Today: May 29, 2024

Gravity – Cast & Crew Interviews

This week, sci-fi thriller, Gravity opens in UK cinemas. FilmJuice were at last week’s Press Conference with Director Alfonso Cuaron, Writer Jonas Cuaron, Producer David Heyman and the film’s star, Sandra Bullock to find out just what it takes to make a truly game-changing film.

Gravity is an extraordinary movie. What was the genesis of this project?
Alfonso: Jonas came up with this notion of doing a film that is a rollercoaster of human emotion. It’s a film that you’re on the edge of your seat from the beginning  … all the way through, but at the same time, it’s a projection of a deep emotional journey. Between the emotions and the ride, there would be other things expressed mostly through visual metaphors. And the intent was to do something very cathartic, with which audiences could connect and express their own emotional experience into the journey. And so space was a great setting for that.

Then you came on board, David?
David: I’d worked with Alfonso before on the third Harry Potter, and when he asked if I’d join them, there was not a moment’s hesitation. Alfonso is one of the most brilliant directors, a good friend and he’s done so much work I admire. I knew I was going to be on for a hell of a ride, and it was. Alfonso is always pushing everyone, he never settles. It’s like riding such a high wire act that you could easily topple, and that’s really exciting. Sometimes it’s scary, but really thrilling to be part of, because you know you’re reaching for something extraordinary. I read the script, which he and Jonas had written and it was beautiful. Then we started to try and make the film and went, ‘Oh my goodness! This is something!’ Because the film is about dealing with adversity and we didn’t have a clue how we were going to do it.

Sandra, what was it about the script that so appealed to you?
Sandra: I’m such an extreme admirer of Alfonso’s body of work, and it was one of those dreams: ‘If I can only work with…’ The joke in my office was, every time we had a script, ‘Do you think Alfonso will direct it?’ We knew the answer was no because he writes his own material. But I always used his films as examples of things I loved, to say what we should aspire to. And then it came up that he had this project and I had no intention of working. They said, ‘he’ll come to Austin.’ I said, ‘What? Alfonso Cuaron is coming to Austin?’ And he did and the conversation that we had when he came had nothing to do with how to make the film or what kind of film we’d be making. It had to do with the emotional core of what he felt this film was about. I was immediately able to relate what I felt I wanted it to be about and they both happened to be the exact same thing – and that was mind-blowing. Usually you’re meeting with someone you’ve held in such high esteem and they end up not being as bright as you want them to be. And then I met Jonas, and we talked about character development and nuances and the technical side came in and it was the great unknown.

Can you talk about dealing with the technical difficulties of filming?
Sandra: Yeah … there were great adversities every single day that Alfonso had to deal with, that David had to deal with, that Jonas had to deal with. Just on a logistical level, these things never existed before they started making this film. So every day you were battling something because your comfort zone was gone, but I think in the end, for all of us, it was, as Jonas says, an existential journey that spat us out at the end. You figure out what you’re made of and what’s no longer applicable and I’m so glad I had that experience with this very specific people, because we all needed to learn something and came out the other end having hopefully learned it.

Alfonso, are you planning on doing a documentary on making the movie?
Alfonso: You know, we have been discussing that. I’m a bit torn about the whole thing because, as a member of the audience, I just love the experience of going into a cinema and going through the ride of it. What happens to me if, before you see the film, too much has been shown about how you did it, it takes away the illusion. It’s like when you go to see one of those great magic acts. You know that it’s an act – people don’t float. Or maybe some of them do… But it’s just the poetry of the concept. The great illusionists, what they do is, they’re telling stories. The last thing I want to know is how they do it. Later on, I guess that is our responsibility of filmmakers to other filmmakers to share the knowledge and that is something I’m all for.

Sandra, how comfortable did you feel in the space suit? How sexy did you feel in it?
Sandra: Wow, sometimes questions come at you that you just don’t know how to answer! For the most part, I was never in a space suit. There were pieces of a suit with weird things attached to you for the CGI crew to be able to navigate once you’ve done the action, to go in and overlay a suit. The Russian space suit was really the only one I wore. It was so exquisitely made. …They were confining, restrictive, and that’s as they feel when they’re wearing them up in space. I’d love to tell you they were sexy, but there’s nothing sexy about them.

Alfonso, Gravity needed very specific lighting. How did you work with Emmanuel Lubezki (Cinematographer)?
Alfonso: We call Emmanuel ‘Chivo’  and Chivo is all about light. He’s the master of it. In a way, he sees things differently than any of us. He’s amazing, the subtlety he has in his eye. Something he was really obsessed with when he got involved with is light in space. Because it’s unlike any light we know on planet Earth. It’s an unfiltered light. Here on Earth, wherever you do, there is atmosphere. And the atmosphere refracts the light. He checked zillions of references for light in space, talked to astronauts, talked to everybody, asking the weirdest questions. And what he liked is this idea that, in space, light is completely unfiltered. Not only that, but on Earth you have different colours of light, of sunlight, depending on factors like the time of day, the atmosphere, that sort of thing. In space there is only continuous colour, except one minute in sunrise and one minute in sunset. So he worked very hard to replicate that light, and even harder to replicate that in a virtual reality so the two realities would match – live-action and virtual. He was working in virtual lighting and he got the dream that he always had. It was so fantastic to see him working with the computers and the experts, because he could utter the words, ‘Move the sun 100 million miles to the left!’ He loved that. He always complains about that when we shoot other films – ‘Can you move the sun over there?’

