On the strength of his previous movie, The Lives of Others (2006), director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck was granted a large amount of control in casting decisions and the screenplay for his big-budget Hollywood debut. However, when shooting began, his famous lead actors took control, and in the end, he had very little creative input.
The HFPA received ridicule when they nominated it for a Golden Globe in the Best Film (Musical or Comedy) category, since it was not marketed as a comedy. The director, however, stated he felt the film was more comedy, than drama. Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp were also nominated for Best Lead Actor and Best Lead Actress respectively.
Angelina Jolie had been attracted to the project by the potential of the strong female character, and by the chance to work with Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, and to have him co-write the script. After a very early meeting, it was clear that the director and star were on the same page about the kind of movie they wanted to make. Jolie said: "The Lives of Others (2006) is a beautiful, intelligent film, but also heavy. When we met, he was very clear that he wanted to make a movie that was luxurious and fun, something that would be exciting for people to watch, but didn't take itself too seriously. It was a perfect match."
The Doge Suite in the film is located inside the Danieli Hotel in Venice, Italy and the crew did actually film in the lobby of the Danieli Hotel, though a suite was constructed off the hotel premises. The actual location of the Doge Suite set was at the Palazzo Pisani Moretta, right on the Grand Canal, so it had the perfect balcony where an intimate scene between Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie) and Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) could be shot. Venice is a city built in brick, and the Doge Suite's interior earthy terracotta hues meshed with ornate accents like crystal chandeliers enhance the location space of Palazzo Pisani Moretta. Production Designer Jon Hutman re-proportioned the rooms and with double doors and floor to ceiling windows the space transformed into timeless combination of modern and old Venetian décor. Angelina Jolie said: "When we were shooting inside the Doge Suite set, I spent the three days of shooting there thinking, 'What an amazing hotel room'. Then someone showed me that none of the walls were real, and that's not real marble, it's painted. It was crafted so meticulously I couldn't tell what was added on and what was adjusted."
Venice, Italy is primarily a tourist destination, and the Mayor's Office and the Chief of Police in Venice were very helpful during filming, in assisting the production blend in with some of the twenty million visitors the city receives every year with a minimum of headaches. From Piazza San Marco, to the Peggy Guggenheim, to the Natural History Museum, to the Rialto Market, to the Arsenale, tourists visiting the city caught a glimpse of movie stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in action.
The film's Venice geography is largely fictitious. There is a real Hotel Danieli in Venice, located next to the Piazza San Marco with a large pedestrian area in front. The Hotel Danieli seen in the film is located in the Grand Canal close to the Ponte Rialto and is only approachable by boat. Its lower floors were filmed at the Palazzo Pisani Moretta with computer/studio extensions added for its top floors. When Johnny Depp escapes from the hotel, he runs across rooftops towards the Rialto Bridge, which is seen from south-west, but then jumps from a building and lands in the Rialto Market far north of the bridge on the opposite side of the canal.
When Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck presented his vision of The Tourist (2010) to Graham King, it took King all of thirty minutes to decide that he wanted to finance and produce the film. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck said: "I wanted to make a film that would be one of those experiences where you just sit back and enjoy life for a couple of hours." King said: "When Florian sent me the script, there was a combination of factors that made me want to sign on. In the past several years, he had seen a lot of scripts, and passed on a lot of scripts - he had his choice of projects - so I was intrigued that he had taken to this one. Having Angelina Jolie attached didn't hurt, either."
Johnny Depp said that he liked working with Graham King. Depp said this was because "Graham is a renegade. He understands the rules of the game, but he doesn't necessarily adhere to them. He thrives on the risk factor, and that makes him unique. He likes a challenge, he's got great taste, and he doesn't care what other people are doing. He cares about what he believes in."
Production Designer Jon Hutman said of filming in Venice, Italy: "There is something about being there.The water, the architecture, and the history combined create something very special. What we have tried to do is take these existing visual gems and fit them into the story." Not only was it the right creative choice to shoot the movie in Venice, but surprisingly enough, the choice made practical sense as well. "It seems like a crazy thing for a studio or producer to allow, but we had a very limited window in which to make the movie. We didn't have time to build the Venice interiors on a soundstage. For entirely practical reasons, we had to do the unheard-of thing."
