Denis Villeneuve Curated
Hollywood Film Director
CURATED BY :
You work very hard, you make ambitious films, and you are prolific. What do you do for fun?
Someone asked when I was finishing the film, “are you going off to an island?” I said no; I want to go back to Montreal and cook for my kids. I want to wake up in the morning and drink a coffee, and the only thing I have to think about is what I am going to buy at the store to cook for my kids for dinner. Right now cinema is the only thing in my life. For the past 10 years it has been cinema. It means I read, eat, breathe cinema all the time. Just everything I do is in contact with a project. So what that means is I am a very boring human being. I don’t do tennis; I don’t do chess. It might be a problem. I need to do something else.
Did Jared Leto send you a fish in the mail or anything?
No, he did that on the previous movie. On Blade Runner, he was only there for a short period of time. Two or three weeks. I think I was protected. Had it been longer, maybe I would have gotten in the danger zone. The idea of him being blind was beautiful and created a beautiful atmosphere on set. When he was walking, it was like a priest coming into the church. He had those contact lenses done by hand, done by an artist to imitate the eyes of one of his friends who is blind. He never saw my film crew! He just heard them. It was really nice, because it created little details, especially with Harrison Ford—moments like, “he can’t do that right now” because he can’t see. I didn’t know he was going to do it this way. I had designed a set with Dennis Gassner, a set with pools of water. So can you imagine, he was in a little island surrounded by water. I had to direct him like a computer. “You walk nine steps this way, five steps this way, now stop—or else you will fall in the water.”
Jared Leto has a bit of a reputation for getting into character. On Blade Runner 2049, his character considers himself to be a god. Did that manifest itself during his preparation?
No, he was very gracious. I worked with a secure, prepared, direct, and friendly artist. He was not an a-hole at all.
Your films are very serious. On the set, do you ever tell jokes, play music?
I can’t work with music. I had the experience one time directing with music, and thinking that what I was doing was so great because the music was so good. Then I saw the dailies and it was shit. I like silence. I love a quiet, calm environment. And my cinematographer is the same. Roger is like a monk. He doesn’t like to talk.
Some critics accused the “world” in Blade Runner 2049 of being hostile to women. How do you feel about that?
I am very sensitive to how I portray women in movies. This is my ninth feature film and six of them have women in the lead role. The first Blade Runner was quite rough on the women; something about the film noir aesthetic. But I tried to bring depth to all the characters. For Joi, the holographic character, you see how she evolves. It’s interesting, I think. What is cinema? Cinema is a mirror on society. Blade Runner is not about tomorrow; it’s about today. And I’m sorry, but the world is not kind on women. There’s a sense in American cinema: you want to portray an ideal world. You want to portray a utopia. That’s good—dreams for a better world, to advocate for something better, yes. But if you look at my movies, they are exploring today’s shadows. The first Blade Runner is the biggest dystopian statement of the last half century. I did the follow-up to that, so yes, it’s a dystopian vision of today. Which magnifies all the faults. That’s what I’ll say about that.
Critics loved Blade Runner 2049, but it was a box office bomb. How do you feel about that?
No. It’s not enough. The truth is, it did good box office in the world. It is honest, solid box office. In the States? It is not good. From an artistic point of view, the film is a total success. To make a follow-up to Blade Runner? I was expecting to be welcomed with baseball bats. I’ve never had good reviews like that. So artistically, I was blessed by the gods of Cinema! It’s a mystery. All the marketing tools were predicting good box office. The tracking, they call it—it was very strong. They had all the champagne in the fridge. It was cold, it was ready to drink! And then, no.
Dune was already made whereas Blade Runner 2049 is a completely original sequel, how do you walk this line?
The look of David Lynch’s Dune is masterful. The design is insane, honestly. But on this, I feel totally free. On Blade Runner? No. When I did Prisoners and Blade Runner, I signed on a story. I was not allowed to bring in pink elephants, you know? Surely, they are my movies; I consider Blade Runner to be as close to me as Incendies. But for Dune, I am working on the script now. Maybe in six months, we’ll see: “oh, I’m unemployed!” Maybe they won’t like what I am doing.
What is the difference Roger Deakins makes in your filmmaking process?
Rigor. Insane rigor. Is that a word in English? Yes, rigor. Each shot needs to reach its full potential. He will never do a pickup quickly. It all needs to be approved by him. He has a hypersensitivity to light that I’ve never seen. In every shot there is a feeling of pressure. Tension. Tension from the dynamics of the frame, the inner rhythm of the camera movement. Roger and I approach a scene similarly. There’s not a lot friction. It’s so strange. We are otherwise so different. It’s like a lobster working with a giraffe.
Do you think that with Blade Runner, you inherited a pre-existing visual world?
The most difficult thing I’ve ever done was to take someone else’s dream and make it my own. I didn’t want to feel like a vandal in Ridley’s church. It took a long process of dreaming and meditation. And [cinematographer] Roger Deakins was a huge part of this.
Do you miss doing lower-budget films?
No. Maybe I will one day? To do a movie like Blade Runner requires a lot of energy and a lot of stamina, and I have it right now. I’m not sure I’ll have it in 20 years if I am still doing this job. The process is mostly the same. The initial dream is great. To communicate your vision with thousands of people? That’s the big difference from smaller movies, when you move from chamber orchestra to symphonic orchestra and have everyone play the same tune.
Are you sick to death of talking about Blade Runner 2049?
As we were shooting, I said to the producer, “I cannot talk about something as it is being made—it’s like asking a hockey player how he will score as he is skating toward the net.” I’ve been asked about this movie for almost two years. I admit, today I was waking up and I said, “what is left to say?”
You don’t move the camera a lot in Arrival, but when you do, it’s very precise, very methodical, often with a kind of ominous forward momentum. How did you approach the question of when and how to move the camera in this film?
A process I'm enjoying more and more that came from my relationship with [Roger] Deakins [the director of photography on Prisoners and Sicario] is the process of storyboarding. In my early movies, I only storyboarded sequences where I felt that there was some technical challenge, like a stunt or an explosion, where you need to storyboard so that people know [what’s going to happen]. I thought storyboarding was a restrictive process. I discovered working with Roger that it was the total opposite. It's a way to find the right [shots and camera movements] in a more precise way. It brings me more freedom on set, because everybody knows what we are doing. Then I can tear the storyboard apart. For me, storyboarding is about what’s written [in the script], and finding the right pacing and the way the movie will breathe. It's something that is a very intuitive process, but it's tracked in the storyboards very early on. Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner were tracked in storyboards. It doesn’t mean I always follow the plan! It's a very intuitive process to find the best shot for a scene and what will be the most meaningful. What will have the most impact and will create the most tension and most poetry. It's my favorite moment of my job.
When you look back at these five films, they’re very superficially different in terms of genre and story, but I’m wondering what links you see between them. Do you see a throughline in what material draws you to it?
That's why I need to stop. Seriously! When you keep the pace of what I did, for instance, in a row, I didn't have time to see necessarily the links. Honestly, I'm attracted to a story if I feel an intimate link that goes to my own evolution as a human being. It can be a relationship with anger or a fear that I have or an obsession that I have or a weakness or something. I dig into it, and I make it my own. It's something that is hidden under the hood. That's the fuel of the movie for me. Other people will not maybe see what is there, but it's how I am able to direct the movie. The link between all those movies, honestly — I apologize, I have no distance. It's not a bad thing. It's good. When you make a movie, you need to deeply be in control of what you are saying. It's important to not try to overthink and censor yourself, to be truthful and to say something honest. To be honest, I need to look at myself [to find that link].
