Tom Hanks’s Robert Langdon again finds himself at the center of an unholy historical mystery in Inferno, the third big-screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s best-selling novels. (Watch the new trailer above.) As with 1996’s The Da Vinci Code and 1999’s Angels & Demons, Langdon’s latest outing is helmed by Oscar-winning director Ron Howard, who this time around takes a more propulsive, action-oriented approach to his globe-trotting adventure, which concerns Langdon struggling with amnesia while trying to unravel a series of clues which suggest that a Dante-inspired Armageddon plague — meant to counter global overpopulation — may be on the horizon.
Inferno — which hits theaters Oct 28 — pairs Hanks with Felicity Jones (who’ll headline Rogue One: A Star Wars Story this December) and also co-stars Ben Foster, Omar Sy and Irrfan Khan. Howard spoke exclusively to Yahoo Movies about returning to the Langdon franchise after a seven-year layoff, how the new film departs from its predecessors, and the incredibly diverse slate of projects he’s working on for the near future.
The new trailer for Inferno debuts this morning. Do you have a hand in crafting your trailers — especially in a case like this, where they can potentially give away a film’s surprises and secrets?
I was pleased about that, because there are a lot of twists and turns in all the Dan Brown/Robert Langdon mysteries — and in this one, I think more than the previous two. So that’s very important to me. While I don’t have final cut on the trailers like I do on my movies, they certainly run them by myself and [producer] Brian Grazer.
Did you always plan on returning to the Robert Langdon series, or did you think you were finished after 2009’s Angels & Demons?
It’s always been a story-by-story, book-by-book issue with me and with Tom Hanks. The reality is that we could never really crack a movie adaptation of The Lost Symbol [Dan Brown’s 2009 third entry in his Robert Langdon series] — as good as the book is — that we believed in. But when this came along, it felt fresh, it felt like it built upon the Robert Langdon character in an interesting way that gave Tom Hanks more to play, and it allowed us to learn more about the Langdon character than the previous two [films].
I liked the freshness and the contemporary feel of this movie and its potential stylistically — based on the clue path being grounded in Hell, and the visual possibilities that go along with that. And also, the fact that Robert Langdon is part of the mystery. He’s learning about himself and his own role in this as he’s traveling through this hellish clue-path. So it’s psychologically suspenseful, as much as it is physically a mystery.
Ron Howard in June (Photo: Dave Mangels/Getty Images for Sony)
Was it a challenge to find new ways to explore the Langdon character?
It was one of the draws [to this book], and it attracted Tom immediately. He really, really wanted to do it. As [screenwriter] David Koepp adapted the book, it became clear to all of us that this was a different Robert Langdon mystery. It was edgier, it had more twists, there was an immediacy to the drama and the mystery, and there was a kind of relatability to what was at stake, and everyone’s agendas — both hidden and revealed.
We made the movie faster. There’s an energy about this that’s a little more breathless, and a little more in keeping with what it feels like to read a Dan Brown novel.
From the new trailer, Inferno seems more action-oriented than its predecessors.
It just came from the story and the tone, starting with the sort of cryptic hellish dream sequences that really put you inside Langdon’s head, through the Dante-inspired imagery. Then, there’s the fact that you’re dealing with overpopulation — that’s a problem of this moment. It’s about density and intensity, and themes that just kind of drew me and my camera into a different kind of rhythm, and everything is a little more unsettled and in doubt along the way.
The other thing I would say is that, because of the immediacy and the relatability of the crisis of overpopulation and what it might mean to our planet — in fact, is it creating a kind of hell on Earth? — well, that requires very little explanation. Whereas in the previous two movies, there were big elements of the plot and the clue path that needed a lot of context. So [in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons], that required pausing and slowing down the movie and finding ways to dramatize and share that information with the audience.
As in the prior two Langdon adventures, Inferno appears to take place in various international locales.
We shot in Istanbul, Florence, Venice, and then we shot a lot of it in Budapest as well — which isn’t a location in this story, but a great European place to shoot.
Did any of those locations pose particular logistical or creative challenges?
They all do, and they always do. But again, they’re used so brilliantly in the novels. They create scope, they’re exotic, they’re intriguing. But they also offer up obstacles and create danger and question marks. That combination of entertainment values and push-button emotional feelings around some of the ideas at the center of these mysteries — I think that’s what makes Dan Brown’s stories unique and exciting and so readable and fun to adapt.
For his third big-screen outing, Hanks’ Robert Langdon is paired with a doctor played by Felicity Jones. How easily did she acclimate to the mystery-heavy proceedings?
Her character is an intellectual equal of Robert Langdon’s, and so as they go on this journey linked together, Langdon looks at her as a peer, and recognizes a lot of his younger self in her. Felicity went to Oxford, and just as Tom Hanks is an extremely bright guy, Felicity Jones is an incredibly intelligence woman.
When you’re this involved with a franchise, do you come to feel proprietary about it? And is that part of what keeps motivating you to make more of them yourself?
Yeah, you definitely don’t [want to hand them over]. And the other thing is, these aren’t movies that are trying to copy each other. Yes, there are elements of the format of these stories that are similar, and that’s rewarding to an audience. But you can see any of these movies in any order — it doesn’t matter.
Speaking of Inferno’s breakneck momentum – you have an enormous number of movie and TV projects lined up. How do you maintain such a pace?
Well, it’s maybe more fun than ever. My kids are grown. My wife Cheryl loves to travel. And there are so many different outlets for different kinds of stories.
To make an indie movie like Rush, and then to turn around and make a studio movie like Inferno, and to be able to tackle a seafaring adventure like In the Heart of the Sea, and to make a Jay-Z documentary [2013’s Made in America] and now I’m making a Beatles documentary [this September’s The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years]. And I’ve directed an episode of our series of documentaries about scientific breakthroughs [National Geographic Channel’s Breakthroughs]. I’m one of the executive producers of a mini-series about going to Mars, where I had the opportunity to go and interview Elon Musk. And now I’m prepping the first hour of a 10-part exploration of Albert Einstein’s life for National Geographic — all while I’m developing a number of really interesting, diverse projects for the big-screen to be done with Imagine. So it’s a very rich, exciting period, and I’m really eating it up.
I know your daughter, Jurassic World star Bryce Dallas Howard, has spent the past few years directing short films — most recently Solemates, which played at this past January’s Sundance Film Festival. Has she tried to get you to act in one of her productions?
Well, she hasn’t yet, and she’s always bothering me about wanting me to cast her in something. I have called her a couple of times, and she’s turned me down. [Laughs]
But the reality is that she loves the process, she’s worked with so many interesting directors, and she adores acting and is very challenged by that — but she definitely will direct feature films at some point, I’m sure.
I keep telling her, the best way for us to work together may wind up being you casting me in something: ‘Maybe I’ll finally make time in my schedule to act again if it’s you I’m working for.’ So we’ll see. She’s got the next Jurassic to think about in the near horizon, so that’s going to eat up some time.