Whatever happened to Tarsem Singh? The filmmaker behind countless adverts and music videos made an impression with his bonkers 2000 movie debut The Cell, and then vanished without trace. In fact, the Indian-born director (having shortened his ‘screen name’ to the Prince-like monicker of Tarsem) has spent the intervening time crafting an equally off-beat follow-up.
“When you tell a story to someone,” explains Tarsem, “The tale you tell them, the tale they imagine in their own head, and the tale they’ll remember in twenty years time are three completely different things. That’s what I wanted to explore, and it’s taken me over seventeen years of preparation to get there!”
The end result is The Fall, a bizarre blend of period drama and barmy fantasy that plays like The Princess Bride on very weird drugs. Starring Pushing Daisies’ Lee Pace, it’s the story of a paralysed stuntman in hospital, whose friendship with a very young girl (Catinca Untaru) takes some dark turns thanks to the epic fable he invents for her.
Crammed full of eye-popping imagery, it’s a lush, ambitious story that took nearly five years to shoot across twenty four countries. “For the fantasy sequences, I’d use adverts I was working on to get to particular locations. I’d look for an ad that would take me where I wanted, and once the ad was finished, we’d get the actors over and shoot for just two or three days at a time.”
As if this wasn’t hard enough, try letting a six-year-old girl shape your film’s storyline, or getting your lead actor to pretend to be genuinely disabled. “When I found Catinca, I knew she had something magical– but she’d misunderstood what the casting director told her, and thought she’d be making a documentary with an actual disabled guy! That was when I realised the best way of getting a performance from her would be to maintain that reality.”
“Lee was fantastic, and kept it up for the entire time. He was a complete unknown then, so nobody on the crew knew he could walk. When everybody found out, some were really angry, but it wasn’t a ‘method’ thing. It was all for Catinca, because her reactions would have been totally different. The scenes between them are very improvisational – she really shaped how the film developed, and sent us in directions we’d never have gone otherwise.”
While it’s been a rewarding process, it’s not one Tarsem is in any hurry to repeat. “This was a one-off situation, and crazy in lots of ways – but I had to get this film out of my head. It’s like when you’re falling in love with somebody that’s got a problem – you see the train wreck that’s coming, but you can’t stop yourself.”