Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate open The Courier only in theaters on March 19th, 2021.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually?
Dominic Cooke: I think that a lot of that came from the post-production process once we shot it because you've got all this material and you just bit-by-bit been honoring the scenes and the moments and the arcs of the characters. Then you have to balance that out as you put it together and work out whether the emphasis is on the right place or the wrong place. There were some interesting challenges with The Courier because it's a movie that crosses genres. It sort of borrows from a spy thriller, but it's also a drama because it's got an emotional story about a profound friendship which is a transformative relationship. So, balancing those two elements was challenging. Also, there's an endemic to the humor about some guy or salesman who's suddenly trading with international secrets. Getting it right is not, sort of, so knockabout where the audience goes on the journey towards something serious. All of that was calibrated in the post-production process.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to get inside of the characters' heads? Who do you think is ultimately responsible for opening the window into a character's heart, mind and soul?
DC: That's, for me, what I think directing should be about. Whatever you do visually and with the pacing and storyline, in the end it's all about the actors. They carry the story. For me, I always want to get inside the characters and, sort of, free the actor from judgement about the character or making big external, objective takes. You need a bit of those outside things to know and analyze what they're doing in the story and all the rest of it. I really wanted to strip away these preconceptions that we might have about a Russian and a Soviet. For example, the KGB guy--he sees himself as a patriot who's saving this noble revolution from contamination. So, he's prepared to go to the ends of the earth to do that. You got to get inside that instead of play some sort of judgement on the character. What you're describing is the very sort of exciting bit about what I do which is to just get the actor to feel the way that that person feels. We all think that we're doing the right thing whenever we're doing it, even if we're doing something terrible. So, it's getting inside that that I find very exciting.
NYC MOVIE GURU: In the soundtrack, you included Waltz No. 2 by Shostakovich which also happens to be the theme music from Eyes Wide Shut. Were you paying an homage to that film? Both The Courier and Eyes Wide Shut are about husbands who jeopardize their own lives as well as their marriage by getting involved in a very dangerous and secretive organization.
DC: You're right! I wish I was as clever as that. Thank you so much for imagining that I am! I love Kubrick. Eyes Wide Shut is one of those films that gets right under your skin, a bit like Mulholland Drive. There are certain sorts of films by certain directors that you go, "I have no idea why I feel like my head has been turned 180 degrees, but it has." Eyes Wide Shut absolutely did that, and Kubrick is a master storyteller. But, no, it's pure coincidence.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you decide how much information the audience should know and when to allow them to be ahead of Greville in terms of the information that he knows?
DC: We do go through the story with him, but there are points where you need to be ahead of him to feel jeopardy. I absolutely love the Truffaut/Hitchcock book. It's a sort of blueprint of how to tell stories. While it's about movies, it's also about storytelling. Hitchcock says that if there's a bomb under a table and it suddenly goes off, there's no suspense. If you see the bomb under the table before it goes off, you spend the next 20 minutes in horror that it's going to go off. That's a brilliant analogy. They were both brilliant storytellers, and I find that to be really inspiring. So, there are points where you need to give the audience like we see the KGB killing someone quite early on. You need the audience to know that because you need to know what might happen to our character when he goes over there. So, there's a bit of that going on in places where we get ahead of Greville, but a lot of the time, we're going with him. In the last act, we're totally going with him. We tried to do the last act of The Courier as something very subjective where we're totally inside his experience and absolutely not doing what I just described. You have to play both, and I thought a lot about that, actually, in making this film.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Benedict Cumberbatch is among the most charismatic actors of our times. With that said, which charismatic actors from the Golden Age do you imagine in the role that he plays in The Courier?
DC: James Stewart. He could do it. He's got that, sort of, wonderful reserve.