This is the second half of my interview with director Oliver Hirschbiegel. His film Five Minutes of Heaven, which stars Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, opens today.
Maria: You got so many the details of the time and place so right (the Ford Cortina, the Georgie Best poster, etc.). One image I wanted to ask you about, the man who’s wounded and looks like he’s doing a breaststroke on the cement, where did that come from?
Oliver: It’s documentary footage and I asked about that. Nobody could tell me what that incident really was. It was a shooting documented by this camera crew but nobody knew who that man was. Nobody could tell me if he was injured and hurt, trying to crawl away from that, or whether he was just in fear that he would get shot if he got up and walked, but I thought it was such an intense image that I had to use it. And it’s never been used before. I tried to basically go documentary images that hadn’t been overused over time, and some of them you know of course, but there are quite a bit that hadn’t been used before.
Over the years, I’ve watched a lot of footage on “the Troubles” and Five Minutes really was fresh in that way, it wasn’t the same old, you know, the priest waving the white hankie in Derry. When did you actually start this project and begin filming?
We started shooting”¦.oh, it was in such an incredible short time. I went for the first time in my life ever to Belfast in middle of March I think, which is when Liam was not on board yet and I started shooting middle of May. So we’re really talking about a couple of weeks.
And that was last year?
Yes that’s right, 2008. It all came together in no time really, which is how it should be all the time. (laughs)
To read about your own situation, how another project had gotten delayed and you suddenly had this window, and the same with Liam Neeson, it seems the project just dropped into both your laps and you made something so striking and powerful in so short a time. With such a tight shooting schedule, was there anything particularly challenging because of the time pressures?
It’s a challenge every day, really; you have a time hassle. What helps is that we had experienced actors, a very good crew, I was shocked how good they were really, and I hadn’t done it for the first time neither, so you just – as you guys say – you kick ass. You go on and on, and you never tire and you keep all your mind ups and as soon as something does not feel quite right you do it again and then as soon as you’re certain you have it, you move on. Which sounds simple but a lot of people seem to have a problem with that, but the actors love that style. Liam told me that especially, that he loved the speed we could work at.
And in particular terms was the fighting sequence of course, because usually you stage that and you have at least a day to do that, and we had to do it in half a day and it’s quite a tricky fight because it’s rough and dirty which means there’s more danger for the actors because there are no stunt guys involved and they didn’t have a chance to excessively rehearse the thing. That was quite a challenge because of course you want to make sure it has to feel and look right and on the other side you don’t want one of the guys to get hurt seriously, right?
And it was brutal.
They were both aching the next day, swearing at me (laughs).
Was there any kind of moment where you really felt like something was going to fall apart, where something just didn’t work out timingwise or there was an unexpected delay?
No, it’s the opposite. I was rather shocked by the fact it all worked out, really. There was not one moment where I felt ‘If this doesn’t work”¦’ I was in awe really that it all just worked, watching like an audience”¦ “˜It just happens like that, wow, good. Let’s move on!’
But there was something, somebody up there, maybe God, maybe some other energy that had a good eye on us and just helped. You can call it luck, I don’t know. There was certainly a good spirit we had on our side.
When the DVD comes out is there going to be a director’s commentary track on it?
Ummmm, I think there will be, but that’s a good question, we haven’t spoken about that yet. Yes! Actually I would love to do one with Liam and Jimmy together. That would be fun.
Exactly! That was going to be my next question; that would add a whole other layer to watching the movie again. I hope that comes to be. How long are you in the US now and where else are you going, and what other projects are you working on?
Well, I’m doing the whole day today. I do tomorrow and then I have to fly back to Europe because my family is on vacation. I’m supposed to be with them because I had to stop it for these three days to do this.
And then it seems like there’s two competing projects: the boy soldier project, the African project that led to this and the other one is an Italian-German coproduction which is about a German mafia killer, it’s a true story. After that it seems I’m going to do a big one, about the Battle of Hastings, it’s another English project and it’s quite enormous that they asked me a German director to tackle one of the most English topics ever. (laughs)
Why is that you do such intense films?
(Long pause) Ah, I don’t know. Um, it’s a mix of what I’m intrigued by and what people offer me. They never offer comedies to me, so I can’t really tell you what it would be like to do that, or whether I would like to do that. I never get those things to read.
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Note: You can read the first part of the interview here.