"Every day, we tried to add more detail and texture. One night, shortly before we shot the sequence, I came home from work in the early morning hours and saw this beautiful fog, all over Venice," said Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. "I thought, 'Oh, it would be really nice to have that in the film.' So we went pretty heavy on the fog to try to recreate that beauty. It was really a good way to use the dark side of the city, the danger that comes with the romance."
Among the more than fifty locations in the film, Jon Hutman's team was tasked with huge builds on three sets: the Doge Suite in the Danieli Hotel; the Gala, a black-tie affair; and Alexander Pearce's apartment, where the climax of the film takes place.
For the Gala set, Jon Hutman and his team took ten weeks to design a concept for an empty space the size of a football field. Hutman and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, along with Location Manager Fabrizio Cerato, found the Scuola Grande della Misericordia in the Canneregio district in Venice, Italy, and fell in love with it from the moment they saw it. This vast interior of this eighteenth century building has exposed brick walls, typical in Venetian architecture, along with columns for building support. Hutman and his Supervising Art Director, Marco Trentini, and a team of twenty expert builders and painters, took four weeks after the designs were completed to bring the set to life. Because the building is historically preserved, The City of Venice had to approve every aspect of Hutman's design, right down to the nail. An entire mezzanine and balcony were built from scratch; sculpted and sanded to match the existing columns and floors. This was complete with a railed staircases. A dance floor was built from wood, and the wood was hand-painted to look like marble. A raised platform was constructed for the twenty-piece orchestra featured in the scene. The columns were wrapped with mirrors and squared wooden frames that were painted to blend in with the real white marble. Electrical outlets were installed for the crystal sconce accessories that radiated in the space. "As Elise and Frank dance, you have this glittering, sparkling background. Glamour. A formal but kind of raw elegance," said Hutman.
At one point, Paul Bettany mentions a bank account in Liechtenstein. In the movie A Knight's Tale (2001), in which Bettany also stars, Heath Ledger's character goes by the name Ulrich Von Liechtenstein.
Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie were two of the most engaging, charismatic, and talented actors working in film at the time, according to the movie's production notes. But as the film requires its characters to share an immediate attraction to each other, all felt it was a good idea to meet and talk before signing on, and believe it or not, that is how Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp met for the first time. Despite being two of the biggest movie stars, they had not entered each other's orbit until they sat down to discuss The Tourist (2010) with the producer and director. Producer Graham King sat quietly and watched them interact, watching to see how the actors would get along. Perhaps it was no surprise that they clicked from the first moment. King said: "There was complete instant chemistry between them both." Producer Tim Headington of GK Films added: "Graham called me right after that meeting and was so excited. Later, when we started filming and seeing dailies, it was just like magic on tape." For Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, they were the perfect leads for this film. He said: "They're great movie stars, but more than that, they are great actors, and I wanted to give them roles in which they could really show what they can do. Elise is charming and delicate and feminine and strong, all at the same time; Frank is winning and charming and funny, just like Johnny is in real life." Co-Screenwriter Julian Fellowes said: "Having either Angelina Jolie or Johnny Depp in this film would have been extraordinary, but the pair together is that perfect combination you dream about but rarely, if ever, happens."
Both lead actors saw their marriages fall apart in 2016. Angelina Jolie surprised everybody for initiating divorce proceedings from Brad Pitt, following altercations over the rearing of their children, while Johnny Depp's marriage to Amber Heard came to an acrimonious end in the full glare of the tabloids.
The most important step for the director and producer was to find the right leading man for actress Angelina Jolie, who was already attached when Johnny Depp came on board. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck said: "We really needed someone who wouldn't be eclipsed by Angelina. When we brainstormed over what actor could be a true partner for her in terms of attractiveness, intelligence, and acting skill, the only name that kept coming to our minds was Johnny Depp."
Johnny Depp and Graham King have been friends for years, and at the time of production, had recently teamed up on several projects. After wrapping one such collaboration and with an eye toward working together again, King mentioned to Depp that Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and he were looking for a leading man to star in a fun, exciting, sexy thriller opposite Angelina Jolie, and both felt that he would be perfect for the part. So Depp and Donnersmarck had a meeting and talked about The Tourist (2010). Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck said: "I presented the kind of character I envisioned for him, and he liked it. Our meeting lasted three hours instead of one, and we laughed so much, that I realized I needed to introduce a lot of humor into the script to do justice to Johnny's charm."
