The 3-D movie “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is a radical reboot of the Grimms’ fairy tale “Hansel & Great.” The main thing that the fairy tale and the movie have in common is that Hansel and Gretel are siblings who encounter evil witches. Except for a few scenes showing Hansel and Gretel as children, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is primarily the story of the siblings when they are adults.
Hansel (played by Jeremy Renner) is the impulsive type, while his sister Gretel (played by Gemma Arterton) is more level-headed. They are both fierce fighters who make it their mission in life to hunt and kill all evil witches must be destroyed. When the siblings go to a town where children have been mysteriously vanishing, they find out that there’s a coven of evil witches led by one named Muriel (played by Famke Janssen) that are behind the disappearances of the children. Here is what Renner, Arterton and Janssen had to say when they talked about “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” at the movie’s Los Angeles press junket.
Interview with Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton
How would you summarize the plot of “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”?
Arterton: The premise is that it’s two kids who defeated this witch when they were young and traumatized and what happened to them 15 years later. They’ve grown up, and they’ve become these bounty-hunter, witch-killing celebrities in the witch-killing world. It’s good fun and very action-filled and adventurous.
Can you describe your interpretation of the Hansel and Gretel characters?
Renner: I feel like they don’t exist without each other. It’s one of those “acting in tandem” moments. I was attracted to the story because I love the relationship between brother and sister. I just think it’s really dynamic. I have a very complicated one. I think they all are. And I think we were able to explore that in this [movie].
Arterton: Yeah, I think it’s rare to have a brother-and-sister duo, especially an action duo. And they sort of support each other. It’s not like two police cops. There’s an emotional drive for the both of them that’s inexplicable. And that was really fantastic to play. That was the central core to the whole piece.
What can people expect from the evil witch Muriel, played by Famke Janssen?
Arterton: Famke plays the queen bee of witches. We don’t know she exists in the beginning, so we discover her. She sort of challenges what we’re used to with witches. She has different powers and things like that. She’s pretty badass.
Jeremy, you’ve done a lot of action movies. How was training for “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” different from your other action movies?s
Renner: This is very different than any other movie, on the action side of it anyway. This is more of a western-style of fighting or getting beaten up. What I had to learn how to do in this is get my butt handed to me, which is a lot of fun. [He laughs.]
Can you talk about the weapons that were used in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”? A lot of people wonder why shotguns are in a movie that theoretically takes place in a time before shotguns were invented.
Renner: I had a random shotgun. They have this sort of modern flair to them. It’s also a fantasy movie where we’re shooting witches. Why not? People have a shotgun. But also, it’s made to look like what our surroundings are. There’s something quite queer and lovely about them. Then we had these little weird, quirky handguns.
Arterton: You had that great knuckle duster.
Renner: Oh yeah, like the brass-knuckle thing. That was all sorts of fun stuff, wasn’t it?
What can you say about the crossbow?
Arterton: I have a double-action crossbow, which is pretty slick.
Renner: Yeah, it’s pretty cool.
Arterton: It was really heavy, actually. I have to run around with it and do all these things with it, but also, it’s very, very fast shooting. It’s like a gun and a crossbow combined, but it looks really, really cool. It kills things efficiently.
What was did the candy house look like on the set?
Arterton: It’s so iconic, isn’t it? The candy house. Actually, that’s what I think of when I think of “Hansel & Gretel.” The day when I saw the exterior set of that in the forest, I took a photograph of it because it’s so iconic.
Renner: I had to tear a little piece to see if it was candy. I just had to check.
Arterton: It was Styrofoam.
Renner: Yeah. Why couldn’t it be cotton candy?
What did you think about the costumes you had to wear for “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”?
Renner: They did a wonderful job to create a look for this movie. That was one of the first things I was really attracted to. The designers behind it were tremendous. It wasn’t easy to make something that looks cool and very functional at the same time. Not an easy task. We would get very, very fluid and move around and get beat up and roll around and have to do a lot of strange things, especially when you’re wearing tight leather. They did a wonderful, wonderful job.
Arterton: I thought the costumes were fantastic. Lots of leather, tight leather, for me. There were a couple of split-pants situations.
Renner: I remember that! That was awesome!
Arterton: Oh dear! [She laughs.]
What was like working with “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” director Tommy Wirkola?
Renner: It was a lot of fun. Collaborative.
Arterton: “Collaborative” is a great word. He’s got this sick mind, actually, in terms of violence and story and comedy. All of his previous movies were unique in their tone, and he brings that into this [movie]. And he’s a great collaborator. Even though he wrote it, he wanted to have our input, and so it became a richer experience. He was really strong in his ideas of what he wanted in this film. We had a lot of not-so-much CGI. He was like, “No, no, no. I want this animatronic.” It was great for us.
