Blade Runner is a fan favorite film with a huge following. It has inspired and influenced numerous sci-fi films since its release in 1982. There have been numerous discussions over the years about a sequel, but due to an issue with the rights, one was never able to be made, until now. With Ridley Scott’s blessing Denis Villeneuve took on directing Blade Runner 2049. While trying to remain true to the original, he created this new film for a new generation.
Denis Villeneuve: I’m not used to talking to the press when I’m doing a movie, I’m used to starting to have a conversation once you guys have seen the movie. If you like or not, then there’s a start there. Now, it’s a bit strange.
What gave you the confidence to do a sequel to a movie that is so beloved. What reassured you about this project?
Denis Villeneuve: Three things. First of all I had the Ridley Scott blessing. That’s the first thing I asked once I said yes. I said I would do it but there was some condition. And the first one is to make sure and to be in front of him looking at him, looking him in the eyes, having him say, “Yeah you can do it.” The second thing is the screenplay I felt had strong ideas in it. I’m not saying it was a perfect screenplay. I’m just saying that I felt I understood why Ridley felt there was the potential to do a strong movie there. And the third thing is I felt that I’ve been to a lot of movies in my life, like sci-fi big [movies], but I always said to myself it’s dangerous to do big movies because there’s a lot of things...there’s a lot of pressure when you make those big movies. And I said to myself, “If I do it one day I will do it for something that is really worth it. That’s something really meaningful artistically for me.” And this movie is one of my favorite movies. And you know, I said to myself, “OK, they will do it, no matter what we think, the studio will move forward and will make it.” And I said to myself, “OK, I know at least, I don’t know if I will succeed, but I know I will give it all my love and all my skills, I will work so hard.” I didn’t want it to fall into the hands of someone who will... I said, “At least I will be passionate about it and I will give my blood to make sure that it respects the spirit of the first movie.” That’s why it was a bit irregular, at least, I was very afraid to see a sequel of Blade Runner. And I said, “At least if I do it, I have some control over it.” I said, “At least I can blame only myself.”
You got a powerhouse cast for this film. How important for you was it to get the people that you got for the film?
Denis Villeneuve: Any movies, it is always strong, one of the most important parts of the film process is casting. I mean you need strong actors, and that’s the thing, that you know I’m a very different director than Ridley Scott but that’s a thing that both of us have in common. We always aim for excellence with the actors in our casting. And it’s like there is no compromise. And it’s like the casting I’ve done is like, one thing I’m sure of is that the performances in the movie are very strong. Very strong. Because I had the chance to do a massive casting around the world, I chose among the best working, young actors. Because one thing I love in the screenplay is that there’s a lot of strong female parts. Like the femininity is very important in the second movie, it wasn’t in the first movie. That’s why I had the pleasure to meet actors that are sometimes well known in their own countries but less known in America. Sometimes like Slyvia Hoeks and Ana de Armas and Carla Juri and there is Mackenzie Davis also that is from Canada. But those young actresses are strong artists and they brought a lot to the movie. But it was a long casting process.
Who’s the secret weapon, do you think, of your cast?
Denis Villeneuve: I would say that those four young actresses are the secret weapon. I would say that the way I feel is great excitement. I would say that the four of them are, for different reasons, are like the movie’s secret weapon.
If you didn’t have Harrison would it have fallen apart?
Denis Villeneuve: It was the other way around. Harrison was there before me. The birth of the project was the producers from Alcon that were able to unfreeze the rights. Which was honestly, I think it was like, a master...a high skill negotiation to get the rights back to life. It was like they unfroze something that was very difficult. And the thing they did was they approached Ridley of course, to say, “Ridley, it’s something we are able to do. So we’d like to do it with you.” And Ridley I think came back to them after 15 minutes and said, “Fly to London, NOW.” So they met with Ridley and Ridley had a lot of ideas, because the thing is that at the birth of the project when he did the first original Blade Runner, what he told me, is that they had the desire to follow the characters in different stories. It was a universe that was open. You know you have a detective early in the future. It wasn’t necessarily intended to be one movie. The desire was there, it’s just that there was so much that happened with the first movie that it froze there and he thought it was dead.
But where I’m going, they went to Ridley and they went to Hampton Fancher and both of them had an idea to do a sequel. That excited everybody. And the first thing they did once they got the idea is they phoned Harrison. At the early stage of screenwriting they were asking because without Harrison there was no movie. And Harrison said, “Yes.” So Harrison was there before me. I didn’t go to Harrison, I had to be approved by Harrison. That’s the thing, you know? Once I agreed to write the screenplay, for me, I had to meet Ridley to hear from his own voice that he wanted me to do this. And then I had to meet Harrison. To be scanned by Harrison to make sure I would be Harrison Ford approved.
