This afternoon, Werner Herzog premiered his latest drama “Queen of the Desert” in competition at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival. The film stars Nicole Kidman as the titular heroine, Gertrude Bell, who has gone down in history as the “female Lawrence of Arabia” for playing a key role in setting the course for the new political order in the Middle East around 1920.
Nicole Kidman loved the opportunity to shoot on location in the desert.
“He’s not a green screen sort of guy,” Kidman said of Herzog. “The beauty of being in that landscape – I have a huge love for the desert – really helps to infiltrate the relationship [between her and Franco’s characters]. One of my favorite sequences of the movie is when we run off into the desert and we get to kiss in this vast landscape. That’s exquisite as an actress, doing that in the actual place that we’re meant to be.”
Kidman is all about stepping outside of her comfort zones at this point in her career.
“I’m in a place in my life where I’m looking to go to different countries always and push out of my comfort zone. I don’t want to be sitting at home and driving to the studio to make a movie. So when Werner asked if I would I go to Morocco and live in the desert with him, I said, ‘Can I bring my children?’ He said, ‘Yes, there will be a tent for your children.’ And so that’s what we did.”
“For me not seeing anything but just the horizon and being told I had to get on camel right after getting off the plane, is right up my alley.”
Herzog is an expert at depicting the “inner landscape.”
“Here the desert is also an inner landscape,” he said when talking about shooting in the Moroccan desert. “We filmed it in a way that it becomes an inner landscape, something that is inside of her heart and becomes part of her character. That’s a transformation I know how to do and that’s what I get paid for.”
Kidman asked for an additional scene from Herzog.
Kidman “begged” that Herzog include a scene of her character bathing in the desert. He happily obliged and the scene made it into the film.
Herzog likes to speak on behalf of Kidman.
When asked an unclear question about relating Gertrude Bell to Martha Gellhorn, whom she played in the HBO movie “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” Herzog interjected after a brief pause from Kidman. “Nicole seems to have a hard time to make the comparison,” Herzog said to a lot of laughs. “I can see, as a director, that the roles challenge her for doing a character of great depth and great sensitivity under pressures a normal movie actress does have to endure. Meaning, every single scene in the film she has to carry. We are out in the desert, in an environment that’s completely new to all of us. It’s an extraordinary achievement.”
Herzog says the film contains the “most erotic scene” he’s ever shot.
It involves Franco’s character showing Gertrude Bell a card trick. “It’s a scene of pure erotism,” Herzog said.
Kidman got snapped at by a vulture on set.
“It was scripted that there would be a vulture,” Franco said of the first scene he shot with Kidman, during which their two characters climb up an abandoned tower only to be greeted by a vulture. “I just assumed that there’d be animal wranglers and this would be a trained vulture. I didn’t know they had pulled the vulture off the side of the road right before we shot. It actually snapped at Nicole one time. I just thought, ‘Yeah, that’s just the trained vulture doing its thing.’ It was on a leash, so maybe it couldn’t have reached Nicole. But it got pretty darn close.”
Herzog wants to make more movies with female protagonists.
“Queen of the Desert” marks the director’s first film to feature a female lead character. “I think I should have done films about female protagonists much earlier in my life,” he said when presented with this fact. “I always thought I was a director for men. I’m glad that finally this discovery came to me. I should have done films about female characters from much earlier on. I’m glad it happened and I should continue.”
Damian Lewis enjoyed making out with Kidman.
“I would just like to say that I had a long kissing scene with Nicole that got cut,” Lewis said near the end of the conference. “I hope that wasn’t because I’m a not a good kisser. But I enjoyed filming it. [Cutting it] was the right way to convey their love, their longing. It was too modern to have two people chewing each others’ faces off.”