‘The Last Witch Hunter’ aims to make witches more than broomstick monsters, says Breck Eisner

In the middle of November 2014, I descended deep underground with a handful of fellow entertainment journalists to visit the set of “The Last Witch Hunter.” Director Breck Eisner (“The Crazies”) sat down with us to explain his vision for a brand new branch of witch mythology.

We”re talking the kind of mythology that will require books to be sold in stores to quench the thirst of hardcore lore nerds…like me. Hint, hint LionsGate.

What about “The Last Witch Hunter” drew you to the script? 
BRECK EISNER: I loved the character Kaulder. As a kid [I] loved “Highlander.” It reminded me a bit of that, but it had this awesome element of witches and this eternal hunter who has been avenging the death of his wife and daughter to no emotional success. It was just a really challenging story to play in a genre movie and I was just looking forward to that challenge.

How did you came up with the very specific design vision for this film? Where did you draw your inspiration?
EISNER: Obviously it”d take a while to answer that whole question. [Laughs] One of the things I wanted to see [was] Vin differently than I”d ever seen him before. A character who is haunted, who is somewhat tortured but who”s also still bad-ass and kick-ass. The idea of seeing him in the medieval period as a warrior was really appealing to me as well. And seeing him with hair and a beard.
But the other thing is I”ve never really seen witches portrayed in a way that is satisfying from a genre point of view, you know? They”re either a pointy nose, a wart and a big hat on a broom or the other extreme, depicted as a monster. But our point of view was [always] that they”re still humans, but these kind of self-bastardized versions of humans who have power. [“The Last Witch Hunter”] really plays in multiple planes of reality. Witches [are] able to project images in your mind that make you think you”re insane or maybe think loved ones are alive or make you think you”re in places you”ve been in the past.That idea of being able to converge these different planes of reality into our hero”s mind, that really drew me to the project.

What genre would you put this in? Action-adventure, horror?
EISNER: It”s a bit cross genre, which is always fun and always a challenge. It”s not horror. It”s definitely more towards dark-adventure, although the action is slanted towards scaring, dark tension, tense action.

Is it black and white where the witches are decidedly bad or is it more of a gray area?
EISNER: Well, in Kaulder”s mind it starts out that the world is black and white. [But] clearly, like anything, the world is never that simple and via his relationship with Chloe [Rose Leslie] who happens to be a witch, he realizes that what he saw as black and white is truly more a world of grays, absolutely. [Magic] is neither good nor bad, it is part of the fabric of the world in our movie. It”s kind of the DNA of the planet. Definitely more in the world of grays, but the fun is watching the perspective of magic from our hero”s point of view shift as the movie goes on via his relationship with the female lead.

You mentioned that the DNA of the planet is tied up with magic. Is that indicative of the organic nature of the way the witches look?
EISNER: Yeah, witches are connected to nature. They live in a massive tree, they draw their power from nature, they kind of feel that they”re the protectors of nature. From the witches point of view they see man as destroying nature. That”s one of the reasons the movie takes place in New York, which is a world that is pretty much devoid of a natural place. It”s an island that used to be a biodiverse place has become a [swarm] of humanity. So from the witches” point of view, their beef with humanity is the lack of respect for the natural world.

Since the witches have mind-altering powers, the movie doesn”t have to take place in the literal physical world, right?
EISNER: Yeah, that”s one of the great things about this movie, you can go anywhere! We”re in the witch world! It”s liberating [but] it”s also challenging because you have to make sure you create limitations and stick to them. But for me the fun was I wanted to do a fight with Kaulder and the villain that exists in multiple planes of reality, that he”s stuck. He gets woken up from a memory, but he”s still stuck between reality and this memory, and the memory is in the [12th century] and the fight is happening in present day and how that”s hobbling him and preventing him from being able to fight. That was one of the scenes I was really excited about doing.

It sounds like you guys did a huge amount of world-building!
EISNER: Oh man, I mean, years. From the point of view of Cory”s first script, which read like it was based on a graphic novel, just to understanding the design of the witches and where the witches exist and Kaulder”s look and the witch background and pages and pages of documents on where they come from. I think it”s crucial to know all the background of our hero and the background of the world itself, and a hero that”s existed for 800 years has a lot of background, obviously. And the witch war, I mean, there has been a war that”s existed for many centuries at the helm of our hero.

You can read more about my trip to the set of “The Last Witch Hunter” over here!

“The Last Witch Hunter” arrives in theaters on October 23.