One of the things about the first Blade Runner movie is that it kind of popularized this future shock vision of cyber punk, right? And the aesthetic imprint of it is all over the place now and people are familiar with a Blade Runner-esque vision of the future. Can you talk about some ways aesthetically that you want to surprise people again.
Denis Villeneuve: You’re putting your finger in the soft spot. You’re right. Is it the soft spot or the painful spot? One of the big challenges...the idea is like it’s been a movie that has been so much cut and pasted through the years, I mean the influence, I mean sci-fi, all the movies, even Star Wars, all the movies are influenced by Blade Runner. So how can you go back to something that is so original after that became a landmark? So that was a long process to find the keys, the keys were in the screenplay, and the ideas of Hampton about the way climate evolved. So it basically, climate for me was a key. Because the climate means different kinds of light. That was something I felt, that Roger Deakins, we explored those ideas and we came back with something that we feel is deeply inspired by the first movie, but it’s slightly different. Let’s say that the first movie was made by a director that was born in England under the rain and the second was made by a Canadian director who was born in the snow. I saw the light as different. There’s things that it involved, it was difficult, it took a lot of work, a lot of work to try to extend, to project the universe into the future. And try to find something I hope will have some kind of freshness.
You mentioned trying to stay with the spirit of Blade Runner. I’m curious what about the original you wanted to preserve.
Denis Villeneuve: There was a [?] color in the first movie that was a nostalgic feeling. A loneliness. A feeling of existential doubt about a kind of, an inner paranoia about yourself, that I wanted to keep alive in the second movie. I wanted to keep the film noir aesthetic as well. Very important. And a certain kind of pacing too. Honestly, I deeply love the first movie and I tried to adapt it to today’s rhythm of movies, but I still tried my best to keep that tension alive, that pacing of the first movie. Which, I know, Ridley told me that it touched him because I was able to stay in relationship with that first movie, that atmospheric quality that first movie had.
There are multiple versions, multiple edits, of the original. Did that have any bearing on which movie you were doing a sequel to? Did you look at different variations and decide which you were starting from?
Denis Villeneuve: That’s a good question. The thing is that I was raised with the first one. Like for me, there was one Blade Runner. And I think at the time there was no internet. There was no cuts. I remember seeing the first movie, falling deeply in love with it, and it became for me an instant classic. And me and my friends were deeply in love with the first one. And I remember a few months later reading a review of the movie that was very bad. And I became so angry because I felt that the critic was all wrong. Because he felt that the adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel was not right. At the time I totally disagreed. I was raised with the first one and then later on discovered what was the original dream of Ridley. So I really love the latest version too.
The thing is that the key to make this movie was to be in between. Because the first movie is the story of a human falling in love with a designed human being, artificial being. The story of the second movie is a replicant that doesn’t know he’s a replicant, and that slowly discovers his own identity. So those are two different stories. I felt the key to dealing with that was in the original, in the novel of Philip K. Dick, which was, in the novel the characters are doubting about themselves. They are not sure if they are replicants or not. They are like, from time to time the detectives are having a [?] on themselves to make sure they are humans. So I decided that the movie I like the idea that Deckard is unsure, as we are, of what his identity is. I love it because I love mystery. That’s the interesting thing for me, not knowing if he is or not is to doubt. I really love it. But I’m saying again, Harrison and Ridley are still arguing about that. If you put them in the same room they don’t agree. And they start to talk very loud. So I sat in the middle, I said, “Well?”
You mentioned that you are pulling more in this movie from the original novel. Would you say that in some ways your sequel is a little bit truer to the original novel itself than the original one?
Denis Villeneuve: No. I would not go there. No, no. No, no. I think that it’s a movie that has its main source of inspiration is Blade Runner the Ridley Scott movie. It has, I feel, some little elements that are a wink to Philip K. Dick, but I wouldn’t try to say that. That’s why I’d rather you’d seen the movie, that way you can have your own reaction, to say “Yes” or “No.”
There’s a lot of secrecy surrounding this one. More than any other movie you’ve worked on?
Denis Villeneuve: It is insane. At one point I was talking to someone in my crew and I said, “Oh, you didn’t read the screenplay?” It’s like one of those movies that is designed in total secrecy. Like Star Wars movies or James Bond. The level, because of the pressure of the internet, if there is a little spoiler it goes viral. There’s like an appetite to spoil the movies that…
Do you enjoy working under that kind of secrecy?
