Q. What were you experiences of filming here in the UK?
This was my first time shooting an entire movie here in England and it really was an extraordinary experience. I’ve tried elsewhere in Europe and the experience has always been that when you need a specialist you fly them in for England. Whatever department when you need someone really great they always come from England. You bring them over to the Czech Republic, Romania or France wherever. That’s expensive obviously, but working here I got the opportunity to work with the best in every single department so that experience was extraordinary.
The thing about working with Tom is that physically moving him around is so expensive. Also your weather is not great here. We have a film that take place almost entirely outside and also it’s the same day repeating. My normal experience is that if it’s raining we just shoot in the rain, but for this project it can’t be raining if it wasn’t raining the day before. The end result was that we shot the entire movie on the stage and back lot of Leavesden studio. We were the first film in there after it was renovated and it’s got 100s of acres of back lot. So basically everything you see was built on the back lot. So if it was raining we could move inside and if he sun came back out we could go straight back out. It was my first time shooting a movie when almost everything happened on the back lot and I loved it.
The only time we really left it was to go to Trafalgar square where we got to land a massive military helicopter in the heart of the square. That was one of those moments. I’m not jaded, but a moment like that you’re back t being a kid. I’m like “Oh my God this is the magic of the movies!” We only had 3 hours to shoot so I had to get that out of my system quickly and get working.
Q. What’s coming up next for you?
I’m interested in a wide range. I’m not sure what my next film is but one of them is period movie about George Mallory. I’d also love to find a small comedy. I don’t crave the big set experience. In fact my favourite moments on Edge of Tomorrow were the small reshoots I did with Tom Cruise. It was like being back to Swingers. I had a green screen set up in the editing room at Warner Bros in Burbank. We had to sneak some lights in because this was not union and totally unauthorised. Tom had to do his own makeup and hair. We did shots that are in the movie because we thought we could get a better performance or change a line of dialogue. But that’s where my heart is it’s in that real Guerrilla moment of just me an actor and a camera. With Edge of Tomorrow the whole film feels like it was shot that way even though it was obviously shot on a massive budget with a cast of thousands. It feels like a really personal story and that never got lost. I’d love to find a small movie I could just shoot the whole movie that way.
Q. What do people like Emily and Bill Paxton bring to the film?
She’s the only one we wanted. It was one of these things where if we couldn’t have gotten her I’m not sure what would have happened. We didn’t have a plan B. We had to surround Tom by amazing actors. Bill Paxton was extraordinary in the movie in a role which you’ve kind of seen before. It’s like oh he’s the drill sergeant. There are these sorts of cliché things. It’s the military; they operate in a certain way so there’s only so much latitude you can have about a sergeant who’s in charge of a platoon. Paxton created a character that is just completely original.
I workshop character with actors and in the case of Bill he was talking about the role and in our first conversation he started riffing a character that believed in battle and saw battle as the great leveler. He believed that dying a hero’s death I battle and winning were both equally positive outcomes. You almost have a religious belief in death in battle being a good thing. If you’re Tom Cruise’s character obviously that’s your worst nightmare. I mean you want a sergeant that wants everybody to live. From that point we built a wonderful character that makes a great foil for Tom. With Tom it’s like playing tennis, if you’re playing with someone better your game comes up.
Emily is just an extraordinarily powerful actress. She really stands her ground even though she was in way over her head in this movie in terms of Tom having done big action movies and she hasn’t. That didn’t stop her at all. We had a very safe environment in which to work. Early on in the process there was a lot of stress. I don’t always hold it together. Early on we were having a script meeting with Tom and Emily. Emily mad a suggestion and I snapped at her a little bit. She was like Jesus I’m just trying; I’ve never made a movie like this before. I said I’ve never made a movie like this before either. So it was like okay we can all admit we’ve never made a movie like this before. It’s now a safe space for everyone to toss ideas out. That was really a critical moment in the process early on. From that point forward it was a completely safe environment. I don’t think I’ve had that safe an environment on set since I did Swingers.
