The Man in the Iron Mask: About The Production

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United Artists Pictures presents the spirited adventure The Man in the Iron Mask, written and directed by Randall Wallace, inspired by the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas. Wallace and Russell Smith are the producers, with Alan Ladd Jr. serving as executive producer. The co-producers are Paul Hitchcock and René Dupont.

Director Randall Wallace and producer Russell Smith also assembled an impressive line-up of creative and technical talent for the behind-the-scenes team. It includes director of photography Peter Suschitzky (Immortal Beloved, The Empire Strikes Back), Academy Award* nominee Anthony Pratt (Butcher Boy, Michael Collins) as production designer, three-time Academy Award*-winner James Acheson (Restoration, The Last Emperor, Dangerous Liaisons) as costume designer as well as editor William Hoy (Seven, Outbreak). Nick Glennie-Smith (The Rock) composed the score.

Also part of the team are swordmaster William Hobbs, horsemaster Mario Luraschi and George Gibbs as special effects supervisor and Philippe Guegan as Stunt Coordinator.

Principal photography began on April 28, 1997, in the Studios Arpajon, near Paris. Although the majority of the film was shot on stages, the production spent nearly five weeks on location in some of France's most beautiful castles.

Over the 14-week shoot and during the preparation, The Man in the Iron Mask occupied eight out of the nine stages available at the Studios d'Arpajon, as well as the roughly 100,000 square-foot "Stage 4000" at nearby FertÈ-Allais.

Production designer Anthony Pratt and his team built approximately 15 different sets on these stages, including the various waterways seen in the film. "The water passages set was the most difficult," Pratt remembers. "Originally the idea was to try and do it by a river somewhere, which would be close to impossible to do at night since real rivers are impossible to control."

Building the palace waterways and pump room at FertÈ-Allais took eight weeks and utilized a large water tank with a high pressure system. This stage was then converted into the interior of a fortress complex and the waterline gate, and finally it became the French coast, complete with a small cove and genuine living seaweed.

The Bastille Corridor and Complex was built on stage nine, which took five weeks to assemble for a 10-day shoot. That set was struck to be replaced by the magnificent King's palace -- a set comprised of three interconnected rooms: the King's Bedroom, the Palace Corridor and the Queen's Apartment. "Once the Bastille was actually struck from that stage, the construction crew led by Jean Poinot had four weeks to put everything up. They had pre-fabbed a few elements before but, even so, the quality of the sets is astonishing," Pratt notes.

"I was surprised by how grand the sets actually were," director Wallace recalls. "Tony did a beautiful job. I had to be careful not to be tempted to shoot a grand set just to capture its beauty. I wanted everyone involved in this show to be inspired and excited and to feel that they were working on something really special, but that what made it special was not that our sets were bigger or more expensive, or the costumes grander, but that our story was powerful and worth telling, and the sets were all in support of that."

The great estate of Vaux-le-Vicomte has a history which involves many real-life counterparts to the characters who populate the castle in The Man in the Iron Mask. In 1641, Nicolas Fouquet purchased the estate, some 40 miles away from the capital. The 26 year-old financial secretary to Cardinal Mazarin enlisted three great artists, the architect Louis Le Vau, the decorator Charles Le Brun and the garden designer Andre Le Notre, to improve the property. Unfortunately, by 1661, Fouquet's fate was sealed by Mazarin's private secretary, Colbert, who planned to ingratiate himself to the young King Louis XIV by laying all the blame for the kingdom's financial ills at Fouquet's feet. In August of that year, Fouquet hosted a magnificent party at which the guest of honor was the King himself. Three weeks after this lush affair, he was arrested by d'Artagnan and sent to prison, where he died in 1680.

By then, another palace had overshadowed Vaux-le-Vicomte in the eyes of the nation: Versailles. Now privately owned but open to the public, Vaux-le-Vicomte remains the precursor of Versailles, which was built and decorated by the same trio.

The production spent over two weeks at Ch,teau de Vaux-le-Vicomte, shooting both interiors and exteriors. Vaux stood in for the King's palace, the royal gardens and the Musketeers' gate, which, at the time, would have all been in Paris. The huge garden party sequence requiring some 250 extras, magnificent fountain works and a piglet chase was shot at Vaux.

