Cast: Jared Harris, Alicia Vikander, Henry Cavill, Hugh Grant, David Beckham
Director: Guy Ritchie
Genre: Action, Adventure
Running Time: 116 minutes
Synopsis: In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Release Date: 13th of August, 2015
Saving The World Never Goes Out Of Style
Guy Ritchie's 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." is a fast-moving, action-packed, sexy and stylish international adventure, shot through with humour, that is as much about the rocky relationship between two sparring superspies – Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin – as it is about the job they have to do.
'It's a zone I find fascinating, the way men interact with each other," says Guy Ritchie, who directed, produced, and co-wrote 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." screenplay, based on the hit 1960s TV series of the same name. 'Even going back to -Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,' I'm drawn to that male-to-male dynamic as kind of a genre unto itself."
Dynamic would be the word for it, as the first time elite CIA operative Solo meets his formidable KGB counterpart, Illya Kuryakin, they are trying to kill each other. Each has been sent to extract the same vital German asset from behind the Berlin Wall at the height of the Cold War, and taking out the competition in the process would just be icing on the cake.
Days later, after being informed by their respective handlers that they will now be working together on the case, killing each other is unfortunately – albeit temporarily – off the table, leaving the sworn rivals to vent their national and professional antagonism in a bare-knuckled, bust-up-the-furniture, 'getting to know you" fight designed to convey in no uncertain terms that they might be stuck with this deal, but they don't have to like it.
So in some respects, it's a buddy movie…apart from the fact that 'they kick the living daylights out of each other as soon as they meet," says Henry Cavill, who stars as Solo, the suave and often self-serving American agent.
Starring as Kuryakin, Armie Hammer offers the volatile but more conventional Russian's point of view: 'Kuryakin is the ultimate soldier, always in line and giving his best. Then he's thrust into a position that he hates and there's nothing he can do about it. This guy he's working with, this Napoleon Solo, he's so unorthodox. He doesn't follow the rules. He doesn't even seem to know there are rules."
'What we found so irresistible," says Guy Ritchie, 'was taking these polar-opposite agents and forcing them together so that they start out trying to annihilate each other and end up cooperating, but maybe still not entirely trusting each other. The story is largely the evolution of their collaboration. The fact that one represents capitalist America and the other represents communist Russia, and these two super powers have to team up to neutralize a threat with global stakes, is a great premise that you can have a lot of fun with, and that's really the spine of the story."
Producer and co-screenwriter Lionel Wigram is reunited with Guy Ritchie following a successful partnership on the equally genre-blurring 'Sherlock Holmes" films. 'One of the ways we put our own spin on it was by making it an origin story about how U.N.C.L.E. was formed," he says. 'In the series, U.N.C.L.E. already existed. So in the midst of the Cold War you had the CIA and KGB secretly teaming for the greater good at a time when East-West relations were at their absolute worst. How did such an alliance come about?"
The film opens in 1963. The U.S. and the Soviet Union are locked in a tense, high-stakes game of chicken over nuclear arms supremacy, and the wartime research of former Nazi scientists is still at a premium on the not-so-open market. A 12-foot concrete wall divides post-World War II Berlin and it's here, in its long shadows, that Solo and Kuryakin first size each other up in a breakneck, winner-take-all street chase.
Their prize is Gaby Teller, a whip-smart East German auto mechanic played by Alicia Vikander, who is also the estranged daughter of Dr. Udo Teller, once Hitler's favourite rocket scientist. Doc Teller has lately gone missing, launching both world powers into a race to find him before his very specific and very dangerous knowledge is channeled into weaponry that could obliterate whole countries. And Gaby may be the only bait that can flush him out. Opting to retain the initial property's Cold War context, with all its cultural and political touchstones, Guy Ritchie says, 'It's a tip of the hat to the series. We wanted to capture the essence and uniqueness of that time while making it immediately accessible to today's audiences, and as original, attractive and fresh as possible." The resulting tenor 'is both period and contemporary, which feels like a very natural process to me."
As film fans will attest, that's another hallmark of the director's work. In much the same way the 'Sherlock Holmes" films took audiences into Victorian London without losing the edge that made them so sharp and current, 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." distills everything that made the 1960s cool – from its art, fashion and music, to its attitudes and perspectives – into a spot-on but understated vibe that is both retro and undeniably 21st century.
'That's the Guy Ritchie magic," Lionel Wigram remarks. 'He strikes a certain note which, somehow, makes everything feel -of today.'"
