It’s not been 1300 years since we last talked with Douglas Gresham. Neither was it at a railway station, with trunks and playboxes piled around… But it’s always a pleasure to share his fine company and dive with him into the world of Narnia.
Like a benevolent teacher, or a mentor such as Doctor Cornelius, C.S. Lewis’ stepson and co-producer of the Narnia saga kindly accepted, just a few hours before the new film’s premiere in New York, to enlighten us about the making and the meaning of both the Prince Caspian book and movie with his usual insight, acting as our guide into this darker, and at the same time even more exciting, universe.
Beware, “everything you know is about to change forever”…
Animated Views: Did you talk with C.S. Lewis [right, along with Douglas Gresham’s mother] about Prince Caspian?
Douglas Gresham: I don’t remember ever discussing the book in any great detail, but the book is all about the very important return to true faith, honesty, justice, and all the great qualities which such things carry with them after a long time of corruption (in this case 1300 years of it) for both the land of Narnia and indeed for the characters concerned. Such a return as most of us have to make in our own lives at some time or another. It also points out strongly that no matter how far we have strayed, there is always just one way back and we have to find it, recognise it and use it.
AV: What did you feel when you read Prince Caspian for the first time? And then watching the movie for the first time?
DG: I was very young when I first read Prince Caspian, and don’t really remember much more than being delighted with the adventure. Seeing the movie for the first time however was a deeply moving and at the same time exciting experience: I saw the second installment of my almost life-long dream coming true in a way that exceeded even my own expectations.
AV: As a co-producer of the movie, at what stages of the production do you really get involved?
DG: As a co-producer my role is a bit unusual in the film world – the title doesn’t really cover what I do. I am involved in just about all the facets of the movie from its very inception. I am one of several production voices in the scripting, casting, location, and production of the movie itself and also in the making of the various ancillaries to the movie, such as video-games and merchandise of all kinds. I am one of the voices concerned with the marketing and publicity for the movie and so on and so forth.
AV: How did you take part in each of these stages, what was your role?
DG: I suppose I could be described as the Narnia Nuisance more than anything else! My role is to make sure that everything in Narnia is really Narnian, and to constantly try to raise the quality of everything we do to the highest possible level, and also to ensure that each film contains and clearly portrays the essential and underlying meanings of the books.
AV: What is your best memory of this experience?
DG: I don’t really have a “Best Memory”, my mind simply doesn’t compartmentalise things in that way. The whole experience of making the movies has been a wonderful and continuous part of the Great Dance that I was put on this world to take part in.
AV: How did you get the idea of appearing in the Prince Caspian movie as a cameo?
DG: It’s just a matter of fun really, but with a sidelight of saying to the public, “See? I really was here”. I enjoy acting and its always fun to be included no matter how small a role one may have.
AV: Andrew Adamson added a lot of new elements to the book’s story. Since you’re in charge of the C.S. Lewis estate, how did you work with the director and the two other scriptwriters to make the story interesting for screen without betraying the spirit of the original book?
DG: We always discuss such issues, and I throw my two cents worth into the mix. Many points come up for discussion when we are in the early stages of development, and my voice is heard and heeded by the rest of the team as are theirs by me. In the end we all work together to achieve the best result possible.
AV: What were the difficulties of adapting such a book?
DG: With Prince Caspian it was a matter of taking a fairly basic story, a great deal of which is narrative, and translating it to action and vision. In this case we had to add to it, remaining all the time within the basic ethos of the book and never loosing the flavor of things truly Narnian. With some books the problem is making the agonising decisions as to what to cut out, in others, what to put in. PC falls into the first category.
AV: How long did you work on it?
DG: Well let’s see…I started working on it the night of the premiere of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and have been working on it ever since!
AV: What is your favorite addition to the book’s story?
DG: My role, of course!
AV: How did you come to the idea of bringing the White Witch back?
DG: From the original book of course, we just take it far enough to produce a visual aspect of it that works on screen.
AV: Production designer Roger Ford said that he felt Prince Caspian had a kind of a Shakespearian feel at some points. Do you agree with him?
DG: Well the back story is very Hamlet – here we have a king who’s evil brother murders him and steals the throne and then conspires to kill the rightful heir and so on. Very Hamlet, except of course that Prince Caspian has a happier ending than Hamlet.
AV: How do you see the character of Reepicheep?
DG: Reepicheep in Prince Caspian represents the “Pure Knight”, the Sir Galahad of Arthurian Legend. As co-producer, I have a voice on this sort of thing just as on almost everything else, and I think Reepicheep works fabulously well in the movie. In Dawn Treader of course he will have had to have grown a bit in character if not in stature.
AV: Were you involved in the choice of Michael Apted for the next movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?
DG: I was involved but the why’s and so forth should be pretty obvious. When you are looking for a director and the opportunity to hire someone with a professional pedigree like Michael’s why would anyone miss an opportunity like that?
[The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is now in production. Prince Caspian is now in theaters, from Walden Media and Walt Disney Pictures]
With all our gratitude to Douglas Gresham for his insight and kind help.