There are a few things you need to know about Thai transsexual makeup artists. First, the correct term of address is ”lady boy,” not the deeply offensive ”tranny” or ”she-male.” Second, they are an extremely talented bunch whose artistry is the envy of Southeast Asia. And finally, they look a hell of a lot like women, as two unfortunate members of the Alexander crew found out the hard way this January afternoon.
Yes, it’s been a rough day on the set of Oliver Stone’s new movie. And it’s about to get rougher. We’re in Thailand, two hours north of Bangkok in a sweltering nature reserve that serves as the Indian jungle set for Alexander. The scene today calls for a massive battle during which Colin Farrell charges a group of carefully trained war elephants on horseback. The problem is that elephants and horses turn out to be like cats and dogs — except, you know, a couple of tons heavier. So when Stone calls ”Action,” the Irish actor spurs on his steed, only to be thrown, trampled, and squashed by 1,400 pounds of whinnying, terrified horse. A gasp echoes across the forest as animal trainers rush in. The horse is removed. The elephant subdued. And Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Great lies on the black ground in a puddle of his own blood.
On most movies, this would be a disaster. Production would stop. Medics would be dispatched. Agents called and producers disemboweled. But on Alexander — Stone’s independently financed, $150 million dream project — it’s just a blip. After all, the peripatetic production has already weathered minor drug use, wild rumors of on-set sexual merry-go-rounds, brushes with total financial catastrophe, travel from Marrakech to London to Thailand, and some very, very bad blond hair. Is the project visionary? Quite possibly. The work of great passion? Unquestionably. An exercise in near madness? Without a mother-loving doubt.
Stone sighs and looks his friend and leading man over. ”Will he be okay?” he asks no one in particular. ”Okay, then. Let’s keep going.”
Do not underestimate Oliver Stone’s drive to make this movie. He has been moonstruck over Alexander the Great since he was a kid, growing up in the soft arms of privilege on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Alexander is the man of Stone’s dreams — a conqueror, a uniter, a great leader with a passion for Asia (and Asian women), and the son of an iron-willed mother. All of Stone’s great themes about leadership and manhood reverberate through the Macedonian king’s spectacular story — there’s even a quick flash of Alexander’s face in The Doors — and he had a lust to tell it. This was, in short, to be the great work of Oliver Stone’s career.
He just couldn’t get it made.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Alexander was developed in starts for almost 15 years. As Stone set about assembling a vast filmography that ranges from the smart (JFK) to the startling (Natural Born Killers) to the simply bizarre (his Castro-sympathetic Looking for Fidel), scripts were written and discarded, sets designed and abandoned. Finally in 2000, Stone took a meeting with a great admirer: a man named Moritz Borman. A German-born executive with an easy laugh and a maverick streak, Borman runs a company called Intermedia that is best known for movies like Terminator 3 and K-19. Intermedia financed those big-budget pictures through a partnership with IMF — a German investment fund that makes good use of film-financing tax breaks — and has access to massive amounts of money. The kind of money that can get an epic war movie made. The kind of money that doesn’t require a green light from a major studio. During their meeting Borman promised Stone he would make his next picture. ”I had wanted to work with Oliver badly. And so I met with him and asked him, ‘What would you like to do?”’ says Borman. ”I was hoping he’d come back and say something small with just three people in a room. Panic Room 2! He said, ‘You know what? I want to get back into Alexander.”’