Superstars (Canada) - July 1998
The Man in the Iron Mask Will Trap your Heart!
Superstars: What was it about "The Man In The Iron Mask" that first attracted you to it?
Leonardo: As soon as I heard the whole idea of the story and the actors involved, and what it was all about, I was immediately interested. When I read the script, I couldnīt put it down. I really loved "Braveheart", which is the first film that Randall (Wallace) wrote, because it had a complexitiy on all of the characters equally. There wasnīt really any character in the film that didnīt have something going on. Thereīs a lot of detail in it. Obviously, playing dual characters is a great exercise for me, and working with these actors that Iīve been watching for a long, long time was a big attraction.
Superstars: Working alongside actors as John Malkovich, Gérard Dépardieu, Gabriel Byrne and Jeremy Irons must have been a challenge. What was it like working with the cast as a whole?
Leonardo: I think that I was expecting the worst simply because you have all these guys who are highly acclaimed, world-renowned actors. They have their own unique styles in the way they get into their characters and the way they act. I was hesitant to see how it all happened. But it was a totally relexed environment which I didnīt expect. Everyone was just joking around like schoolboys.
Superstars: Yourself included?
Leonardo: Iīm definitely included in that.
Superstars: Who do you play in the film?
Leonardo: Louis XIV of France and his alleged twin brother (Philippe) who was trapped in an iron mask from the age of 12 until his early 20s.
Superstars: What are they like? How are they different?
Leonardo: Louis has been brought up on the throne and is tainted in his view of life and how to treat people. He has turned into a menace and is making the people of France starve. Heīs causing lots of problems for everyone in his entourage (including) his advisors. I think the character of Philippe is someone who has obviously spent a lot of time alone and has a lot of time to think about the situation he was (put) in. Heīs also had a life of complete mystery because he really has no idea where he came from, what his background is, or why heīs been put in this mask for his whole teenage life. So he has a lot of things going on and a lot of questions that he needs to have answered from the Musketeers when they save him.
Superstars: What did you know about the real "man in the iron mask" before you read the movie script? Had you seen any of the other movies?
Leonardo: I saw the original one from the ī30s and it was interesting to watch. As far as I know it is a fictional story, but there is always that sort of mystery. There was a brother of Louis, and there was somebody that was in an iron mask thatīs on record, and who knows what really happened? Iīve read a couple of Dumas books: "The Count of Monte Christo" and "The Three Musketeers" and I like these sories. Theyīre classics.
Superstars: Had you done any sword fighting before "The Man in the Iron Mask"?
Leonardo: Never, no.
Superstars: What was it like?
Leonardo: Itīs like all the things that go along with that period (of time); dancing, the mannerisms of the king. You just have to practice it to the point where you look comfortable doing it and maybe even take it a step further.The sword fighting was great.
Superstars: How did you learn all of the mannerisms specific to that time period?
Leonardo: Basically, Louis XVI set a standard throughout France for his mannerisms and the etiquette at the court, and if you didnīt go along with it, you were taken out of the palace and you wouldnīt work for him anymore. If you didnīt know how to dance, you were also fired. It was that strict at the time so I definitely wanted to get an overall sense of it. I didnīt want to be doing things the wrong way. I didnīt want to make it look like it was no big deal that he was the king. He took all that stuff very seriously. I had somebody to help me out a lot with the mannerism and the etiquette of the time which I thought was very important to have.
Superstars: What was it like being in the iron mask?
Leonardo: It definitely gets claustrophobic and within 10 minutes of being in there I wanted to bash my head against the wall with frustration. It must become a part of your own body after a while. You have to fight all the urges to scratch your face off. The thing about Philippe is that I had come into this project thinking, "Would this guy be mentally disabled from being in this mask so long? Would he be somebody that has lots of quirks?" The thing I found interesting when I talked to Randy about it, was that he looked at the character like a Nelson Mandela figure, who was trapped in a place for so long and did only good while he was enclosed by himself - and ended up ruling his country. Itīs a situation where the mind takes over the body and heīs able to control himself and not lose it.
Superstars: What was it like working with Randall Wallace, whoīs a first time director?
Leonardo: You get to a point where you talk about the project with him, you get an element of trust with him and you just go on from there. If you have a question, you can give your advice, which I do sometimes, and heīs great with listening. Thatīs one of his best things. He really watches things in such close details. Like I said, thereīs just a point at which you have to dive in and believe in what youīre doing, and heīs been fantastic. I mean really fantastic. And Iīm not just saying that to give him a pat on the back. One of the great things that I loved about meeting Randy is that you could see the passion in his eyes. You can see the things that he feels on his face, and he doesnīt censor anything. Heīs fantastic in that way and thatīs what an actor needs. You need to feel the passion from your director, which he certainly has.
Superstars: What do you think the overall appeal of "The Man in the Iron Mask" will be?
Leonardo: Everyone that Iīve mentionned the film to is overwhelmed by the actors involved and the story. I donīt think thereīs a lot of movies like this that are going to be shown in the near future. Itīs like something that I think is like this old sort of movie about valor and passion and honor which I donīt really see a lot, as opposed to this machismo thing thatīs going on right now in films. Thereīs a lot of appeal in it. Thereīs a lot of great things to whatch and the story is so complex. It has so many twists and turns and you really get wrapped up in it.
(Interview courtesy of United Artists Pictures.)