“I want to be a star!” said actress Charlotte Le Bon, wistfully, as her Anthropoid co-star Jamie Dornan whisked down the red carpet behind her, bypassing the row of reporters waiting expectantly, voice recorders in hand. It was the evening of the film’s New York premiere, and French Canadian Le Bon, clad in a sweet Valentino dress, had paused for an interview, stepping away from the camera’s flashing bulbs with a quiet “Merci.”
Still, movie star or no, Dornan would soon be back to chat; he was on break from shooting Fifty Shades Freed, a wholly different film from the small-scale war epic he was promoting Thursday night.
Le Bon and Dornan star alongside Irish actor Cillian Murphy and Czech actress Anna Geislerová in Anthropoid, a Prague-set World War Two drama that recounts a lesser-known moment of the Czech resistance against the Nazi occupation — so lesser-known, in fact, that most of the cast was unaware of the episode before receiving the script. The film takes its name from Operation Anthropoid, a resistance mission in which Murphy and Dornan’s characters — Josef Gabcík and Jan Kubiš, respectively — were tasked with assassinating Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich was the chief architect of the “Final Solution,” the leader of the Prague occupation, and the right-hand man of SS commander Heinrich Himmler. Geislerová and Le Bon play Lenka and Maria, two young Prague natives who start out as companions of Gabcík and Kubiš in order to make them less conspicuous, but eventually fall for their faux-partners.
“Honestly, on the first casting, I didn’t know who’s Jamie Dornan,” Geislerová confessed. “I couldn’t remember Cillian Murphy. Then they showed me the pictures, and I was like, ‘Cool. That’s good. Not bad at all.’”
Director Sean Ellis had been researching and writing this film for 10 years, Murphy explained, and it culminated in a two-month shoot on location in Prague. While the relationships between characters were invented, the action sequences — including the chilling finale — remain true to historical narrative.
“It’s not just fantasy; it actually happened,” he said. “You feel quite humbled when you’re playing these characters.”
“We felt such a strong obligation to tell the story in a correct manner,” Dornan added. A historian of the Second World War consulted on set throughout the entirety of the shoot, he explained, ensuring the cast was hyper-vigilant about the weight of their task.
It’s not just an important moment in Czech or even European history, though; the tale also resonates today. It hadn’t been adapted since 1975, Ellis explained. (Though another telling, an adaptation of the Laurent Binet metafiction HHhH, is currently in production with stars Mia Wasikowska, Rosamund Pike, Jack O’Connell, and Jason Clarke.) “We keep making these same mistakes and we need to look back in our past at these kind of stories and figure out … what we can do to stop it.”
And while the heft of such a historical narrative may have weighed on the cast — perhaps none more than Geislerová, who grew up hearing stories about the parachutists who swooped into Prague to take down Heydrich — the Czech accent also proved a challenge. (Well, except for Geislerová, who became an impromptu dialect coach on set. She even recorded Le Bon’s lines for her for the Canadian actress to mimic.)
“I think the Czech people are very forgiving of the accent,” Murphy said with a slight, wry grin. “Hopefully we passed muster.”
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