EXCLUSIVE: Justin Bartha Delivers a Powerful Side-Kick in National Treasure: Book of Secrets!
These are the true confessions of a professed car lover
Justin Bartha doesn't want you to look at his character Riley Poole as a sidekick. He'd rather have you see him as a main character that gets pushed to the side by more aggressive protagonists. After all, it is because of Riley that Nicolas Cage's Ben Gates finds the city of gold in John Turteltaub upcoming sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
Bartha reprises his popular role in this upcoming Disney flick, bringing the much-loved secondary character to the forefront of yet another exciting chapter in the lives of Gates and Company. This time out, Poole has written a book entitled "Riley Poole - The Templar Treasure and Other Myths that are True". Information found in its pages eventually lead the treasure hunting gang to the mysterious Book of Secrets. This in turn leads to the clearing of the Gates family name in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Without Poole's assistance, this never would have happened.
We recently got to sit down with Bartha in a private suite at the Beverly Hilton. He discussed bringing the character of Riley Poole to the screen for a second time and let us in on a few conspiracy theories of his own. Here is our conversation:
Interview Justin Bartha
This was your first sequel. How hard was it to find this guy the second time around?
Justin Bartha: It wasn't hard to find him. The only difficult part was trying to find something new about him. I wanted to make him interesting again. I didn't want to do the same movie. I'd never been involved with a sequel. And obviously this movie was going to be about finding treasure again. I had to sit back and think, "Why would it be interesting?" So, basically, I tried to concentrate on what happened to this guy between the first and second movie. And how did he change during this time. That's what makes it interesting. I think he is a bit different. He grows through a bigger journey and a bigger change in this film. It is a lot different from the first movie.
There is a theme that runs throughout the film. This sort of dissolution and resolution of romantic relationships. Your character doesn't have a girlfriend. But that last scene between you and the car seems to tie into this narrative structure.
Justin Bartha: (Laughs). Yeah. A little bit. There were a lot of car scenes that got cut out. There were some strange love scenes with me and the Ferrari that ended up being a little too creepy to keep in the film.
You are not being serious?
Justin Bartha: No. I am kidding.
I wouldn't put it past Bruckheimer after watching Transformers.
Justin Bartha: No kidding. You know what the deal is? My character lost all of his money. Reilly's big character trait is trying to get respect. He has written this book "Reilly Poole - The Templar Treasure and Other Myths that are True". In a sense, none of his friends have read it. No one takes him seriously. He is seen as the comic relief. He is a sleeper. People take him as this goofy, kind-of knowing guy. But in the end he is the key to finding this treasure. If these other characters, that are his friends, would just stop and listen to him and take him seriously for one second...Because it is tough to take him seriously...Then they might find something important. They might find this treasure.
This guy is slowly becoming an iconic sidekick character. I'm wondering if there are any specific sidekicks that you sort of look to in bringing this character to the screen?
Justin Bartha: No. I know that he is seen as the sidekick.
But he is actually the guy's partner.
Justin Bartha: Yeah. I definitely don't look at any other performances in comparison to this character. That was one of the things I pushed for with this film. Since he is the sidekick, I didn't want people not to look at him as an important key in finding the treasure. Fortunately, with a lot of work, we came to discover these things about Reilly. Like, the book. And how the book at first seems like a joke, but then we find out that it is an incredible crux to finding these things. In the first one, he was the comic relief in a sense. That is how people looked at him. But everyone is funny in this new movie. The comedy comes from the relationship between all of the characters. I think Reilly takes more of a center role as a treasure hunter. He becomes this great treasure hunter in this film. Originally, he was the surrogate to let the audience in on the adventure.
Was there anything you felt was missing from the first film that you really wanted to bring to the character this time around?
Justin Bartha: I didn't see the first movie and say, "Gosh, I wish this guy could have been this." No. Since we did have a chance to make a second one, I wanted to be able to bring out a more well-rounded thing. I didn't want him to be seen as just this sidekick who provides comedy. He has more serious moments in this. And he has more heroic moments as well.
You were talking a minute ago about the book that your character writes in the film. Did you do any research on your own aside from the script. Did you look at some of these theories and conspiracies?
Justin Bartha: I looked some of the stuff up. I am interested in conspiracy theory a little bit. I went on the internet and read about a bunch of conspiracies. I didn't delve the depths of the genre.
Did you ever find anything that you felt would be interesting for future projects?
Justin Bartha: No, nothing. All of the conspiracies that I started reading were too topical. They were all about the current administration. I don't think they would be good for a Disney Bruckheimer movie.
I was talking to Jon Voight about this earlier. In showing a lot of these ideas in this film, do you think these writers are actually on to something? Or do you think they could be covering up something else?
Justin Bartha: I think every conspiracy in the film, such as the Booth diary, is based in reality. I don't know about the inscriptions on the resolute desk. But I am sure it has some truth to it in some sense. There are conspiracy theories about every major political figure in our country's history. I'm sure this stuff has a nugget of real history in it. Obviously, it is expounded on.
I think it is interesting that these films almost enter into the conspiracy theories themselves.
Justin Bartha: Right, in that they create them.
