Director Robin Hardy is the man behind one of the most influential horror films of all time, The Wicker Man. At 82 years old, Hardy has only directed three features - The Wicker Man being the first. He is so busy writing novels, doing theater, painting, and even designing theme parks that he just can't devote himself to film full-time. Luckily for film lovers, he has decided to return to the screen with his newest film, The Wicker Tree. Yes, it is a "spiritual sequel" to Man - neither a sequel nor a remake, but a way to reinvent the genre that had been torn apart by the 2006 remake. I spoke to the gentlemanly Hardy about Tree, Man, religion, and politics.
This was your first feature in decades. Why was now the right time for you to come back?
I do a lot of other things. I was originally trained as an artist in Paris, and I didn't really start in films until quite a bit later. I've also written five novels and done some journalism and theater, and have eight children. I made a movie ten years ago and enjoyed it, but I couldn't possibly spend my life haunting Hollywood - or anywhere else - looking for money for scripts. It's just something I don't want to do. But having written this book, Cowboys for Christ, my latest novel, and feeling that it had movie potential, I was approached by a number of producers interested in doing it. Finally, Peter Snell, the producer who I worked with on The Wicker Man came out of the woodwork and we decided to do it together.
In addition to that, they did the remake of The Wicker Man [in 2006] and it amazed me. They threw away all the good things about The Wicker Man and left just the plot. The plot is fine, but there is nothing extraordinary about it. The music, the songs, the eroticism, the jokes - all that they threw away. They were left with not very much. In effect, I was persuaded by the idea of recreating the genre we originally created for The Wicker Man, and using similar - but not the same - subject matter.
How would you describe the difference between The Wicker Man and The Wicker Tree?
As far as the genre is concerned, I hope they are quite alike. That was the idea. The difference, I suppose, is that it has a very different story. [The Wicker Tree] involves young American fundamentalists, who are very much in the news today, and the silver [purity] ring thing. I, as a European who spent half his life in America, was always interested in doing these trans-Atlantic things, where Americans are amazed at what we do in Europe and we are amazed at what you do in America. My two Americans are not jarringly fundamentalist - I don't think - but they just believe it as a matter of rote. These two young people are totally innocent, and they come over to a country that is strange to them.
You bring a lot of religion into your films. Are you a religious person?
No, I'm not. I'm agnostic, but I am very interested in comparative religions. In the 1960s I was asked to produce an American television series called The Light Under My Feet. Every week, they looked at a different American-based religion. One week you have the Lutherans, one week you have the Presbyterians, one week you have the Baptists, and so on. They would [give their version] of what they thought was religiously important at the moment. I got very conscious of the sameness of their attitudes and their beliefs. It has always been of great interest to me. I got the job because people knew that I was agnostic. That was at a time when then-Vice President Nixon said, "I don't care what religion people have, as long as they have a religion." That was a very foreign concept to me, but obviously one that prevailed then as it does now. Look what is going on in the Carolinas [we spoke just before the Republican primaries - ed.] I tried to convey some of that in the film. The film isn't all that much about religion, except for in the sense that it is a religious trap. The hymn that they teach the local people, about the blood and the lamb, the Pagans turn that right around and use it as real blood and a real lamb. Those are just little intellectual games that are fun to play in a film.
Have you had any trouble from religious groups?
No. I think we are pretty fair. The Americans are two nice young people, and what they believe is what they believe. We may or may not think they are mistaken, but that is us, not them. The Pagan believers we know have been led astray by this wicked Lachlan Morrison. He is obviously a very charismatic leader of his community. We know there are people like that. Do you remember Jim Jones and that wild community he led, and they all had Kool-Aid as a sort of "communion wine" or something.... Morrison is rather a classier version of Jones. He's only sacrificing a couple of people, not the whole of his community.
Can you talk about casting newcomer Brittania Nicol as the Christian pop star who goes on a mission trip to Scotland?
Brittania is a remarkable young woman. Her father is British and he emigrated to the United States. I imagine her mother is American, but I don't know for sure. So she was partly raised in Britain and partly raised in the United States. My casting director found her in Los Angeles doing one of those "try-out" plays she wrote herself and starred in. They were very impressed with her, but they didn't know if she could sing or not. If she couldn't, we would have to dub her, as we did with Brit Ecklund in The Wicker Man. Anyway, she came to London and said she had not voice training, but "I suppose I can sing as well as anyone else can." She was quite honest about it. So I sent her to my composer in Glasgow, and he called me a few days later and said, "She has a completely untrained voice and I can do anything with it." And he did! She sings anthems, she sings bluegrass.... she sings for real, in her own voice.
What did you think of Honeysuckle Weeks?
I liked her. She was adorable! And I love her name.
Her name is great, isn't it? She is a wonderful horsewoman - she really is. She rode better than any of the men.
Did you cast her primarily because of her horse-riding skills?
No, she's a television star in Britian. She is the female lead in a well-known series, Foyle's War. It's about a detective in the second World War, played by Michael Kitchen. She plays his number two as it were. She is a complete goody two-shoes in that, so she loved playing the bad girl [in The Wicker Tree].
Christopher Lee - who starred in The Wicker Man - had a small role in this film. Did you write that specifically for him, just to get him back?
Yes. He was originally going to play the role of Morrison, but he had an accident in Mexico while working on a film, and he was too badly injured to do the role. I had plans for him on a horse and everything. I wanted him in the film, and he wanted to be in the film, so I wrote that little piece for him to play.
You have such a varied career - what is coming up for you?
I'm starting prep on a new film called The Law of the Gods. It's the third film in the trilogy. The gods get their comeuppance. It is set in Shetland, the northern most isle in the British Isles. They are really Scandinavians; they aren't really Scottish [as they are in the Wicker films]. They were invaded by the Vikings and the Vikings stayed and now they have all these marvelous pagan ceremonies which are part of the great north sagas. I'm actually going up on January 31st to film one of the sequences in the film, but we aren't shooting the rest of it until the summer, when they launch a great big Viking longboat on fire into the sea as an offering. It's an amazing scene.
Did you write that one as well?