Jack Black stars as Lemuel Gulliver
Given the irreverant tone of the latest adaptation of Gulliver's Travels and the depth of comic talent at the press conference connected with it - Billy Connolly, Jack Black and James Corden - it should come as no surprise that it was something of an anarchic affair. The trio, who play Lilliputian King Theodore, Lemuel Gulliver and a Lilliputuian named Jinx, were joined by Emily Blunt, who stars as Princess Mary, and director Rob Letterman. And even if the reimagining of Jonathan Swift's classic has received something of a cool critical reception, the cast have certainly had a fine time of it.
Letterman says that the appeal of the book lay chiefly in Black's involvement. He adds: "It really was meant to be a comedy and a satirical comment on the cultural references of the time for Swift and a paradoy of adventure travels, probably a parody of Robinson Crusoe. It seemed a great opportunity to do a comedy take on it, which hasn't been done - it's always been done as a fantasy adventure. So the take that Jack and John Davis, the other producer on the movie had, was to start off in the modern day and bring in contemporary references, so that we could do our own satire."
It is at this point that Corden admits "it had very little to do with Jonathan Swift's book, because I've never read it", resulting in cast heckling all round, as Black declares: "So much for the opening weekend!"
Connolly, never one to miss the opportunity for a laugh, adds: "I'm seldom far from the book. And Catherine Tate [who plays his wife in the film] gave me a copy when the movie was finished."
This leads to another round of faux discontent from the assembled cast. Blunt says: "Did she? It's a snub to everyone else who didn't get one."
Connolly replies: "It was good because she was the reason I did the movie - Catherine Tate. The rest of the actors I couldn't give a shit about."
By this point, its clear that no one is taking themselves too seriously, as not to be outdone Blunt says: "I did the movie for every reason other than Billy Connolly."
Bringing the boys back on topic, she adds: "No, I did it because I heard that Jack was involved and I really liked the script. It was very witty and charming and I think that's very hard to find with comedies, often they veer into being quite crass. I had never been in a family movie, and I just loved the dialogue and the heightened way the Lilliputians spoke. I was charmed.
Black says: "I was drawn to the project because I love the fantasy adventure elements, it's my favourite genre. And the comedy had lots of rich potential and I liked the challenge of updating a classic. There's a lot of pressure there but there's also a lot of fun opportunities to be part of a great history of a 300-year-old, enduring piece of literature. Me and Jonathan Swift will go down in history together now."
The cast certainly have no trouble in sharing banter and Letterman admits "the intent, for me, is to go off script on purpose and this was a dream cast in that regard".
He adds: "That was awesome, juxtaposing Jack's comedy style with the UK comedy style was great. It made it semi-impossible to make the movie, but we had so much technology designed, not so much for the visual effects, but so that we could capture all their ad-libbing and improvisation and that's very important and makes it very natural. And besides all the set pieces, what's most important are the characters."
The techonolgy he refers to is the outlandishly named Dual Moco Roco - don't ask me what it stands for, I have no idea, but its the 'catchy' name the filmmakers have come to use to describe the camera system Letterman designed for the movie. It involves two cameras operating at the same time, so that actors filming a couple of hundred yards apart can be captured simultaneously. The cameras are in sync with one another and both sets of images can be seen by the director, so - with sound from both stages being relayed to the other - the actors are able to interact even at a distance.
Black says: "We couldn't look at one each other, of course, because they're looking up at the sky, I'm looking down at a speck on the ground. But we could hear each other live in real time and have real interactions and you can tell and you can feel it in the improvisational moments."
Inevitably, Connolly gets the lion's share of the questioning, including a question regarding the pattern of his film career.
He says: "It's the kind of thing I always wanted to do but I'm a wee bit limited, so I'm not surprised it's gone the way it has. I try not to tell people I was turned down as a penguin and stuff like that. But them's the breaks. I've had a wonderful film career when you consider where I come from and what I do."
At talk of a penguin the banter machine cranks up again.
Black: "You were turned down as a penguin?"
Connolly: "I was."
Corden: "A penguin or THE Penguin in the Batman films."
Connolly: "No, as a penguin."
Blunt: "In what? March Of The... no, not March Of The Penguins."
It's at this point that the entire press conference disolves in laughter, before Black adds: "Yes, he was turned down for a documentary... that I would pay to see, though. I'd like to see your cameo in March Of The Penguins."
Even here, Connolly manages to have the last laugh, regarding his non-appearance in Happy Feet, adding: "It was that penguin thing, they wanted me as a presbytarian penguin but I wouldn't go to Australia to talk to them about it so I didn't get it. Fuck 'em, say I."
I'm not sure a penguin would approve.
Gulliver's Travels is out at cinemas across the UK now.