In August 2019, Disney will turn to a prodigal young Irish criminal to steal your heart and some of your hard-earned income with the release of Artemis Fowl, the long-simmering feature-film adaptation of Irish author Eoin Colfer's eponymous sci-fi/fantasy novels. The series follows the adventures of Artemis Fowl II, a 12-year-old boy genius turned criminal mastermind who seeks to restore his family's fortune and gets caught up in a hidden world of fairies, goblins, trolls, and all manner of magic and monsters. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Artemis Fowl will adapt the 2001 debut novel of the series.
Here's the official synopsis:
Disney's Artemis Fowl, based on the beloved book by Eoin Colfer, is a fantastical, spellbinding adventure that follows the journey of 12-year-old genius Artemis Fowl, a descendant of a long line of criminal masterminds, as he seeks to find his father who has mysteriously disappeared. With the help of his loyal protector Butler, Artemis sets out to find him, and in doing so uncovers an ancient, underground civilization: the amazingly advanced world of fairies. Deducing that his father's disappearance is somehow connected to the secretive, reclusive fairy world, cunning Artemis concocts a dangerous plan -- so dangerous that he ultimately finds himself in a perilous war of wits with the all-powerful fairies.
Last April, Nerdist traveled to the set of Artemis Fowl at Longcross Film Studios where we spent a rainy afternoon exploring the inner workings of Haven City, the sprawling Fowl Manor, and workshops where teams of hardworking and incredibly skilled artisans toil to bring Eoin Colfer's fan-favorite novel to life. While in the study of Fowl Manor, we caught up with director Kenneth Branagh who took a break from filming a scene where Artemis (Ferdia Shaw), his trusty bodyguard Butler (Nonso Anozie), and the kleptomaniacal dwarf Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) found themselves dealing with a massive, monstrous intrusion: a troll. In between takes, Branagh stopped by to chat with Nerdist and other members of the press about the hotly anticipated new film.
Thor prepared him to tackle Artemis Fowl
No, Artemis doesn't wield a giant hammer to beat his enemies into a pulp or command the power of lightning, but Branagh's experience directing 2011's Thor came in handy when trying to capture the tone of Colfer's books. "I've got some experience making the film Thor where a very contemporary feeling -- a heightened world of science -- is right next-door to a world of magic," Branagh said. "And so the way those two things interrelate has always been very fascinating to me. 'Cause it means you can be poetic. It means you can be a size that does invite an audience to go to the movies to watch it on a big screen with a lot of other people because somehow the subject matter expands away from the norm. And the combination of tones in not just the worlds and the looks and the textures and all different kinds of visual techniques you might use, but just totally, very funny, often very very funny. And as I always found myself drawn to balance between that and the emotional content, which we've chosen to really try and emphasize in the books."
They auditioned 1,200 actors to find the perfect Artemis
Just as Rome wasn't built in a day, the role of Artemis Fowl wasn't cast overnight. It was an arduous process that saw Disney's talent scouts and casting directors conducting a worldwide search to find the perfect actor. "We auditioned approximately 1,200 boys. Anybody in Ireland who applied, and people from all over the world -- absolutely from all over the world," Branagh explained. "A tough one was people from other cultural backgrounds doing an Irish accent. It's tougher to [imitate because] there's so many of them. There are, in every nation, always a trillion accents; there isn't a single one." The part ultimately went to Ferdia Shaw, who hails from Kilkenny, so see if you can discern all the different brogues when the movie finally hits the big screen.
Artemis Fowl is a criminal you can root for
While antiheroes are all the rage these days, making you root for an out-and-out criminal can be a challenging prospect. So how did Branagh go about trying to make sure that Artemis comes off as likable despite operating in a morally gray world of crime? "We can try to find a center in the spirit of the book," Branagh said. "We, I think, offer up a journey from a relative normality. We put Artemis in a normal school, we see him with other people. We try to suggest that this beautiful, crazy, bonkers house is one full of imagination from [his family] who added to it over century over century, but added imagination and invention. [It is] less about the acquisition of goods and lands and things and more about looking out into the world of magic and the cosmos and astronomy."
"[T]his kid... hopefully, invites our moviegoers to want to come in here and be here with him and be in a place that is crazy and warm but not exclusive." Branagh continued, "So to that extent, he may be, if not sympathetic, recognizable a little more to us in... this first movie, if it is a first movie. Definitely if it isn't, ... [it] would be an origin story. In the case of the latter, hopefully, [it] would be a satisfying account of how a guy who does not know about magic, or in this case, the workings of his father, the secret business practices of his father, and has to go through a story that puts to him the idea of, 'Does he think being villainous is good or does he think being a criminal is good? Does he start liking fairy gold? Does he like the power that's acquired when you steal a neutrino handgun from Holly Short? Will you outface Commander Root or do all these sort of grown up things that the story is forcing him to embrace?'"
Artemis Fowl is kind of like Michael Corleone
When you're telling a story about a criminal mastermind in the making, why not look to the best for inspiration? That's precisely what Branagh did when making the film, citing Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 classic The Godfather as model for how he approached the character of Artemis. "So, to be honest, a story that -- please don't take that too literally -- but a story's shape that I find interesting is when you consider this from the angle of the masters, the great classic, is The Godfather," Branagh continued. "Michael Corleone, as you may recall at the beginning of the first film, although [he comes from a] family he knows to be involved in business, he's somebody who's been in the services. He's not entirely aware of exactly what dad does. And I think Artemis has that, but by the end of the picture he has to face up to: Well, should I do some of this as well? Do I believe [in what I'm doing] here? Am I behind it? We're in a world that offers a different kind of fun, we hope, and enjoyment and adventure and taste, as well."
Judi Dench's role won't diminish Holly's storyline
Those who read the book know that Commander Holly Short, the fairy LEPRecon officer who gets kidnapped by Artemis, made waves among her peers as the first female officer in the Lower Elements Police force. Played by Lara McDonnell, Holly is integral to the movie adaptation too, but she is no longer the sole female captain of the LEPRecon force. The role of Commander Root has been genderswapped and is now being played by the legendary Dame Judi Dench, which is great news for audiences at home, but gave some book readers pause as it seems to undermine an important aspect of Holly's narrative from the books.
However, Branagh doesn't see this creative decision as something that will hinder one's enjoyment of the film or Holly's character development. "Well, I think, you can imagine with Judi Dench we have a powerful female mentor discussing other ways in which Holly is an advancement and her particular position in the LEPRecon could be distinct, and powerful, and effective," Branagh said. "Has a different kind of spin, so I'd say we retain the very strong interest in Holly's independence and also the isolation that the story puts her under pressure, puts under with legend about her so-called notorious possible father. So we don't make life any simpler for her in terms of progress, there are plenty of obstacles, systemic and sometimes male, that get in her way. And I think that occurs to some extent for the character of Commander Root as well, so I think we try and be, we try and inject with lightness and fun a bit of realpolitik into that, so I think the world will get reflected, I think you'll find in the way she goes through the story."
Kenneth Branagh just might make a cameo appearance
Given that Branagh is an esteemed actor in his own right, we couldn't help but wonder if he would be appearing in the film too, possibly in a cameo role. "There are moves for this to happen by other people, and I say this literally happened yesterday, secretly a pair of fairy ears were left on my desk," Branagh revealed. "That being said, that was an indication that there's some character that [hair and makeup designer] Carol Hemming has dreamed up." Stay tuned for more updates from our time on the set as we get closer to the film's release next year!
Artemis Fowl hits theaters on August 9, 2019.