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INT: Alfonso Cuaron

Dec. 26, 2006by:
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I was first introduced to Alfonso Cuarón when I saw the brilliant and thought provoking “Y tu mamá también” a film which garnered him major attention here in the states. Although he had previously won critical praise for A LITTLE PRINCESS, which was a children’s story, a far cry from the sexually frank and ambitious TAMBIEN. Soon after dealing with two teenagers looking for sex, he continued his critical success with HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN which also earned him a solid box office winner. He now returns with the thought provoking and intelligent science fiction gem CHILDREN OF MEN.

I got a chance to talk shop with Alfonso and found it very hard to not show my respect. His work is always challenging, always interesting and utterly unique. There are a number of great directors coming out of Mexico , such as Alfonso and Guillermo del Toro who directed PAN’S LABYRINTH which Cuarón produced. He spoke openly about what inspires him, and what involves him. His work has always been laced with politic and he continues this trend with CHILDREN OF MEN. He has style and an ability to transcend a genre and make it his own.

Alfonso Cuaron

Alfonso, in all your films there is a certain amount of political influence. When you’re writing, is that something that you try to do or does it just come out for you naturally?

I think it’s a combination of the two things. In this film [CHILDREN OF MEN], it was a bit more specific because we were consciously trying to explore the state of things. And so we did quite a [bit] of research around the state of things and you come to quick conclusions because it’s a… it’s kind of very clear, and the state of things, on top of this list you could have the environment and immigration issue. So the thing is that when you are going to deal with any of this you need to have a point of view about it. So I think it becomes almost automatic; if you’re not trying to become political, it’s there.

Yeah, it becomes a part of his character. With Clive Owen's character, he seems to be how a lot of people are today. They are almost losing hope a little bit, giving up… was that part of the character.

Oh, yeah, we were trying to… with Clive’s character we were trying to create a metaphor of the immobility of the social and emotional immobility of contemporary humanity in which reality is so overwhelming that there’s a fear about engaging. And then it becomes like almost a society of automats that they are looking [for] immediate pleasure by consummating. And the thing for Clive it’s such a different role to play because in a conventional movie hero, the heroes always making decisions and solving the situations. And here, with this character actually it’s the opposite; he’s trying not to make any decisions, he’s trying to avoid any responsibility. And so in one hand he had to project that sense of immobility and in the other hand he had to be another vessel because [he’s] the audience emotional connection with the film.

There was one scene in particular that I really thought was brilliant where you have him in a room and the action is really going on across the room and him just kind of listening as the audience is, and where the action is kind of blurred. Was that basically saying that this is his story?

Well, I think it’s very clear that every single frame [is] of Clive Owen's character, but we did not want to go into his point of view, we didn’t want to go into his perception. We wanted to follow him from a distance. In other words we didn’t want to go into his inner world. We wanted to go through his circumstance and through his journey into a sociopolitical environment and landscape and in that scene in a way is one of the only windows that you have into the anecdotic elements that created this character. And actually it’s one of the only moments that you have a close up in the film because the film is really avoiding close ups all the way through.

Yeah, you don’t do the kind of stereotypical sci-fi look of most films which I liked because it didn’t feel like science fiction to me at all.

Well, I never tried to make a science fiction film; I was trying to avoid a science fiction element. Again I wanted to speak about the present, I wanted to explore the present so we had to embrace some futuristic concepts just because of the contrivance of the story of eighteen years of infertility. But we tried to address those without alienating the sense of present. What I’m saying, for instance with cars we tried to give enough clues so if you decide to be a purist, those cars [don’t] exist right now, a little bit more futuristic than our cars. But at the same token, cars shouldn’t distract you from the sense that you’re watching something that is taking place in the present.

Yeah. No, I also I liked the idea of having the computer screens with these television. Even though it was sci-fi, it still felt real.

Because they look old and funky and f*cked up, there’s a sense of… here’s the thing, what I find sometimes in some science fiction films is that there’s not a sense of history. You know, they create an amazing imaginary land and then the technology… everything looks new. You know, without any sense of history inside the premise. And here, what we were trying to do is according to our timeline, technology stopping in 2012 so from then on its fifteen years of really old stuff. It’s new from our standard but very old from the standard of 2027.

