Exclusive: We Talk Mute, a Warcraft sequel & Superhero films w/ Duncan Jones

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Ever since Duncan Jones gave us the exceptional feature MOON, he has continued to impress as a writer/director. Instead of taking on your typical sci-fi adventure, the filmmaker gives fans new material in a fresh and meaningful way. From SOURCE CODE to the underrated WARCRAFT, Jones manages to give his work something special. The same can be said about his latest, the cerebral sci-fi noir thriller MUTE featuring Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux, where he once again leads audiences on an unexpected journey.

Recently, at the junket for MUTE, we sat down with Duncan to talk about his latest. The discussion ranged from the surprising inspiration for the characters played by Rudd and Theroux to featuring a leading man that doesn’t speak. The filmmaker also talked about why Netflix was such a good fit for this particular tale. 

When it comes to a sequel to WARCRAFT, Jones opened up about the divide between critics and fans. And in a world where most studios prefer to take on already established properties, you won’t necessarily find him trying to be a part of the Marvel Universe. However, he did express interest in possibly bringing one of the many characters from 2000 AD to the big screen.

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MUTE opens this Friday and I’d recommend giving it a watch on the big screen. You can always give it a second (or third or fourth) veiwing on Netflix.

You came up with this idea for MUTE well before MOON, correct?

Oh yeah, absolutely. No I wrote this script with Mike Johnson 16 years ago, and it has evolved dramatically over the decade and a half that I've been working on it. It was before MOON. I was still at film school and I was trying to work out, "Okay. How can I do a low budget movie that has something kind of original that would be challenging and appealing to an actor?" And at the time, I think movies like SEXY BEAST and LAYER CAKE and things like that were coming out. So there was kind of a new renaissance of British based gangster films. And it was kind of in that genre, but hopefully we found something, which we thought was original with the lead protagonist not speaking and these other two characters who were kinda curated from Robert Altman's MASH. We took Trapper John and Hawkeye Pierce and added our own little bit of spices.

I loved that. I picked that up right away.

Great. Good, good, good. It's one of my favorite films. I love MASH. So we did that and it was gonna be based in London, and it was gonna be contemporary back then when we first wrote it. Then we did MOON and after finishing that, I was very much in a science fiction frame of mind. And I'd look at MUTE again 'cause I was gonna go back to it, and I was like, "You know what? There's so much about this film, which I think would be better if it was in a science fiction setting. The fact that this guy can't talk, wouldn't it be more interesting if he chose not to be able to talk?" And, "Why would that happen? Why would someone choose not to be able to talk? Maybe there's religious reasons?" And then that just kind of helped evolve and create Leo the character from MUTE. And then all of these new things came out of that approach of putting it in a science fiction setting, which it had enough time for it all to sort of bed itself in and become organic and natural to the project.

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Well, it also feels uniquely sci-fi with the mix of the film noir … I feel like we don't see that often enough in feature films. Was that Netflix basically saying, "Do what you want. Make this film. Make the film you want?"

Yeah. There was no way this film was getting made the traditional route. I mean, I think the studios now have a business approach, which I understand. It works for them, but they basically paired off their independent arms. The 20 to 40 million dollar range films that are more original have kind of stopped being made by the studios. There's the franchises, the sequels, the reboots, and things, which are already recognizable to an audience. That tends to be what the studios make, which is very successful for them, but it does mean that original films in that smaller budget don't have an avenue to get made until Netflix, and Amazon, and Apple started making them. So it wouldn't have gotten made without them.

Wow. Well, I mean, speaking of those films, you just came off WARCRAFT, which found a lot of success with fans …


… and worldwide. It did really well on that level. Is that a film that you’d like to return to and take on a sequel?

I would love to and it's such a weird one, WARCRAFT. I mean, I think it has the highest divergency between fan ratings and critical ratings of any movie. But it really did. It has this really weird split, and then obviously, the financial side in the US was not what it needed to be, but it did do great internationally. So it's such a unique case. It's a truly unique case. No one really knows why or if a sequel will get made at this point. And I think no one is kind of ready to pull the trigger one way or the other. One of the things you'll probably notice or be aware of with the studios is, it's very easy to say no to things. It's very hard to say yes because that's when you get fired. You don’t get fired for saying no. You get fired to saying yes. And with a WARCRAFT sequel, no one wants to pull the trigger.


So we'll see. We'll see what happens. Maybe at some point, someone will say, "You know what? It made so much money in China. Let's just make it." And assume that the international is what's gonna make it successful, but I'm still waiting. I'm hoping they do it.

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I think a lot of fans are waiting for that. Well, was that a big reason why you decided to finally say, "Okay. Let's do MUTE?"

Yeah. I mean, I think three and a half years of really pretty hard, arduous political filmmaking was enough and I needed to do something for me. I mean, my dad had always taught me, "If you can do one for them, do one for yourself." To kind of go back and forth between those, and that very much felt like one for them whether it was successful or not. And MUTE was absolutely one for myself. So I did that and in the timing of it, my personal life was a little strange. Dad had just died and in the course of making this, the woman who raised me died of brain cancer. So it was just a very strange kind of place in my life to make it, but it kind of … It added a weird somberness to it that I think it wouldn't have had without that weird personal situation.

You do deal with very personal issues in the film.

Yeah. And a lot of the subtext is about parenting and about, "How do different people approach parenting?" And what matters as parent. It's kind of in there. So yeah, even though it's science fiction, even though it's these weird bizarre characters, there's a lot of therapy that I got out of making this movie.

There's so many layers to these characters. You talked about Paul and Justin…

Oh. Cactus and Duck.

Yeah. One of the characters, I'm not gonna give anything away here, but he's got something very dark going on.


A very dark storyline that goes on, and it's interesting how it's handled here. It's not … I think it's handled more realistically.