'What I remember most about the series was its tone," Guy Ritchie reflects. 'And when the opportunity arose for me to make the movie, that's what inspired me. The idea of -The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' just rang a bell for me. I had an intuitive response to it."
In some ways, the 1960s depicted in 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." is a rare and enticing moment in time that only really existed on screen.
'For us, the -60s were the coolest decade and -The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' was a part of that," Lionel Wigram continues. 'We were always keen on doing a spy story. We loved the early Bond movies, which really made an imprint on our young minds, and then the Italian and French films of the time, like -L'Avventura' and -La Dolce Vita,' that had a particular flavour we found so stylish and interesting. Whether it's the clothes, the cars, the movies, or the design, the -60s really marked the beginning of the modern age."
It's their shared influences, combined with a passion for cinema and a simpatico sense of humour, that make Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram such a tight writing team. 'It's great having a producing partner who can write, because writing is fundamental to filmmaking and the story is an organic, living, ongoing process," Guy Ritchie acknowledges.
'We both love the idea of taking a classic genre and putting a twist on it," Lionel Wigram adds. 'And Guy Ritchie is constantly trying to do something new with the action, to give audiences something they haven't quite seen before."
'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." stands entirely by itself. But for those familiar with its genetic line, including Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, and fellow producers John Davis and Steve Clark-Hall, there is a bonus in sharing their affection for an archetype that enthralled mid-1960s television viewers and spy-game aficionados on both sides of the Atlantic.
'When I was growing up, they were the coolest guys with the coolest gadgets and weapons," recalls John Davis, raised in the U.S. 'It was a secret international force working behind the scenes to keep the planet safe, like the United Nations of the spy world, and I loved it."
Typifying the young British fan of the time, Hugh Grant, who stars as the enigmatic Waverly, confesses, 'I had a -Man from U.N.C.L.E.' model car. I believe you pressed the top off and it shot guns out of the sides. I might still have it."
One reason that tales of espionage and secret agendas continue to thrill and entertain, generation upon generation, might be the cyclic nature of history and politics. 'Without getting too deep," Steve Clark-Hall suggests, 'with the Snowden case and the massive amount of recent revelations about the sort of spying that still goes on, I think it's something that people are intrinsically fascinated by – the nature of relationships and the opportunity for betrayal, the complex alliances nations find themselves in, and not being sure who to trust. In some ways today's world is reflective of the tensions of the -60s that the movie plays on."
Additionally, Jeff Kleeman and David Campbell Wilson, who share story credit with Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram, cite the enduring allure of 'daring lone agents who take on powerful forces and display grace under pressure. What really sets spy films apart are their heroes, who time and again are forced to rely upon their true secret weapons: ingenuity, resourcefulness and wit."
The key, for Guy Ritchie, in bringing all of this energy together – apart from the barbed banter and unshakable cool of his charismatic leads – is what he calls 'the balance of real danger, drama and action with a lightness of touch. It's the juxtaposition of different moods that I find most creative and stimulating," he says, noting that he makes the kinds of movies that would attract him as a viewer and a vital ingredient of that is the kind of humour that tends to percolate to the surface almost effortlessly. 'Not that it should all be funny. I'm looking for the whole gamut of emotions. We start off writing more serious scenes, but what often happens on the day of filming is that the scenes start not taking themselves quite so seriously and the humour invariably finds its way in.
'We had a great cast all around, led by Henry Cavill and Armie, and Alicia Vikander as Gaby," he continues. 'The guys have brilliant chemistry and Alicia is truly something special. And they really had to work for it. It wasn't a soft job, not mentally or physically. Filming is collaboration and I want actors to own what they say. Granted, a director has the advantage of seeing the bigger picture and the actors have to trust that, but I'm always interested in the best idea in the room. As long as it doesn't hold us back, and it seldom does, I'm up for everyone being creative."
'It's a great feeling knowing that, together, you've gone beyond what was originally on the page," says Alicia Vikander. 'You get to know your character better because you're not only thinking about what they say, but about what they might say."
Henry Cavill, for whom working with Guy Ritchie was the number one reason he signed onto the project, concurs. 'His movies are fantastic and his filmmaking style is unique. There's no over-rehearsing, so you can get in there and do it, and it feels very fresh and new when you shoot."
