Luc Besson‘s name is synonymous with insane action, dark humor and strong female characters: in LUCY, he delivers on all fronts. Scarlett Johansson plays a woman injected with a drug that increases her brain functionality to a point where she’s essentially a demigod, able to bend time and matter to her will. It’s definitely not the same old thing, you’ll find when you see it; Besson has made his “badass chick” movie more about the science of the mind and body than simple explosions and chaos. (Of course, it has ample helpings of those elements as well.)
I spoke to Besson about the unusual metaphysical nature of LUCY, working with stars Johansson, Morgan Freeman and Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy!), the Incas and where we’ll be 4,000 years from now. Yeah, just a normal chat. And indeed, I had to bring up THE PROFESSIONAL 2 – is there hope yet for a sequel?
How did the idea of LUCY occur to you and how long have you been working on it?
I start to work on it about nine years ago. I had a talk with a woman who was a professional on cell nucleus who got cancer. And I was sitting next to her during a dinner and talked to her for five hours, it was just an amazing talk and I got passionate about the subject.
And then obviously you added in the action elements.
I think the action elements and all the fun were added in way later. I start with the science first, because I want to have the base. There’s nothing better than a fake film where people believe you. [Laughs] You have to start with something real, even though everyone knows it’s just a film. It’s like politics, they’re supposed to tell the truth but everybody knows they’re lying. [Laughs]
You do a lot of interesting things toward the end of the film, that I can’t spoil here. But it goes from being an action film to something more metaphysical and strange. Was that your intent from the start?
I think from the very beginning, it’s like that. The first image is a cell, dividing into two, dividing into four. And then we see prehistoric times, two million years ago. I tried to structure the tale from the beginning to prepare people for the very end. In my mind, it’s not two parts at all.
Was Scarlett Johansson your first choice?
We met with a couple of actresses. It can’t go just one way, you have to fall in love with both the script and the character. I feel very comfortable saying the first meeting with Scarlett went very well. She understood the script and her character, and I could see she was enchanted. And you need that because it’s a hard part to play, you need someone who gets it. We got along very quickly.
Lucy goes through a personality change as her power grows; in a way, she loses her humanity.
It was fascinating to work on that with her. After she gains 20% of her brain power, everything that makes us human disappears. Fear or love or desire, all these things have no importance at this level. To give you an example, 4,000 years ago the Incas – the tribe – would push virgin girls in holes because they wanted the sun to calm down. And today, if you do that you go to jail, because it’s insane. That was 4,000 years ago; what are we going to think about our way of acting 4,000 years from now? About our religions, our god – which is money today – what are we going to think about the way we did things 4,000 years from now? So Lucy is just at another level; she doesn’t fear death because we never really die at her level. But at the same time, she has to fight not to forget it totally, because if she forgets it totally she won’t care about anything anymore.
Of course you’ve worked with Morgan Freeman before, on Unleashed; can you talk about the collaboration with him?
On Unleashed we said to each other we want to find something else to work on, and I thought LUCY was the right one. I call him and we had lunch and I told him about the subject of the film, and he said yes before even reading the script. He’s very aware of this universe, which I didn’t know. So as soon as I started to tell him about it, he stops me and says, “I’m in. I’m passionate about this, I’m passionate about the human brain.” I said, “Okay, but read the script and call me after you’ve read it.” [Laughs] He read it and said, “For the second time, I’m in.” He’s an angel to work with, I wish every director could work with Morgan Freeman. It’s not even working, it’s just pure pleasure.
Of course it’s early still, but do you have ideas for a sequel? Would that even be possible?
Have you seen the film?
Do you have any ideas? [Laughs] Honestly, I don’t have a clue. If the film is huge and people are screaming for a sequel, I will think about it, but I don’t know how. I worked on this film for a long time, and I want to give people a thriller with metaphysical messages. I didn’t know if it was possible to mix the two, but at least I tried. Usually you go to see a movie, and you’ll see one that’s a metaphysical film, or you’ll see a thriller with little content, but I love both and I want to see both in one movie.
Is it a tough process deciding which projects you’re going to direct and which ones you’ll be producing for other directors?
If I feel like another director can be as good as me or better than me, I’m willing to let it go. Sometimes certain subjects, like LUCY, I feel like I can bring something different, maybe because of my creative personality or the way I tweak it. It’s a lot about the actors, also. I was dying to work with Choi Min-sik, he’s a genius. To me he’s the Asian Gary Oldman. He doesn’t speak a word of English, and I don’t speak a word of Korean, so we always communicated with smiling and mimicking and gestures. It was very fun. He’s so scary on the frame, but as soon as he’s out of the frame, he’s a sweetheart, the exact opposite.
A lot of people have wondered if there would ever be a sequel to The Professional focusing on Natalie Portman‘s character. Has that ever been a possibility?
Natalie is old now, she’s a mother. [Laughs] It’s too late. If I got an idea tomorrow about a sequel, of course I would do it. But I never came up with something strong enough. I don’t want to do sequels for money, I want to do a sequel because it’s worth it. I want it to be as good or better than the original.
LUCY car chase clip