Denis Villeneuve: No. Two things. I love most of the time the way I was doing movies before this one is that you’re doing a movie and people are not necessarily aware. They don’t care. Nobody was expecting or waiting for Sicario. I didn’t have to put my screenplay in a safe. Nobody cared. It was easy. Saying that, I love an audience seeing a movie knowing as little as possible. I think it is very powerful when you don’t know a thing about a movie. One of my best, as far as a cinephile experience, once I was on a jury of a film festival, a long while ago, and I watched every movie not knowing a thing about a movie. Not knowing from where it was. You sat in a dark room and the movie started and you don’t know if it was a horror movie or a comedy or if it was from Kazakhstan or the United States, you don’t know nothing. And the impact of that, watching a movie this way, is so powerful. To experience 20 movies in a row. And I was like, “Oh, boy. I wish we were in that stage.” Because right now we see tons of images. Two days ago, Joe Walker, my editor, saw the trailer and was watching like (does something non-verbal). And I was like “It’s ok Joe, it’s ok, it’s ok. Because there are things you work hard to try to keep secret, or create tension, or two characters try in a room to create surprise in the movie. Then you look and the marketing department just shows it all. For me, I don’t like it. I wish one day I will have control. I understand the importance of marketing. I understand competition. I understand the needs. But I wish we would be able to sell movies without showing too much of it. In a perfect world…
The line, “We were being hunted…”
Denis Villeneuve: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I wish it was possible, but what can I say.
You’re coming from some smaller films, not anywhere on this scale. I’m curious for you, is this a scale you enjoy doing. You have Dune lined up as well. You are doing bigger productions. Is that something that you’re gravitating towards on purpose, to do bigger films, or is it just kind of happening naturally because of the material?
Denis Villeneuve: The thing is, it’s happening naturally. But also I would never had said yes to a project like that ten years ago. It’s a matter of, I see this as each movie has it’s own challenges and it’s a natural rhythm to, as a filmmaker, try to get challenges and to be inspired and take bigger risks, step by step. The movies have always been bigger one after another from a technical point of view. Because the movies I love, one of my favorite movies is Lawrence of Arabia. You need a lot of mastery and a lot of experience to do a movie like that. For me it’s like slowly walking a direction. Honestly it’s a blessing. If you’d told me ten years ago I’d direct a Blade Runner, I’d have laughed in your face. Because I would not think that such a thing could be possible. I’m saying naturally it comes. But it’s a natural rhythm, getting bigger. I had the time of my life doing this movie. Because to work in that scope, with those resources, to have the chance to build the sets, I’ve seen things…(laughter).
But it’s true, there’s some moments I was like “Wow!” I never thought I’d have the chance to, because we built everything, the sets, the vehicles, there were moments, there’s some specific scenes, I said, “I never thought I’d have a chance to see that in my life as a director. A chance to have those toys. To be able to recreate live things, live because you feel it, that’s it real, that there’s a weight, there’s a presence. I always thought that the Yoda on Empire Strikes Back was much more powerful and present than the ones after the CG. I’m not a big CG fan. I think there’s a lot of power, it’s a powerful tool, but it cannot just be that. We did our best as we could to always be live, with models with real vehicles. So there is always something real in each image. To shoot real landscapes. We tried our best to have life in front of the camera. And a lot of shots are done all in camera. (Name) was the cinematographer and the production designers, they really put their mastery to recreate my dream. If you had an apartment like that view outside, they would green screen, it was like they’d build the other street. It was like there were rigs of light so that the image of the spinner coming in, it was like rain was falling for real, it was like really you were in 2049. I did not know you could do that in Montreal. So I’m not saying I will do that all my life, but now I have the energy and some desires and the resources, yeah.
Keep anything from the set?
Denis Villeneuve: There’s some elements that I stole. Things that are supposed to come back. Honestly, I have a lot of respect for directors that are sci-fi. I realize the amount of work that is required to do a scene in the future, to design all of the clothes, all the little devices, I’d say it is quite an exciting but exhausting journey. My admiration for Ridley Scott just sky rocketed when I was doing this.
The first movie is a movie where you ask the viewer to think about technology and what it means to be human. We are faced with technology and how it changes our bodies, our lives. Do you feel like you made a movie where technology let’s us be more empathetic or more disconnected from each other? Because there is a lot of disconnection in the first movie. Do you feel like you are closing a loop there?
Denis Villeneuve: No, unfortunately. I think it’s an extension of the first movie. And what you describe is a lot about what science fiction is. It’s always like exploring the human condition and its relationship to progress. And the unknown. The story that they wrote, the DNA of the story, was not something that, I adapted the story as a filmmaker, but the DNA is coming from Anton so it is the same thematics as the first movie. So I would say that we didn’t evolve in that regard, unfortunately. But we are still there, which is good news.
Do you feel technology can do that?
Denis Villeneuve: No, no. I deeply believe that it has to come from ourself inside not from an outside device. That’s why sci-fi is so interesting.
- Blade Runner 2049 (2017) release date: Oct 06, 2017