Interview : Alfonso Cuaron


Clint Morris hears from the “Children of Men” director

When filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron got together with the art department of “Children of Men” to discuss coming up with a realistic futuristic milieu – he didn’t mean flying cars, holographic bank-tellers or push-button bicycles.

“When you start talking to artists about doing a film that is set in the future, everyone tends to get a little bit excited and start thinking in terms of Bladerunner”, laughs the Mexican writer/director. “I love that film, but this was to be the anti-Bladerunner”

“Children of Men” is a post-911 thriller in which a world one generation from now has fallen into anarchy on the heels of an infertility defect in the population. One man, a former activist, agrees to help move an inexplicably expectant woman to a haven at sea, where her child’s birth may assist scientists save the future of civilization.

It was important to ground the film in reality, so palpable technological advancements would have to be at a minimum, insisted Cuaron.

“It was difficult, because people with amazing concepts and imagination came in and suggested some wild things – but I just didn’t want imagination in this movie, I wanted reference. I wanted a future that didn’t automatically tell the audience it was the future, the audience had to figure it out for themselves – for instance, though the cars are from the future, they look almost normal, its hard to spot their differences”, the director, whose other credits include “Y tu mamá también” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, says. “We didn’t want to do a future that was about the future – but about the present”.

Not surprisingly, Cuaron became interested in the picture after 911. “I started writing the project in 2001 – and yes, the mental factor in the writing of this film was September 11 obviously. Because of those events, it was important to set the film in more of a 21st century, than a 20th century, because the world as we know it has changed considerably since then.”

The film, he says, may differ a little from the P.D James authored book of the same name – because, well, he doesn’t know it. “I have to mask a confession. I’ve never read the novel. I was afraid I would start second guessing things. It was the script that sparked my interest – and it didn’t at first, I have to admit, but I eventually found something in it that really grabbed me. Again, I think it was how emblematic of our times it is.”

Fortunately, the studio was familiar with the book and they insisted the film remain pretty close to it. “It took place in England, and the studio felt very comfortable about the premise and the integrity of that aspect. That was good, because it would be very hard, especially visually, for this film to take place in America – if only because part of the premise of the film is that the world has fallen apart and England is an island that’s separated itself and is run with a very regressive democracy. You could not set that in America. The film would have been much different. England doesn’t have the kind of control that you have in America, ya know?”

When studio executives informed the director that they wanted a big name for the film – he never expected Clive Owen’s name to be on the list. “When the studio gave the greenlight to the film, they immediately started talking about Clive Owen for the lead – I was so thrilled! I was a fan of Clive. I thought they would suggest a very big star, and even though Clive is becoming a very important leading man, he’s an actor more so than a star. I was really thrilled. He really understood this character was not a superhero, but a complete regular Joe. He grounds the film.”

An unlikely casting choice was Michael Caine as Jasper, a retired newspaper cartoonist that spends a lot of his time smoking pot.

Caine himself didn’t even think he was right, until “we were doing make-up, hair and costume at his house”, explains Cuaron. “[And] once he had the clothes and so on, on, and stepped in front of the mirror to look at himself, his body language started changing. Michael loved it. He believed he was this guy”.

Caine decided to play the character as an older John Lennon, says Cuaron, and “It is the first time that he farts on screen, and the first time that he smokes joints on screen”, he laughs.

Cuaron, who decided to do “Children of Men” over a film version of Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi”, was as nervous about the film working, as Caine was about the role – but it all came together.

“I was very nervous. You’ve spent five days on a scene, and by the fourth day you still haven’t rolled camera, and on the fifth day the first take doesn’t work?” says Cuaron. “Magically it always comes together in that last moment when everyone is stressed and worn”.