Production designer Pratt, who hadn't worked on this period before, had to bone up on his Louis XIV-era architecture prior to beginning his work on Man in the Iron Mask. "Being able to use the Vaux-le-Vicomte helped enormously since it is of this exact period," Pratt says. "I was also able to look at Versailles itself. That's all I needed for that side of the story."

Quite a different setting housed the production for its first two weeks on location -- the Manoir du Logis in Fontenay s/Vegre, some 30 miles away from Le Mans, in north-western France. For just over a week the crew shot in this provincial manor house of the 15th century that has been converted into a farm during the Revolution. It serves as a country estate where the Musketeers take Philippe after delivering him from captivity and teach him how to be a king. Both interiors and exteriors were shot in this rustic setting, which boasts a small lake and a river with a very romantic stone bridge.

The company then moved for one night to nearby Le Mans, the capital of the Sarthe, in north-western France. Le Mans' medieval quarter boasts some of the best preserved 15th Century streets in France with very few intrusive modern elements. Le Mans stood in for the streets of Paris. A small courtyard was used as the entrance to a brothel, the interior of which was built on a stage at Arpajon.

The production then moved to Pierrefonds, a 14th century fortified castle situated roughly 50 miles north of Paris. The edifice stood in ruins until the architect Violet Leduc restored it under Napoleon III, at the beginning of the 19th century. Exteriors of Paris were shot at Pierrefonds, including sequences taking place outside a priest's residence and the Bastille prison. The land below the fortifications became a battlefield in Flanders where Raoul is on the front lines.

For the last week of shooting, the company moved to the imperial city of Fontainebleau, home to a royal palace built in the 16th century, which was an official residence of the Royal Family until Louis XIV. Napoleon Bonaparte later brought it back into fashion. The vast courtyard of the palace stood in for a Paris market square where d'Artagnan calms a starving populace on the verge of rioting. Some 170 extras were required, along with 20 horses provided by the horsemaster Mario Luraschi.

Together with Director Randall Wallace, three other men were responsible for the final look of the iron mask: Makeup Supervisor Giannetto de Rossi, Leonardo DiCaprio and Luigi Sebastiani del Grande, the artist who actually made it.

de Rossi recalls the sometimes-turbulent process which took him to the final product: "I saw only one mask from a previous movie in 1934-35, and it was terrible because it had the influence of Metropolis. We all wanted something unique. Randall tried to explain what he saw in his mind, but sometimes it is difficult to express these images in words. We did two or three sculptures, two or three molds and it kept changing and evolving. Then we tried to fit it on Leonardo and thank God, he was so professional that he wanted to really feel the tightness of the mask. So for me, it was magnificent, because I could make it smaller and smaller and in the end, I think we achieved something very interesting because this mask has a particular look."

de Rossi adds that "the final product is a creature of different fathers. Of course, I was responsible to sculpt it, so the mask is my daughter, but Randall is the godfather. For the proportions, Leonardo is another godfather. Without him suffering inside the mask, I could never make it this tight and when, you see it on the screen, in the final scene, when he's walking behind the Musketeers, you see this tiny head compressed inside this mask. It's quite impressive and it's thanks to him. Then of course, I added some rust to it and then the lock at the back."

The ultimate goal was to give the mask a personality of its own, something, which de Rossi is confident was achieved: "The mask in this movie is one character. I'm very happy because this mask with Leonardo's eyes in it can compete at the same level than any other member of the cast."

Leonardo DiCaprio gave the mask life and describes what it feels like to inhabit and how it defined the character of Philippe: "It definitely gets claustrophobic, and, within ten minutes of being in there, I can almost bash my head against the wall with frustration. It must become like part of your own body after a while. I wore it around for a while and got used to it; it becomes a part of you and you have to fight all the urges you have to scratch your face off.

"I came to this project thinking that this guy would be mentally disabled from being in this mask for so long. The thing I found that was interesting when I talked to Randy about it is that he saw Philippe as a Nelson Mandela figure, who was trapped in a place for so long and did only good while he was enclosed by himself. Mandela came out and ended up ruling his country. The mind must take over the body and he's able to control himself and not completely lose it, which I found very interesting and which I didn't expect."

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