CULTURE

Simone: The star of the future?

What is real and what is artificial in films today? Are digital special effects more artificial than the details airbrushed off a star, or are action scenes shot in a green box in a studio more elusive than the glamorous lives of the stars as they are described in glossy magazines? These are the questions concerning Andrew Niccol, the director of «Gattaca» and screenwriter of «The Truman Show,» in his new comedy drama «Simone,» which opens in Greece on Friday. Viktor Taransky, played by Al Pacino, is a has-been director with one chance to make a comeback. The star of his new film (played by Winona Ryder in a cameo appearance) walks out on him and he is fired by the studio. Computer genius Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas) comes to the rescue from his deathbed, bequeathing Taransky with Simulation One, software that will allow him to create Simone (played by model Rachel Roberts), the all-time superstar. Simone stars in one hit after another, wins an Oscar, launches a perfume and becomes a pop singer, but nobody has ever seen her in the flesh. Few are surprised, because the top names in show business rarely rub elbows with the general public anyway. Kathimerini met up with Niccol in Deauville, France, during the 28th Festival of Film, and he talked about his new film. «Simone» has a lot in common with «The Truman Show.» «Simone» is «The Truman Show» the other way around. «The Truman Show» showed a real man in an artificial environment, while in «Simone,» the environment is real, and she is artificial. Can you see a future without real actors? I don’t think so. Whatever advances may be happening in technology, it is always easier to direct a real actor than it is to create one. I really am very much against the character played by Al Pacino. He wants an actor-pawn, whereas I expect actors to contribute something, to give the material another dimension. Is it difficult to work with stars? The truth is that I personally never had any real experience of that sort because I don’t make big-budget movies. Actors works with me because they like the script, not because they will never need to work again with what they are being paid. The stories one hears, though, are not very far from the truth. I needed to include a few toned-down examples in the film, because if I related the stories the way they were told to me, the audience would think them far-fetched, even though they were real. For example? The scene, for example, where the star demands to have a specific color of candy is inspired by the story of a pop group that does just that. Who has time for stuff like that? How was working with Al Pacino? Great. He is the actor of actors, something like a member of actor royalty. This is why it was so funny for him to play in a story that glorifies a non-existent star. Were you ever tempted to create an artificial star rather than have Rachel Roberts play «Simone?» Do you mean to make a real fake actress? It’s possible, but I didn’t have the budget or the time. You can make an artificial actor who is pretty convincing, but you can’t recreate the eyes. The problem is to get an artificial actor to give a real performance. In the film, millions of viewers worship the non-existent Simone. Is it really that easy to deceive an audience? We believe what we want to believe. Some people say the film is a parody of Hollywood, but for me, it concerns the audience. The film looks at the way we admire publicity so much that the audience worships a public figure who doesn’t even exist. Is «Simone» a comment on production? This is a part of the film that has to do with Hollywood and the way it has become. Oliver Reed finished a film («Gladiator») even though he was dead, thanks to technology. It’s a new tool. We started off with makeup and lighting and today we have «electronic makeup.» We can change actors’ bodies or use stunt-people for a difficult scene and then superimpose the actor’s face. The problem comes when you overuse it and it turns against the movie. Is it wrong to use technology? Most of the public will never see an artificial actor. They won’t see the famous actors they admire either. It is an interesting development, though, that just when artificial actors are becoming more real, real actors are becoming more artificial. Note: This interview was translated into English from a Greek text. ‘I am just as artificial as anyone else in Hollywood’ «I’m real. Look,» was the first thing the Vancouver-born model Rachel Roberts said when she walked into the room of the Normandy Hotel in Deauville. «It is really weird to have to tell people, ‘Look, I’m not just an image.’ I am just as artificial as anyone else in Hollywood, and not much different than I was in the past few years as a model: Just an image on a piece of paper,» she said. «I hope the film is successful because I like this line of work. I am waiting to see what proposals I will get because up until now, the studio was hiding my real identity in order to create some intrigue over the character of Simone. Not even the rest of the cast – except Pacino – knew who I was. Andrew Niccol gave me the name Anna Green from the Anamorphic Green Screen (the screen used to make special effects).» «I hope the film is successful because I like this line of work. I am waiting to see what proposals I will get because up until now, the studio was hiding my real identity in order to create some intrigue over the character of Simone. Not even the rest of the cast – except Pacino – knew who I was. Andrew Niccol gave me the name Anna Green from the Anamorphic Green Screen (the screen used to make special effects).»