HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
Hansel & Gretel Rebooted
To take Hansel & Gretel out of the annals of legend and into visceral, contemporary action, Tommy Wirkola knew he would need to find two strong personalities who could morph these characters from legend to real life. The search for a contemporary ideal of how Hansel & Gretel might have turned out -- after being raised on dreams of vengeance against the foul wickedness of witches ---led to the pairing of Jeremy Renner, Oscar-nominated for his searing action role as an Iraq War bomb expert in THE HURT LOCKER and rising British actress Gemma Arterton, whose allure came to the fore when she joined the iconic circle of Bond Girls in QUANTUM OF SOLACE.
Renner could not resist the sheer fun of the concept. "When I read the script, my first thought was 'I can't believe this hasn't been done yet.' It's such a great idea with so much potential," he says. "I loved that what Tommy wrote left so much room for character and I thought it would be exciting to explore an amazing brother and sister bond inside a fantastical world."
He also found himself wrapped up in what becomes Hansel's guiding philosophy. "He and Gretel have gone through an amazing tragedy," Renner observes. "They don't have parents, witches have tried to eat them and what Hansel has taken away is that you've got to take your personal anger and pain and do something good with it."
That philosophy has left Hansel with a dry wit and a devastating way with the weapons needed to go after hard-to-kill witches. For Renner, that meant preparing for some of the most intensive action he's done yet, and he especially enjoyed Wirkola's take on how hard-fought and harrowing each of Hansel & Gretel's battle is against such magically empowered enemies.
"There's a lot of really arduous action in the film," Renner notes. "One of the big difference in this movie is that while usually heroes win all their battles, Hansel & Gretel get their butts kicked numerous times. So in a way we had to face getting beat up every day! But we also had a great time. Tommy brought an incredible tone to the whole thing, a mix of serious and funny that I think gives the film the quality of a real adventure."
Arterton, too, was drawn to the twists of the story. "I love the original fairy tale and this starts there, then makes a real departure," she says. "The film joins up with Hansel & Gretel in the midst of their fame as witch hunters. But it's also a time when they're starting to wonder who they are and why these terrible things happened to them -- which leads them into a very tense situation."
Amid all the snowballing tension, Arterton loved the brother-sister dynamic that always stays at the heart of the action, no matter how extreme things get. "The sibling relationship is such a great one to explore," ayes Arterton. "Hansel & Gretel have this unstoppable bond but they're also so different from each other. She's the brains of the operation. He's the brawn. He's the joker and the show-off. She's more the watcher, the researcher, the one who tries to really understand witchcraft. They have to each play to their strengths."
On set, Renner and Arterton uncovered a natural rapport that made the sibling closeness -- and rivalry -- feel real. Says Arterton of Renner: "Jeremy is so amazing at action, but at the same time he also has a lot of sensitivity when needed. He brings a lot of fun to their relationship."
In turn, Renner says of Arterton: "Gemma is a real gem. We were lucky to find her because not only do she and I look a bit alike, but she brings a wonderful depth to Gretel."
Both Renner and Arterton worked closely with stunt coordinator (and second unit director) David Leitch to train for roles that draw on the whole pantheon of modern action-comedies as well the ages-old fairy tale tradition. Notes Leitch: "The action in the film is hard, fast and, above all, fun. I love that kind of Jackie Chan hybrid of comedy and action. Tommy gave us a completely open door to find our action style -- so it became about finding humor and defining these characters."
Hansel and Gretel each display their individuality in their unique fighting styles. "Hansel is the kind of guy who leaps before he looks," Leitch explains, "but Gretel's has more of a plan."
While game for anything, Arterton did not arrive a rough-and-tumble kind of gal. "When we started she said 'I don't really see myself as a tough chick.' But she worked hard and got very strong," says Leitch. Arterton threw herself into the training. "I came in before anybody else and worked with the stunt team in a kind of intensive boot camp," she explains. "It was great because it really rooted me and made me more present in the action scenes. There's so much Gretel goes through!"
For Wirkola, the duo was perfectly matched to his ink-black but lively vision. "Jeremy has that leading man quality that can carry an action movie but he also has this darkness to him and an unpredictability that I love. When we brought in Gemma, she connected to him straight away, but she also proved that she can be just as funny and badass. I wanted Gretel to kick ass just as much as Hansel and Gemma does. They both had so much fun with their roles."
Adds producer Kevin Messick: "Jeremy has that Han Solo kind of quality. To have such a great actor play Hansel in this fantasy world really helps ground the movie. And Gemma creates the perfect brother-sister balance with him. She's very sexy and tough but she also brings you into their sibling relationship. They have that love-hate relationship of two people who grew up going through an incredible ordeal together; it's just that their ordeal was witches."
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