January 21, 2011 / 1:37 PM / in 7 years

After a long hiatus, Peter Weir finds "The Way Back"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Australian director Peter Weir is back in U.S. movie theaters on Friday with his first film in seven years -- the drama “The Way Back.”

<p>L-R: Director Peter Weir, actress Saoirse Ronan, actors Jim Sturgess and Ed Harris pose for photographers during the presentation of the film "The way back" in Madrid December 10, 2010. REUTERS/Andrea Comas</p>

Inspired by Slavomir Rawicz’ 1956 book “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom,” the film is about prisoners who escape from a Siberian labor camp and walk through Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, China and India, to find freedom.

Weir, who has directed such films as “The Truman Show,” “Dead Poets Society” and “Witness”, sat down with Reuters to talk about the film and why he’s been laying low for the past few years.

Q: You are known for taking your time between projects. For the past two decades, you’ve only done five films. What made “The Way Back” worthy of your attention?

A: “I think it was the nature of the journey, to walk 4,000 miles to freedom. These were innocent people, ordinary people. It was a chance to look closely at the human spirit. What kind of qualities does an individual have which will draw them to push on, to put one foot in front of the other? That, coupled with the fantastic series of landscapes.”

Q: You’ve assembled quite an international cast to play Eastern Europeans, including Irish actors Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan, and Britain’s Jim Sturgess.

A: “There’s always a temptation to cast the nationality in the part, but that gets impractical. Plus there’s certain people you want to work with. And after all, this is show business -- the actors are pretending. I didn’t want the group to be all American, or all English who are doing accents. I wanted to get a representation of nationalities.”

Q: Prior to this film, what have you been doing since “Master and Commander?”

A: “There were three other projects I was working on but they didn’t happen. I pulled out of one and we disagreed over something on the other. It was a frustrating period. I had to find a kind of patience so that I didn’t panic and take on a movie that wasn’t right for me.”

Q: Then what happened?

A: “Then I read ‘The Way Back’ and thought, maybe it’s this one. I would go off to do interviews in Moscow with survivors and what they were telling me made me feel like this was worth doing. I put some of those stories or aspects of their description of camp life into the script.”

Q: You shot the film chronologically, shooting in Bulgaria, Morocco and India. Any memorable days?

A: “Any director who shoots in the desert always thinks of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ or (filmmaker) David Lean. David Lean owns the desert. One day in Morocco, I noticed an Arab man in long robes -- he was in charge of keeping the snakes off the set. He had been watching me for three days. He came over to me, leaned toward my ear and said: ”The desert is with you.“ My first thought was, ‘Wow, that was just like a movie scene!’ Then I thought, I‘m glad it’s not against me!”

Q: Being in the Himalayas, having just wrapped this long journey, what was going through your head?

A: “You know what I was thinking in between moments of dancing and hilarity? I was thinking, ‘How is that scene going to cut? I better get back to the cutting room!'”

Editing by Jill Serjeant

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