What’s a thing you know now that you maybe didn’t before you went on this streak of filmmaking?
My relationship with actors. I'm much more comfortable with actors now than before. A billion times more comfortable. I love actors now; before, I was afraid of them. I got more and more comfortable with actors and more and more secure with working with them. I am more collaborative, less dictator-y, more open. [Before this period], I was more academic, more, maybe a bit conservative in some ways about the film language, trying to be as minimalistic as possible, trying to find some purity in the form. I needed to be totally narrative-oriented, meaning that I was very influenced by American cinema, but in a very good way. I needed that deeply. I feel that after Blade Runner, I will rethink all of this. Whether I will go in another direction or go forward in this direction, I don't know. But it was a real need to try to approach storytelling through the most, I will say, humble point of view.
You want to slow down, but have you liked the pace of that work over these past few years?
Honestly, yes. It was not planned, but I had never felt that alive, working like that. At home, where I was raised, I was used to doing a movie every three or four years. By the time you write the film, by the time it's financed, years have passed. To be in contact with the camera that often, with actors, I learned so much in the past six years. It was a massive, intense cinema crash course. That's why after Blade Runner, I want to stop, slow down just a little bit.
You’ve made enough films now, in enough different genres. Have you started getting a sense of what your career looks like?
That's terrifying! Time was so compressed in the last few years. I made five movies in six years, which is too much for me. I will need to have a slower pace in order to make sure I don't repeat myself and try to do things that are meaningful.
A lot of Arrival is solving puzzles, figuring things out, watching as characters think things through. That can be tricky to portray onscreen. How did you work with the actors and others on the crew to convey that intellectual quality?
Actors need to be driven by emotions. What I do first is try to make sure that they can work with as much reality as possible. On Arrival I put a lot of time into the interior of the spaceship, to create that chamber with that tunnel, to create physical things, to use as little green screen as possible and always be in contact with something real. That huge chamber that we built, all my friends, other directors, came, and they went, "Whoa!" At the end [of the chamber], we had that huge white screen, and I thought that it would be a good idea to have puppeteers behind it [where the aliens are in the film], to act like a shadow presence, so the actor will feel that there's some presence there, that there are beings there. In order to try to create original and fresh and interesting moments, to try to create something that looks like life. I'm trying to create an environment where the actors can evolve safely and take risks and not be judged. For me with actors, it's really about their inner journey as a character. My job is to focus on the meaning and the poetry of what was coming out, but I love to be surprised by actors. I love when they do something that I was not prepared for and that sometimes brings more strength to the story.
Arrival was released in the US in the immediate wake of the election. How do its themes of communication and understanding resonate for you as you look at the world at large?
What was interesting for me in that project was the playfulness of the idea of language changing your perception of reality. There's a link with cinema, with that. There's a lot of things that I was really deeply moved by in the story, and the politics [between world powers] of it all were more in the background. They were there to bring tension and to give a proper journey. With Joe Walker [Arrival’s editor], we were in the editing room, saying, "Are we going too far?" Then I would open the newspaper and say, "Oh, no. [Russia] just invaded Ukraine." Sadly, we are going through not a nice period. We’re seeing the result of a decade of reality TV shows, where the goal is to see people get humiliated, and the more they are stupid, the more they are stars. When people are looking at that shit for too long, they confuse politics and reality shows. The fact that Arrival seems like a balm on people's souls right now means a lot. But it also means the world is really not in a good place.
How do you, as a filmmaker, experience the idea of spoilers. How do you feel about them?
I was on a jury for a film festival once, so I had seen something like 17 movies without knowing anything about them. I was sitting in a theater, not knowing where [each movie] was from, what genre it was, who was in it. It was one of the most intense and beautiful cinematic experiences of my life. To sit in a dark room, not knowing what the first frame will be and what it will be about. You don't know if you're watching a comedy or horror movie. I think today people know too much about film. I understand that there's lot of movies and it’s expensive [to go]. People want to know what they will be seeing. But I feel that trailers reveal too much. It's beautiful just knowing the title and [nothing else]. We are seeing too much right now. Myself, as a filmmaker, I'm not sure I'm that interesting. Some filmmakers, it’s worth it to listen to them. I could listen to Martin Scorsese for hours. Myself, I think I'd rather people watch my movies than listen to me.
How we’re so powerless to so many horrors out there, even if we’re the law. Do you find this relevant in the context of Sicario?
Well, that’s interesting, but Emily’s character sticks to her moral values. So there’s some hope. I think to someone who is optimistic, there’s a lot of work to do.
What do you think Sicario is really about?
There’s a lot of things, but for me it’s about this idea that, do you need to become a monster in order to fight another monster? Is there another way of doing things? And it’s about foreign policy — how do we deal with problems outside of the border, specifically our neighboring ones like Mexico.
What exactly is Arrival about?
The movie starts with the landing of alien spaceships everywhere in the world, in random places. Places that have no meaning and there is nothing happening. It’s like a real positive invasion movie. The spaceships are landing, and nothing is happening. It’s the story of a linguist, played by Amy Adams, that is hired by the U.S. government, to go ahead and get in contact with those aliens inside and to try to understand why they are on Earth. It’s a very poignant story.
Arrival is a sci-fi film about communication, right?
It’s how language influences your perception of reality. It’s a very beautiful and powerful story. It was important for me to do this because after “Polytechnique” and “Incendies,” “Prisoners,” and “Sicario,” I found that I need to take a break out of darkness. “Story of Your Life” is very emotional and more light, and I just needed to go there for a while.
Do you think that Blade Runner 2049 is a large scale art house movie?
Exactly. I think that is one of the strong qualities of that movie, and that’s something that I will try to fight for, for the next one.
Can you tell me about working with Roger Deakins again? There are just so many fabulous shots in Sicario and the overall mood is so grim and claustrophobic. Also, do you have a favorite shot in the movie?
I feel that working with Roger is always a privilege. When I read the screenplay, the first thing I said after realizing I had fallen in love with it is, “It’s a very Roger Deakins project.” Because it was dealing with that kind of thematic darkness and we would need to approach it with dark nights of the desert. I just felt it would be a project that would be a good challenge for Roger. He got on board right away. Favorite shot? Hmmm. Each shot with Roger has it’s own singularity and it’s own strength. That shot at the end of the film with Benicio del Toro’s face in the dark and the shadow and just us feeling the edge of his eyes — that’s a a pretty powerful close up.
The way that the ending of Sicario raises questions, but doesn’t satisfyingly answer any of them gives the movie a deeper sense of unease.Do you think it might be its greatest strength in fact?
I agree. I think that the world is very complex. I think that the movie is a good way to ask questions. To give answers, you would write a lot of books. You can maybe do the whole journey over several movies maybe but I think that I like to approach reality with humility. If I had all the answers, I’d be a happy director, a happier human being, but I don’t. So for now, I have more questions than answers.
What do you think about the cold climax of Sicario?
Exactly. What I loved about the script is that you understand every character, you understand why every character does what they do. The lines are very precise. They are bringing you raison d’etres and yet they are bringing questions. It’s a movie that confronts our moral values. That’s why I love the screenplay so much. I think those are the best stories for me.
Revenge, the value of human life, the emotional and psychological cost of violence — these are themes you often return to. What keeps you drawn to these ideas?
