February 7, 2001 -- BERLIN — The 51st Berlin Film Festival opened today with the $80 million World War II drama Enemy at the Gates. For the world premiere, English actors Jude Law, Bob Hoskins, and Rachel Weisz — who star as Russians in the siege of Stalingrad in the film — were on hand alongside director Jean-Jacques Annaud, who is French.
With an epic scale befitting one of WW II's most important battles, Enemy stars Law as real-life peasant-turned-sniper Vassili, who became a national hero in a matter of days. For the role of a ruthless Nazi sniper sent in from Berlin to settle Vassili's hash, Annaud chose Ed Harris, because the actor's ice-blue eyes were "like a bird of prey."
Annaud conceded that he cast the Oscar-nominated Law partly for his looks. "Vassili was very handsome, and beauty sells. That's why he became a hero in nine days. In the midst of this duel, he was also conducting a love affair — and this is why I went to one of the sexiest young men of today."
Weisz, as in Miami Vice?
Actress Weisz, who plays the woman caught in a love triangle with Law and Joseph Fiennes, chose not to discuss her big American sequel, The Mummy Returns. But she did correct a German reporter who mispronounced her last name with an initial W instead of a V.
"It's 'vice,'" she emphasized. "As in Miami Vice?" he asked. "It just means white," she said with a shrug, adding, "I don't mind when English people don't get it" — but she clearly expected the reporter to use the same pronunciation on her name as he would when speaking German.
Will Americans Embrace a Soviet Hero?Unlike Saving Private Ryan and the upcoming Pearl Harbor, Annaud's film, which arrives stateside March 16, has the distinction of being a WWII movie without one American GI, just Russians and Nazis. "Until the Cold War ended, Hollywood would never have committed money to a movie about a Soviet hero," Weisz noted. "It would have been impossible until the last 10 years."
For his part, Annaud isn't worried about how the American audience may react. "I am probably a curiosity, but when I get enthusiastic about a project and get passionate, I don't think about audiences and how they'll react in Beijing, in Berlin, in Los Angeles," he said. "I just felt it was a compelling story, one I'd never heard before. If I'm interested in something, other people will be."
Hoskins, who previously played Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, plays the ruthless Nikita Khrushchev, whose success at Stalingrad paved the way for him to rule Russia in the '50s and '60s. Why does such a seemingly nice guy, he was asked, get to play such monsters?
"Fortunately for me," Hoskins answered, "most of the world's dictators were short fat guys with bowlegs. Apart from me, there is only Danny DeVito [who could play these roles]."