George Miller, Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba talk power of story

Aug 18, 2022, 1:54 AM | Updated: 2:03 pm
FILE - Director George Miller, from left, Tilda Swinton, and Idris Elba pose for photographers at t...

FILE - Director George Miller, from left, Tilda Swinton, and Idris Elba pose for photographers at the photo call for the film "Three Thousand Years of Longing" at the 75th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, on May 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

CANNES, France (AP) — George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing” spans millennia, but it can often feel longer waiting in between films from the “Mad Max” director.

Seven years after Miller’s “Fury Road” blazed its way across movie screens, the 77-year-old filmmaker is finally back with a movie two decades in the works, and with a lot on its mind about what’s temporary and what’s eternal.

In “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” which opens in theaters Aug. 26, Tilda Swinton plays an academic named Alithea, a “narratologist” specializing in stories about stories, who encounters a wish-granting djinn (Idris Elba) who emerges from an old glass bottle bought in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. When no wish comes to her mind, he tells her 3,000 years worth of stories that hurtle the film through time and that ultimately bring Alithea and the djinn closer. If “Fury Road” beat a ferocious, straightforward narrative line, “Three Thousand Years,” adapted from an A.S. Byatt short story, ruminatively skips through time. It’s an intimate chamber piece sculpted in epic proportions.

“Big cinema,” Swinton called it as she, Elba and Miller assembled earlier this year in a hotel room in Cannes, France, shortly before “The Thousand Years of Longing” made its red-carpet premiere and while Miller’s “Fury Road” follow-up, “Furiosa,” was ramping up production back in Australia.

In the discussion that followed, the trio were clearly enthralled to be together again after shooting the film through the pandemic, and still animated by the movie’s ideas and its widescreen ambitions. “The faith to throw oneself over the highest bar,” Swinton said of Miller’s long-gesticulating endeavor. “Who better to jump that bar?”

Remarks have been edited for length and clarity.

AP: The film opens with wonder and enchantment as something like endangered species in a modern digital world. Is that a feeling you three connect with?

SWINTON: I’m really happy to hear you use the word “enchantment.” It is about enchantment. It’s about faith. It’s about the willingness to take a leap and essentially be open to change. It’s not that it’s necessarily threatened but it can get obscured. Reality is overrated.

ELBA: As an actor, you sometimes live in this weird space of reality. It’s a bit like the djinn. People see me and they go, “Oh my God. Can you give me something?” It’s a picture or a signature or whatever. I find myself wondering what am I, really? Who am I? But I realize my role in my life or in society as a storyteller and someone who makes people believe something is incredibly important. To get to sit in a room with the master, himself (gestures toward Miller), and to be able to tell a story about storytelling is incredible. Enchantment is an incredible word. I don’t think it will ever get lost.

MILLER: What’s really interesting to me, despite all these technological advances, is that we remain definitely hardwired for story. You could argue there are more stories being told today than ever before. I was really struck by the fact that Napoleon had read every single book that existed at his time. Now it’s impossible to read every book, see every TV show, every movie. I don’t think stories are replaced. I think they just continuously evolve. There was a British census where people were asked what their religion was and a very high percentage put in Jedi. It’s replacing one form of mythology for the other. I think the more bewildering the world becomes, the more we tend to fall into story. Sometimes those stories can be toxic.

SWINTON: We’ve now had a very sharp reminder that it’s possible for an entire nation, an entire culture to be told a story and believe it, to the exclusion of any other story. Maybe what we’re talking about is a kind of porousness of stories, so it’s possible to be open to many stories. Maybe that’s the mentally healthy and spiritually healthy thing to propose.

AP: You’re refencing Russia’s war in Ukraine but when you began “Three Thousand Years” were your thoughts on moments that storytelling shaped your own lives?

ELBA: My father started off his stories “I’ll tell you something for nothing.” This is my late dad.

SWINTON: Do you tell those stories to your son?

ELBA: If we’re driving to school and I try to avoid the phone. The only way to keep him looking interested with me is by telling a story. I’ll be like: “Well, today, I’m working in this plane. And you wouldn’t believe it. This plane, they took the wings off.” And I’m in. In that magic moment of him listening, questioning is the rich stuff.

AP: George, as a myth-maker who can conjure worlds, you’re not so unlike the djinn. Why were you drawn toward a movie that digs into the nature of storytelling?

MILLER: One of my favorite quotes about story is the Swahili storyteller who end their story by saying: “The story has been told. If it was bad, it was my fault because I’m the storyteller. If it was good, then it belongs to everybody.” There’s absolutely no question that stories, once told, get traction or not and they mean something to people in one way or the other. So you can’t think about them lightly. I’ve known people who can beguile you with their stories. I know that I struggle with that. I can’t get up and spontaneously tell a story well. But I can do it in the ultra-slow motion of telling a movie where I think about every nuance, every rhythm of it, and it’s finally there. After all, it’s just 100 minutes.

