In the well-lived crevices of Peter O’Toole’s face, shot in glaring close-up for the film “Venus,” cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos found all the resonance of the craggy dissipation of old age.
Teamed with director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill,” “Changing Lanes”), Zambarloukos says his initial concept for shooting the film, due out in December, was to remain removed from O’Toole, playing a septuagenarian actor grasping for a connection to a woman a fraction of his age (Jodie Whittaker). The distance to his subject, Zambarloukos believed, would suggest the isolation of the character, Maurice, long separated from his wife (Vanessa Redgrave) and relegated to contemplating his deteriorating vigor or sparring with a crotchety pal (Leslie Phillips).
“When we started, we thought we’d avoid too many close-ups,” Zambarloukos says by phone from his London home. But it soon became obvious that the story would be told largely in the folds of O’Toole’s extravagantly expressive visage, his eyes a haunted mirror to the character’s fading soul.
The mantra then became, “Let’s go tight on Peter’s face,” says the Cyprus-born cinematographer, who had never worked with the legendary O’Toole.
“There’s nothing more interesting than a person’s face,” he adds. “You see the history of a life in a person’s face, and a face like Peter’s says everything you want to say. You need to get rid of everything around him and observe, really, really quietly.”
There was little such restraint in Zambarloukos’ work on the psychological thriller “Enduring Love” (2004), also directed by Michell and, he says, “filled with tricks” like helicopter shots and jittery handheld camerawork to express anxiety and paranoia.
Favorite tool: “It has to be a camera and a lens — that’s where you start.” Zambarloukos prefers Panavision’s Millennium XL Panaflex, a small, lightweight, quiet studio camera that is easily converted for handheld or Steadicam use. “It’s very easy to use and reliable.”
Film or digital: “I’m definitely a film person rather than HD.” He likes Kodak’s new slow-speed stock (50 ASA), which he says is “extremely crisp and picks out every detail, especially with 16mm.”
Inspiration: Conrad Hall (“American Beauty”), for whom Zambarloukos interned on “A Civil Action” (1998). “For years I’d wanted to meet him, and working with him was a dream come true.”
What’s next: “Death Defying Acts,” a Houdini tale directed by Gillian Armstrong and billed as a “supernatural romantic thriller.”
Rep: Pete Franciosa, UTA