Alfonso Cuaron (Director - 'Children of Men')
'Of Mice and Men'
Released in September in the UK, the dystopian sci-fi drama about a world where humanity is fallen into despair due to infertility is the latest effort from acclaimed filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron.
Cuaron shot to fame with the highly acclaimed road movie "Y tu mama tambien" in 2001, and followed that with 2004's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" which also drew great notices for its breaking the straightforward and stolid franchise into a new and more artistic direction.
Now with "Children" he has another critical hit on his hands.
Can you talk a little bit about how this movie is not just a wild observation of a futuristic movie, but how you see the parallels to things that are going on today. Such as the current immigration and Homeland Security issues "It's obviously a futuristic movie at its core because it takes place in the near future, but the reason it takes place in the near future is only because of a convention of story in which we're talking about infertility and 18 years of infertility. That infertility we use just as a metaphor. We didn't want to go ... in a science fiction movie you would have gone into the whys and the mystery of infertility. We decided to not even care about it and just take it as a point of departure. So based upon that, taking that as a point of departure, to try to make an observation about the state of things. You know, what is happening outside the green zones that we happily live in and what happens if we bring the world into the green zones. We experience for an hour and a half the state of things and then try to make our own conclusions about the possibility of hope."
Which scene was harder to pull off: The car attack or the birth? "You're talking about ... well, there was another scene that is the battle at the end that comes together with the birth and the car attack. The complication of the car attack, even if the production value is not as bombastic as the battle scene, the problem with the car attack is that you're in a vehicle in motion. So that becomes a real nightmare in terms of timings, and cues and stuff. More difficult than the timing of the birth scene because in one shot you see how this girl enters the room and delivers the baby. And so we have to plan that like 10 months beforehand, you know, for the girl to get pregnant, to follow her through the whole thing, for Clive Owen to learn how to deliver a baby, and for the baby to come right at the perfect moment in which the camera comes around the legs. So that was the toughest one. We never knew who the father was. We heard that he was yesterday at the premiere. The only thing we asked Clare is to try to make it like a mixed race kind of thing so that's the only clue that we have," he laughs.
How involved were you in the design of the future and were there some things that you decided on in the future that were going to be or not be like. For example, that you have cars in the future, but you don't have the traffic in London that you see today? "Well, the balance here was and that was the most difficult thing in terms of the design. On the one hand, how to create a reality that if you are watching and you know that the convention is that the film takes place in the future, how you accept that that is the future without alienating the sense of today. And that was the biggest challenge. How not to create supersonic cars that will transport you emotionally and in terms of your imagination, but to make cars that if you look closely that they feel like today. But if you look closely, you say, 'Oh, I've never seen that car.' And that was the toughest balance, but it's not only about the cars, it's about how far you push the billboards. You know, I wanted the billboards to look like today but at the same time they have to honor the fact that the story is taking place 20 years from now."
"So that was the toughest balance to deal with and because ... and the other thing was the constant referential thing. When I started working on the film, the first meeting with the art department, they came up with the most amazing... I think that they heard that it was a movie of the future and they undusted all these concept designs - beautiful supersonic cars, buildings, the whole thing. And they were really beautiful but I said, 'This is not the movie we're doing. The movie we're doing is this.' And inside I had my own file of photographs from Iraq, from Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Somalia, Chernobyl, and I mean this is the movie we're doing. And the rule #1 in this film is that whatever we see has to have a visual reference of stuff that now has become part of human consciousness and it's an iconography that mostly came out of the media. So that was the balance, how to make it the future but feel today and that every single thing as Emmanuel Lubezki, my cinematographer, kept saying we cannot afford to have one single film frame -- meaning 24 frames per second -- so one single photogram that is not commenting about the state of things. So that was the big challenge."
When you were writing, did you have any one cast member in mind? And then after you finished, how did you find the cast that you were looking for? "There were people that Tim Sexton and I used to mention. We used to refer to Jasper as the Michael Caine character. And Clive from the beginning, when we were writing, I remember that we had just seen Croupier. Because I wrote this script with Tim right after Y Tu Mama Tambien. And we kept on saying, 'Yeah, it's like the guy in Croupier' knowing that at that point maybe that wouldn't have been like the biggest choice for the studio. What is so great is that I didn't do the film right away. I did Harry Potter. When I finished Harry Potter, suddenly the studio wanted Clive and that was such a fantastic coincidence in the whole thing. Suddenly it was like I had the dream cast and I had a cast that protected me. I consider my cast as other co-writers. They really took care of their characters but they took care of the truthfulness of what their characters were going to do in the context of the story. I have nothing but thankfulness for these guys. They were absolutely amazing. And actually like Michael Caine, you've never seen Michael Caine farting before, and he is still Michael Caine but only he is farting and smoking joints and stuff."
"That is so alien to what he is. It's just that he is such an amazing actor. We did make-up tests and costume tests. We were in his place and he mentioned from the get go, he says 'I want to play this like John Lennon' because he was friends with Lennon. And then he started to tell me how Lennon used to talk like very nasal. And if you see the way he performed the whole thing, he speaks in a very nasal kind of way. And so we're doing all these make-up and fittings and he looks at himself and that's the beauty of witnessing the process of actors. You have Sir Michael Caine who is doing his fittings, he goes and looks at himself in the mirror, and his whole body language changed. He stopped being Michael Caine. He was this other character. In that moment, his wife walks into the room and goes next to him and says, 'Have you seen my husband.' The wife didn't recognize Michael so there was a sweet story with Michael. But I think the reason this film works is because of Clive Owen because Clive is the vessel for our emotional journey in this film, otherwise it would almost be like a documentary."