AP: Tilda and Idris, does making a movie like this prompt you to reflect on what compels you as actors to tell stories?

SWINTON: I’ve never made anything quite like this. Even though in a funny way the film is about one of my favorite things — inarticulacy — or rather the effort that we go to communicate with one another. Knowing that it’s almost impossible to understand each other, we still try, and that really touches me. It’s certainly one of the things that keeps me making films. It always feels very difficult to get something out of your head and convey it to someone else. But the fact that one makes the gesture is very moving. This film is about that but it’s very articulately made. To actually shoot with George and to understand how he constructs the architecture of the film even if the film is about something quite amorphous and quite tender, that’s a masterclass. Keeping that center soft was something we talked a lot about.

ELBA: I’m a bit like George. I’d be fascinated with my dad telling stories but I was never good at that. I remember when I went to a boy’s school. I was one of the funny boys. In the drama class, those kids couldn’t do it. They couldn’t make believe. I never forget the teacher’s phrase “make believe” and how it resonated with me. Suddenly, I could tell you the best story in the world because I was making you believe I could. I was really aware of the irony of working with George and Tilda and I’m playing a guy who has to tell stories honestly to get his freedom. I was Idris acting his socks off playing a man who was not allowed to act his socks off but had to tell these honest, engaging stories.

AP: George, you first encountered the short story this is based on in the late 1990s. Why do you think that this film stuck with you for so long?

MILLER: There’s lots of stories that I had. It’s a bit Darwinian. Some of them insist on themselves. I felt it was a very potent story. It’s like a metal detector or a Geiger counter, when something really activates it. You go: “Oh, there’s a rich seam in here somewhere.” You don’t know where it will go. You can sort of vaguely sense where it will go when you read the richness of scene. Time will tell. You hope the story belongs to everybody.


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at:

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Dmytro, one of three men working a 12-hour night shift, loads coal into a boiler at a bakery in Kos...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: Ukraine bakery supplies bread for the front lines

KOSTIANTYNIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — Seemingly abandoned during the day, the damaged factory building in eastern Ukraine comes to life at night, when the smell of fresh bread emanates from its broken windows. It’s one of two large-scale bakeries left in operation in the Ukrainian-held part of the Donetsk region, most of which is under Russian […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Athletics bring 6-game losing streak into matchup against the Mariners

Oakland Athletics (56-102, fifth in the AL West) vs. Seattle Mariners (87-70, second in the AL West) Seattle; Sunday, 4:10 p.m. EDT PITCHING PROBABLES: Athletics: James Kaprielian (4-9, 4.43 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 91 strikeouts); Mariners: Robbie Ray (12-11, 3.58 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 209 strikeouts) FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK LINE: Mariners -280, Athletics +227; over/under is 7 runs […]
1 day ago
Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector-turned-activist, holds a placard condemning North Korean lea...
Associated Press

S. Korean activists clash with police over anti-Kim balloons

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean activists say they clashed with police while launching balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda materials across the North Korean border, ignoring their government’s plea to stop such activities since the North has threatened to respond with “deadly” retaliation. Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector-turned-activist, said he his group had launched […]
1 day ago
FILE- A national library employee shows the gold Nobel Prize medal awarded to the late novelist Gab...
Associated Press

Nobel season is here: 5 things to know about the prizes

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The beginning of October means Nobel Prize season. Six days, six prizes, new faces from around the globe added to the world’s most elite roster of scientists, writers, economists and human rights leaders. This year’s Nobel season kicks off Monday with the medicine award, followed by daily announcements: physics on Tuesday, […]
1 day ago
FILE - Nobel Peace Prize laureate, East Timor bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo displays his certif...
Associated Press

UN, abuse survivor groups seek Vatican investigation of Belo

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The United Nations and advocacy groups for survivors of clergy sexual abuse are urging Pope Francis to authorize a full investigation of Catholic Church archives on three continents to ascertain who knew what and when about sexual abuse by Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo, the revered independence hero of […]
1 day ago
Members of the election commission wait at a poling station in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka, nort...
Associated Press

Voting begins in Bosnia election, little expected to change

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Polls opened Sunday in Bosnia for a general election that is unlikely to bring any structural change despite palpable disappointment in the small, ethnically divided Balkan country with the long-established cast of sectarian political leaders. The election includes races for various levels of government that are part of one of the […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
George Miller, Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba talk power of story