Sandra, talk about those moments of humour you had with your co-star, George Clooney, on set.
Sandra: There was nothing fun about making this film! Even when George and I were together in whatever contraption we were tied into, struggling with the technology, fun is not the word I would use. I think, out of anger and frustration towards Alfonso for putting us there, George and I were so in sync that we felt the need to make fun of Alfonso and the way he speaks …

Alfonso: Yes, but I’m Mexican. They imitated me like a Cuban!

Sandra: You’re right. As you said, our job was to entertain, not authenticity!

Alfonso: Guys, face it – you were trying Mexican and you sucked!

Talk us through a typical scene … I hear that the set was basically an ‘isolation’ tank?
Alfonso: Sandra was locked in this box [with all the] technology and the communication was through radio. So she was alone in this box, and we had these witness cameras, just to make sure she’s okay.

Sandra: Which I always forgot were there.

Alfonso: She forgot and every time I would go to a mic and say, ‘Sandy?’ this was the reaction… (Rolls eyes)

Sandra: Also because that ‘Sandy?’ came after a take, and it meant, ‘We have to do it again because your nose might have gone a quarter of an inch too far forward when you were trying to act the role…’ Or my hand was not where it should have been when we were starting, so we need to do everything over again even though I felt I nailed something.

David: She’s still pissed off.

Alfonso: She is! And there was, ‘Sandy, can you do less bubbles, please?’

Sandra: Yes, in the tank! Bubbles means there’s air coming into the air pipe. Less bubbles, okay… And I’m more than happy to die…!

Sandra, how did you compose your performance, especially in scenes where you are acting against machines or absolutely nothing?
Sandra: I don’t know. Composing means you have a beginning, middle and end and a fluidity to what you’re doing. This was done in tiny little sections and then you had these long stretches where you had to wait for the camera to get to you and it ended up, for me, the easiest way to rhythmically figure out how to give them what they needed and have some linear story was musically. Alfonso had a bag of music and songs and sounds and I went through the catalogue and started pulling songs for each scene that made me feel something because I knew I would be isolated, and I needed something that would be a quick fix or wake me up in some way. So it was always the rhythm of some kind of music or song, whether it was just in my head or something we piped in. After we shot enough, I was able to say, ‘Can you play back in my ear what we just shot?’ So I could hear the breath, get the level of hyperventilation or fear, get worked up to that point and they could roll camera. The more we shot, the more I had to go back and reference to piece this together.

Sandra, the pivotal scene is where you’re in deep space and there’s a lot going through your mind.

Sandra: That scene … was in everyone’s mind! I had to be in top core strength because I had to collapse myself on this bicycle seat. When I saw it in the pre-vis and the piece of music they’d set it to, it was so emotional and had so much weight for all these reasons. I know it was a big scene for Chivo, for everyone. You could just feel it. So when we shot it, it was a tense day because the helmet was supposed to come off, how do we do it in slow motion? One leg is taped to this pole, everything is contracting and we worried so much – at least I did – that when we finally shot it, we had that piece of music we all fell in love with and we played it. I said, ‘Just play it, and the rhythm will find itself.’ And it did, it took a couple of takes, but after, I think, the sixth one, it was so silent, no one had to say a word, everybody knew that it worked.

You prepped for that scene, physically, for months…?

Alfonso: Yes but she couldn’t show any strain!

Sandra: At one point, Alfonso said, ‘Sandy? Does your leg have to shake?’ I told him, ‘I am slowly contracting using my core at this speed… That is a muscle, Alfonso. That’s what muscles look like and it’s supporting my entire body!’ ‘Okay, don’t shake it, then. You can have the muscle, don’t shake it!’ But all those things Alfonso said, the metaphor, the visuals, the feelings I wanted people to have for themselves when they watched the scene, I didn’t want to be responsible for messing that up. And to me when tragedy hits, we would like to go back to the womb and start over again because it’s the safest place you ever were. To be able to show that, that sense of peace, that sense of beauty and silence was daunting. Every single aspect had to be perfect. I remember where everyone was, how it felt sitting there. Shooting it was like doing modern interpretative dance with Martha Graham, but it was such an emotional day and I just wanted Chivo and Alfonso to be happy. When there was silence and I didn’t get an, ‘Er, Sandy?’ I knew. I started crying. Everyone had their moment. No one looked at each other. We wanted so badly to be in a story where you get the feelings you do from reading a book. Fantasy, suspension of belief. I don’t think film has been able to have that for a while.

The movie’s about rebirth. Is this the rebirth of your career?
Sandra: I’ve been granted many times to have different experiences. There’s the work and there’s a career. I can’t control the career aspect because it’s all about timing and other things. For me, it was a rebirth in my excitement at filmmaking and my part in it, and what I’m allowed to be a part of. Alfonso didn’t have to be collaborative, but he’s one of the most collaborative people I’ve worked with. So it was a rebirth in my faith in why I chose this profession.

Gravity is in UK cinemas from 8th November 2013.

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