'It really keeps you sharp. You have to do your homework and show up ready for anything because things can change," adds Hammer, who likewise jumped at the chance to work with the acclaimed director. 'I think he intentionally keeps the atmosphere light because you get the best work when everyone is free and everything is flowing. It's an open, inviting, creative space and that's what Guy tries to cultivate on the set."
Try Not To Kill Your Partner On The First Day
Though committed to the premise and the politically charged setting of the series, Guy Ritchie used that merely as a jumping off point when it came to developing the Solo and Kuryakin characters and their potential back-stories for the big screen – from the broad strokes to the intimate details – in a way that was previously unexplored. Since the series picked up at an unspecified mid-point in the partnership, the filmmakers and the actors had the freedom to imagine the process by which these two disparate personalities reached their personal détente.
Hammer, who had never seen the show, delved into some of the classic episodes for a point of reference, while Henry Cavill, who was equally unfamiliar with it, took the opposite approach. But each sought to make these characters entirely their own.
As Henry Cavill understands the quintessentially smooth Solo, 'He's not career CIA; in fact, he's kind of anti-establishment. He acquired his skill set dealing art and antiques on the black market after sneaking his way into post-war European high society, and was so good that no one could catch him for years. It's something he took a great deal of pride in. But eventually he was given up by a jealous girlfriend, and the CIA, seeing the value of a man like him, offered an ultimatum: go to jail or work for us. So he ended up becoming an agent, very successfully but somewhat reluctantly. It's better than being in jail and he can still wear natty suits."
By contrast, Illya Kuryakin's rise at the KGB was the result of years of dedication, training and single-minded effort. 'He's a classic spy," says Hammer of the youngest agent in the organization to have attained such elite status. 'He grew up in the system and rose through the ranks and he's very by-the-book. His lifelong goal was to be a KGB operative and that's the most important thing to him."
It's hard to know what irritates Illya Kuryakin most about the new colleague he calls The Cowboy: what he perceives as the American's cavalier attitude, his accidental credentials or his sense of entitlement. 'But there is definitely friction," Hammer confirms. 'At the same time, as much as Illya looks at him as an amateur who doesn't know what he's doing, this Solo guy just broke into a secure facility with what looks like a paper clip, so that's pretty impressive…"
For his part, Solo finds the Russian unrefined and unpredictable, 'but in some ways they're two sides of the same coin," Henry Cavill observes. 'The differences in their personalities and methods are vast, but they're on the same spectrum. And even though they're in this because Solo and Illya Kuryakin have no choice, they are always mindful that they have a mission and there are lives at stake, not to mention the destruction of the world, so they have to try to make their skills work together. It could end up that the team is greater than the sum of its parts."
What they are concealing from each other is that, while their respective bosses appear to be cooperating on this one-off, the end game for each agent takes a sharp turn. Solo's directive is to deliver Teller and/or his research to CIA headquarters in Langley, while Illya Kuryakin's orders lead similarly to Moscow, and neither can let anything – including their partnership – get in his way.
First, however, there are more immediate concerns. Their working relationship requires a cover, and that's where newly sprung East Berliner Gaby Teller becomes a more hands-on participant. In order to locate her father, presumably held captive in Rome by a criminal cabal, including Gaby's odious Uncle Rudi, she is pressed into a ruse in which Illya Kuryakin will pose as a Russian architect and she as his loving fiancée. In Rome on holiday while her faux husband-to-be studies structural design, Gaby will reach out to Rudi for her father's whereabouts, in view of her upcoming nuptials. Solo, meanwhile, will work a parallel angle, pretending not to know the happy couple while remaining close.
'We were fans of Alicia Vikander's from -A Royal Affair,'" says Lionel Wigram, 'and of course she's gone on to so many other successes since then. 'We wanted a European actress for the role, someone who could play German and had that fantastic mixture of youth and naiveté with real intelligence and strength."
Making the transition from unpretentious garage mechanic to couture-draped arm candy isn't easy for the straight-talking, down-to-earth young woman. 'But if it will keep her this side of the Berlin Wall for the rest of her life, Gaby is game for just about anything," says Alicia Vikander. 'I loved the fact that they made her a cool, tomboyish girl with a lot of character," she continues. 'Gaby was brought up in a man's world and so she's quite feisty and she knows how to stand her ground. If anything, she has a tough time relaxing and pretending she wants to be just a pretty housewife, and I think it's partly her desire to assert her independence that causes sparks to fly between her and Illya."
