The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ promotional juggernaut landed on our own fair shores last week with the films’ director Harald Zwart and his three leads, Jamie Campbell-Bower (Jace), Lily Collins (Clary) and Robert Sheehan (Simon) all turning up for a very special press conference at the swanky Soho Hotel in London. A smattering of lucky competition winners joined the usual throng of seasoned hacks, including FilmJuice’s Christa Ktorides, to hear the foursome talk about the first in a proposed trilogy based on the best-selling books by Cassandra Clare.
Considering the fantasy elements of the film and the fact that there are one or two truly creepy monsters in the film did Zwart think to tone this down so as not to frighten a younger audience? He confesses that people asked him, “Didn’t you consider your audience?” and adds that he really wanted to make a movie that he would want to watch too and that to, “Dumb things down just because people are young? I didn’t think we needed to do that. I think they can take quite a few things. Audiences today are much more sophisticated than when I was young. I think people like to be scared. I was constantly thinking, “What would I show my own kids?” And I think as long as there’s not too much gore and blood and that speculative action or girls in jeopardy I think is little boring after a while – they need to stand up for themselves. They can take a few jumps and I was inspired by The Exorcist and the original The Thing and I tried to make it as realistic as possible.”
Collins relates to Clary because she is, “Very normal, she cries, she’s confused she’s going through an identity crisis, I know I sure did! But she embraces that and she finds the strength in her weaknesses and she ends up kicking major butt hanging with the guys but all the while having those very feminine, girl moments that make her very real. It’s too easy to play it superhuman and that’s what drew me to her.” Campbell-Bower had fun playing Jace as he’s so different from the young actor himself, “Yeah he’s everything that I’m not. Performance is always a very cathartic process for me and I’m not particularly cool. He was a great character to play, it was tough. I put a lot of work and a lot of effort into it. A lot of the characters I’ve played beforehand have been, let’s just say…soft or rounded physically [laughs]. You have the book and there’s the guy with his shirt off, looking pretty buff so I had to get into that physical shape. But I’ve always liked to push myself, to challenge myself. Without that I think I’d get bored, I have quite a short attention span. So it was fun and it was difficult, learning to own my skills in terms of stunts and fighting was a real joy.”
Sheehan plays the geeky and sardonic Simon, Clary’s best friend. As a “mundane” he inevitably doesn’t get to participate in any of the demon slaying. “There’s always comedy to be juiced from being the guy at the back of the group who’s not doing any of the slaying, he’s doing all the cowering. Being the normal eyes on this very abnormal world you get to kind of frown and ask, “What the hell is going on?!” The audience do need someone like that and it’s also Lily’s character Clary who very much is the normal person tumbling into this crazy world. My instinct tends to be toward ‘performance’ [throws up jazz hands] and towards gesticulating wildly in every direction, you may have seen it in my other work [laughs]. But it was very much Harald reigning me back and going, “It’s got to be real.” It was a new discovery for me and it was real fun and really enjoyable.”
Speaking on the training that the cast had to go through, Collins had this to say, “I trained for the three months before the filming and then every day before, during or after work with the stunt department as well as with a physical fitness trainer. I have to try and keep up with all the guys in heels and a very short dress [laughs]. The hardest part for me physically was that I didn’t get to train in the outfits except for the day before and then I’m thrust into it with these heels and this dress. I never twisted an ankle and I barely tripped, I just bruised a lot.”
Campbell-Bower is quizzed on this tattoos, stating some time ago that he always gets new body art to mark each of his projects so did he get anything at the end of filming City of Bones? “I was actually meant to go in today but the tattoo parlour round the corner in Frith Street is closed today. I’m getting, “I am after all what you made me,” which is a quote from one of the later books. But recently I got a skull and a cross.” He admits that it takes four hours to cover his tattoos and then apply the tattoos of his character, Jace.
The experience of joining a hotly anticipated franchise has affected the cast differently. Having appeared in Harry Potter and more significantly in the Twilight Saga, Campbell-Bower is something of an old hand at this but Sheehan felt caught unawares; “It’s been fairly hysterical, there’s been a feverish anticipation amongst the fans and every time we show up to a premiere there’s hundreds of fans that have been there for twelve hours camped out. It bowls me over. At times it’s like Beatle mania, we’re getting out of our cars and there are hundreds of people screaming. It’s very hard to compute sometimes.” Collins was already a fan of the books and going on the mall tour of America to meet the fans she found each one they visited got progressively more exciting, louder and heavily attended, “It’s very special to be there hands on and see them [the fans] up close and personal. I don’t think there’s any way you can prepare and I wouldn’t want to prepare because I like the spontaneity of it all and I want everything to be as exciting as it should be.” For Zwart he attended a book signing with Cassandra Clare and wondered who the big crowds were waiting for before he realised that they were all there for the pair of them.
After a question about some fans initial displeasure and rather vehement comments on the internet at his casting, Campbell-Bower takes it in his stride but raises his concerns about the effect such comments can have on others. “I think from being cast I was very aware of a negative reaction from the fandom. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t. That reaction was based on image and looks alone and that was two and half years ago. As an actor and as a performer I am very much aware of the fact that my job is to change both physically and emotionally. What hurt the most was the fact that people were judging me based on nothing. I get it, sometimes with social media or the internet there is no brain to hand co-ordination, people don’t think. It’s like this continuous verbal diarrhoea. People don’t really understand that it affects people and particularly now with what has happened recently should show the fact that that is not acceptable in any way shape or form. I’m not saying that affected me in such a way because it hasn’t. It affected me somewhat but not too much. I think I’ve seen that reaction [to his casting] change. I was very lucky to receive a book made by the fans and that is something that I look at every day and I am very grateful for and I carry it with me and it’s in my bag and is a book with all these pictures with people that have posters that say ‘Jamie is Jace’ from around the world. I feel incredibly honoured to have that.”
The fantasy elements of the film are kept very much in the real world with CGI used sparingly and only when the story demands it. Collins credits Zwart with putting character before spectacle, “From my first meeting with Harald it wasn’t a movie about CGI or green screen it was character and emotion and you could wipe away all that other stuff and you’d get the same storyline.”
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is out now.