As a kid, I [noticed] the headlines of newspapers are the same, all the time. There’s a feeling of repetition. Repetition is hell. How can we get out of those cycles of violence? How come we are still today talking about peace in Israel? How come we’re not able to find a solution yet? Something that will bring peace in this part of the world? It’s the same in a lot of places in the world right now. How come we are not able to find peace? Violence will just create violence and more and more violence. It’s something that as a society and as countries and as human beings we all reproduce. It’s so tough to evolve and to become adult as societies. It’s a topic that I think is very inspiring. Most movies, revenge seems like something that brings a kind of pleasure — a kind of satisfaction and something that has a power to solve problems. I don’t think so. So I like to explore revenge in a different way.
When Benicio del Toro says to Emily Blunt’s character at one point in Sicario, ”You’re not a wolf,” is that meant to be taken as a gender thing? That the female doesn’t have that killer instinct?
I think that the idea is that it’s not about gender. For me, that’s about her human quality. It’s about also generation. She represents a younger, more hopeful generation in the movie, and that is what it’s more about.
What is it about “Sicario” exactly that it has to be a female character for this story?
I think that when you look at it, there’s the idea that at one point, her femininity will be part of the story. I think that when people will see the film, it will make sense because of the relationship she had with other characters.
Is it true that originally in the script of Sicario, there was a man and that you guys changed it to a woman?
No, the truth is that it was written as a female from the start. People were amazed by the skill and how great the story was. But [screenwriter Taylor Sheridan] had been asked a few times to change the main character, but he said, “No,” because the story is the way he had figured it out. The story was inspired by a real female cop that Taylor met. She was his muse and he wanted to keep that in line as a source of inspiration. For obvious reasons, the way the story evolved, the character needed to be a woman. When I came on board, Lionsgate didn’t ask me to change it. The only thing I knew is that I would have less money to do the project because I would not be able to hire Brad Pitt or a big male star. For me, just the fact that we are talking about it is meaningful. When it’s a man, then we are not talking about that. We will not talk about it if the lead was Josh Brolin. I think that for me, there is a need to have more and more women with lead parts that are not the wife or a secretary. I like the idea of bringing strong female roles on the screen. My next project [starring Amy Adams] will be again with female lead and, in some way, I am inspired by female lead parts and I love that.
What drew you to want to tell the story of Sicario, specifically? The political element, the human element?
Well, first of all, it’s a disturbing point of view. The thing I loved about it was that it was raising questions about the world we live in. And the idea of exploring the topic of cycles of violence, and this idea of the temptation of dreaming of having people like Alejandro [Benicio Del Toro’s character] that can solve problems for us — all that was intriguing. The idea of being very violent and that need of having that evil or anti-evil and just knowing that violence would solve nothing. Knowing that he will do things that are very questionable. I felt it was a very fascinating screenplay, and also above it all, one that had some very powerful cinematic moments. As a filmmaker, there would be big challenges for me. I felt that I was ready to try and do an action movie, but I was trying to find an action movie with depth — a meaningful action movie. I had it in my head for a while that it would be great to make a hybrid of arthouse film and action movie. And I just felt that [“Sicario”] was the perfect project for that.
Did you feel compelled to tell the story of Sicario?
Yes, it’s just that inspiration is a strange thing. I felt that it was the same theme of what I was trying to explore with “Incendies” and “Prisoners.”
Sicario is panic-inducing and intense in an incredibly visceral manner. How did you react to a script so gritty?
You know it’s the same feeling that I had when I read the screenplay. That heart-in-your-mouth feeling was in the script already, so it’s something that I just had to protect and take care of. It was very, very involved and dark, and I remember that when I finished it I was like, “Is the world really like that today?” I felt doomed because I said, “…it’s gonna be dark again and it requires a lot stressful mental energy,” but I just fell in love with it at the time.
What are the some of the recent movies that deeply inspired you?
Did you ever think about what you would do with a James Bond movie?
Would you consider collaborating in a Star Wars movie in the future?
What is your connection with the Star Wars franchise?
Have you ever connected with a superhero, or a superhero adaptation on screen?
Are you trusting your gut while choosing what movies to do next, especially when they are backed by big studios and franchises?
While writing your upcoming movie, Dune, do you think about how you are going to portray the more epic elements of the book like the Sandworms and whether if its going to be practical or CGI?
In the ending of Arrival, the pivotal scene between Amy's and Jeremy's character, you chose to shoot the entire scene from behind. How do you decide where to place the camera in scenes like these?
All of your last 4 movies are in someway related to the concept of a parent losing a child. How close is this idea to you?
Do you see a connective tissue between Arrival and Blade Runner 2049?
Did you and the writers sketch out other potential stories for Blade Runner 2049?
Was the musical cue of 'Tears in Rain' always there at the end of Blade Runner 2049 or was it planned at a later stage?
Is it true that you were considering Emily Blunt for Luv's role in Blade Runner 2049?
Why does Luv cry when she kills Robin Williams Character in Blade Runner 2049?
Was Officer K ever considered to be the child of Deckard while making Blade Runner 2049?
Was there ever a mention of Roy Batty's character at any point in Blade Runner 2049?
Was there an aspect of the film where you were worried as to how it will be perceived, while making Blade Runner 2049?
Is there a scene in Blade Runner 2049 in which you struggled with the aspect of shooting and bringing it to screen?
Could you tell us about how Dave Bautista ended up playing the role of Sapper Morton in Blade Runner 2049?
The first few scenes of Blade Runner 2049 were completely different when compared to the entire atmosphere of Blade Runner (1982). How much thought went into selecting between what ideas to borrow from Blade Runner (1982) and what needs to be completely fresh and original?
There's never a climactic showdown between Officer K and Wallace throughout the runtime. Did you feel like Wallace's character did not demand that kind of a closure in Blade Runner 2049?
K's journey in Blade Runner 2049 seemed a lot like Roy Batty's than Deckard's from Blade Runner (1982). Do you relate with this thought?
Were you in a dilemma whether to do Blade Runner 2049 or not?
Do you think artistic cinema involves taking risks in terms of filmmaking decisions?
Did you show Blade Runner 2049 or talk about it with other filmmakers, prior to its release?
How deep was the process of research in the production designing of Arrival?
What was the process of Production Designing for Arrival?
How did Jeremy Renner come on board for Arrival?
How did you come across the book 'Story of Your Life' by Ted Chiang?
In the beginning revelation of footage from Arrival, it was titled Story of Your Life (based on the Book Title). Did you always planned on changing the title to Arrival?
Is Arrival a political film according to you?
Did you have sleepless nights while designing the Spaceships and the Aliens of Arrival?
Is it important to you what your think about the movies you make?
How much does the critical success of Arrival mean to you?
Do you think Blade Runner 2049 is more emotionally complex than Arrival?
Where do you go from Blade Runner 2049, in terms of special effects?
Was doing the Special Effects in Arrival a stepping stone towards Blade Runner 2049?
Is working with Joe Walker (Editor) and Roger Deakins (Cinematographer) for various movies, a different experience with every movie?
What is the process of casting Cinematographers for your movies?
Amy Adams is like the Tom Hanks of Arrival. Do you think you could have told the story from a male perspective if it were the case?
Arrival is a very feminine story with a strong female protagonist unlike your previous movies. Is this a change you think about?
Did you feel unsafe in the previous years, at the idea of not having the next movie lined up?
Is Los Angeles your base for post production and filmmaking?