Gaby creates sparks between Kuryakin and Solo, too, but only insofar as it gives them more to clash over, starting with a comical scene in which they try to one-up each other with their designer savvy while helping Gaby select her mod wardrobe…perhaps causing her to wonder if navigating Armageddon might be the easiest part of this mission.
But there is serious work ahead, as the trio quickly adopt their undercover personas and prepare to take on their dangerous adversaries. Uncle Rudi, a diehard Nazi, is in league with the über-wealthy but morally bankrupt power couple Alexander and Victoria Vinciguerra. Together, they are attempting to coerce his brother-in-law, Udo Teller, into revealing his revolutionary method of uranium enrichment. It's a process that will make atomic bombs far quicker and easier to assemble, and sell to the highest bidder.
Elizabeth Debicki plays Victoria, an ambitious, stunning, ice blonde from hardscrabble beginnings who married a wealthy Italian playboy long on looks but little else. 'He isn't exactly the brains of the operation," Elizabeth Debicki admits. 'He likes fast cars and women, and that's fine with Victoria because she can sit behind the desk and run the show, which is what she's always wanted. She's a self-created, enterprising woman and quite a social climber." Says Lionel Wigram, 'Elizabeth Debicki was phenomenal in -The Great Gatsby'; she really stood out in a fantastic cast and so when her name came up, Guy and I felt it was an inspired and obvious choice. She did a reading that was sensational, plus, her look reminded us of a young Catherine Deneuve, which was perfect for that period."
Elizabeth Debicki, an Australian portraying a woman from Liverpool but with a deliberate clipped RP [Standard English] accent, notes, 'So few of us are playing our nationalities." Indeed, Cavill, a Brit, plays American; Hammer, an American, plays Russian; and Vikander, a Swede, plays German, all of which just added to the international air of the production, in concert with the various locations in England and Italy where they filmed.
One exception was the actor cast as Victoria's husband, Alexander. Making his starring English-language feature debut as the handsome race car driver is Italian Luca Calvani. Calling him 'a new discovery for worldwide audiences, Wigram comments, 'Luca Calvani is the epitome of what we had in mind. He gives Alexander just the right air of sinister glamour that makes him credible and, at the same time, so much fun."
'Alexander believes he's found the perfect trophy wife, which is funny because he ends up being the trophy husband in a way, as the financier of Victoria's evil schemes," says Luca Calvani. 'But his ego is such that he thinks he is somewhat still in charge."
'They're both fantastic roles," says Elizabeth Debicki. 'The Vinciguerras are fabulously dressed, fabulously evil people, and they have a very open marriage. Very sixties."
Meanwhile, as all this intrigue unfolds, higher-ups are keeping watch from their respective vantage points. One is Napoleon Solo's CIA boss, Sanders, played by Jared Harris, happily reuniting with Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram following his turn as the legendary villain Moriarty in 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows."
In a nod to cinephiles everywhere, the character is named after classic star George Sanders, who portrayed 'The Saint" and was a spy in many other movies.
Says Jared Harris, 'Sanders is having a bit of a hard time with this independent, somewhat insolent agent who is also, of course, tremendously talented. Perhaps consequently, he's sort of bad-tempered and grumpy. He lives in a gray world but deals in absolutes and he sees things in terms of -It's the United States, first and foremost.'"
Fresh off four seasons of the AMC period drama 'Mad Men," Jared Harris was already steeped in all things -60s. Welcoming the chance to revisit another facet of the era, he says, 'It was a good script, tight, and with a sense of humor."
Hugh Grant, cast as the debonair and unflappable Waverly, the only other familiar character from the series apart from Solo and Kuryakin, also warmed to the script. With characteristic humour, he says, 'I've always liked Guy Ritchie's films and thought they were quite hip, and I'm not sure I've ever done anything even remotely hip, so that was part of the appeal. Plus, I have an uncle who was a spy and I've always been fascinated by that world, so I thought there might be a little fun to be had. We were never allowed to mention the fact that he was a spy – he was just officially in the Navy – but we all knew."
Waverly displays the most unassuming attitude and introduces himself with a handshake and a single name, despite the fact that he turns out to be a significant power broker – the breadth of which isn't fully realized until much later.
'I imagine he's a rather smooth but probably quite scary top British spy," the actor speculates. 'Like a lot of them, he likely comes from a naval background. I believe he's done his share of fighting and quite enjoyed it, but now he's a man in very nice suits outsmarting the people behind the Iron Curtain and perhaps outsmarting the American CIA as well, because there was always that rivalry and there's a touch of that, too, in the film."
