Welcome to Marwen is a movie about Mark (Steve Carell) was savagely beaten outside a bar and had to relearn how to walk and talk. He lost the ability to draw (he was an illustrator) and to deal with what he went through he takes pictures of dolls in the make-believe town of Marwen.
Last week I had the good fortune to talk to the star of the film Steve Carell and co-writer/director Robert Zemeckis.
You have been some big movies lately like Beautiful Boy and Vice, but you have never done a big action film. Do you like Mark, want to be a star of an action film?
Steve: Not really. I have never thought of myself in that vein or genre. I would do it happily, it would be fun. There are some movies that you think are in your wheelhouse and others that you can’t even imagine being in. But I never envisioned me being in a film like Foxcatcher. Never say never.
Can you talk about the creative choices you made blending the real world of Mark’s with his doll world? Was there anything about that that was more challenging?
Robert: No, there wasn’t anything more challenging. I thought about this movie a lot, and the plan was to bring the audience in and make sure that the audience knew we were transitioning from one world to another. As the movie goes on, making the audience more comfortable with the language of the film. The audience would then be immersed in the two worlds and be more comfortable with it.
Did you guys watch the documentary on Mark, Marwencol and did it help how you portrayed the part?
Steve: It was the whole emphasis for me to be involved with the film in the first place. I saw the documentary a few years after Robert did, but I couldn’t get his story out of my head. I moved by him and his story. We did meet him, and he is exactly how he is in the documentary, even more so. He is a very kind and generous guy. Mark has a dry sense of humor. But I didn’t try to copy him. When you are portraying someone that actually exists you don’t want them to feel like a science project. You are not seeing how they move or drink a cup of coffee. It’s much more about what they are as a human being.
The documentary is held in high esteem by the film community and critics. Did you guys do anything to make sure that you were doing it justice and not just retelling the same information?
Robert: Absolutely. We were very respectful of what the documentary was doing. What I was inspired by when I saw the documentary was Mark’s story which is very moving and memorable. I saw through what the documentary couldn’t do but a movie could do is take us into the imagination of Mark. It became very apparent to me when I watched the documentary is that there is a story that takes place in between the photos, a story that is only in Mark’s mind. I thought we could tell those stories, something a movie can do and do it well.
Was there one aspect from the documentary that you felt you had to put it into the film?
Steve: The fact that he likes to wear high heels was directly involved with the hate crime that happened to him. That is an element that was indispensable to the movie.
Robert: I would say every moment that is in the movie that is representative of the true story I thought was crucial for our movie.
So how long did it take you to wear the high heels and appear stable on screen?
Steve: I tried to appear not only stable but also comfortable and excited about wearing them. It took me months, literally. They sent me heels to my house a couple of months before we started shooting. I practiced walking around in them. I started with wedges, move up to three inch, then four-inch heels, then to five and six-inch stilettos. I was excruciating, and I had no idea how painful it is to wear high heels. At first, I thought, just get me a pair of shoes in my size, and I’ll be good. Boy, I was wrong. I now have a heightened sense of appreciation for women wearing high heels. I talked to my wife, and she gave me tips. I taped myself walking in them because it’s one thing to walk in them, but it’s another to look comfortable walking in them. It took some time, and my feet were numb probably a month and a half afterward. To (sic) the life of me, I don’t understand it, but my calves do look great in them.
So this guy is such an interesting character. Was it hard to get into his character, inside his head?
Steve: It was challenging because you can only assume what this person went through and what he lost. In talking to the real Mark, I found out that not only did he lose his memory, but he also lost his ability to speak, having to relearn how to walk and talk. He had to learn just how to write his name because his motor skills were severely impaired. It was a very methodical process. The point of at which this film picks up his story, he’s gotten better, but he still has a long way to go. Incredibly, I got an email from Mark, he said that his motor skills are improving to the point where he can start to illustrate again. All these things that he has done in the real world have been extremely helpful not just physically but also emotionally. This odd little world he created is miraculous. Yeah, it was a challenge, but I don’t want to be cavalier about it because I can’t imagine the pain and suffering this guy went through. In meeting him, I thought it was important to get across the kindness and uncynical nature that comes out when you meet him. Mark is a remarkable guy.
Steve, you are playing two different characters in this film, Mark and then also Captain Hogie, who is vastly different from Mark. How was juggling these two extremes for you?
Steve: It was fun and exciting to do two characters that were related because there is a thread between them. Captain Hogie is Mark’s alter-ego, a more perfect version of him, the imagined version of Mark’s dreams. I think it’s what a lot of people can identify with because everyone has the heroic version of themselves somewhere inside. The more powerful version of me or the swashbuckling version, the stronger, more confident person inside you. He used all of those things that lived through this other entity to get beyond the pain and fear that he lived in. I think that it is important to see in the movie because Mark lives in perpetual fear. To use a character like the Captain and be surrounded by women that were so powerful to ground yourself in a sense. Plus it was fun to play a swashbuckling character which I don’t get to do very often.
Were there some of the photos in Mark’s work that really spoke to you?
Robert: Yes, I have a lot of his actual photos in the film, like his most famous one where the guy is carrying a hurt soldier in the mud. And we took Mark’s photo’s and recreated them using my dolls. My favorite one is where the girls are bathing, and the Nazi is standing over them with a rifle. Mark took one just like that, but I put my dolls in that photo.
Steve: When Merritt Weber as Roberta comes up in that scene and goes ‘where’s my top?’ and Mark tells her the Nazis tore it off. I love the way she plays that where she goes ‘Ugh, Mark.’ Like it’s happened before. I just like the way she plays her because the character is so accepting of him and his world. And that’s kind of the spirit of him, Mark is playful, a sweet and funny guy. So that part can’t be lost, that it’s not all doom and gloom. Even though it comes out of a tragedy, Mark has a good sense of humor.
Robert: Yeah, there is some humor in this film like when Anne, played by Gwendoline Christie, asks how is Captain Hogie and Mark replies ‘the Nazis beat him’ and she says ‘again?’
Steve: Yeah, I love how everyone around him is into the story like it’s a soap opera.
You see that in the documentary that everyone is enamored about his stories and is proud to be in them.
Steve: It’s an honor to be in his stories. I am in his stuff now too. I told Mark about a story that happened to me at my first Oscars, and he depicted it in a scene and sent me the photograph.
Welcome to Marwen opens nationwide on Friday, Deci. 21st.