When we did Swingers we couldn’t afford a camera that did sound. The whole thing about a film camera is that they sound like a sewing machine unless you get one expensive enough to be quieter. We couldn’t afford that so I had to take a French camera and wrap it in my old skiing jacket. In some scenes if we were closer to the actors I’d then wrap it again in my blanket from my bed. Jon Favreau used to describe it as acting to a big snowball because there as this big puffy thing on my shoulder. But it created an environment where Jon and Vince felt completely safe to try things because they looked at me and I have my bedding wrapped around the camera and it was like anything goes.
Now you have a giant movie star like Tom who is okay with trying anything and is encouraging everyone else to do that. You feel like he’s got the most to lose because he’s at the top of the pyramid. Usually those are the guys who play it the safest. So that’s an inspiring place to find yourself as a filmmaker.
Q. How easy was it adapting the original book?
You would be forgiven for assuming it’s a manga because it’s Japanese. So when I started working on this I thought great I’m going to get to look at all the pictures in the book and see what all the aliens and exo-suits look like. But the Japanese actually do write some books without pictures in them and this happened to be one of them. It was akin to adapting the Bourne Identity; I just had words to go on. But I had an amazing art department and the irony of the process was that the design of the movie got ahead of the script. I had meeting with Tom and the producers presenting pictures and they noticed most of these scenes weren’t currently in the script. I said I know but they eventually will be. So we first turned the book into a comic book and images. Then from those images we developed the scripts.
Q. How specifically did you develop the aliens?
If you saw my inspiration for the aliens it was this video we found on YouTube of just a pulsating cube that was vibrating. All I had was that. I was not making a movie about an alien invasion. I was just in this arena in terms of the effect it has on the characters. Aliens don’t necessarily bring out the best character development as illustrated by a lot of the most recent alien invasion movies. Dying and repeating the day brings out a lot of interesting character issues. Having to reintroduce yourself to Emily Blunt every day is really interesting. In particular unlike something like Groundhog Day where Bill Murray has all the power, you have a character like Emily Blunt who doesn’t have the power but has an awareness that this power exists and is incredibly smart. So even though she can’t remember the previous days they’ve lived. Based on his action she can deduce what might have happened and call bullshit on certain things. I loved that. I’m a great believer of the brain as a super power as well. In this movie you really have two super heroes. One of them has a legitimate super power and the other ones super power is that she’s incredibly smart and can deduce what’s happened on previous days.
Q. Few films are ambitious enough to tackle a concept like time loops for a feature length story, what excited you about that unique narrative structure and what frustrated you about it?
From a straight production point of view I was excited about the efficiency of filming because you’re going to the same locations over and over again. So we could block shoot and that allowed us to make a bigger film than our budget should really have allowed us to do. I had dreams of budget efficiency I was able to realise with this narrative structure. The thing that I loved most was the idea. I like putting real human beings through extraordinary situation. At the heart of it are real human beings. If you look at Mr & Mrs Smith there’s a real couple trying to look at the insecurities in their marriage and deal with their trust issues. There’s machine guns and outrageous stuff happening but all of that is about bringing out what’s interesting about the human beings.
I just thought with Edge of Tomorrow this is a concept that allowed me to really have a great love story between two people where they basically have to start over from scratch every day. Trying to figure out how to build a love story off of that was a really exciting challenge. It’s something that Tom and Emily did an extraordinary job accomplishing. Emily has it toughest because she has to always go back to square one, he gets to continuously evolve. But she has to reset to the same starting point every day but then over the course of different days she has to get to different places. So her performance is unbelievable.
The frustrating thing was trying to deal with the logic of a film which basically involves time travel. It’s so mind boggling, so challenging. People who dream that one day time travel might actually exist. All they have to do is just work on a film that involves time travel and you will at that point realise that there’s no way we will ever travel through time. There are just too many paradoxes. It’s just never going to happen!