To say Crispian Sallis is renowned for his accurate portrayal of capturing history in a microcosm would be an understatement. Much of the co-production designer and set decorator's work was featured in some of the most popular works within the last 30 years across film and television. Whether if it's working in science fiction capturing the future like in Aliens (1986) or 12 Monkeys (1995) or recreating the past like Ancient Rome in Gladiator (2000) or medieval England in The Tudors, Sallis took on the challenge. I spoke to the three-time Oscar nominee and Emmy winner about his latest film Waiting for the Barbarians and capturing the spirit of the J.M. Coetzee novel. "It's not often given the source material to be the Nobel Laureate," Sallis said. "I also read the book over and over again. In the first part, I asked for a script read from director Ciro Guerra and Michael Fitzgerald, the principal producer. It was Michael who bought the book. I think the read-through was important. I had creative autonomy; if there were anything left out of Ciro's vision, I can adapt from the book. What also inspired me were 19th-century paintings, especially the lighting. It started with the script, then paintings mostly."
When Sallis signed on, the designer found himself playing catch-up as Guerra made some decisions that took filming to multiple locations before settling on places from Rome to Marrakesh, Morocco. "When I came on board, the primary locations were already selected," he said. "I came late to the party. Much of the design when it came to what we used in Morocco, I had a part in the design. It was three interiors: the magistrate's bedroom, the kitchen inside the fort, and the staff's bedroom inside the brothel. We had one other interior, which was inside the tent in the middle of the desert. It was useful to pick a handful of those locations. I went to town on this casbah and turned it into this frontier town."
Aside from putting the designs into place, there was little difficulty filming aside from scheduling priorities with star Johnny Depp. "By the time we got to Marrakesh, it got fairly rainy and windy," To be perfectly honest, we had a small window because of Mr. Depp's tight schedule. We focused on Johnny's scenes first. Afterward, the storms affected us. It didn't affect us too much. In fact, it did help some of the scenes for the exterior shots."
Waiting for the Barbarians follows a magistrate, played by Mark Rylance, working in a distant outpost, who begins to question his loyalty to the unnamed empire. The film also stars Depp, Robert Pattinson, Gana Bayarsaikhan, and Greta Scacchi. The film is currently streaming on Hulu.