movie. I mean, that would be a nightmare.
Is the book still a resource? You don’t necessarily make a direct adaptation, but you can use it as character history?
RR: Sure, yeah. To be generally informed about the world, if there are things in the book that any of us have liked or enjoyed. Not so much at this stage, now early on if there’s things that we liked and enjoyed, the writers were great. I loved that bit where it happens and sometimes that makes it into the script and sometimes it doesn’t for various reasons, but now at this stage, once we kind of get into the bones of this story, that’s our focus and our priority. The book has influenced us all in the past, but now I don’t think anybody, as far as I’m aware, is referring to the book very much.
Have you guys shot the first meeting between Katherine [Valentine] and Bevis?
Was that similar to the book?
RR: Yeah. No, it’s not quite like that, no. It’s slightly more–it’s purposefully–it’s a chance encounter. It’s a more deliberate chance encounter than it is in the book. So, we tended to bump into each other and that’s how we meet. She doesn’t come looking for me in that way in our first encounter. But there’s other stuff going on before that, which isn’t in the book.
So that feeds that, and then in the book she knows that I have information and she comes after me to find me, to understand more about what’s going on. And Bevis is very reluctant to tell her about that. That’s kind of, as in the book, that’s the platform for our relationship and how we jump on the story.
Can you talk a little bit about working with Christian [Rivers], and what he, as a director, is like and how he’s helping you with your performance and how he’s shooting the movie?
RR: I love working with him. He’s very detailed, very well-prepared, but also quite flexible. He loves ideas in the moment from anybody. It doesn’t really matter. Wherever an idea comes from, if it works for what he’s trying to make it, then it goes in. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t.
But yeah, obviously, he comes from a more technical background, but he’s incredibly intuitive with every character’s emotional journey and with how actors work and with how the technical side works and how those two aspects of filmmaking have to come together perfectly to make a good film. He’s, I think, a brilliant leader from that perspective.
How closely involved is Peter Jackson and how have you been working with him?
RR: Peter is mostly working on second unit with stunts. So, as I said, I haven’t really gotten to that stage in my film, so I haven’t even been on set with him yet. Yeah, but we talk and he’s obviously one of the writers, so we talk about things like that. And he’s around. On main unit, he’s more of an offset presence on that. His influence is there, of course, but Christian is very much our director and everybody’s loving that.
But it’s great to have someone like Peter as a producer and as a writer, and on second unit, where all of the fun, big stuff that he has kind of made his name with. It’s great to have him on that side of things. I can’t wait. My first day with that is tomorrow, so I’m really looking forward to it.
Leila [George] mentioned that between Katherine and Bevis there’s kind of a realization about the class structure and how Bevis comes into it with a little more of a chip on his shoulder. How do they kind of learn from each other and cooperate despite that?
RR: Yeah. We do, at it from totally different perspectives, but she’s less aware, I think, at the start of the divisions between the class, and he’s hyperaware. So I mean the influences are there very quickly. Once they both realize that they’re both good people from two different worlds, those barriers, as in the real world, those barriers really do start to fall away.
It’s the only way to get through, to overcome any kind of prejudice is through communication. Absolutely. Yeah. I can’t talk about it because it’s so intuitive to us on set, but I think it’s their bond that allows them to see through each other’s past and the fact that they do become close quite quickly, which makes it not a big leap for us as actors to forget about a lot of that stuff and just begin to focus on the present.
Aside from Katherine, are there any particular character combinations you’re excited to see play out?
RR: With me? It’s mostly just me and Katherine for the film. She obviously has this amazing relationship with her dad, who I have an invisible relationship with. He has no idea who I am, but I have a huge relationship with Valentine and he’s a massive part of the reason why this is doing what he’s doing things what he thinks about our story and the world.
So, I’ve been watching as much of Hugh as I can, and I read a lot of scenes with him and Katherine, and so I feel I have quite a strong relationship with Valentine, but he has no idea who Bevis is, which is quite cool. Which is quite cool for me to play with him. He’s a character I talk about the most. In fact, he’s the character I talk about the most in that film.
Is there an actor that you’re not working with that you wish that you could have had a scene with?
RR: Hugo Weaving, yeah. I mean, I had a couple of nice bits with Robbie, who I know from before. We’ve been friends of friends in the past and it’s great to get to know him better, and we have a nice bit, which I love. And I run after Hera for a bit, but I would love to run with everyone. There’s no weak link in this cast. Everyone is smashing. I’d love to be doing something more, really.
The more you get to act with people like him, the better you become. Yeah, I’d take that any day of the week.
Mortal Engines opens in theatres worldwide December 14, 2018.