Vin Diesel may play the title role in “The Last Witch Hunter,” but it was his co-stars Elijah Wood and Rose Leslie who visited Dallas recently to talk about the film.
Wood, perhaps best for Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, explained his decision to play a priest who aids Kaulder, Diesel’s immortal hero, in his effort to prevent an evil takeover of today’s world by witches by reference to the script. “I think it was the fact that it was based on an original concept,” he said. “At this budget level it’s pretty rare to find something that is on this scale but is not based on a pre-existing book or graphic novel, or is a reboot. That was the initial thing that that was intriguing.
“And I was really surprised by the script. I was surprised by the level of detail in the storytelling, the sort of world-building it was doing, creating a new mythology. And it has a lot of fun with itself, I think, especially in re-conceptualizing witches and putting them in the modern world living amongst us.
“We had an incredible production designer,” Wood added. “We had a lot of sets, incredible locations, a great deal of practical effects. So we were constantly surrounded by this world that was being crafted around us, which is always lovely—[for it] to come to life in front of your eyes. It is fun to be a part of, and to delve into world-building. After reading the script and talking to Breck [Eisner, the director], and then seeing all the designs that were being made and rendered for the film and the world that we were trying to create, it’s extraordinary; it’s a lot of fun to create these environments on that scale.”
“And to see the end result is remarkable,” Leslie, an alumna of “Game of Thrones” who plays Chloe, a white witch who helps Kaulder in his quest, added. “It’s visually stunning. That was really exciting.” One of the locations was a mine. “We were half a mile underground for a couple of weeks,” she recalled. “It was very dark, and damp, and cold.”
Wood emphasized, however, that it still comes down to the characters. “Something that’s on a large scale in a fantastical way in regards to the storytelling—at the heart there’s still characters that you want to imbue with a sense of reality and truth. That process, from an acting standpoint, doesn’t change. The environments do, but the importance of storytelling and the importance of characters coming to life in a realistic way is still the same.”
There was another element to the project that attracted both him and Leslie—the presence of Michael Caine in the cast. The legendary British star plays Wood’s predecessor, whose apparent death leads the hunter to unravel the witches’ conspiracy. “That was an element I was particularly excited about. Somehow having Michael Caine in your film raises the quality level.”
In fact, Caine’s arrival on set was, for him, the most memorable part of the shoot. “The first day that [he] came to set was pretty extraordinary,” Wood said. “There was a clear sense of reverence from the entire crew at his arrival. He was absolutely lovely, and sweet, and disarming. I just wish we could have spent more time with him and prodded him for more stories.”
“The Last Witch Hunter” is a personal project for Diesel, who also served as one of its producers, and has been mentioned as the first in a series. “Well, he’s certainly indicated there are going to be sequels,” Wood said. “Certainly it sets up a new mythology in such a way that it’s very much an establishing story and you could certainly see it carry on with further adventures with Kaulder. Considering that Kaulder is eight hundred years old, you could also have films that take place in any time period in eight hundred years as well.”
And Leslie expressed the notion that Chloe might be involved in them. “I think that the relationship between those two characters is she helps him, she is his sidekick, as it were. She has backbone, and she’s fierce,” she said. But, she added that at least for the moment, “there’s nothing sexual going on. Otherwise she’s just one of the many other female sexualized roles in action movies.”