Yeah, exactly; I loved the way you shot it too, you used a lot of handheld in this.

Everything. Everything is handheld in the film.

Yeah. It was brilliant because it really felt like a war movie to me. It felt like you were experiencing this war going on.

Well, we tried to absorb also the language of war journalism. And particularly in the war scenes we tried to absorb the language that actually in war journalism has changed quite a lot because, one model for this film was the Battle of Algiers, in which the amazing thing is how… photojournalism, the film journalism, the word journalism [had] recreated an event that had happened two years before that you would think you were watching stock footage. Now, we tried to do the same except technology has changed. In that time we were talking about very heavy 35mm cameras and now when you see war journalism you’re talking about very light digital cameras. So the dynamic of the camera has changed and we tried to emulate to that new technology.

Did you shoot any of it Digital?

Oh, no, it’s 35.

One of the things that I dig about every one of your movies is the choice of music. This film in particular you used music so well but when there’s no music you use natural sounds like a cat purring or the machine guns going off…

That is Richard Beggs, the sound designer. He is absolutely fantastic. You know, he worked with Sofia Coppola. He has done a couple of films with [Francis Ford] Coppola himself. He started with Coppola, RUMBLEFISH and stuff. And he’s done most of my movies as well.

Did you go in saying, ‘This is what I want’ or did he add a lot?

With Richard, the amazing thing is that you come with ‘This is what I want’ and he proves you wrong.

That’s fantastic.

Yeah, he proves you wrong. He’s amazing.

Now with your cast you chose some pretty solid actors; with Clive Owen, was he your first choice?

Totally! Totally, actually, he was [there] before he was “bankable”. When we were writing the script Tim [J. Sexton] and I, my writing partner Tim and I, we saw CROUPIER. And we’d take about, you see how, this aloofness of the character, our character is much [more] sad but at the same time its different choices of the character in CROUPIER. And the happy thing is that because we wrote right after Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and then it didn’t happen. And I went to do for two years HARRY POTTER. And when I finished HARRY POTTER I reconnected with CHILDREN OF MEN so Clive was already a name so it was fantastic that the studio wanted to work with him.

That’s good timing right there.

It was fantastic timing. If I had to thank one single element that made this movie the way it is its Clive Owen. I cannot overstate how much if this film works it is because of Clive Owen.

I think you work very well with actors, you have a very natural sense of that which I’ve seen other actors comment on that. Do you consider yourself an ‘actor’s director’ as they call them?

Man, I have to say, I’ve been very lucky to work with great actors. They have amazing instincts and they are very generous people. I trust them fully; I’ll tell you my actors in this film, in particular Clive, they were co-writers of this script.

So you are okay with improv?

Totally!

Now, with Julianne Moore, how did that come about?

It was one of those things that she was like a dream to play this role. And the thing is that she connected with what we were trying to tell with this film. She understood it immediately that we were not trying to try and do this silly action movie, that we were trying to explore something and she wanted to be part of it.

It was a nice role for her because… well, I read from her that she liked the fact that [the character] was a take charge kind of woman leading this rebellion…

And the thing is that if you can have an actor who has the moral weight to do that, the authority and at the same time, the womanhood about it because something we tried to throw throughout the film is the strong women, women are the nurturing force in the film.

You write a lot of great women’s roles, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN was a fantastic role. And Maribel Verdú, the actress you chose there was brilliant also.

You can see her in Guillermo’s [Del Toro] movie PAN’S LABYRINTH.

Really?

Did you see PAN’S LABYRINTH?

No, I haven’t seen it yet.

You will see Maribel in the film and she’s fantastic.

Are you excited about that film getting released here, there is a lot of hype about it.

Well, I’m just so excited about the film. It’s probably my favorite film this year. For me, one of my most beautiful moments that’s in my film life had been in Cannes in the opening night of PAN’S LABYRINTH and witnessing the longest standing ovation, ever since 1968. Guillermo was just swimming in those applauses and getting lost in the applauses. It was such an amazing experience.

Cool. I’m so looking forward to that film.

It’s a really beautiful and very complex film.

Isn’t it kind of a fairy tale but not necessarily for the kiddies?