Receiving that Oscar nomination for “Arrival,” so many other people on your team were nominated as well, the film also won for its sound mixing. What did that kind of recognition mean for you and to see so many people on your team, the producers, cinematographer, sound people, production design, to see all those people recognized?
For me, because let’s face it, it’s a strange process. Movies for me are a piece of art. There’s no contest, no competition between poetry or between art paintings. It’s a strange that we make a competition between movies like that. The only thing that is telling your movie is better than the other one is if it does survive through time. But, the good thing about the Academy Awards is it puts the spotlight away from the director and the stars. It puts the spotlight on the artists that are working in the shadow, like sound designers, cinematographer, editor, costume designers, all those people that work very hard. That’s the beauty of cinema is the teamwork. So I like the idea that the award season is a celebration for the artists that are in the shadow, and that’s beautiful.
Harrison Ford reprised his role as Rick Deckard, but 35 years into the future, what was that like working with for Blade Runner 2049?
Very moving. Harrison Ford, we all know him as a huge star, but I never met a star. I met a very strong actor, someone that has a lot of knowledge about acting. All the discussions we had, each line about all the scenes together, there’s moments where I had sessions of work with Harrison and Ryan themselves and I owe them both a lot, sessions on the scenes on the dialogues. One thing that really moved me is Harrison is still very passionate about what he does. I felt that the flame is tucked in there. He’s not bored. He loves filmmaking, and I felt as excited, to think that he cannot fake. I owe him a lot, too, because I would not have been able to bring back Rick Deckard alone. I really needed him. One of the first things I said to him was I needed a partner. It’s a huge responsibility bringing back a character from 35 years. He created the first Rick Deckard in the first movie and I needed him to create that same one.
Can you talk a little bit about working with Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049, ‘cause the character of Rick Deckard is so central to the original “Blade Runner” and now here’s somebody kind of filling in his shoes, in a sense. What was that relationship like between you two?
I was able to do this movie because of Ryan Gosling. What I mean is that he was with me every minute of the making of this project. He was my very strong ally. He was not just there to punch in the morning and go. It was really like we spent days, days, days, weeks together, talking about every single scene before the movie started, to dig into the scenes and to make sure that every line there was as elegant as possible. We explored all the structure of the movie together. It was, for me, a privilege. That’s a thing I do usually alone but to do it with a close partner like that made things more dynamic and also I will say that as the movie was going along, Ryan is someone that has a very strong spirit, very positive energy. I needed that energy to go through that insane long shoot. I was not used to that kind of length of shoot. Ryan’s attitude was very important for me, so I will say he was my muse. He was my partner. I never felt alone in the dark. He was always there with me. We shared the responsibility together and I’m really grateful for that. Now, as an actor, there’s a lot of moments in the movie I owe him a lot because the movie was written for him. And when I read the screenplay I said, “Okay, that’s for Ryan,” and he’s the only actor I approached. What he brought to the movie, I think it’s fantastic.
Obviously the original “Blade Runner” is all about robots and things, so that comes with the territory but it’s interesting the ways in which you guys explore what technology is gonna look like 35 years from now, particularly with K's girlfriend, almost like a human version of Siri. Can you talk a bit about that?
For me what the movie is interesting is in what it says about the world today, not about the vision of the future we’re depicting, because basically we are depicting a future that is inspired from the first movie, not from our reality. But what it says about today is our relationship with technology, the way it’s seen in the movie that our character cannot have an intimate relationship but with what would be an app, with a machine. That machine is designed to fulfill his desires. It’s like an app that is a mirror of his conscious. It’s really an app that, she’s there to project his desires. If he wants to do sports, she will try to encourage him to go aside and to run, that’s kind of thing. That relationship with technology, the boundaries between machines and humans, from an intimate point of view are smaller and smaller. We are closer and closer. That’s something I thought was quite interesting and how technology doesn’t bring us closer one to the other, but we are closer to the technology itself, that I thought was an interesting comment. The thing which makes this movie singular also is it’s a sci-fi movie with very advanced technology but also there’s something very true about it, because there’s no more internet. So it means that it’s an analog world. The digital world is confined to a very specific domain, the digital girlfriend you were talking about earlier, but apart from that it’s an analog world, and that I felt sometimes as we were shooting, I had a strange impression I was doing a period movie instead of a sci-fi movie, because of the way of reality in the world that reminds me of old noir film instead of today’s movies.
There’s also the influence of growing multiculturalism that was explored in the original Blade Runner and that you expand upon in Blade Runner 2049. Can you talk a bit about that?
One thing that was quite revolutionary in the first movie was this idea that it was a sci-fi movie but you were still reading the levels of time. It was like in the first “Blade Runner,” that happens in 2019, from the ‘80s you are seeing it from the ‘70s, you are seeing neon signs that belong to the past, the architecture, buildings that belonged to the early 20th century and still you are in the future. You felt time, like in real life, that made Ridley’s world more real, more accurate, more relevant. I tried to have the same approach. It means that the cultural influences that are in the first movie are still present. I was trying to induce the idea that there will be new cultural influences that will be a bit stronger in “Blade Runner.” One of them is the Russian influence. That feels like hints everywhere that it’s a culture that is in this world, it is alternative universe, has a lot of influence, a lot of economic power present in the United States. Why? Because I felt like it was a way to express to the viewer that we were in an alternate universe, that some political power like the Soviet Union, were still present, like in the Philip K. Dick novel. That’s what I thought was really exciting, to redefine the world of 2049 and it gives a distance between the world of the movie and the world of today, it gives a common tongue to it.
The original “Blade Runner” is very well known for the world that it creates and its visual look, so what were some of the ways that you and your department heads, like Roger Deakins and Dennis Gassner, what were some of the ways that you expanded on the world of the original and made it something new and unique?
The thing is, as long as I was in Rick Deckard’s neighborhood, what I call his neighborhood, which was that cityscape that we all know from the original “Blade Runner,” I felt secure. I knew I was in known territory. But the thing that was a big challenge to me was when we were getting out of the neighborhood, when we were getting out of the outskirts of Los Angeles, when we were going to Las Vegas. That was a challenge, because I knew that we would be in different scenery, that would need to bring something different, but I would need to make sure that we would stay in contact and we would stay in the same kind of spirit as the original “Blade Runner,” and that was a long journey. It’s the first time that I was doing something inspired by the dream of someone else, by Ridley Scott’s dream. So I felt a huge responsibility, more precisely in scenes like Vegas or the character is traveling in trash dump Los Angeles, municipal trash dump at one point, and I made sure always to keep a link with the urban landscape and never go away from the idea of L.A. and always try to keep the essence of what makes a “Blade Runner” movie, which I think part of it is that film noir category, the tension and then those atmospheres, that thick atmosphere cloud, the foggy atmospheres.
Could you give us some examples of some of the ways that you made the story of Blade Runner 2049 your own?
Just as an example I would say the approach of K, character played by Ryan Gosling, walking, discovering Las Vegas, was totally different in the original screenplay. I would say that the attack on Vegas was also very different. If someone was reading the original screenplay and seeing the movie, you will see I paid for that (laughs), to make the movie mine. It’s everywhere. I didn’t have the choice. That’s the only way to work. It’s a process that I’m doing right now on “Dune,” to revisit the scenes and find images, cinematic images that I feel that I will be able to do that are inspiring me.
Blade Runner 2049 had been in development for such a long time. When you came aboard, what stage was the script in? Where was it at when you came on board?