Can you talk about the makeup used to create the witches?
Arterton: Zoe’s witch.
Renner: She’s a gnarly one. A walking wart.
Arterton: And you know that she stank … She’s absolutely repulsive.
Renner: The makeup was all practical. So the day we had in the stone circle with the hundreds of witches. And then they’re flying off on a wire, so it’s literally all these witches flying around.
Arterton: It’s so great.
Renner: I don’t know if there’s a favorite one. They’re all wonderfully creepy and disgusting in their own right.
What’s you favorite scene in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”?
Arterton: I love the scene in the bar with Thomas Mann’s character Ben, the fanboy. You get to see a bit of our relationship, their natural kind of “chilled” relationship. And I love the scene where we reunited after all the trauma. It’s the relationship of those two. And then you’ve got the action scenes, which are just fun and in-your-face.
What can audiences expect when they see “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”?
Renner: You can grab some popcorn and some soda and sit down and go on a great ride. That’s what I think.
Arterton: Yeah, and because it is very violent. It’s so violent that it’s funny as well. I think that violence and comedy aspect of it, that balance is really fun.
Interview with Famke Janssen
What appealed to you the most about “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”?
I grew up with the Brothers Grimm stories. They were very much part of the European upbringing in general. I grew up in Holland. All the Brothers Grimm stories we were told by our parents. We read the stories ourselves.
So when this [“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”] script was first sent to me, I thought, “That’s clever.” I know that over the years, we’ve been very in vogue with these classic fairy tale stories told in different kinds of ways, but not quite in this way, where we see Hansel and Gretel as grown-ups and now taking life’s matters into their own hands and hunting down the witches who were responsible for the demise of their parents.
And then I thought about it, and I thought, “At the time these stories were already really dark, but this time around, it’s really, in the end, even though it’s clever to think about it, it sort of seemed very fitting to make it an R-rated film that’s dark and not told for children.” Ultimately, these stories were really very scary for kids to begin with. And them doing it in 3-D is this whole new element. It’s a modern version of [the fairly tale], but it sort of makes sense.
How would you describe Muriel?
Muriel runs this whole [coven] of very interesting witches — interesting in the best sense of the word, in variations that we’ve never seen before. We’re all very familiar with the classic witch with the long nose and the hair sticking out of her chin, and the broomstick, but they’ve really outdone themselves, in terms of how all the witches are portrayed, the prosthetic makeup, the things that they’ve done. It’s just a spectacular feast for the eyes to look at. I [as Muriel] run this whole bunch of witches, and I’m after Gemma’s character’s heart.
What did you think of how Muriel looked with all the witch makeup?
Muriel is not that pretty on the eye to look at. [She laughs.] It was a three-hour process every day to go all the way with the prosthetic makeup and the contact lenses and all that in creating this witch monster that I turned into. I’d never done that before, so it was a really interesting challenge and a way of looking at acting and coming up with playing a character when you can’t rely on the general acting muscles that you’ve learned to rely on and stuff.
Can you talk about what Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton brought to their roles as Hansel and Gretel?
The movie makes or breaks with the performance of these two people. Jeremy and Gemma are so perfectly cast for this. They have a really great rapport. It’s a great sibling story of sticking together and having each other’s back and how far you’re willing to go to protect your family member and all that kind of stuff. So that part of is very beautiful and kind of great, set in this dark, twisted setting.
What was it like working with “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” director Tommy Wirkola?
I teased him, “What happened to you in Norway? What have they done to you?” I met his parents, and they’re perfectly normal, but he’s got a really twisted mind. But he’s clever. Really, I have to give him kudos for this amazing job that he did.
He’s young, and it was a very big undertaking. He gave it a new, fresh twist. I’m very excited for him — really, really excited. He’s very, very talented.
How did you handle the fight scenes in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”?
On a good day, doing fight sequences is a challenging thing, because we’re human. We make errors and mistakes. Actors, we all get carried away in the moment or whatever, but now add to that: prosthetic makeup, contact lenses through which I couldn’t see, a costume that was very restrictive and hard to move in. So those were really the big challenges for me in the film: staying upright, not falling over, trying to keep my own in these fight sequences with people like Jeremy who are as good as a stunt man.
What did you think of the sets and costumes in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”?
From what I remember seeing (and it wasn’t much through those contact lenses), everything looked really good. The sets are incredible. The costumes are fantastic. We had a great costume designer: Marlene [Stewart]. It’s a classic tale. And everybody is familiar with that classic tale, but I like all the things that they did to keep it classic yet modern and all of the things they came up with to make it its own thing.
What can audiences expect when they see “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”?
You just go in there and leave your life alone for an hour-and-a-half movie and just enjoy. That’s what it is: entertainment at its best.
For more info: "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" website