The setting called for the film's action sequences to be striking, and written especially for the city. Stunt Choreographer Simon Crane was charged with planning character-driven action sequences unique to Venice. Crane said: "Anyone can dream up an action sequence. But if it doesn't fit the tone of the film, it's totally worthless. It's all about believability."
Graham King said of this film: "I wanted this to be a thriller that was simply a fun time at the movies. Two extraordinary actors, with amazing chemistry, set in an exotic, bigger-than-life location. Who wouldn't want to go on an adventure in Paris and Venice with Angelina and Johnny?"
The screenwriters set the film in Venice, which Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck said, lent the film its entirely unique atmosphere of beauty and danger. Florian added: "Somebody once said that Kodak owed most of its revenue to Venice. In terms of art and beauty, it's the richest place in the world - there's nothing else like it. In reality, the city is sinking and falling to bits, but we wanted to show the glory of the place. We asked ourselves, how can we show the city from its best side? There are elements of the plot that are dangerous - but, thanks to Venice, not so dangerous that you might feel miserable about it."
Two cast members - Vladimir Orlov and Vladimir Tevlovski - were both first named Vladimir. The pair played the characters of Lebyadkin and Liputin respectively, characters whose first names both began with the letter "L". Both Vlads were also stunt-men working on the picture in stunts as part of the stunt department.
In early conversations between Jon Hutman and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, they agreed the film's design had to reflect the beauty of the city of Venice, while making sure the city still felt fresh and contemporary. Hutman explained: "Where else, but the city of Venice, can you have canal boat chases and roof top chases, but also have your characters doing a walk-and-talk strolling through some of the most stunning streets in the world? Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, and Venice . . . It doesn't get much better than that!".
It was Julian Fellowes who hatched the idea of setting the film in Venice. He said: "Venice combines beguiling beauty with a sinister under-taste of a decay of civilization. The city can have a darkness to it."
The production notes for the film declare that the Italian water-set city of Venice is "city of canals" and stretches across a shallow and marshy lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in Northeast Italy. Venice was built on an archipelago of one hundred eighteen islands formed by about one hundred fifty canals, with roughly four hundred bridges connecting the islands. Transportation is either by boat or on foot. No cars, or even bicycles are allowed.
Even with the logistical challenges the city of Venice presented, it was easy to sell the filmmakers on the location. Executive Producer Lloyd Phillips explained: "You really never know what Venice is about. It has so many faces. The architecture is so unique. The light is like nowhere else in the world. It bounces off the canals onto windows in such a magical way. This film is filled with twists and turns, and that intrigue, along with the combination of the character of the city, is a perfect marriage."
The name of the spy novel that Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp) was reading, was the fictitious book "The Berlin Vendetta" by fictitious novelist Charles Torbett. Coincidentally though, working in the film industry, there really is a Charles Torbett, who is an Art Department Property Master.
The extras feature titled "Action In Venice" commentary states that actors and crew who had to enter the Venetian water were put on antibiotics for weeks beforehand, as the water was deemed so polluted.
A scene in which Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), attempting to escape would-be murderers who are convinced he is Alexander Pearce, leaps across Venice rooftops, just as Casanova did as he attempted to escape jealous husbands. "It came to me when reading about Casanova. Of course, Frank is the anti-Casanova," said Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. "I thought, wouldn't that be a fun way to present him, not as a great, confident lover trying to escape the cuckolded husband, but running for his life from gangsters. It reinforces the character and also presents all the beauty of Venice. It was a lot of fun."
An action sequence that made full use of everything Venice, Italy had to offer, was the canal boat chase. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck captured the action with multiple cameras over seven nights. Jolie even learned to drive several kinds of boats for the sequence. Creating such a stylized stunt sequence, and at night no less, was a challenge, not least because the team was prevented from rehearsing in the actual location. However, it was a challenge perfectly suited to Simon Crane who said: "We rehearsed everything on open water, with buoys and other markers. It was a challenge, but you just have to do it."