It was a pretty advanced screenplay written by Michael Green from two drafts from Hampton Fancher. It was advanced but it’s always a sign as a director, you have a script in your hands and there’s work that needs to be done, specifically about not the story but about budget-wise the movie was a bit expensive. More important than anything else, the movie was written for Ridley. With all my respect and adoration for Ridley Scott, I’m very different and I needed to bring the story closer to me in some ways, so I didn’t change the nature of the story, of course, but we did a fair amount of work with Michael on the screenplay.
Before Blade Runner 2049 opened, what was your anticipation level like? Were you nervous, excited for fans to see it?
I was really looking forward to share it with the fans because the level of secrecy along this project, we deal with a level of secrecy like the CIA. There was so much secret, we had to protect everything all the time so it was, for me, a release to share it with the audience. At the same time I will say that I was really looking forward to the feedback from the fans, but there was a part of me that was at peace when the movie opened because Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford had seen the movie already and they had been very generous with me. They loved the movie so for me, I was feeling not secure but in peace, so that’s what I would say.
How fascinated were you with the idea of exploring the grey area between the lawless and the law enforcers in Sicario?
First of all, I’m not an American citizen. But as a North American, what is happening at the border of America and Mexico is sadly meaningful. The idea that there is a place in North America where there is a disintegration of society and democracy being threatened, the idea that citizens of Mexico don’t trust their institutions anymore… I think we must be vigilant to protect democracy.
How did you step into Hollywood after reading the script for Prisoners?
I said to my wife [Canadian actress Macha Grenon], ‘That’s cool. I will experience what it’s like to meet some executives, just for the fun of it.’ And so I went there without any pressure, and that’s why I think I got it. It was like, ‘Whoops! Now I will have to do the movie’.
The opening shot of Blade Runner 2049 connects to the original film’s opening. Were there any other shots you and Roger Deakins wanted to reference?
There’s a lot of them. I would say just as an example, Ryan’s character’s silhouette, there was something in the silhouette of the Blade Runner it was difficult to imagine up that you’re having a different silhouette than Rick Deckard. I was looking for a silhouette that will be a reminiscence of Rick Deckard and something that will also look like, for specific reason, like the vampire Norsferatu that comes into the fog. That was a reference. There was a lot of reference from a technology point of view, the shape of the spinners have evolved through to time but still they were a bit similar. The architecture was inspired by the first movie that I used Syd Mead, the concept artist, who did the original movie and worked on some specific elements on this movie. There’s a lot of little tiny references everywhere. The brand that argues was something that struck me when I saw the first movie, because the first time I was seeing a movie where 2001: A Space Odyssey had done it a little bit, but in Blade Runner, you had all that, Budweiser, Atari, all those present, and for me, it was very important to keep that alive, this link with reality. Because we were in the alternate universe, it gave me the possibility to use brands that were alive when they did the first movie, but like, Pan Am doesn’t exist anymore, but I love the idea that it’s present. So I made sure that with those companies were still alive in the movie today.
What did the visual research involve in the making of Blade Runner 2049? How did the characters influence some of the choices with light you and Roger Deakins made for the movie?
I will say that it was about quality of light. I wanted the movie to have that kind of silver-like light quality of the winters that I know. To bring winter light for me was a way to bring something very intimate that I know very well into a universe that was not mine at the beginning, and how to invade Ridley’s vision. I needed something very intimate and that was the quality of light, the winter light, and the writer responded to that strongly. Then you make research about different photographs that Roger took some, from photographers, like nothing specific, more like a very specific example of a type of light and colors; a lot of research on colors, on different type of atmosphere. I will say that there was exploration for each character, what the light environment will be for each of them, like K’s apartment was how to bring kind of a harsh, kind of neon light, kind of harsh light that is brutal and not kind for the eyes. Niander Wallace will have built a temple where he will control his own sunlight. Being blind, the light is more of a sensation, so doesn’t need to lit the space. It’s more like patterns that he will play with. There were all these laws. There was a long process of exchange with Roger. After that he helped me to protect this dream, going through the process of working with thousands of people. It’s strange, before I had the impression to direct, be a conductor in front of a little chamber orchestra of 12 people, and then I was in front of symphony orchestra. How to make each instrument with the right tune, you know? This was the biggest challenge – how to keep the dream intact. My respect for the directors like Ridley Scott just increased. How they are able to communicate their visions and staying in tact until the end. It’s not easy to do, that was really difficult.
What were some of the earliest ideas you and the cinematographer, Roger Deakins, had for Blade Runner 2049?
The thing is that I need to say that I brought Roger on board day one. I said yes in the morning I met him at the dinner at his home at night, and I asked him right away, “Will you join me?” and he said, “Yes” with a smile right away. I knew he was dreaming to do science-fiction, to go back to science-fiction, and he was very excited right from the start. He came to Montreal and we spent several weeks together in the hotel room. Not a few months but several weeks together with storyboard artists where we drew the whole movie. You know when you storyboard, you basically rewrite the movie when you storyboard. You approach a scene and the visual, it’s like a musician; you see the partition and there’s a different way to interpret and it’s the same thing with the camerawork. Basically, we wrote a lot of scenes by storyboarding them – it’s always the same that way – and we design the world together. We figure out what would be the laws, the sociological laws, the geopolitics, the climate laws, everything. There was a lot of ins in the screenplay but there were holes. The screenplay was of course, like any screenplay, filled with holes, and we needed to fill that. So I did a lot of work with him. I brought my ideas, we did research together, visual research together and we came with a ton of ideas, and Dennis Gassner, a production designer, came to Montreal too and we did all this work together. That was the foundation of the movie those working sessions with Roger.
All the suggestions in the first Blade Runner are so powerful, too, especially in Roy Batty’s final scene. Did they let your imagination run wild?
It’s so much powerful! I feel it’s so much more powerful to see the character in Close Encounters walking into the spaceship without seeing what he sees. It’s so much powerful in 2001: A Space Odyssey to not see the aliens. For me, the best aliens of all time are in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it’s so much more fun when you don’t see the shark in Jaws. I love that, yes. The power of suggestion.
During your conversations with Ridley Scott, did he say anything about the original film that really stuck with you while making Blade Runner 2049?
Yes, there’s one thing that he said to me that I really struggle with – that it was not about what I was about to show in the movie, but what I wish I will not show. With me, he said, you know, the first movie there’s a lot of evocation and suggestion. We never see that other planets, we never see how the replicants are done, there’s a lot of things that are suggested ideas, but the camera stays behind Rick Deckard or Roy Batty, and really at the human level, and that concern of his I felt. Ridley gave me total freedom, but I felt that he wished that I will respect those sacred territories and I try to honor that. I trust by doing the same thing, by staying close to my characters and not trying to show the whole universe that I was allowed to show according to the screenplay but not showing – there are things in the script that I didn’t do because of Ridley’s wish there. Like showing a factory of replicants, for instance, and things like that. I would totally agree with him, you must not show that.
Blade Runner 2049's sound is so immersive. What sort of soundscape did you and your collaborators want to create?
