Set against the futuristic landscape of a totalitarian Britain, V for Vendetta tells the story of Evey (Natalie Portman), a young woman who is rescued from an alley assault by a man (Hugo Weaving) wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and known only as "V." With Evey at his side, V does his best to incite a revolution against tyranny and oppression, setting the stage for a dark, compelling and bitingly allegorical tale. On the occasion of the film's DVD release, TVGuide.com spoke with James McTeigue, the director who dared tackle this graphic-novel-inspired story.
TVGuide.com: Was it easier than you might have expected to bring V for Vendetta to the big screen, due to its source material?
James McTeigue: The source material is done in a great cinematic style. When they did it they broke with convention, getting rid of visual effects, sounds, thought balloons and things like that. But at some point you just put it aside and make it a film experience. To answer your question, it presented its challenges just because it is such a different medium.
TVGuide.com: And you had to change the focus a bit, too, right?
McTeigue: The film does cover almost all of the graphic novel, but I guess what I did that was different was concentrate more on the characters, especially Evey.
TVGuide.com: Let's talk about those changes to Evey. Were you set to make them regardless, or were they in part dictated by getting someone as choice as Natalie Portman for the role?
McTeigue: It was a combination of both, but more something that I think needed to happen. [In the graphic novel] Evey is such a cipher that it was nice to make the character a bit more of her own person with her own thoughts, and play with that.
TVGuide.com: Having seen only the film, I can't imagine her ever being passive.
McTeigue: I guess if there is a fault in the graphic novel itself, it's she's that a little too passive, she's a little too much a piece of clay that V molds to meet his whims and desires. In the film, she really stands on her own, which I really like.
TVGuide.com: What was the key to getting the performance you needed out of Hugo Weaving, who's masked the whole time?
McTeigue: A few things. Hugo is, hands down, an incredible actor, and that's a great point to start off with. What we used was trust; we really trusted each other. I would tell him if I didn't think something was working, and if there was something he felt was falling off the charts, he'd say, "Let's do that again." But I was also very specific about the way the mask was made, that it should have this organic feel but also be very otherworldly like a cross between a harlequin mask and a Guy Fawkes mask.
TVGuide.com: I appreciated how at different times the mask can look sinister, happy, forlorn....
McTeigue: Yeah. And all those things come down to a combination of Hugo's performance and physicality and the way I chose to use the camera. We were always cognizant of those things, and you just have to trust the mask. At the point that I didn't trust the mask, the audience wouldn't. I was very aware of that.
TVGuide.com: How hard was it to fight the temptation to unmask V at some point?
McTeigue: Oh, I didn't have any temptation at all. I thought at some point the studio would have a temptation [Laughs], but they never did. At the point that you take his mask off, you kill what the film is about a bit, which is that he is an idea....
TVGuide.com: That's a great speech he has, about being "an idea."
McTeigue: Yeah. And the moment the mask comes off, it spoils some of that. The other thing is, it's great to play against audience convention. Audiences are so cinema-literate now that they would expect the mask to come off.
TVGuide.com: However and correct me if I'm wrong you can glimpse Hugo in the final crowd scene, yes?
McTeigue: No, he's not in there.
TVGuide.com: Really? I could have sworn I saw him.
McTeigue: No, that would be too much of a cheat. The only thing I was going to do was make him the Guy Fawkes character at the start of the film, but I ultimately shied away from that.
TVGuide.com: Do you feel the film was adequately received during its theatrical release?
McTeigue: I do. From an audience point of view, it was received fantastically; it [debuted as] the No. 1 film. Critically, it did pretty well. I guess the "usual suspects" came out, the people who like to make their review not about the film but [about] themselves and how smart they can be. [Laughs] But the majority of the reviews were amazing, actually.
TVGuide.com: What was your immediate reaction when the real-life London bombings happened months before V for Vendetta's release?
McTeigue: I was there, right there in the middle of London, cutting the film the day it happened. Unfortunately, it's the world that we live in now. The word "bombing" is in the vernacular so much now, in Iraq and other parts of the world. What you try to do as a filmmaker is understand or make sense of why those things happen. People recognize that it's part of their lives now, and the arts at some point need to comment on it.
TVGuide.com: Having directed such a resonant, colorful and rich film, is it at all bittersweet that V told a contained, closed-end story, and there is no opportunity for a sequel?
McTeigue: I'm not a huge fan of sequels in general, so I'm glad the film has a definite sort of end/coda. You feel like that's the story I chose to tell. You're left to wonder, "Where did it go from there? What happened? What happened to all those people?" There's this kind of default franchise syndrome now, I'd call it, where sometimes [a film] warrants sequels, but for the most part it doesn't.
TVGuide.com: What we're seeing on the DVD is that the definitive director's cut, or might you revisit it/tinker with it years from now?
McTeigue: I don't think I would. I had no editorial interference, which is not the norm, so the film you see is the film I wanted to go out, which was great. Besides, I didn't really excise that much, to tell you the truth. There may be some things I truncated a bit, but there are no whole scenes I had in and then took out. There's a commentary that me and Natalie and Hugo Weaving did, and I think they're putting that on the hi-def [DVD]. It will be interesting because you'll be able to see us talking about it. There are things we all had to say having had some distance from the film.
TVGuide.com: What will you be directing next?
McTeigue: Probably something completely different. Probably another allegorical tale; I think I'm drawn to those things. It might be sci-fi, but it will be another piece like [V for Vendetta]. I was toying with [remaking 1976's] Logan's Run for a while....
TVGuide.com: Oh, I loved that movie as a kid....
McTeigue: Yeah, so that's sort of out there in the ether. And there's another called American by Blood, which is a great book by this guy Andrew Huebner, so I'm thinking about that as well.
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