The answer: Where was it filmed? But did you know that a 2009 earthquake wiped out many of the locations filmmakers had in mind?
We’ll tackle that one, and some other burning questions such as who were all those hot women in the movie, and where did they come from? Does Castel del Monte really exist, and if so, where? And, of course, the important couture questions like what suit was Mr. Clooney wearing, what sunglasses did he wear, and what watch was that on his wrist? For the answers, read on:
1. That was not Dalarna, Sweden, in the five-minute opening sequence. It was actually a region called Jamtland in Sweden. The Swedes call it their equivalent of Vail, Colorado. The ferry shot was in Ostersund, which is where the cast and crew stayed whilst filming in January 2010. That opening sequence was, in fact, the last filming done for the movie. Rural Dalarna would seem more plausible for a hit man hoping to drop off the grid. Jamtland has better scenery, fewer filming restrictions and it also had better snow that winter.
2. What about that earthquake? Filming was to have begun in the second half of 2009 in the Italian the central Italian region of Abruzzo, and in particular its capital city, L’Aquila. This was the implied setting in A Very Private Gentleman, the novel by Martin Booth which had provided the inspiration for The American. Unfortunately, L’Aquila and much of surrounding Abruzzo was leveled by an earthquake on April 6, 2009. What did filmmakers do?
They scouted the area and found isolated Castel del Monte and Castelvecchio Calvisio (where the phone booth scenes were) could still be used. About 20 miles south, they found Sulmona was largely undamaged by the earthquake. The stark, haunting scenery used to great advantage by the filmmakers as Mr. Clooney’s Jack (or is it Edward?) motors around is the Parco Nazionale dell’Alta Murgia.
Castel del Monte, despite its charms, is not a popular tourist attraction – probably because it is so remote; it is not on the road to anyplace else, really. It is at the end of the road. (To find that sinewy, narrow road with all the hairpin turns is just southeast of town). Except for a couple of months each summer, when Romans escape the heat of the city (about 60 milles west) for the hill towns like Castel del Monte, the place is almost deserted. The filmmakers showed up last fall, after the tourists had left.
3. Also after the tourists left, and the cameras stopped rolling, the filmmakers and George Clooney continue to spearhead efforts with various relief agencies and the Italian government to help the quake-devastated area (more than 300 dead, 65,000 homeless, 11,000 buildings damaged or destroyed) get back on its feet.
They visited the areas around L’Aquila many times. They hosted events and held a benefit screening of the movie (excellent article here). Mr. Clooney received an honorary award earlier in 2010 from the city of Sulmona.
On Aug. 29, 2010, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences gave Mr. Clooney the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award during the Emmy Awards telecast for his continuing work on behalf of many worthy causes, including Abruzzo (and Haiti) earthquake relief. It is only the fourth time the award has been given since it was begun in 2002. Past winners have been Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby and the late Danny Thomas. Mr. Hope, a tireless trouper at USO shows worldwide, died in 2003.
4. Was there enough butterfly symbolism for you in this movie? In the book upon which the movie is loosely based, the main character paints butterflies. Abruzzo is an area known for its many butterfly species. Still, Mr. Clooney’s Jack, his guise altered to “photographer” for the movie, reads himself to sleep with butterfly spotter’s guides. He builds weapons to the music of the opera, “Madame Butterfly”. The butterfly tattoo on Mr. Clooney’s back is meant to signify his metamorphosis from a caterpillar – a hardened killer – to a creature yearning to be free and fly away. Butterflies, however, are short-lived and, as he explains to Matilde in reference to a particular butterfly that hands on her arm, about to be “extinct”.
5. So, who are those lusciously photographed beauties in the film? Irina Bjorklund, 38, is from Stockholm but has had a bounteous two-decade career playing sexpots in various Finnish television and film roles; her best-known (and virtually only) Hollywood movie? The low-budget horror flick, “The Dummy” in 2000. Thekla Reuten, 36, is best-known in English-language cinema for her role in the dark comedy “In Bruges” in 2006, and an episode of “Lost” in 2008; she’s well-known to director Anton Corbijn since each is from The Netherlands. Didn’t her denouement remind anyone else of the the fate of the femme fatale in 1963’s Mickey Spillane mystery, “The Girl Hunters“? Scene-stealing Violante Placido, 35, is from Rome and has been in mostly Italian productions prior to this movie; an accomplished equestrian, she also sings under the pseudonym, Viola.
All three women owe a debt of gratitude to cinematographer Martin Ruhe for his star-making depictions of each.
6. In response to questions about whether her steamy sex scene with Mr. Clooney was simulated or real – as has been speculated – Ms. Placido told People magazine, “We had to find a way to make it natural and let your body speak somehow. We were very open to one another to try and make it work. We just said, ‘Let’s trust each other,’ and we did. I felt like we had to let ourselves go.
“It had to look real; it is the turning point for the two characters.”
7. Speaking of wardrobes, or lack thereof, what was Mr. Clooney wearing in the movie’s most memorable scenes? Remarkably little of note, says the movie’s costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb. She says Mr. Clooney wanted to low-key it through most of the feature, and had few, if any, specific requests. Yes, Omega watches, and Persol 2883 sunglasses (now discontinued), for sure. There was special symbolism around the finely tailored Ermenegildo Zegna wool suit that he wore in the final scenes; such a suit, says Ms. Larlarb would have been appropriate attire for the festival he was attending. It is also reminiscent of the fine garb worn by John Wayne in the climactic final scenes of “The Shootist” (1976).
8. Watch me: Yes, that was an Omega Speedmaster Pro chronograph with a black leather band that Mr. Clooney is wearing in this film. (For an extreme closeup, someone has made a five-minute video about it.) It lists for about $3,850. Mr. Clooney is a paid spokesperson for Omega, and has worn Omega watches in several films, including “Up in the Air”, “Three Kings”, and “Michael Clayton” to name but a few. The Speedmaster is also known as the “Moon watch” because it was worn by astronauts, and it was worn to the moon by Buzz Aldrin and Alan Sheppard. A 50th anniversary edition version came out in 2008. For bonus points, what was the rectangular watch worn by Thekla Reuten? (Answer at end of story.)
Hint: It was not an Omega.
9. What, besides “The American”, is on Anton Corbijn’s film resume? Surprisingly little. To the extent audiences may know him at all, he is best known for his 2007 film, “Control“, the biography of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, whose troubled life ended in suicide at age 23 in 1980, on the eve of what was to have been their first American tour.
Mr. Corbijn has written a book, Inside the American, on sale Sept. 1, which is something of a journal he kept while making the movie.
10. Finally, the dark blue beater that Mr. Clooney drives throughout the movie is a late 1980s FIAT sedan. Hard to tell one year from another, from that forgettable era of FIATs. Mr. Clooney, by the way, is a long-time spokesman for FIAT automobiles, although it is doubtful he ever hawked that particular model. There’s a bit of irony here – most likely unintentional – in that the FIAT in the movie is exactly the type of car Mr. Clooney wouldn’t be caught dead in.
[Answer to trivia question: Thekla Reuten is wearing a Casio LTP1165-A1C black casual ladies watch, with metal band and black dial. Price: About 20 bucks.]
September 4, 2010