Miller lets the genie out the bottle

Elba makes Swinton’s wishes come true in Cannes

by Richard Mowe

Director George Miller and Tilda Swinton in Cannes. The actress said: 'What I saw last night was overwhelming but he still managed to keep it small and real'
Director George Miller and Tilda Swinton in Cannes. The actress said: 'What I saw last night was overwhelming but he still managed to keep it small and real' Photo: Richard Mowe
Back in Cannes five years after he roared up the Croisette with Mad Max: Fury Road Australian filmmaker George Miller has returned with a rather different proposition: a fairy tale fantasy Three Thousand Years Of Longing adapted from an AS Byatt novella.

Miller and his stars Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba along with co-writer Augusta Gore and producer Doug Mitchell lined up to meet the press this morning following last night’s rapturous red carpet premiere. He received an unusually cordial welcome from the media too.

The filmmaker noted when he first read the short story it had stuck with him because “it probed lots of things and big issues, all encapsulated in one story. It stuck with me … and then I found myself making it.”

Idris Elba: 'The aim was to avoid any tropes of a genie, down to how he looks and talks. We tried to make Djinn as human as possible'
Idris Elba: 'The aim was to avoid any tropes of a genie, down to how he looks and talks. We tried to make Djinn as human as possible' Photo: Richard Mowe
Swinton was first to come on board. She had met Miller at a dinner during the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Festival. She found herself sitting next to him at a table although she admitted she wasn’t entirely sure who he was. She divulged that she never deliberately picks roles. “I pick people and it has served me really so far so if it’s not broken why change it,” she beamed.

Miller, modest to a fault, expressed his joy in “joining the great club of directors with whom Tilda has worked.” He had assured her that it would a small film - a chamber piece about a conversation between two beings. “What I saw last night was overwhelming but he still managed to keep it small and real,” she said.

Swinton plays a narratology professor Alithea who encounters a pointy-eared Idris Elba who asks her to come up with wishes he can fulfil.

Miller explained that most stories are “allegorical.” He continued: “They’re open to interpretation, depending on who’s watching them. Fantasy stories lend themselves to dealing with much more complex things.”

After the ease of casting Swinton Elba proved a more difficult candidate to find but the seeds of the partnership were sown at the BAFTA awards in London. His wife pointed him in the direction Elba who was also up for an award.

They had plenty of time when the two actors arrived in Australia for a two-week covid confinement before shooting started. They started work on the characters via Zoom. Elba revealed that the aim was to avoid “any tropes of a genie, down to how he looks and talks. We tried to make Djinn as human as possible.”

He insisted, however, that they film his back story first so that when his character first encounters Alithea he had “already been through those experiences.” Miller, who confirmed that he was now working on Mad Max: Furiosa, was happy enough to oblige.

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