Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel has come a long way since his first indie-thriller Snowtown. Once a boy from rural Gawler, Kurzel is now an established voice in film after conquering a highly original adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and now diving into the world of sci-fi and franchises in the hotly anticipated video-game adaptation, Assassin’s Creed.
Catapulting to acclaim and working with some of the biggest names in film (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons), Kurzel has also tackled Shakespeare and the video-game world with no fear.
Seduced by the power of landscape and its human connection, foregrounded in Snowtown, Kurzel recalls a childhood full of imagination.
“I grew up on a large property and Jed and I had to use our imaginations to invent games and stories together. I think there was a really fertile ground in terms of finding our imagination and we’re very, very fond of where we grew up and we love coming back home. I definitely think it’s born in the hour of darkness.”
All of his favourite Australian films are rooted in the distinctive South Australian setting, including Gallipoli, Mad Max, Storm Boy and Wake In Fright. His deep cinematic connection to the rural landscape has affected his brand of storytelling, while having unique Australian characters on screen forged his inspiration and career ahead.
“I remember when I was growing up, the ABC on Saturday nights played just Australian films so we watched them constantly. That’s probably where I first started loving cinema – not going to go see Herbie Goes Bananas, but by seeing Australian characters on screen. I remember seeing Don’s Party when I was 12 and really loved it. So that’s definitely been a huge part of my love for cinema and why I’m inspired by it.”
This small town boy proved his talents for storytelling in Macbeth with both Fassbender and Cotillard returning, but nothing could prepare him for the scale and weight of a blockbuster like Assassin’s Creed.
“There’s just so many more people that you’re working with, so you can’t be as big a dictator as you are with the more intimate films. You really have to trust a lot more and there are departments and more responsibility. It’s also longer. We shot 92 days [for Assassin’s Creed] which is a real marathon. Snowtown and Macbeth were like little catamarans that you could turn really quickly and sail, whereas this one is like a huge big anchor, it’s very, very hard to turn quickly.”
Adamant to keep the video game-based film in the realms of reality, Kurzel outlined what it took to bring the popular game into the world of cinema.
“Shooting in three different countries and working with the effects of this scale, doing the action sequences for real; we really wanted to make sure it didn’t feel all green-screen and our heroes weren’t floating around in the air. We wanted them to feel very real and hit the ground hard so we did a lot of it for real in Malta and got parkour guys and stunt guys from all over the world to work on it. I guess trying to get that reality in it, we definitely really tried to strive for that.”
Assassin’s Creed is a genre-blurring, time-bending, psychological thriller packed with history and adventure. It’s easy to see why Kurzel was so excited when he saw the screenplay.
“That was really the thing. I was so excited by when Michael told me about the screenplay. How does this present day character… how is he changed by reliving the memories of his ancestor, and how do you cut between those worlds and those two characters? Those challenges are what is really unique about the film and what makes it quite different, and also it was the harder challenge to landing the film to the story. I think it’s what’s unique about it and what people are going to be surprised about.”
After producing this fast-pace, big budget marvel, Kurzel looks forward to turning his talents back to home soil – and we can’t wait.
“There’s a couple of films that I would really love to develop in Australia. There’s one based in Ned Kelly and there’s another one Nick Cave is writing, so I’m surrounded by some amazing Australian work at the moment so hopefully I can be involved in some of those.”
Interviewed by Hannah Lally