Yeah. I think so. When I was a student and just after I'd kind of left film school and was doing my first few jobs, I lived in London and I lived with a bunch of other guys. And we all shared a house because you couldn't afford to live in London unless you were sharing a house. So it was five of us in a house and we all basically lived out of each other's pockets. Sometimes I was making money. Sometimes another guy was making money, but you never knew 'cause a lot of it was freelance work. And sometimes you were broke and the other guy would pay for your lunch and vise versa.

And I think when you live out of each other's pockets like that, you do create … You have this bond, this kind of brotherhood that you get when you live as a group of guys like that. And I'm sure it's the same for women as well, but that was kind of a weird relationship that I felt like, "I haven't seen that that often." I don't see that kind of brotherhood, that kind of closeness in male relationships treated in that way before. And again, I had kind of seen it in Robert Altman's MASH, and I felt like, "Okay. It is kind of a military thing. It's almost like you guys are all in it together. And you have to deal with it. It's you against the world." So let's take those guys, let's take Trapper John and Hawkeye Pierce, let's twist the meanness up in them, the issues they have, a little bit, and let's see where they go.

Yeah. And also very much outside the box for Paul Rudd to be in that role.

And for him, I think, this was like … It's gold because for actors, you do get pigeonholed and I think Paul has had an amazing career of playing very amiable, very nice guys. And actually, I'd seen him in THIS IS 40 and it's funny because it's an amazing comedy. But there's just little moments where he's kind of angry or mean. And I'm like, "What if you're like that more?" And I just totally believed it. I was like, "Yeah. I think Paul Rudd wants to play something else and if he did, he'd be amazing at it." And Cactus was really something he jumped at.

For sure.The character is a bit of a douche bag in the best way. Yet he doesn't come across … Again, it doesn't come across as kind of your typical stereotype of "villain."

No. No.

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I don't even know if I'd call him a villain.

No. I mean, I think part of my ambition with this was … Obviously, Leo's not gonna have any dialogue so we're gonna have to be very gentle and delicate about how we introduce this character and bring our audience onto his story. And with Cactus and Duck, I don't want them to be seen as villains. I want the audience to think and hope that somehow these two, Leo and Cactus and Duck are all gonna come together and solve the mystery. And just assume that they're part of the solution and not the problem. And get the audience to engage and kind of like these guys even if they're a little quirky. They're funny. They're smart. They're kind of fun to be around. And then start to pick away at that, and start to reveal who they really are.

What I've always found interesting about your career, as you've always taken chances. I love SOURCE CODE.

Thank you.

It's such a fantastic movie. I really enjoyed this and of course Moon, and Warcraft. Do you ever think about, "Well, I would like to kind of go in with the big boys and take on the new Captain America?" Or the new "Wonder Woman?" Is that on your radar at all?



No. I really don't. I mean, I think if there's something that hasn't already been adapted … The thing is, I would do a DC or Marvel title if no one had heard of it, I think. Truly, I think the closest I ever got was … I was looking at GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY a little bit before they did such an amazing job.

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Oh yeah. For sure.

But I talked to Marvel about that a little bit and I was like. "Mm. This is kind of interesting." I knew nothing about GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and … "This is kind of interesting. Maybe I could do something with this?" But I didn't engage, I think, passionately enough or immediately enough at the time, and I kind of had other things that I was looking at. So I didn't go ahead with it, but I think if there was something like that, maybe. But I kinda feel like where my heart lies, if I were gonna go in the comic book direction, it would be in the British stuff just because I am British. So 2000 AD where Judge Dredd came from, has an amazing cast of characters. And I think if I were ever gonna do a comic book character, it would probably be one of those.

We need another Judge Dredd because that last DREDD was amazing.

DREDD was great, but there are like Slaine, and Rogue Trooper, and all of these amazing British characters that are over here, people don't know about. So if I can find a way to get the budget to do one of those, which is difficult because they're not known about… Those would be amazing movies, it's just because they're not known about. How do we make that work? But we'll see. I would rather focus on trying to do a 2000 AD character.

I’ve always appreciated that you dig a little deeper when it comes to your work in science fiction. With Mute, you're dealing with a character with special needs basically, does that just appeal to you as a storyteller that he's … ?

I think so. I can't help but … I'm too opinionated.

I like that.

I can't help but have … As subtly and without feeling like I'm lecturing, I wanna be able to have something to say in a movie. Obviously, you need it to be entertaining 'cause that's the prerequisite of making a movie. It has to entertain, but if I can add something to it, just a little, "Have you thought about this? Have you thought about this part of what this story is about?" Maybe not so much the obvious thing, but wouldn't it be interesting if this were the case, or if these characters were not what you expected them to be? I don't know, just wherever it is that I can kind of add just a little tweak, a little sauce to it, I try to.

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Since BRIGHT was a big success for Netflix, which I don't think anyone was prepared for, how big it was. Now they're making a BRIGHT sequel. Are we thinking there'll be MUTE 2?

Would I do a MUTE 2?



Do you not like doing sequels? You don't seem to do them, except for possibly taking on a WARCRAFT sequel.

Well, I mean, we have WARCRAFT or SOURCE CODE. I mean, a lot of people were talking about SOURCE CODE 2, and that was financially ready to go, but I just think that SOURCE CODE really worked, I think, beautifully as a standalone movie. And maybe … I've moved on from it. I've kind of wanted to do other things now. And with MUTE, this has been a boulder I've been trying to push up a hill for such a long time. I kind of feel like that's done now. I wanna try something completely new next. And again, maybe it just goes back to my background and how my daddy raised me, but he always said to push yourself into new things. And that's kinda what I wanna do.

Source: JoBlo.com

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JimmyO is one of JoBlo.com’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.