It all starts in the editing room. Joe, before he was an editor he was a composer, then he became sound editor, then he became an editor. We are working with the sound as much as we are working with the image when we are editing the movie. Me, myself too, it’s like something that I always dream, my dream before when I was making indie movies. I had something strong in satisfaction with sound because I was feeling that it was something that was coming after. I was dreaming to do the sound as I was doing the image at the same time. To do both in the same time, and with Joe we started that process. The sound is as important. The sound design of the movie is done with the director’s cut. When I finish the cut, the philosophy of the sound is there. Then of course there’s a lot of work that the sound designer like a movie that we extended this idea more. On this project, we made that logic a step forward by hiring a sound editor… Right at the beginning of the editing process there was a sound editor that started to design sound for us. We didn’t edit the image and then they started the sound design. The sound design started at day one of the editing process. Even as I was shooting I remember [sounder designer] Theo Green came on board right away and talked about sound design. I was shooting the movie and he was starting to design sound. It was my oldest dream to do that. It’s the kind of thing you can do when you have a movie with a lot of money. You can, as a director, experiment. The sound that took a year to do, and then [supervising sound editor] Mark Mangini came on board as I was doing the editing. It was a pile of work, so it’s a long, long work that I supervised.
You really didn’t deviate much from the pacing of the Blade Runner (1982). With all the moving pieces in the sequel, how was the experience trying to get the flow of Blade Runner 2049 right?
It was long. That was one of the challenges. It’s a more complex story than the first one, there is more twists and turns and more layers, not thematically but about the characters and storytelling. I thought that it required a longer time to tell the story. The rhythm of it, I really fought to protect the hypnotic sense of…[a] feeling of immersion that I was looking for. [Editor] Joe Walker and I, we really tried to – the first cut was longer, the cut I did and we loved it. We said, “Okay, it’s there.” We tried to protect the quality of immersion and tension that is coming out of the link of some shots, but to a limit so it’s fast enough for the audience of today and protecting that pacing that I did love. It’s a thing that Ridley loved, too. He said to me, “I am so moved that you brought that pacing to the movie, it’s so respected.” It’s long but there’s some scenes that are like sparks and others that are like when you are following the blade runner and they are walking in the desert. Then those moments time is suspended but it creates an immersive feeling of strength, and the images that I feel that there’s enough time to let the images on screen. I’ll say I am working with the master. I deeply love working with Joe Walker. I don’t think I will be able to work with another editor in my life. It’s just that he’s a very close partner and a close friend. I spent the last three years full-time with him. That is the human being I spend the most time with. Three movies back-to-back.
Do you think the film induces a sense of hopefulness even with its beautifully bleak story?
I think it’s a sign of the times; as a filmmaker I feel that at the end of the day you make the movie for yourself, you make it for the audience – but you’re the first audience. As a filmmaker, right now I need hope. I need to try to avoid to be cynical. I need to believe that, so I think that yes, there’s much more hope in this one that I thought was necessary in our time.
What were some of the strong ideas of the Blade Runner 2049 screenplay that appealed to you?
The thing is that I will be careful not to spoil things. There were several things like the power of memories. If as humans we are not in contact with our memories, what is left of us if we have no relationship with our past? The power of the past. In my previous movie [Arrival], there was I think that exploration of the power of the past and our self, how we are struggling with that imprint. How can we get free of that imprint from a subconscious point-of-view, but what if it disappeared? What’s left of us? That, and doubting about your own identity, your own self and if your past is just a dream or real. All those questions I thought were a beautiful science-fiction question.
Did you react positively when you first read the screenplay for Blade Runner 2049?
I will say that I had that feeling when I read the screenplay, because me, I was not convinced at all. When they said to me that they wanted to make a sequel to the first one I was like, “Really?” I had strong apprehensions until I read the screenplay, when I felt okay, there are strong ideas there, and they have potential to make a good movie. It’s worth the risk. That’s what I felt when I read the screenplay.
Did you watch Blade Runner 2049 after its release?
It’s a movie that I was not able to watch again. It takes time to be able to digest and make peace with [your own movies]. For me, when I make a movie, there’s a lot of deep joy and pain and anger linked with the process. When it’s done, it takes me years until I am able to watch it again and see the movie for what it is. I am not there with Blade Runner.
The marketing strategy of Blade Runner 2049 involved a lot of secrecy, how did you go around promoting it without spoiling any detail?
I was really tired of talking about the film with journalists who hadn’t seen it. And [the studio] wanted it to be a total secret, like Star Wars. They didn’t want anyone to know a thing about it.
Would you ever make a movie like Blade Runner 2049 again?
Let’s just say it would not be a good idea for me to make a movie like that twice. When you’re working on a film you’re in a bubble, and it was only when I came out that I realized we had made a monster. I won’t do it again.
Arrival director Denis Villeneuve on the politics of the year’s best sci-fi film - The Verge
How were you able to whiplash from Arrival to Blade Runner 2049?
That's the thing. You can do that when projects are different. I was able to go from Enemy to Prisoners because they were like two different animals. One is a rhinoceros, the other one is a fox, you know? To go from Sicario to Arrival, obviously both movies cannot be more different. And the same with Blade Runner. I was able to work on both movies at the same time because they were totally different. Total different views about the world.
You're cutting the movie, Arrival, you're seeing all these things happening in the real world. Did that inform your process? Were you inclined to lean into any issues because of the things you saw happening in real time?
No. The thing is that in the short story, the human beings are much more mature and much more wise. In the movie, they are a bit more aggressive. I was dreaming to do something a bit more peaceful in some ways, but at that time, I think Russia was invading Ukraine, where it was like, "What the hell is going on?" It's crazy how history repeats itself. I think Eric's idea to create geopolitical tension in the background was a great idea. I decided to embrace it, but honestly, it's not like something new happened in the world. It's just recurrent. When I was young, I was raised with all those problems in the Middle East, thinking, "In two years, it’s going to be solved, because we see what's happening. We understand the consequences. Let's bring peace, guys, and do something." And it's still the same old stories over and over again. People, it seems, don't evolve very quickly.
Arrival pretty openly drives home the idea that humanity cannot survive if it is tribalistic and fragmented, which between Brexit and the US election have become foregrounded concerns. Were you consciously working that into the story?
The main thing I was attracted to was this idea of exploring culture shock, exploring communication, exploring this idea of language changing the perception of your reality. That was gold. The idea of the geopolitical transformation of the world is something I felt we have seen in other movies before, and it was not the strength of Arrival. It was something that needed to be there because our goal was to create a movie where the aliens have a stronger level of realism, so we needed to see the impact of those landings all across the globe. But I try my best to stay on Louise's perspective all the time, so it’s seen from an intimate point of view. What is funny is that as we were doing the movie, sometimes there were things [in the film] where I was saying to myself, "Oh, come on. People are more wise than that." And then I would open the newspaper in the morning: "No, we're okay. We're not going too far.” Even in the editing room, [editor] Joe Walker and I were sometimes wondering if we were going too far, and reality was always pushing us to stay there.
How do you view the character of Amy Adams in Arrival?
That, I think, is a big difference between Eric and I. I think Eric was seeing this as she chooses to have the kid, so it gives more dramatic power to the character. The way I see it is just, she doesn't have the choice to acclimate to what the heptapods are telling us. She doesn't have the choice. Now it's “How does she allow herself to have the joy to have the kid, even if she knows that?” That, for me, is a much more powerful idea. You know you're going to die. I know I'm going to die. I have three kids. What can happen right now? I need to trust life, I need to embrace life. That, for me, is more important than thinking [we can always have a choice]. That's the way I see it, personally. That's where as a filmmaker I feel like I'm sometimes the best friend of the screenwriter, and sometimes I'm a traitor, because I found my own ways of seeing the movie. Eric and I are different artists. I say that with humility.
Arrival is a movie of ideas, including the concept that Amy Adams’ character knows her daughter Hannah will eventually die — and decides to have Hannah anyway. That’s caused some people to read this as a specifically pro-life movie. Was that intended? If not how do you react to audiences reading into that?
