Tarik Saleh with Juliette Lewis and Alexander SkarsgardBy Michelle Kung
Though Swedish director Tarik Saleh is from the same neighborhood in Stockholm as his “Metropia” voice star Alexander Skarsgard, the two never connected until meeting at a Christmas event in Los Angeles years ago. The two quickly became friends, and Skarsgard because the first actor to sign on for “Metropia,” Saleh’s animated film about a dystopian 2024 society were an office drone (voiced by Vincent Gallo) starts hearing the voice of Skarsgard’s character Stephan in his head.
Saleh says production on “Metropia,” a film six years in the making, began with the actors’ recording of their roles, some in Stockholm (like Juliette Lewis, who voices the mysterious character of Nina), some in L.A., like Gallo. Given that the film was animated, Saleh made sure he was in the recording booth with his respective actors, so he could guide them through their scenes and help them dig deeper as characters. “I was prepared, but I also opened myself up to what the actors could bring,” says Saleh. “For instance, Vincent asked a lot of questions and was very method about his approach. Julieet was very physical and impulsive. Alex has a comic inside of him and responds to funny descriptions. If you tell him not to sound so pathetic, he’ll get a lot more pathetic. It’s like a patchwork.”
After recording his actor’s lines, Saleh storyboarded his film and sketched out various versions of each character. He purposefully made their heads very big and bright, because his overall ideology for the film was that every character had symbolic lightbulbs within them. “The light has gone out of their world, so the people are the light,” he says. Original versions of the characters were also very extreme and caricature-like. “Because I come from an artistic background — I’m a painter — I look at ‘Metropia’ as being like a moving painting,” he says.
After a year on the festival circuit, “Metropia” now finds itself one of the Tribeca Film Festival’s 12 Tribeca Films releases available on demand on various cable systems, a prospect that the Swedish filmmaker embraces. “I never saw ‘Metropia’ as a studio film,” says Saleh, who adds that it was his sales team that made the Tribeca Film deal earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival. “It’s not ‘Avatar;’ it’s quite the opposite. I would almost be worried if someone like Paramount wanted to pick it up for distribution because it’s not that kind of film.”
Skarsgard, whose father Stellan also has a small voice role in the film, says he’s proud of both Saleh and the film, and hopes that fans of his role as the vampire Eric Northman on the popular HBO series “True Blood,” will be excited by the opportunity to see his participation in a different kind of film. “It’s such an intelligent movie,” he says. “Hopefully [my fans] will be pleasantly surprised by it and we’ll give them something to remember.”
Saleh, for one, is a bit overwhelmed by Skarsgard’s ecstatic “Team Eric” fans, noting that the craziness didn’t really start until the second season of “True Blood” began airing. “The obsession with him, because of that show, is incredible,” says Salah. “Doesn’t matter what ethnicity or sexuality they are. I thought New Yorkers were supposed to be cool about celebrities, but I’ve seen some really crazy things just in the past two days alone — women crowding each other and calling out his name. It’s bananas.”
But Saleh is clearly happy for his friend’s success. “In Sweden, he couldn’t get any interesting roles, aside from the playing the good-looking boyfriend to someone else. But in the States, he’s been able to get really interesting roles,” says Saleh. “He’s going to hate me for saying his, but watching his success is like seeing a kid you grew up, didn’t see for while because they moved to a different country, and then being shocked by how much they grew.”
SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
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