Rounding out the main cast, Siberian-born Misha Kuznetsov is Sanders' cagey KGB counterpart, Oleg; German actor Christian Berkel is Udo Teller, a brilliant mind caught in a situation from which even he cannot calculate an escape; and Sylvester Groth is Rudi, an inveterate Nazi as devoted to his cause as he is to his twisted hobbies. In an interesting link to the film, Groth was born in East Germany and ultimately defected to the West.
Making The Scene
Locations play a significant role in 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," helping set the tone and authenticity. 'We were pleased on -Sherlock Holmes' that our recreation of 19th Century London transported audiences, and we've tried to do the same here with our depictions of Berlin and Rome, which were inspired by so many films of the time," Lionel Wigram explains. 'Rome typifies the style of the -60s and Berlin is, of course, the focal point of all those Cold War movies."
Additionally, says Guy Ritchie, 'Certain iconic images like the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie are essential components for a story like this to be true to its genre and its time."
The Berlin sets exude a cool, stark palette overall, in comparison to the more lush, bright and sensuous colours and textures of the film's Italian locales.
Overall, 'Guy Ritchie wanted the look and feel of the -60s to be present, but not obvious or clichéd, with hints of the Cold War. Getting that balance was key," says production designer Oliver Scholl. That sense guided not only his choices but those of the entire creative team.
Supervising location manager Sue Quinn scoured the length and breadth of Europe for sites that met Guy Ritchie's vision of 'a glamorous look and a -60s feel but with an edge," she relates. 'We started in Rome, with all its fantastic 1930s architecture from the Mussolini era, which looks so great on film. But Rome is bursting with tourists and a logistical challenge, so we went to Naples and the surrounding area to expand our palette."
The Rome locations included the famed Spanish Steps, Teatro Marcello, Piazza Venezia and the Grand Plaza Hotel, where Solo, Kuryakin and Gaby stay while cozying up to the Vinciguerras. In Naples, the team used the underground tunnels at the Fonderia Iron Works for the dungeons of the Vinciguerra island compound, which could be the ideal spot to hide a nuclear physicist with his own underground lab, while the Castle Baja in the Bay of Naples, believed to have been built for the Emperor Nero, provided its impressive exteriors.
'Architecture is not as fast to react to trends as are clothes or products, so the architectural spectrum of our sets is much bigger," states Scholl, who used a range of structures that would have existed at the time. 'The period is invoked in such myriad details as storefronts, graphics, awnings, posters, window displays, doors, furnishings and hardware."
The UK stood in for East Germany, offering both practical locations and sets built at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, including the infamous Checkpoint Charlie, recreated on the studio back lot. Portions of Greenwich Naval College in Southeast London and the Chatham Docks in Kent, heavily augmented with CG, figured in the opening chase alongside the Berlin Wall, allowing the design team to secure the look they were seeking along with the flexibility and convenience of shooting in a controlled environment. The historic Goodwood Circuit racetrack in West Sussex was also repurposed into an Italian venue where Alexander Vinciguerra can show off his fleet.
Studio soundstages housed a range of sets, including the interiors of the Rome hotel, Victoria's sleek, angular, Italian neo-fascist-styled company headquarters, and the underground laboratory where a captive Udo Teller is pressed into service.
The single most complex setting from a design standpoint, as well as stunts and effects, was the climactic chase off Vinciguerra island, which was collaged from several individual locations: Hankley Common, a rural area in Surrey; the Miseno tunnels and Baia Castle in Naples; roads outside of Rome; and Aberystwyth, on the west coast of Wales.
Renowned cinematographer John Mathieson worked closely with Ritchie throughout, creating a lighting scheme Wigram calls 'both reminiscent of the time and having a modern energy. The way he lined up his shots, the atmosphere he created…he's done an absolutely brilliant job."
Things Could Get A Little Messy
Action is an integral part of the 'U.N.C.L.E." storyline and it's something on which Guy Ritchie does not compromise. 'The actors have worked exceptionally hard," he states. 'They've all been very involved, physically. It's often a volatile arena: you're shooting guns, you're flying all around the place. You have to be an athlete because, on a tough day, you are cracking on for eight hours."
The action sequences in 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." required the collaboration of stunt coordinator Paul Jennings and special effects supervisor Dominic Tuohy, following the director's brief to bring something new to the screen.
