Interview with George Miller: Making Idris Elba big and Tilda Swinton small

Cannes: How did Miller make a jinn tower over Tilda Swinton in “Three Thousand Years of Our Lives”? It only started with the platform shoes.

Cannes likes George Miller and he likes Cannes. He made his debut there in 2015 with Mad Max: Fury Road and made his third appearance on the competition jury the following year, this time as its president. Now his latest film, Three Thousand Years of Longing, has an unrivaled slot featuring an epic and superbly directed fairytale romance between a genie striving for freedom (Idris Elba) and a successful but lonely academic studying storytelling (another perennial from Cannes, Tilda Swinton). He tells her a great story; she makes wishes. They negotiate the terms in a hotel room in Istanbul. Is love a wish fulfilled?

Despite its epic scope, it’s a minor drama dominated by dialogue, and reviews are mixed. This is not surprising; This movie is like nothing you’ve seen and critics don’t know what to think. Although stuffed with awesome magical creatures and VFX, it’s not an action movie. The two main actors in their 50s are romantic, but they talk more than they love each other.

Miller developed the film with his daughter Augusta Gore for over a decade, and the result is a little smaller than Fury Road but with a $60 million budget, bigger than most Cannes films.

People also weren’t sure what to make of “Fury Road,” which has grossed $375.4 million worldwide and won six out of 10 Oscar nominations, but “Three Thousand Years” is unlikely to live up to those feats will repeat. Miller was free to make the film he wanted because FilmNation was selling territories around the world. Everyone will be showing the film in theaters this fall, including Amazon-owned MGM, which Miller insists remains committed to showing the film to 2,000 screens in September. (How much support outgoing executive Michael DeLuca can give to the film is another question.)

TTYOL_09105_RTilda Swinton as Alithea Binnie and Idris Elba as the Djinn in Director George Miller's film THREE THOUSAND YEARS OF LONGING A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures filmCredit: Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.© 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved

“Three Thousand Years of Longing”

Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Three Thousand Years brings the return of several Fury Road veterans, including cinematographer John Seale, Oscar-winning editor Margaret Sixel (who is also Miller’s wife), and Miller’s producing partner Doug Mitchell. What really defines his new film is originality; Miller follows his own quirky instincts about what will captivate audiences as much as he does himself.

“You have no choice but to try and be uniquely familiar,” he told IndieWire in Cannes. “You will always be looking for something. But it must build on what is already known. Otherwise it’s so out there that it doesn’t connect to anyone.”

Miller loves to dissect storytelling, from old fairy tales to Joseph Campbell’s itinerant heroes. Today’s Marvel superheroes are just new versions of the Greek, Roman, and Norse gods, he says, and Elba’s genie is a modern-day reworking of Arabian Nights tropes. Miller spotted this particular genie in a 1994 short story by AS Byatt. When he met the author to discuss rights, she asked, “Why did you choose this story?”

“There’s something more authentic about this one,” he said.

“Yes,” she said, “because everything about the story is true except for the jinn.”

Three thousand years of longing

Idris Elba plays a Djinn in George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Our Lives”


Miller wanted to write the screenplay with fellow Lorenzo’s Oil collaborator Nick Enright, but his old friend developed terminal cancer and suggested that Miller work with his own daughter. Father and daughter wrote restlessly over the years.

“The film can be read on many levels depending on the audience,” Gore said at the Cannes press conference, “on the one hand, it’s about a narrator who encounters a jinn who offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom. But on the other hand, it’s a conversation about the interplay between science and myth, between technology and magic, between the notions of immortality and what it means to live a mortal life of love, desire and fear, and all the things we encounter through it the whole time.”

When the film was finally finished, Miller met Swinton at dinner in Cannes and was smitten. He found his Djinn on Elba asking that they film his flashbacks first and that he tell her the stories. When Swinton arrived on set, Miller showed her the sequences “just to give her a glimpse of what story he was going to tell,” he said.

Miller shot Elba as five times taller than Swinton. As the genie flies out of Alithea’s blue bottle, he blasts the edges of a hotel room that Miller rendered in miniature using laser-printed tiny lamps, books, furniture and a perfect Apple laptop. Elba shrinks to a more reasonable size, but Miller still enlarged the djinn by 15 percent, making Elba’s 6’3″ to 6’10”. The actor stood on boxes in platform shoes and lost his balance more than once. At the Cannes afterparty, the 5’7″ Swinton told me she loved feeling small for once.

Three thousand years of longing

“Three Thousand Years of Longing”


“She has to play with him,” Miller said. “So if it’s 15 percent, their eyes have to meet. In a way, he put her in the shade. Tilda didn’t work with green screen all the time. If they had to make eye contact, we would have Tilda talk to a small monitor up there so she could face him even though he was five times bigger to connect them as much as possible.”

Djinn designs included elven ears, merman scales, and elaborately cloaked privates. He also sported long, extra thick lashes — an addition Miller made after Elba said he had worked with horses and found their eyes deeply expressive. “Idris and Tilda are filmmakers,” Miller said. “They are very smart, their instincts are very strong. And I found myself listening carefully to them. Idris spoke of his language, and he spoke in tongues we called Jinnrish. He brought little things like that with him.”

Listening to his actors is what sets Miller apart. “Miller’s an interesting personality among action directors,” said Kyle Buchanan, author of the recent oral history bestseller Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, “because he’s like that something has an interest in human life, fueled by the fact that he started out as a doctor. When it comes to his actors, there’s an intriguing degree to which he gives them a degree of freedom to explore, create, and inhabit these characters.”


George Miller and Tilda Swinton at Cannes

grab screen

When the pandemic made it impossible to film in locations explored in London and Istanbul. In Sydney, Australia, Miller has built or virtually recreated everything – Istanbul Airport, Topkapi Palace, the Imperial Court, the Grand Bazaar – with tiles and photographs.

He created imaginative creatures and literally living instruments, from a giraffe with the markings of a zebra to the Ifret spider monster spraying crawling scarabs. All the storytelling is the Djinn wooing the skeptical Alithea to grant her three wishes and free him. “He must after 3,000 years,” Miller said. “She is struck by his vulnerability and she wants his love.”

either understand the world around them or refuse to understand the people they share it with (as you may gather from the film’s abrupt pivot towards social commentary in the eleventh hour). Three Thousand Years of Longing notes that even the oldest stories about these things can be instructive if told with enough enthusiasm, but also that it is so much easier for us to see ourselves in those stories, if we have someone we can share them with.

“Three Thousand Years of Longing” premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. MGM will release it in theaters on Friday, August 31st.

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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/05/george-miller-interview-idris-elba-tilda-swinton-three-thousand-years-of-longing-1234727324/ Interview with George Miller: Making Idris Elba big and Tilda Swinton small

Chris Estrada

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