Watching the confounding and fun first trailer for Colossal, there was a wave of shock that Anne Hathaway–esteemed actress and picture of cheerful elegance–would star in such an unapologetically weird movie. And Vigalondo, director of the Kaiju comedy that opens this week, was as surprised as the rest of us that the Oscar-winner signed on. Moreover, Hathaway came to him! “You can imagine my face when I got the news that she was interested in it,” Vigalondo said as we spoke following the polarizing film’s SXSW premiere. “She read the script through her agent, and just showed her interest. It was as simple as that. She approached us–me and Nahikari Ipiña, my long-time producer since the short films.”
With a star of Hathaway’s magnitude on board, Colossal had no trouble securing financing. “It was like this bunch of weird people coming from nowhere–and Anne Hathaway–trying to make this strange film,” Vigalondo shared. “It went really fast, because once she’s on board, things get done! So if you like the film, you have to thank her in many ways.”
Written and directed by Vigalondo (Timecrimes), Colossal has Hathaway playing Gloria, an unemployed alcoholic who returns defeated to her hometown. There she reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), and discovers that she’s somehow the source of a massive monster that appears nightly to torment Seoul, South Korea. But that’s just the beginning of this inventive Kaiju tale.
According to Vigalondo, Hathaway was attracted to the project because “she wanted to make movies like this, movies for her younger self, movies for the younger cinephile.”
Sudeikis also was quick to sign-on. And Vigalondo relished the chance to use two stars associated with romantic-comedies to upend audience expectation and subvert the genre with a monster movie that’s about more than monsters. “This is the perfect case scenario,” he explained. “Putting Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis on a poster is poking the genre film that I’m trying to destroy with this film: the romantic comedy!”
How do monsters and rom-coms come together in Colossal? Well that’d be spoiler territory. But Vigalondo did say, “Some misinformed people are going to walk into this looking for a romantic comedy. But only half of those people are going to be angry with the film. But that’s something you need to sacrifice.”
Part of the fun of making Colossal was taking a big budget genre of the monster movie, and making it on a smaller budget that offered new challenges. Though Gloria’s Kaiju mimics her movements, nothing as high-cost or highfalutin as motion-capture was used in production. Instead, Vigalondo set up smaller digital cameras to capture Hathaway’s performance from different angles. Then this reference footage was given to animators who created the incredible Kaiju seen on Colossal‘s cool poster.
“I’m not an illustrator or an artist. I wish I was,” Vigalondo lamented when asked about the creature designs. He credited the design team for the look of Colossal‘s gargantuan monster, noting he’d ask that the designs “felt part of the tradition” of monster movies that came before. “I wanted them to feel like characters that felt like a part of the genre we’re playing with,” he said. “I don’t want to laugh at those films; I want to make one of them.”
“One clear direction I gave,” Vigalondo added, “was not giving the monster any feminine attributes at all. That would have horrible, and I had those discussions. I didn’t want the monster to be ‘female,’ Because the monster is an animal. And animals are not female or male. They are male or they put lipstick on and they are female? So I insisted that it shouldn’t have any of the Anne Hathaway look or suggestions. It would just be a pure animal.”
Following the success of his Spanish thriller Timecrimes and the Spanish-American coproduction Open Windows, Colossal marks Vigalondo’s first American movie. And as such, it’s the first of his films to be subjected to test screenings, where audiences are shown an early cut and asked to fill out a survey about what they liked and didn’t like. Vigalondo admitted the process can be a bit rough on the ego, but it helped him accept that there are two kinds of negative reaction to the film, which takes a surprising turn in its second act. Some people may not get what he’s doing with his unconventional Kaiju movie. Others might just be diametrically opposed to its perceived politics.
“So making test screenings didn’t force me to make the movie softer, or more average or less challenging for the audience,” he said of the experience. “It changed the movie in ways where things are explained in a better way, in a more clear way, or some element was superfluous. If it was superfluous, it went just away.” Having seen the film twice in three months, I noticed a few minor changes, mostly in the positioning of flashbacks throughout the film.
However, Vigalondo knows there are some people who will never like Colossal, and he accepts that. “We confront people in the audience who are–I don’t want to say offended–alienated by what happens in the second half of the film,” he explained, “That’s something that we can’t fight against. It’s like, ‘Okay. You have this problem with the movie. We can’t do anything about that, because that’s what the movie is.’ At all the screenings, you find people who feel wronged by the turn of this specific character. I understand where they’re coming from. But I can’t do anything to avoid that impression, because that’s what the movie is actually about.”
For more on this second-act turn and this curious character arc, look for our spoiler-rich follow-up post next week.