'We also wanted to make the action scenes reveal more about the characters," says Jennings, who was in charge of training the cast for an onslaught of fist fights, gun battles, motorcycle chases, car chases and explosions, among a long list of stunts. 'Guy likes visceral filmmaking. He thinks outside the box and gives you the freedom to do the same. You have to be daring and go with your gut on a Guy Ritchie film. Even if things don't quite work the first time, he doesn't mind; he's pleased you gave it a go."
In this case, both Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer were more than willing to give it a go, plunging in with total commitment and eager to do as many of their own stunts as possible.
'Not to take anything away from our excellent stunt crew, who took some nasty tumbles and accomplished some incredible things," Henry Cavill is quick to add. 'But Armie Hammer and I are both very physical actors and love to get involved. There are some major action sequences that, when I first heard about them, I assumed would be CG, which we ended up doing largely in camera."
Shootout in Berlin
The story starts off with a bang – accompanied by breaking glass and burning rubber – as the newly acquainted Gaby and Solo, in a vintage Wartburg sedan, try to elude Kuryakin's Trabant through the dark streets of East Berlin to meet Solo's contact on the other side. 'Guy Ritchie envisioned it as a ballet," says Tuohy. 'We modified both vehicles for a blind driver, meaning the Wartburg had a driving position mounted on the roof and the Trabant had one low down in front, which enabled stunt drivers to maneuver them at full speed with the actors inside, keeping them fully involved. And we had a tracking vehicle traveling with them.
'We wanted to keep the two cars close while making tight turns around corners," he continues, 'so we adapted one of them to be extremely light and made a rig that attached them to each other. Then, in a green screen environment, we built a hydraulic turntable so we could put the two cars together and move them backwards and forwards, as if they were gaining on one another, and also let them move independently or rotate them on a 360-degree spin."
The production employed practical effects as much as possible. Offering one example, Tuohy says, 'The stunt driving positions we built onto the vehicles were framed out, as they would have done pre-CG, so the camera captures what the audience will see in frame, rather than filming the whole rig and having CG paint it out later."
At the same time, visual effects, supervised by Richard Bain, proved invaluable in other applications, such as helping transform the streets of the Greenwich Royal Naval Academy and the Chatham Docks, where the chase was filmed, into East Berlin.
'Greenwich is one of our most valued archives, and to stage a chase there is special onto itself," Tuohy adds. 'Its streets are unique and irreplaceable and that created a challenge in protecting that environment. Where you see sections of pavement, it's not real. We put down areas of flooring so that, if we drove over it, it wouldn't damage what was underneath."
The Harbor Cruise
'One of the things Guy Ritchie wanted to do was land a truck on top of a boat, and play the comedic beats of the truck sinking the boat with Solo sitting in the cab," says Tuohy.
This was part of a larger scene in which the two agents have to evade a boatload of assassins following a nighttime prowl in the Vinciguerra factory. Stunt coordinator Jennings says, 'In the harbor chase, Armie had to do a lot of piloting. We took him out in the boat for a test and he was a natural, which gave us the freedom to film him steering the boat. It's great when you can slot an actor into a situation like that and know they can deal with it."
For Tuohy's team, the logistics proved more complex. 'When you drive something off a height to land on a boat, it wants to push the boat away," he explains. So, a lightweight truck was designed to engage with a rig that would land it on the exact spot.
The next problem was that the boat, large and made of fiberglass, required a displacement of about 30 tons to sink it – which they didn't have. They also didn't have the time to wait for it to sink. Instead, they used pyrotechnic charges to break the seals holding the boat together, allowing water to rush in. Meanwhile a hydraulic ram beneath it pulled the whole thing under in about 10 seconds, allowing Henry Cavill to land both the heroics and the humor of the scene in one take.
Off-Roading at the Vinciguerra Estate
The climactic pursuit takes place on the Vinciguerras' island, where everything that matters is suddenly and dynamically in play, where people seize whatever method of transport is handy, and where every fresh twist alters the balance of power.
The hero vehicles include a 1960s motorcycle, a modified Land Rover that takes a swim, and a growling, custom-built four-wheel drive ATV that Ritchie aptly calls 'a beast."
'Of course a Rock Crawler wasn't quite period correct, but I wasn't going to let that stand in the way, so we built our own," he says. The vehicle does precisely what its name suggests, powering up nearly 90-degree hills before aquaplaning more than 300 feet across a lake. 'I'm not quite sure what to do with it now. It's seven feet wide."