The thing is, when you make a movie, you are dealing with images that will create ideas — or the opposite. You have ideas, and you create the images. [But] there's a responsibility. For me, the movie was about a woman having a new relationship with death and changing her perspective on her own life, and finding a new humility going through that process. That was the heart of the movie. I was honestly afraid that because of the nature of the story, it could be seen as a pro-life movie, which is not for me. In the short story, the idea is that the heptapods see life like a [scripted] play. They know what will happen, so they have the choice — either they do it bored to death, or they embrace it and try to be at their best, like an actor on a stage. For me, the idea that everything is written in front of us is not necessarily appealing. But what appeals to me is the idea that through our intuition, we kind of know things in advance a little bit. That's very mysterious for me, that we try to repress those instincts. But being in contact with our finality, and being more in contact with our nature, I think we'll find that humility, and I think that human beings are lacking humility right now. We are trying too much to control nature. The idea that the movie would be seen as pro-life would be sad for me, because I respect life, but I believe a woman must have her freedom. That's what I would say.
What did you change to bring Arrival back to the source material?
I won't fall too much into details, but let's say that the ending Eric imagined in the beginning was quite different, and was more about technology, and less about language. Talking with Eric… I will not use the word “convince,” because he didn't need to be convinced. He agreed with me that it could be a good idea to go back to the root of the short story, which was about the idea that the main gift of the alien would be language. He came back very quickly with strong ideas. It was not like “Here's my screenplay. Now it's yours to shoot.” I need myself, as a filmmaker, to explore ideas and to make things evolve in the direction that I felt that I could be able to do it.
Arrival is based on Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life, which isn’t the most obvious candidate for a film adaptation. How did you and screenwriter Eric Heisserer find the movie in the short story?
I landed in Los Angeles a few years ago. I was meeting with people all around that wanted to know what I was doing next. I said to myself, “The thing that I can do here that I can't do at home in Montreal is sci-fi. I was dreaming to do sci-fi, I'm not joking, since I was 12 years old. I was raised with it, but I was hoping to find the right story to tell, because it's a difficult genre and there's a lot of cliches, a lot of tropes. I met [producers] Dan Cohen and Dan Levine, and they said "We have a short story you should read if you're looking for strong sci-fi material: Story of Your Life.” At the time, I said to them "It's powerful, but it's so literary. It's a gem, but it's not a movie. How can we adapt this?” At that time, I was jumping on to make Prisoners, so I didn't have the time to adapt it myself. They came back, to my great surprise, several months later with a screenplay written by Eric, and I was very impressed by how Eric has been able to crack the way to create a cinematic, dramatic structure out of it. From there, I got on board, and I went on for a few months working with Eric. I felt that in order to create that structure, Eric had to go quite far away from the short story — and my job was to go back toward it, in a way. It was a long process.
How do you view the character of Paul Atreides in Dune?
Paul has been raised in a very strict environment with a lot of training, because he's the son of a Duke and one day... he's training to be the Duke. But as much as he's been prepared and trained for that role, is it really what he dreams to be? That's the contradiction of that character. It's like Michael Corleone in The Godfather – it's someone that has a very tragic fate and he will become something that he was not wishing to become. His survival depends on being able to make the right decisions and adapt to different dangerous situations. It's a very beautiful story about someone that becomes empowered. Like any young adult he is looking for his identity and trying to understand his place in the world, and he will have to do things that none of his ancestors were able to do in order to survive. He has a beautiful quality of being curious about other people, of having empathy, something that will attract him towards other cultures, and that's what will save his life.
It can be argued that Blade Runner is a cynical film. It envisions a future of decay. But the visual majesty of the movies — the original and yours — connotes a certain optimism. Is Blade Runner 2049 an optimistic film?
I think so. For me, one of my goals was to create a bleak world with strong sparks of beauty coming out of it. That’s why the first sequence, where Officer K (Gosling) is flying towards Los Angeles, is a gray, overcast, dark, austere landscape with winter light. Suddenly you have sparks of light coming out of the landscape’s technology, and that creates beauty. The humanity of the characters creates beauty. It’s a movie that I feel has, in a strange way, an optimistic ending. I’m glad about that, because I need to have that kind of optimism in the world today.
How did you decide where to draw the line between using current special effects technology to emphasize your vision and embracing practical effects for Blade Runner 2049?
It’s important to underline the fact that Ridley Scott and Douglas Trumbull’s special effects in the original movie are a work of genius. It’s so complex what they did. I didn’t have to struggle with the same technological challenges as they did. That has to be put into perspective. We had a lot of technological challenges during this movie, but we also had the power of computers. I wanted this power — the technicality of the movie — to be in the background, not in the foreground. In the foreground I wanted humanity. I wanted the actor in the center of my focus. I wanted to give them everything as much as possible to inspire them. So we built all the sets first, constructed all the vehicles, did all the rain and the snow and the fog with practical effects. All the streets, all the exteriors — we constructed everything. There’s a scene where you see a Spinner [a.k.a. a flying car] inside a penthouse — that was real. It’s a nice blend of a very old passionate approach and high-end technology. I feel that CGI is very strong when it’s helping reality, helping real shots. But to start just from CGI is a challenge and not something I wanted to do.
What inspired the wardrobe of Blade Runner 2049 — particularly in your costumes for women?
Winter was the strongest influence here. The clothes were designed to withstand a very harsh, cold environment that shifts from rain to snow to icy rain very quickly. It was the work of Renee April, my costume designer. I worked with her on several movies and I knew that she was tired of doing military uniforms after Sicario and Arrival and police uniforms after Prisoners. I knew at once that she’d have a playground in which to express herself. She sees costume design as all about characters. She did a lot of research and was inspired by what she saw as the psyche of each character — she wanted to express it through their clothes. I sought a winter-like quality for this world. Those are elements that feel very close to home, to Montreal. Winter has an impact on people’s behavior: you don’t walk the same way, you don’t talk the same way, you don’t think the same way in winter.
How big of an impact did environment play in the crafting of Blade Runner 2049?
I wanted to show humanity’s relationship with nature — how human beings are disconnected more and more from nature, how we are trying to control nature. There is a lack of humility. We are trying to control nature when that nature is stronger than us by far. At the end of the day I don’t know anyone who will outlast nature.
Advertisements played a huge role in the world-building of Blade Runner (1982). How did you utilize them in Blade Runner 2049?
Yeah. I didn’t want to come back to the fantastic image of the blimp [in the original Blade Runner] that I felt belonged to the first movie. I decided I would use different technology, like drones that can project 3D images into the smog, because the smog is so thick. In this universe, the ocean has risen, most of Eastern Asia has been flooded, and there are many refugees who’ve come to Los Angeles from everywhere in the world. The ads themselves express the blend of cultures. In this world, there’re no more countries, only a few megapolises — Los Angeles, maybe New York, maybe London, maybe Ouagadougou — that survived because they were built around spaceports. You see refugees coming from everywhere, huddling around those spaceports. The idea is to leave Earth. The police is there to keep the population under control while they’re still on Earth.
How do you update a vision of the future from 35 years ago, for the sequel of Blade Runner (1982)?