What about Clare? "We looked for ... well, to get to who was going to play Kee, the thing is the options were so open in the sense that we knew that she needs to speak enough English so we can go any nationality. So we did casting in, I don't know, like 20 different countries. Clare was...and actually because I wanted to, even though in the script she was described as an African girl, we said we don't want just because of some conceptual thing to maybe miss the great actress who could be playing this role, so we opened up our scope and (claps hands) we end up with Clare. I think that she represented the vulnerability and something that I admire about Clare, she stripped the whole thing of sentimentality. You know, she made it a very rough character. She didn't do the precious... It was... There was always the temptation to do the cute relationship between Theo and Kee, you know, almost like the central father-daughter relationship. Part of our premise is they cannot have that amazing chemistry because you don't choose who you survive with. You know, we need to keep a certain tension there, not a comfortable thing of, you know, the father-daughter relationship or even the suggestion of maybe a sensual relationship between the two of them. We wanted to keep it dry, very dry. And that's another thing of Clare and with Clive is that they keep that dryness but they play those things with a lot of compassion so more than chemistry they had empathy. That is different."
What was your reaction when you first read the book? "The truth of the matter is I didn't respond to the material. I was not interested in doing a science fiction film and also the book takes place in a very posh universe. I respect, I love P.D. James. I enjoy the book but I couldn't see myself making that movie. And nevertheless, the premise of infertility kept on haunting me for weeks and weeks and weeks. Maybe three weeks I was in Santa Barbara, in one beach in Santa Barbara, when I questioned myself, 'Why this premise haunts me so much?' And it's when I realized that the premise could serve as a metaphor for the fading sense of hope that humanity has today. And that's when I said, 'Okay, this can be the point of departure for talking about the state of things today.' So the next stage was to try to explore what the state of things are and you don't have to go very far to learn that environment and immigration are two of the main factors that are shaping this world and that are actually very connected. If the environment keeps on going the way that we're going, it's actually going to make the immigration phenomenally even more acute. So that was the point of departure, that was... I'm very thankful with P.D. James because she inspired me so much with her premise."
"Now from the moment in which we started exploring this then we have to craft a parallel story, not necessarily the story that was in the book because we need to honor the story that had to do with the immigration phenomena so we created the whole thing of the refugees and we created the whole thing of Kee as a refugee, the whole thing of the refugee camp. And let me put it this way, in the book, Kee doesn't exist. In the book who's pregnant is Julianne Moore. So we just took a big departure there."
In the final scenes do you think the fact that the last baby is Latino and the new one is black has a message or is just a coincidence? "Well, I don't know about that. I didn't want to make a movie about messages per se. The same as it's not like Homeland Security. It's not that it is a movie about trying to send messages about those things, [it's] about trying to make an observation but then people have to come with their own conclusions. For me there were a lot of metaphorical aspects that worked. We were trying to work with archetypes but also with certain metaphors. The fact of having an African child or the son of an African girl -- the child is actually the daughter of an African girl -- has to do with the fact that humanity started in Africa. But also to put the future in the hands of the dispossessed and the lower caste of humanity and to create a new humanity to spring out of that. And baby Diego was an homage to the Argentinians in the room," he laughs.
Would you ever return to the Harry Potter franchise? "I would love to have the opportunity of revisiting the Harry Potter universe. It's an amazing experience to do those films because while you're doing those films, you're surrounded by this amazing beneficial energy. Everything that surrounds the J.K. Rowling creation - I'm not talking about the film franchise but the creation of J.K. Rowling -- is impregnated with this amazing beneficial energy. So for me it was two amazing years of my life. I wouldn't mind at all revisiting that."
Have you seen 'Pan's Labyrinth' and if so what was your reaction to Guillermo Del Toro's lates? "With Pan's Labyrinth, I find that there are three films that I consider sister films this year. It's Pan's Labyrinth, Children of Men, and Babel. And I think that has to do with [the fact] that we collaborate all the time. We love to stick our forks in each other's salads. I consult Alejandro [Inarritu] and Guillermo [del Toro] all the time. I love Pan's Labyrinth. Probably one of the most gratifying moments in my life making films is to be in the premiere of Pan's Labyrinth in Cannes in which they had the longest standing ovation since 1968."
"And it was so beautiful to see Guillermo during the first two minutes really touched by the applause, by minute 5 he was crying, minute 7 he was dancing, and by minute 12 he was stripping," he laughs. "He was taking his clothes off because suddenly he didn't know what else to do. And it was so beautiful to witness that, but the power of that applause, it was not only about the hypnotic thing of the applause, it was that I find that the ending of Pan's Labyrinth has an amazing profundity. It is this ending which the liberation by death of one of the characters is the grief of the character that stays behind. I think it's an amazing...it has a lot of different connotations. I find that it is a very brave and a very beautiful film. I love it. I love it."
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