The director was looking for unique and punishing terrain, which resulted in a sequence seamlessly fused from multiple locations. Jennings recounts, 'We start in Italy, go through a tunnel and up a mountainside, still in Italy, and then cut to a shot in Wales, then to Hankley Commons, and mix in some of Northshire. We were all over the place, but, in the end, I think we achieved something really different."
At the controls of the Rock Crawler, Solo displays his quick thinking as the action unfolds. Knowing Alexander Vinciguerra's Land Rover can easily outpace him on the road, he forges his own path through scrub, hills, forest, mud and grit to cut him off.
Illya Kuryakin, meanwhile, takes a different road in the concurrently running action sequences, astride a 1960s motorcycle that he rides until it becomes un-rideable. That's when the resourceful agent has to find another use for it.
Preparing for the scene, Arnie Hammer was not overly concerned. An avid rider since getting his first dirt bike as a child, he considered himself competent enough. But assistant stunt coordinator Lee Morrison didn't initially see it the same way. Hammer recalls, 'We showed up at a big grass field and Lee said, -Okay, I'm going to do a little assessment to see how you ride. Go up there, do a turn, come back, do a figure-eight and then go through those cones and stop.' I figured, -No problem, this is going to be easy.' So I ran through it all and came back, and he said, -What the hell was that? Is that how you sit? Is that how you hold your elbows?' So he taught me the proper form and honestly elevated my motorcycle riding, which was great for me – especially on that vintage bike, that didn't have 50 years of advancements so it was heavy and cumbersome."
Heavy and cumbersome, granted, but it bears the weight of Hollywood history. The motorcycle rode by Arnie Hammer was a limited edition Métisse Desert Racer built by the renowned Métisse workshop in Oxfordshire to be an exact replica of the Mark III model designed by actor Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins in the 1960s.
'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." also counts among its vintage vehicles a 1960 Hiller UH12E4 helicopter that previously had a starring role in another spy movie – a fact that can momentarily revert even veteran filmmakers into James Bond fanboys, as Wigram delightedly proclaims, 'We have Pussy Galore's helicopter from -Goldfinger' in our film. I can't tell you how exciting that is!" It also harks back to the series in that Bond creator Ian Fleming is known to have contributed some thoughts to the television project in its early conceptual stages.
Clothes Make The Man… And Woman
The work of award-winning costume designer Joanna Johnston harmonized with the tones selected by production designer Scholl and his sets. 'In Berlin, the overriding visual was concrete. Everything was cold, hard, and quite dismal," she says. 'We have a bit of freshness coming through with the introduction of prints and patterns when the story crosses over to West Berlin but the palette is still cold. Then, in Italy, the colors are warm and it's all very sophisticated."
How the era broke culturally from the immediate post-war drabness of the 1950s was what inspired Joanna Johnston, who researched the period via fashion magazines of the time. 'It was all about colour," she expands. 'It was a very radical and adventurous time across all disciplines, from art to fashion and music. What really struck me was the freedom of design of the time; it shines through the photography, the models, the styling, everything."
In sync with Guy Ritchie, the designer strove to avoid the kind of cliché extremes that can mar a period piece, opting for something 'more subtle and original, but still glossy and slick, like those films you remember where everyone looked good no matter what they were doing."
Arnie Hammer credits his wardrobe for helping him establish Kuryakin's persona. 'It didn't feel like costuming," he affirms. 'It felt just like clothes because it was never over the top." Indeed, Kuryakin was the more understated of the two agents, partly, Hammer jokes, because, 'he was on a Soviet budget."
Joanna Johnston kept the Russian agent's wardrobe low-key and casual-sexy overall, saying, 'His look was comprised of separates, suede and corduroy jackets, slacks and, of course, the turtleneck sweaters, which was the only element I had to keep from the TV show because it's the first thing everyone I talked to mentioned."
Solo was another matter entirely. 'Solo has reinvented himself, in a way, so I thought a more considered approach would be appropriate," she says. 'He has fine tailoring from Saville Row and handmade shoes, and looks like the proper gentleman. I used Timothy Everest, a well known British tailor, to make all of Henry Cavill's suits. He's all about the vanity and projection of his appearance – so expensive, good-looking and chic."
Henry Cavill couldn't agree more. 'They were made of the most wonderful fabric and as soon as I put them on, I felt like Napoleon Solo," he says.