Yeah. They are proposing this idea that people might buy into. And maybe the writers are selling this idea so that these people don't look at something else.
Justin Bartha: They are creating a distraction. A red haring. These film ideas are a diversion from what is really going on. I don't think so. I think it is just entertainment.
People also said the same thing about Men in Black.
Justin Bartha: Really, what do they say about Men in Black?
That it is a diversion from the truth. That they build up these caricatures so people won't believe that they actually exist. They make it look like a simple fantasy to hide the truth. That the Men in Black are real.
Justin Bartha: People actually believe that the Men in Black are real? I have never heard that. But I love the imagination of it. I highly doubt that is what is going on.
True, but then you have these UFO conspiracy theorist that come out and say, "You guys are just trying to make light of the truth so it just looks like entertainment. But we know that it is actually going on." That it proves their point even more.
Justin Bartha: I think they are just trying to make some money. I think those people were just trying to make some money and some entertainment. I don't believe that it goes any deeper than that. It is a very romantic thing to think about. And that's great. But I don't think this stuff is a conspiracy diversion.
Hey, don't take that the wrong way. I agree with you. That's what I think too. But I was reading this morning about people that have seen the first National Treasure, and they think, "Oh, they are trying to hide something else with this. Disney is covering up something else."
Justin Bartha: I've got to say, when you do research on the Illuminate and the Masons, the amount of conspiracies and cover-ups is endless. Its crazy the amount of people that actually think something is going on with that. George Bush is a Mason. It is interesting. It's enough to drive you mad.
They had the kid's one, too. The Demolay. That was part of the Masons.
Justin Bartha: Oh, really. I didn't know about that.
My brother was actually a part of that. I don't think there was anything going on with that. Not that I knew about. Seemed pretty normal to me. Just a kid's club.
Justin Bartha: Exactly.
I wanted to ask you about the end scene in National Treasure: Book of Secrets. That is all practical, right? That is an actual set.
Justin Bartha: The water? Yeah, that is an actual set. Those were all sets that were built at Universal. And they were unbelievable. And the water set was truly remarkable. It was everything you see. Obviously, the fourth wall wasn't built, because we had to shoot around it. But everything is practical. All the water, that stuff is real.
What was the experience of stepping onto that set for the first time?
Justin Bartha: It was outstanding. You can't imagine it. Most movies would have shot that on a green screen and added it all in later. That's what is great about Bruckheimer. He just builds it. It was pretty outstanding to shoot it. You just have to react. Water is really shooting at you.
That's the thing. You can tell when it is CGI. It makes a ton of difference.
Justin Bartha: Exactly. It makes a huge difference.
How physically taxing was this shoot? You are involved in quite a few of the big action scenes.
Justin Bartha: You know, the only thing that was physically taxing on me was the water scene. And that's because I was sick. I had a really bad flu, and we were shooting at night in the water. It wasn't the most fun thing for me. But aside from that, it's a lot like being in playland. It couldn't have been more fun.
What happens with something like that, where you get the flu and you are supposed to be on set? Is there any leeway when that kind of stuff happens?
Justin Bartha: You can't really call in sick. Because the production would lose millions of dollars. So you just have to suck it up. Take a bunch of flu medicine. And try not to be too loopy. But, then, it helps out the scene because you are loopy. A lot of that scene was cut. So, maybe I was terrible and they cut the scene.
I thought you were good in that scene. I don't know what you are talking about.
Justin Bartha: (Laughs)
So, you say you are loopy. Just having to be there in that moment when you are that sick seems crazy.
Justin Bartha: Yeah, it wasn't the most pleasant shooting experience. To be really ill, and it is four in the morning. You have an awful flu, you are in water, and it is freezing. Your only thought is, "I could die. Could I die? I could get pneumonia. And I could definitely die."
At the end, we see you kind of flirt with a girl. Do you think in the third one they will actually let you have a full blown relationship?
Justin Bartha: God, I hope so. At the Hollywood foreign press today, they brought up that the next movie could revolve around Riley and that cute girl's baby. Somehow. It would somehow have to do with their baby.
I don't know what a baby would have?
Justin Bartha: Yeah, I don't know either. Maybe it's the chosen baby. Like, the golden child.
That's another conspiracy.
Justin Bartha: See, there you go.
Yeah, the fake anti-Christ. All these fakes are coming out and sayin they are the anti-Christ.
Justin Bartha: Yeah. Exactly.
That is happening all over the place.
Justin Bartha: Why not? You've got to get famous somehow. It might as well be the anti-Christ in this culture. In this day and age. Everyone wants to be famous. There is no better way.
No doubt. Okay, last question. Did you have to learn about all this technology to be able to play this guy? Like, when you go into the bathroom and you unroll all of that stuff. Were you versed in how it all works?
Justin Bartha: I had a day of prep. Like that day, when I was in the bathroom and had to stick a lot of that stuff to the wall. I had to try and figure out if there was a practical use for all of these things. What would all of these things be? You sit down for a couple of hours and you learn how to plug everything in. You ask what this stuff does. Then you do it. It's pretty simple.
Great. That's my time. Thank you.
Justin Bartha: Nice meeting you.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets opens December 21st, 2007.