Ridley built this movie as an extension of the late-70s. He took the main currents of the 70s — the fashion, the aesthetics — and brought them into the future. Me, I had to struggle with the problem of having to deal with a movie that was made in 1982 that talked about 2019. Twenty-nineteen is tomorrow. As we all know, there’s a difference between the future world of Blade Runner and today’s reality. So I came to the conclusion that I needed to deal with an alternate universe, to start with the world of the first Blade Runner and extend it into future in order to create continuity between the films. I went back to all the cultural references of the first movie and imagined how they would evolve in the future. And then I went back to the Philip K. Dick novel and explored the geopolitics of the book. In the book, the U.S.S.R. was still present. I thought that it would be interesting to think — what if the U.S.S.R was still alive? What if it was as strong a cultural and economic force as the U.S., but with different political laws? You see McDonald’s in Moscow. What if you saw Russian products in the streets of Los Angeles? I thought that would create an interesting distorted reality that would tell my audience right from the start that they’re in a different world with different laws from a geopolitical point of view.
You faced a daunting task: not only making a sequel to one of the most celebrated films of all time, but also dealing with a highly specific visual world. What traits of the original Blade Runner you think you needed to preserve in Blade Runner 2049?
In the first movie, you were seeing layers of time. Most of the time in sci-fi movies, the world is purely a vision of the future, but in the original Blade Runner, you felt the dirt that was coming out of ages. That was something I wanted to bring back. I wanted to make sure that we were as specifically true to film noir as the first movie was. I wanted the atmosphere to carry the beautiful melancholy that was so powerful in the first movie. I wanted the world to be one of bleakness and gloom but to have sparks of beauty — coming out of technology or humanity.
Do you want to revisit the world of Blade Runner in the future?
It’s such an inspiring place, the Blade Runner world. The problem I have is the word ‘sequel’. I think cinema needs original stories. But if you ask me if I’d like to revisit this universe in a different way, I can say yes. It would need to be a project on its own. Something disconnected from both other movies. A detective noir story set in the future… I wake up sometimes in the night dreaming about it.
Sandworms are an integral part of the fictional landscape of Dune. How are you conceptualizing them for the upcoming movie adaption of Dune?
We talked about every little detail that would make such a beast possible, from the texture of the skin, to the way the mouth opens, to the system to eat its food in the sand. It was a year of work to design and to find the perfect shape that looked prehistoric enough.
Whats your ultimate goal in life or in context of films?
In the context of your movie Prisoners, do you yourself feel imprisoned at times by your past decisions?
Prisoners is a story about imprisonment on a larger, more philosophical scale. Could you shed some light on that?
In the movie Prisoners, Hugh Jackman's character turns from a church going, family man to a monster who would do anything to save his Daughter. Does the duality of his character suggest something about the Violence culture to you?
How did you walk the line between portraying violence and falling into a zone where it would feel gratuitous in the movie Prisoners?
Did you feel like you had to be a more confident version of yourself in Hollywood?
As someone who is known for making highly original and deeply thoughtful movies, were you concerned that you might not have the same creative abilities stepping into Hollywood?
How confident were you entering into Hollywood with the movie Prisoners?
In Enemy, do you think the difference between the two characters was about who we are and who we want to be?
In Enemy, the story is about Doppelgänger and it would appear that Jake Gyllenhaal is two sides of the same character. Do you think the same way?
Was your approach different towards making English Language films as compared to your other french films?
Do you like when actors are outspoken about what they think they should do in a role?
Do you approach making High Budget Hollywood movies the same way you made Indie movies back in the day?
Does it feel exciting receiving all the compliments and seeing people getting excited about your upcoming releases?
How was your experience of getting nominated for Incendies and coming to the Oscars?
Do you get rehearsal time with the cast before you start shooting?
When did you find a working relationship with an editor that clicked for you?
What was your experience working with Harrison Ford in Blade Runner 2049?
Why did you shoot Blade Runner 2049 in Budapest?
The lines between good and evil are kind of blurred in Sicario. How do you perceive the characters of Matt and Alejandro in the movie?
Most of your movies like Enemy, Prisoners and Sicario are dark, character studies. What is it about these types of movies that appeals to you so much?
How much research did you have to do for the underworld in Sicario and was that a very demanding process?
What was the first image that you knew you wanted to make into a film?
Which cinematographers have inspired you?
What kind of films and filmmakers have impacting your general filmmaking process?
How do you give notes and direct the actors on set?
How do you go about the process of casting and what are the qualities that you look for in an actor?
Considering the deep impact of the book Dune on you, did it have an influence on the other movies that you have made over time?
How did you end up helming the adaption of Dune and what do you think about the pressures and challenges that come with this project?
How have you been handling the music of your upcoming movie, Dune and working from a distance with the composer, Hans Zimmer?
How have you been managing the Music Composition of Dune and working from a distance with the composer, Hans Zimmer?
Were you nervous before starting to work on Prisoners?
Why did you want Jake Gyllenhaal to play the role of the Police Officer in Prisoners?
When you used to say cut after the haunting scenes in Prisoners, how did Hugh Jackman react?
What was it about Hugh Jackman that you knew that he would be able to pull of his role in Prisoners?
How do you get into the Psychological aspect of creating a movie like Prisoners?
How did you get Roger Deakins to work on Prisoners?
Is your method of interaction while making films more conversational as opposed to working on scripts and conducting rehearsals?
What Heart Strings did Prisoners pluck for you?
How do you incorporate this pattern of thorough darkness with slivers of hope in most if not all of your movies?
How intimidated were you when you were approached to helm the sequel to the beloved Blade Runner (1982)?
While creating all of your movies before Blade Runner 2049, were you just preparing yourself to finally venture into the Sci-Fi genre?
How do you and your Sicario editor, Joe Walker, get along while making movies?
You have these big, audacious sequences in your movies. Are you usually comfortable knowing that the scenes you are currently shooting will effortlessly stitch together to form these sequences?
How much do you depend on the post shoot filmmaking process?
How did you go about conceptualizing the character of Emily Blunt in Sicario?
Was there are fear of failure while creating Arrival?
What was the collaborative challenge behind creating Aliens, whose actions and language can be interpreted, while making the movie Arrival?
How was your experience working with Amy Adams in Arrival?
What was the impact of Arrival on you?
How did you balance the Sci-Fi aspects with the more Humane aspects of Arrival?
How did you create the language of Arrival?
How did you create the 'Being' and the spaceship in Arrival?
If you had no limit on budget or any time in the history, where would you want to put a camera and record something?
Consider that you are on a life boat, you happen to have a Blu-Ray or DVD, then what would yours be?
What was the biggest problem you had to solve while making Blade Runner 2049?
Does Blade Runner 2049 finally answer the cliffhanger about Deckard's origin?
How did you approach the music for Blade Runner 2049?
There are at least 6 cuts of the Blade Runner (1982) with different endings. Did that make the filmmaking process of Blade Runner 2049 difficult?
How did you approach the story of time and language and how it affects the mind, into something you can put on screen while making the movie Arrival?
What do you think about the existential symbolism brought by Rutger Hauer in the ending of Blade Runner (1982)?
As an artist, do you feel that there are some aspects of Humanity and Being Human, that can never be simulated?
What if Replicants or AI does develop emotions and feelings in the future, then would there be a difference between retiring a Replicant and killing a Human?
Do you think that Replicants were actually the heroes of Blade Runner (1982)?
Blade Runner (1982) had a lot of futuristic technology combined with bits of old, analog technology, how did you go around achieving that same characteristic in Blade Runner 2049?
What process did you go through to make Blade Runner 2049 your own universe?
How much creative impact did Ridley Scott (Blade Runner Director) have in the start of the filming of Blade Runner 2049?