Interview: Morten Tyldum, Director Of 'Imitation Game' Director Morten Tyldum says he wanted the film, about World War II code breaker Alan Turing, to show "how important it is to actually celebrate those who are different than us instead of fear them."
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In 'Imitation Game,' An Outsider Takes Center Stage

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In 'Imitation Game,' An Outsider Takes Center Stage

In 'Imitation Game,' An Outsider Takes Center Stage

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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

The new film "The Imitation Game" tells the story of World War II code-breaker Alan Turing. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the socially awkward, eccentric British mathematician who led the effort to break the Nazi's secret codes.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE IMITATION GAME")

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) I like solving problems, commander. And Enigma is the most difficult problem in the world.

CHARLES DANCE: (As Commander Denniston) Enigma isn't difficult. It's impossible. The Americans, the Russians, the French, the Germans - everyone thinks Enigma is unbreakable.

CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) Good. Let me try and we'll know for sure, won't we?

WESTERVELT: Turing went on to crack the Nazi's Enigma machine, and his work was instrumental in helping bring World War II to a close faster. "The Imitation Game" chronicles Alan Turing's work as a code-breaker, the bullying he faced in his youth and the trials he endured as a gay man in Britain at a time when homosexuality was a crime. The film's director, Morten Tyldum, spoke with NPR's Arun Rath.

ARUN RATH, BYLINE: So first I'm curious, what did you know about Alan Turing before you started on this project?

MORTEN TYLDUM: First of all, I didn't know anything about Alan Turing. I was shocked how little I knew. I mean, why wasn't this man on the front cover of my history book when I was at school? Because his achievements are so staggering. So I became obsessed with him. I needed to know everything. And as a filmmaker, it's such a blessing 'cause you find this story that you just need to tell and you feel you're part of something which becomes very important.

RATH: And well, there's a reason why we don't know as much about him or why for so long we didn't, because all of that work, that code-breaking work was top secret.

TYLDUM: Yeah, everything was burned. Everything was erased. It was kept secret from almost 50 years - probably one of the, you know, best kept secrets ever. So many people never spoke to - they didn't tell their husbands, they didn't tell their children. And also, Alan Turing, who stood trial, you know, he was...

RATH: Charged with indecency because he was homosexual.

TYLDUM: For being a gay man after the war in the UK, which is in itself - is shocking. But standing trial, he never spoke. He never raised his hand and said you know what I did? I was a war hero. I saved millions of people.

RATH: Yeah.

TYLDUM: He never said anything. And it's just staggering to think about.

RATH: So you trace the secrets of Alan Turing's life. But you pull off something kind of tricky, because you jump around from different periods in his youth at a British public school, his time doing the code-breaking work in World War II and then that time later in his life. Why that approach? Why not just take things in order?

TYLDUM: I mean, first of all I didn't want it to be told as a traditional history lesson. I wanted the movie to be intriguing, thrilling, exciting, and - because that's how his life was. To me, Alan Turing was a mystery. He was sort of like something I need to unravel. And he was also obsessed with puzzles, so I wanted to make the movie like a mystery, like a puzzle that you're piecing together.

RATH: Benedict Cumberbatch does amazing acting without words, with his body and his eyes conveying Turing's awkwardness.

TYLDUM: I mean, Benedict transforms. He doesn't act. I mean, he becomes Turing. I put aside three weeks of rehearsal, which is now getting rarer and rarer to actually have that. And we were able to really explore these characters and really find the voice of Alan Turing and try to create him because there's no recordings of him. Nobody knows how he talks. Nobody knows how he moves. There's only, you know, just descriptions of him. So we had to sort of, like, piece him together.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE IMITATION GAME")

ALLEN LEECH: (As John Cairncross) Alan?

CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) Yes?

LEECH: (As John Cairncross) I said we're going to get some lunch.

Alan?

CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) Yes?

LEECH: (As John Cairncross) Can you hear me?

CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) Yes.

LEECH: (As John Cairncross) I said we're off to get some - (laughter) this is starting to get a little bit repetitive.

CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) What is?

LEECH: (As John Cairncross) I had asked if you wanted to come lunch with us.

CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) No, you didn't. You said you were going to get some lunch.

TYLDUM: I really think he makes Alan Turing come to life. And Alan Turing's family was there when we opened the British Film Festival. They were very complimentary about how we did, so that was a good feeling.

RATH: And there are artistic liberties taken, something that you have to do in the course of making a dramatic film. Were you nervous about any of that given the fact that a lot of people invested a lot into Alan Turing?

TYLDUM: Yeah, I mean, the biggest artistic license that we did was actually to compress things. The thing though is that the story of Alan Turing is so - I mean, if you wrote it as fiction, you would go, like, this could never ever happen. This is too wild. You have these awkward misrepresentations. He becomes this super spy and, you know, cracks the Nazi Enigma code and he's gay. He's being prosecuted for it. And it's like...

RATH: And fathers computer science.

TYLDUM: Well, not to mention he actually creates computer science. But it's all true, so it's more been a choice of what to tell and not what not to tell.

RATH: You know, there have been other dramatic adaptations of Turing's life. What was the story that you wanted to tell?

TYLDUM: To me, it's a story about the outsider. To me, I wanted to make a celebration about being different. And also, how important it is to actually celebrate those who are different than us instead of fearing them.

RATH: Morten Tyldum is the director of "The Imitation Game," the new film that tells the story of Alan Turing. Morten, thank you very much.

TYLDUM: Oh, thank you.

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