Oliver Hirschbiegel interview, pt. 1

James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson flanking their director Oliver Hirschbiegel
James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson flanking their Five Minutes of Heaven director Oliver Hirschbiegel
This Friday an amazing film – Five Minutes of Heaven – opens in NYC and the UK, and I can’t urge you enough to check it out (I’ve already seen it twice in as many weeks last month).   You can watch the trailer here.   Each subsequent Friday after August 21st it will open in additional cities around the US.   The movie has also been made available through IFC On Demand as of yesterday, August 19, depending on where you’re located and who your provider is (you can find out more details on the movie website).   I’ll be posting a review tonight, but in the meanwhile, here is the first half of an interview I did with director Oliver Hirschbiegel when he was in New York about 10 days ago.

Maria:   Have Alistair Little and Joe Griffen seen the film and if so, what was their reaction to it?

Oliver:   Yes, of course, I spoke to them.   You see, I never met them until I’d finished the film, but we were in touch of course because I had questions regarding both characters and I would send couriers over or guy the writer, so in a way there was a connection already but of course I had to show the film to them, I needed their approval.   We showed it to them separately to them obviously and they both approved.   And they were both very impressed, emotionally shaken, really, they recognized themselves and even though Alistair said “˜I don’t consider myself a broken man’ he could absolutely relate to seeing that in the film.

If I understand correctly, James Nesbitt got the script first and then showed it to Liam Neeson.   I’m just wondering whose idea it was to cast Mr. Nesbitt and was he always destined for the Joe Griffen role?

Well it wasn’t really me casting Liam because I had met with “¦.what I meant about the script is, Jimmy was already attached, he wanted to do it, so they set up a meeting for Jimmy and me.   We sat together and talked, it was obvious we wanted to work together.

Two weeks later Liam responded to a letter that Guy [Hibbert, author of the screenplay] had sent him together with the script, and then Liam got back to us and said he wanted to talk about it and Liam and I met and it was the same situation, we just got along well, we had the same understanding about the thing, we saw the necessity to do this and before I knew it, it was complete.   But it was not like me sitting there “˜Who could do this?   Ahhh, I’d love Liam Neeson for this!’   It just kind of all happened at once.

And on such a tight schedule.   How would you describe both Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt’s working styles?   How are they similar or different?

Well, Liam is such an experienced actor.   I think that was his 67th film or something like that, and you can tell that he has a tremendous experience.   It was so much fun to see even a guy like Liam Neeson relies on a director, he needs a director (laughs).   That was so good.   It doesn’t mean that I did a lot, but I had to be there. We collaborated, and it was just as you say it, we “clicked.”

It was like with Bruno.   Bruno came to do that part [of Hitler in Der Untergang/Downfall, Hirschbiegel’s famously controversial 2004 film about the last 12 days in Hitler’s bunker], and Liam was prepared to do his part.   I was watching a true professional.

On the other side you had Jimmy Nesbitt, who’s a very well known actor in England, and he is funny because he’s such a good actor but he was constantly doubting himself, like ‘This is Liam Neeson, Jesus Christ!   Who am I?’

So I kind of had to be more of a coach there and say: “˜What are you worried about?   This is fucking great what you’re doing here!   Why would you worry’

“˜Really?   You’re just telling me that because you want me to feel happy!’

So it was really interesting to see two great actors and one of them is constantly doubting himself.

It’s interesting to see Liam in this role as a member of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), given his own experience growing up in a Catholic family in Ballymena, and Jimmy Nesbitt too, who grew up in a Protestant family in the same town, did you discuss that much, if at all?

The thing is, and to the day, these people live next to each other, they are neighbors.   You have certain rows of houses and streets set up Catholic, and then right next door you’ll have streets that are Protestant.   Of course they met at school, they grew up together.

Even though Liam grew up as a Catholic, he knew their world.   And it’s not as though they did not talk with each other then.   He didn’t really need a lot of preparation for that, he pretty much knew what he had to do, and the same with Jimmy.   They basically were born, I think, three miles away from each other.   They knew each other’s grandmothers.

Was there anything remarkable or different about filming in Northern Ireland?

Well, I can tell you one thing:   I loved it!   I can’t tell you why really, because I’ve been in any corner of Europe and I usually like it in places anyway because I’m a curious guy and I talk to people, but there is something special about Northern Ireland.

I don’t quite know what it is, there was an immediate connection.   I felt at home there.   They took me in like a brother and I think that was part of the whole thing having such an easy time really.   There were no major obstacles.   Everybody supported us, everybody knew what we were doing.

For me there was no question that it had to be shot in Northern Ireland of course.   There was no trouble at all.

Did you have much of an awareness of the history there or did you want to do much reading about it before the film?   Or did you not want to go too in depth yourself?

No, I believe in massive research.   I mean, time was limited, but then again, we in Europe grew up with this for decades.   It was on the news every day when I was young so I kind of knew quite a bit.

Then I dived into it and tried to get as many photographs, documentary footage, and then of course I asked people general questions, and specific questions about the guns, about the food they had then, the music they were listening to, how it looked then and I showed them photographs ‘How realistic is this?’ stuff like that and I think that’s one of my secrets, I do a lot of research.   And going by that I even reconstruct certain images sometimes.   Like a certain street with certain elements ‘I want that kind of car there, I want that lamppost, I want that mural there or that graffiti’ things like that, and I think that contributes to the feel of authenticity and realness.

End of part 1

Five Minutes of Heaven opens in theaters this Friday, August 21st.

2 thoughts on “Oliver Hirschbiegel interview, pt. 1

  1. Oliver Hirschbiegel is certainly a fine director. I’m looking forward to seeing Five Minutes of Heaven. Is Mr. Hirschbiegel Jewish? His films are remarkable….Thank you for your reply…
    Ruth Nicola

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