Gary Oldman and Abbie Cornish on Getting Into Character For ‘RoboCop’
Joel Kinnaman may be the star of the new RoboCop remake, but there’s some heavyweight talent backing him up: Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Haley and Jay Baruchel, among others, form an enormously talented ensemble that gives his transformation scientific, political and emotional dimension.
In diector Jose Padilha’s reimagining of the futuristic law enforcer, Cornish plays Alex Murphy’s wife, who first agrees to let Omnicorp transform her husband into a cyborg, and then struggles to deal with the changes in his personality as a result of his new programming. Oldman, meanwhile, provides that programming as Dr. Norton, the scientist whose moral compass is thrown out of whack when his scientific ambitions overwhelm his compassion for his test subject. Spinoff Online joined other members of the press at the recent Los Angeles press day for RoboCop, where Cornish and Oldman talked about their roles, and about the challenges of remaking a film that’s become a classic.
This film has a special place in pop culture and in cinema history. What were your first thoughts when you first heard about it?
Abbie Cornish: RoboCop for me was a very nostalgic film from my childhood. I grew up with brothers, so we had it on VHS and we watched that VHS until it shredded itself and it couldn’t be watched any more. So when I heard that RoboCop was being remade, I instantly was interested. And then I heard that José Padilha was directing it. I had a José Padilha movie marathon night where I watched Elite Squad 1, Elite Squad 2 and Bus 174 — it was an amazing night. I thought this is an incredibly talented director who it would be an honor to work with. And then I heard that Gary Oldman, who I’ve respected and admired forever, Michael Keaton and then I heard that Joel Kinnaman is playing RoboCop, and I thought that was great casting, and Samuel L. Jackson. To be honest, this film for me is the most fun I’ve ever had on a film, and I’ve learned the most. I was really lucky in regards to the fact that I had time off, because I sort of had to fly back and forth. There was moments on set where I’d wrap, and rather than go back to the hotel I would sit and stay on set. José was really lovely letting me sit behind him, and I learned a lot watching him direct. And Gary and Michael Keaton were lovely. They let me hang around and watch then do a scene together too. To me it was a massive learning curve and it was really enjoyable and I think José has made an incredible film with RoboCop. It’s a great remake. I think it holds its own.
Mr. Oldman, your character Norton is reminiscent of Dr. Frankenstein, but with a conscience. How did you get into that character, and did you think of him or any other kind of mad scientist-type while you were preparing for the role?
Gary Oldman: Yeah, [he] is sort of a Frankenstein sort of monster and it’s an unusual relationship because it’s a sort of patient-doctor and the sort of monster-scientist – that’s like a father-son relationship. They’re friends and it sort of becomes like a father-son. I think that’s maybe, possibly, was a seed of the idea there in the original, because it is a very Frankenstein sort of man tinkering around in God’s toolshed. It has that. But in terms of character, it was a terrific script to start with, and then we had the luxury of rehearsal, because Jose wanted rehearsal, which is unheard of really in moviemaking. And so we, over two weeks, I think made the script better. But character is really, if it’s good writing, it’s on the page, all of the clues to the character. I often think that if you’re breaking a sweat, if you’re working too hard for something, that’s always a problem. If you’re trying to make the writing work like a map, there’s all the signs in the material for finding, it’s that old Stella Adler thing about reading out, not reading in. I didn’t bring my own baggage to it. You use your imagination and what is there on the page. So I really didn’t look outside of the script very much. As far as these bionic engineers and neurosurgeons, I Googled – and the great thing about Google is you type in “neurosurgery” and somehow you end up with Peter Sellers or you’re watching Frank Sinatra. Those searches. But Google is a great resource.
One of the things I really enjoyed was how the role of Clara Murphy was expanded from the original. Could you speak a little bit about your role and how it evolved from the original film?
Cornish: Originally when the film was pitched to me, there actually wasn’t a shooting script, so I took the role without even reading the script. It was pitched to me in that it was probably going to be around four to five scenes. I sent in an audition tape and Skyped with José and got the role and literally jumped up and down and around the house, I called Mom and Dad, all my brothers and sisters. It was a very exciting moment for me to be cast in this role. But what was lovely was as the film developed, Clara Murphy developed as well, and the family dynamic, the family relationship became an important element. I think for José, he felt that it was important to surround Alex Murphy with a home, with a family, with a loving wife and a beautiful son. For that heart and soul and that drive and passion to not only be a journey about revenge, but also because of his heart and his soul and his pulse and the thing that drives us all – love. I kind of got really lucky in regards to the fact that the role grew as the project did.
RoboCop is in theaters now.