Well, it’s a fairy tale but also it’s a film that speaks about such a metaphorical thing, again about the state of things and humanity.

Now speaking of fairy tales, you’ve done films like THE LITTLE PRINCESS, HARRY POTTER… do you like working with kids more than adults or is it about the same or possibly harder?

I love working with kids. I love working with kids… you know, they say to never work with kids, animals or… I don’t remember what the other thing… was… ah, with animals I agree; it is a pain in the ass. Kids are the most fantastic thing.

Well, I really liked what you did with HARRY POTTER. How did you feel about the finished project, what went through your mind when the fans were either ‘yeah or nay’ with it?

I was relieved when J.K. Rowling gave the blessing to the film.

Absolutely.

And for me it was like, what I was terrified was to contradict her universe. I wanted to honor her universe and when she was pleased with the film, then I was pleased.

If ever the opportunity came about would you do another one?

In a second.

Now, I heard a rumor regarding “México '68” that you’ll be working with Gael Garcia Bernal again is that true?

Not that I know.

Is it just in talks or…

No, actually I don’t think I’m going to do “México '68” next.

Oh, no, I’m looking forward to that one.

Yeah, you know we needed to do so much research around that film and also I just finished a small film that deals with massacres and I need to clean out my mind from massacres for awhile.

Are you looking to do maybe another children’s film?

You know, I would love to but the next thing I’m going to do is a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny thing in Mexico.

Which one?

It’s something that I’m just starting to kind of put in my mind.

Okay… is it something kind of along the lines of Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN?

It would be a little different I guess.

Looking at your IMDB page, you look to be quite busy at the moment.

You know the thing is so deceiving this thing because people tell me about all these projects and it says I’m going to direct them and a lot of these projects they announce are projects that my company is developing that we might produce. And they announce as if I’m going to direct, you know. At this point I’ve been busy around CHILDREN OF MEN. And the studio [has been] amazing, fantastic, allowing me to do the movie that I have in my head.

Did they try and make any changes at all?

They were amazing. They were so amazing around it but at the same time I feel the strong responsibility of pushing for the film.

It’s been released in the UK…

The UK and a lot of Europe…

How’s it being received there?

Very well.

Are you nervous about the American release?

Not really, you know it’s one of those things that I did the film I wanted to do. And the film that came out is exactly the movie I intended to do for good or for evil. And I think that everybody around from the studio doing an amazing job marketing the film and promoting the film. So I think everybody’s been doing an amazing job so now it’s not in our hands.

Yeah. Now it’s basically up to the audience.

It’s up to the audience and to the stars and the Gods and whatever. [Laughing] You get nervous when you’re not certain you did your hundred percent.

One of the things that struck me with the films of yours that I’ve seen, they are very character driven. When you write a script, where do you start?

You know what, even more than character driven is to get thematically driven. And for me… obviously character is part of the theme and I think point of departure is the theme and then visuals come together with that theme.

Well, CHILDREN OF MEN was based on a novel right?

Yeah… yeah, but very loosely.

What made you want to do this film?

It was the premise…about infertility… that infertility and humanity could be taken as a metaphor for the fading sense of hope. And that would be a point of departure for and exploration about the state of things. So that is what triggered the whole thing. Now, because of that we departed from the book, we took the premise but we followed our own story.

Now the film is frighteningly real at times, do you feel that we are heading in that direction?

I think we are there. I think we are there and seeing things in other ways to fool ourselves. I have a very bleak view of the present but I have a very hopeful view of the future.

Is that kind of a hard thing when you are making a film is that where a lot of the politics come in…

Well, because you’re trying to make an observation about today. And I didn’t want to make a judgment; I was trying to make an observation. But to make an observation it almost had to come out like an analytic approach to the whole thing.

What do you want people to take from the film?

Well for me it’s about the audiences going into this ride of what I consider to be the state of things and for people to come up with their own conclusions if there’s a possibility of hope in their reality that we live.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and comments to jimmyo@joblo.com.

Source: JoBlo.com

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9:55PM on 12/25/2006

Brilliant

This was released here in Australia months ago. It's so good I saw it three times. It's one of my years top films.
This was released here in Australia months ago. It's so good I saw it three times. It's one of my years top films.
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