Designing for the lead actresses added yet another dimension to the palette. Alicia Vikander's character, Gaby, though introduced as a tomboy in functional overalls, quickly shifts into couture with ease. Her breezy style Joanna Johnston describes as 'fresh, young, simple and clean, but with the feeling that she could do anything at any time."
'I came in for a few fittings, which is a great way to get into character, and Joanna let me be a part of the process," Alicia Vikander recalls. 'She brought in mood boards with pictures and ideas, and it's easy to let your imagination and fantasies take over. I saw one amazing dress with an open back that I liked and, the next time I came in, there it was."
In Elizabeth Debicki's chilling Victoria, Joanna Johnston saw a trace of Solo. 'In her individual way, Victoria is sort of a match for him with the consideration and application, her projection of image. She likes a lot of drama in her look. She's a snake, and she wants to snare people into her lair."
Elizabeth Debicki happily collaborated with the designer on Victoria's striking black-and-white signature look, highly polished and graphic. 'Victoria's clothes represent the best of -60s fashion. She's quite a fan of bling and belts and, because she's so wealthy, we felt there needn't be any limit. Plus, being the villain means you can do whatever you please," she says.
Leading The Charge
'The score was a very important, fundamental part of the film," says Guy Ritchie. 'I think sometimes, in certain scenes, the music should lead the charge and the action is subservient to that. We worked for the first time with a talented young composer, Daniel Pemberton, and I'm quite happy with the way it turned out."
For Daniel Pemberton, it was an experience unlike any other. 'Guy Ritichie's main thing was that he wanted everything to be simple and memorable," he relates. 'He wanted every single piece of music to be unique and feel like a strong stand-alone track, while still accomplishing the things a movie score needs to do in terms of highlighting and enhancing the action. So it was incredibly challenging, but also fantastic and very exciting for me because I got to really, really push it and be incredibly bold in a way that, as a composer, you don't normally have the opportunity to do."
This is perhaps best illustrated in the climactic raid on the Vinciguerra compound, an extended, action-fueled sequence where so much is happening simultaneously that Guy Ritchie offers some of it in a kaleidoscopic split-screen, propelled throughout by the score. Says Pemberton, 'There is often no dialogue, or very minimal dialogue. I remember, at the time, it was me, Guy Ritchie and his editor, James Herbert, trying to work out how to make it different from what audiences will have heard before, and we got the idea of trying this anarchic, almost poly-rhythmic percussion piece that echoes the intensity of the attack. It descends into chaos, out of control, but somehow pulls itself together, rising and falling with the action. It's one of the passages I'm most proud of."
In keeping with the film's tonal integrity, Daniel Pemberton sought to capture a sound that combined the crispness and sophistication of today with a distinctly -60s flavor. The first step was the venue: 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E." score was recorded in Studio 2 at Abbey Road, where even the most casual music fan likely knows, the Beatles recorded their albums.
Thematically, he says, 'we went for a different, minimal approach that meant musically using less but writing and producing in a way that still has the impact of a big orchestral score." Technically, the Abbey Road facility proved a treasure trove of the kinds of period equipment needed to achieve the specific sound he was after. 'We used every single bit of kit that has been kicking around there since the -60s that we could get our hands on," he says, with all the enthusiasm of an archeologist on a successful dig. 'We used tape machines, old desks, even the building's echo chamber, which is how they created echoes before digital or even analog equipment. You'd send a microphone into a tiled room and there'd be a loudspeaker in there, and you would play the sound and record the echo in the room. We sourced some great period instruments, from vintage harpsichords to old basses and guitars, and worked with Sam Okell, their in-house 1960s genius who knows every bit of that gear from years of mixing and engineering Beatles re-masters.
'It was all part of the process of creating a distinctive sound," he concludes. 'Maybe the best way of describing it is, to sound new, we had to travel through time."
Echoing the composer's sentiments, Wigram says, 'It's nice to be able to recreate that time using today's technology – the best of both worlds, essentially. Guy and I love period movies because we feel it allows us to create an experience where you can have a heightened sensibility and still suspend the audiences' disbelief. You can go a bit larger than life because there's always a sense of reality attached."
'As a director, you face a number of creative considerations when you approach a project," says Guy Ritchie, harking back to the moment when the ideas for a big-scale 'U.N.C.L.E" feature first came together for him. 'The relationships, the dynamic, the narrative – they're all exciting questions. With this, there was the added challenge of bringing a classic concept and period to life in a contemporary and entertaining way, and we all had a lot of fun seeing what we could do with it."
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Release Date: 13th of August, 2015