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Fassbender and Irons say ‘Assassin’s Creed’ explores a divided society

Ubisoft has sold over 96 million Assassin’s Creed games since the franchise launched in 2007.

The games introduce a never-ending battle between the Assassins and the Templars that is waged throughout time. The main games have explored the Third Crusade, the Italian Renaissance, the Colonial Era, the French Revolution, and the Victorian Era through the means of the Animus, which transports present day characters into the memories of their ancestors.

Assassin’s Creed is the latest video game mega-franchise to make its way to the big screen in a new titular film, opening worldwide on December 21, which focuses on the Spanish Inquisition. In an exclusive interview, Digital Trends spoke with stars Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Irons, and Marion Cotillard, as well as the film’s director, Justin Kurzel, about what it was like bringing this time-shifting adventure into the live-action realm.

“The first thing that struck me was the plausible concept of genetic memory within our DNA”

“The first thing that struck me in terms of this universe was the concept of genetic memory within our DNA — all of us have the experience and knowledge and memory of our ancestors passed down through the generations as a sort of survival aid,” Fassbender told Digital Trends. “For me, that seems absolutely plausible. So it’s cool when you have a fantasy world that is sort of anchored in something real like that.”

The Oscar-nominated star, who came on as a producer for the film after Ubisoft Motion Pictures reached out to him, also likes the gray area the games and the new movie explore.

“The fact that the world is a very ambiguous one morally is unusual for this genre of film,” Fassbender said. “Usually it’s very clear to see these are the good guys, these are the bad guys.  It’s not the case with this.”

Abstergo Industries is the modern day iteration of the Knights Templar in both the game world and in this new film adaptation. But the film introduces a new protagonist in Fassbender’s Callum Lynch, and his ancestor during the Spanish Inquisition, Aguilar de Nerha.

Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons plays CEO of Abstergo Industries, Alan Rikkin, a character from the game world Irons has brought to life in the new film. Irons also likes the mixed morality the Assassin’s Creed universe explores.

“Where do we stand as an individual,” Irons asked Digital Trends. “Are we basically Templar by nature or basically Assassin by nature? Which is good? Which is evil? It’s impossible to say and I think one of the strengths of this story, and maybe the game, is that it’s not black and white.  The Templars who purport to want peace try and get that by violent means. The Assassins who apparently want peace get that by violent means. None of them want violence, but they all use violence in different ways. People are very complicated, and the story reflects that, which I find very effective.”

From Game To Film

Director Justin Kurzel, who had previously worked with Fassbender and co-star Marion Cotillard on the film MacBeth, was hand-picked by Fassbender and Ubisoft Motion Pictures to distill the game world into a film adaptation for New Regency and 20th Century Fox.

“I was able to go to Montreal and actually meet the originators of the game and see all the research and work that had gone into it, which there is an enormous amount,” Kurzel told Digital Trends. “So it was not only playing the game, but also understanding how it was created and why.”

“The fact that the world is a very ambiguous one morally is unusual for this genre of film.”

Cotillard jumped at the opportunity to reteam with her MacBeth colleagues on the new project.

“I thought it was a very entertaining movie and at the same time very profound,” Cotillard told Digital Trends. “There’s a great depth to the story and profound questions, amazing female characters … the very powerful, very mysterious, Sofia Rikken (played by Cotillard) and the character of Maria (Ariane Labed), as well. When I read the script I wanted to see this movie, so that was a big part of my choice.”

Unlike many other video game adaptations, Ubisoft controlled the film property, and the company’s own Ubisoft Motion Pictures division oversaw the project from start to finish.

“There were discussions about the iconic things within the games,” Kurzel said. “The ideas of genetic memories and the Animus and an origin story in regards to a present day character understanding and learning and evolving through the film into an assassin was really important to them. But there was no check list. We didn’t have to do three leaps of faith and whatever. It was a pretty open discussion about how to evolve it into a film.”

A New Take On History

In addition to exploring a new protagonist, the film’s take on the Spanish Inquisition is also a new addition to the main Assassin’s Creed canon. The production crew filmed the bulk of its 80-day shoot in London’s Pinewood Studios, but spent time in Malta to capture key action sequences and get the flavor of that 15th Century time period.

“(Pinewood Studios) was an extraordinary set and beautifully lit by our cameraman,” Irons said. “It was quite amazing to walk into for the first time. Wonderful design, and tremendous contrast both in color and visuals to the Spain of the 1400s.”

The filmmakers were sure to tap into the spirit of the game action, as well. Fassbender said the parkour from the game was a key influence.

“That was something that we knew we were going to take and keep not only because the fans love it, but it just looks cool,” Fassbender said. “The importance of the artifacts was something that we wanted to introduce in the film and make somewhat clear to people that haven’t played the games. That’s why I use the Apple of Eden because people can reference it to the Bible.  Everybody knows the story of Adam and Eve.”

There are plenty of Easter Eggs, including weapons from previous games, spread throughout the film for fans of the game to enjoy. There were also some changes made to both make elements more clear, and also to fit within a cinematic structure, including the sci-fi reboot of the giant Animus machine that will debut in the film.

“We needed to change the Animus from being an inert ride like it was in the games,” Fassbender said. “Callum would have been an inert passenger as Aguilar is going through these experiences.  We wanted him to physicalize those experiences. That’s why we changed the Animus.”

A Divided World

Not only will the original story and characters offer something new to veteran players, but Fassbender also believes the film offers many other elements that any audience can relate to.

“There’s the familiarity with these two ideologies of the Assassins and the Templars, and it’s exciting,” Fassbender said. “It’s the idea of world order versus anarchy, something that we can draw from in the world we see around us.”

“It’s the idea of world order versus anarchy, something that we can draw from in the world we see around us.”

“It’s a divided society that has a hard time reuniting,” Cotillard said. “It looks like the world we live in.”

With a total of 17 games and counting, releasing a sequel to the film seems like a safe bet – assuming this film is a hit with global audiences. Fassbender already knows which time period he’d like to see the franchise explore next. But for now, he’s not talking.

“I have an idea where they’re going to go next, but I can’t tell you that,” Fassbender said. “That would be terrible. You don’t want to know either, do you? It would be better as a surprise.”

Fassbender added that he and the film’s producers and writers created an arching story over three films as they were writing this first one.

“We had sequels in mind,” Fassbender said.

Assassin’s Creed opens worldwide on December 21.