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If you like Julie Taymor's story, you might also like:
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Julie Taymor
Julie Taymor
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Julie Taymor Interview (page: 5 / 6)

Theater, Opera and Film Director

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  Julie Taymor

With The Lion King, you were bouncing off of a wildly successful animated film. The film itself is really quite poignant and beautiful. So that was sort of a challenge to have something that was equally moving, and you certainly did. Did the idea of the masks -- the animals and people together -- come to you at once, or was it kind of a slow development?

Julie Taymor Interview Photo
Julie Taymor: No, I knew that whatever I did had to be totally theatrical, because I couldn't compete with film. One of the reasons I love to jump back and forth between mediums is that film does allow me to be more literal. I can go to the real place. I can go to the Coliseum, and I don't have to fake it. I can go to an Eskimo snowfield if I want to have snow; I don't need to do chicken feathers falling out of a plate.

When I was thinking about The Lion King, I said, we have to do what theater does best. What theater does best is to be abstract and not to do literal reality. So when you listen to Jeremy Irons in the guise of this animated lion, you go, "My God, that animated lion is so human! Look at how human the features are!" So how do I get that humanity, because the humanity of The Lion King is its power, not its animals. It's the humanity of the movie. And I thought, "Well, if I cover the human with the mask, I won't get that part of the humanity. So let's have the human, and then let's have the mask be the symbol of the animal." And as a sculptor, you have to abstract the essence. It's called an ideograph. You have to extract the essence of the character into a few brush strokes or a few carving strokes.

So because Scar is very serpentine and he's off-center and he's crooked, you make a face that's not symmetrical. Whereas Mufasa, he's salt of the Earth. He is the Earth. He's the Sun King. He's the Sun. So you have these big circles. My job as a director and as a designer is to do that kind of abstraction and to say it with a few brush strokes.

If you look at the scene -- Act Two, it begins with a drought. Now, I could have trees -- green trees with leaves falling off, drying up. But wouldn't a film do that better, and an animated film even better, because they can make it any way they want? So I say, "What -- in the most simplest terms, with the most simplest theatrical idea -- technique can say it?" And it was a big, white circle of cloth that's silk with blue lines on it that was pulled through a hole in the floor. And all you saw was that circle, which was also the circle of life, was also the circle of Mufasa. It's the main element in the entire -- the main symbol is the circle, as the wall is the main symbol in Grendel. You watch this water -- but it's just silk -- disappear through a hole. Film can't do that. Theater is far superior to film in poetry, in abstract poetry.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

That doesn't mean there aren't some films that are very theatrical and abstract.

When you're trying to make those visual effects real, the audience wants to believe it. They want to believe those things. And in theater, they jump with you. They are transported. They know that that's just a piece of fabric on a stage, or that sun is just sticks -- bamboo sticks with fabric hanging in a bunch of strings. But when you bring that sun up with those "invisible" but visible wires, the audience is moved because they fill in the blanks. They're there as participants. They are there to fill out the rest of the sentence. You don't patronize your audience with reality. Oh, we could do a sunset with a projection. No. Why would you do that? That's not what you want. You want to create -- you want to say -- if I were to create one of those suns that are on the desert with those lines that shimmer, how do I do it with just silks and sticks? That's why I do theater. I do theater to be able to figure out how to create that and let the audience be the participant in creating the whole story.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

In film, you get to do the whole thing, and you get a different kind of sense.

When you're a filmmaker, you create a whole world yourself, whereas in theater, the audience helps you create it. Is that how you see it?

Julie Taymor: Well, film is expected to be more real. In Across the Universe, we shot everything in New York City, but we shot Vietnam, Washington, D.C., Detroit -- but we really were trying to make it look like Vietnam. When we went to New Jersey into the swamps, we brought our palm trees. We weren't just suggesting that it was Vietnam. We were really trying to create that visceral reality there. Even a film like Titus, with Anthony Hopkins, is a movie movie. We shot in the Coliseum, on locations. Of course, it was theatrical because I played with mixing historical periods.

In theater, you can be much more abstract and simple and be suggestive. When we do the savannah in The Lion King, people walk with platters of grass on their heads, and the audience gets it. They get that that's a field that's moving grass. Now, if you were to do the -- not the animated film, but the film of The Lion King, it would be very hard to do that unless you were doing the film of the play, and then people would accept it. But if you were really to go out there and do it, you'd have to have the real grass going. Now I enjoy doing both. I enjoy moving back and forth because each medium challenges me with their own rules.

What I don't have in theater is editing. I would love my transitions to go like (snaps fingers) -- that! Instead, I have to wait for the mountain to turn. Elliot wrote these beautiful transitions (in Grendel), but the set doesn't work fast enough, so we've got some holes. Whereas in film, you can really play with how you tell the story through the cutting. Transitions in both forms are important, but they're the opposite. They work in opposite ways.

A lot of what I do in theater is cinematic, and a lot of what I do in film is theatrical, but there are different rules to it. What I mean by that is I use perspective in theater. I'll go do a long shot with a little miniature puppet of the animals walking through the grass, and then all of sudden the life-size person will come forward. And you've made that change from the long shot to the close-up. And you accept it, through a technique change. But in film, obviously, it's simple and easy to do those changes. But each art form makes me more interested in the other art form because I try and bring in those techniques and those ideas and put them into a different way of using them.

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This page last revised on Sep 28, 2010 16:31 EDT
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