Interview with Vincenzo Natali

“Wow!” If I truly transcribed my interview with “Splice” director Vincenzo Natali properly, each of my questions would have been preceded with the word “Wow!” Almost every question opened up the possibility in my mind that what I saw on screen in “Splice” may very soon one day be a reality. With “Splice” scheduled to open this Friday, Mr. Natali sat down with MovieMikes and talked about his new film, what inspired him and his one day plans for the Swamp Thing.

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Michael Smith: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Vincenzo Natali: It actually came from a real M.I.T (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) experiment. I saw a photograph of a thing called the Vacanti Mouse. It was a mouse that appeared to have a human ear growing out of its back.

Michael Smith: Oh wow!
Vincenzo Natali: It was quite a shocking image. It wasn’t a genetic experiment…it just looked like one. And I immediately felt that, somewhere in that mouse there was a movie. And that’s how it began. And I have to say that on almost a weekly basis I read about developments that echo our film. Just today I read that Craig Venter, who is your prototypical rock and roll geneticist, has created the first completely artificial life form. It’s pretty amazing.

Mike Smith: Is Venter the basis for Adrien Brody’s character? I noticed in the film that, while most of the scientists were very stoic and wore white coats, Clive (Brody’s character) had the cool apartment…the cool t-shirts.
Vincenzo Natali: Venter is actually an older guy. But, yeah, when I first read about him…I felt justified in how I was writing Clive. I intuitively felt that, when my generation gets involved in this stuff, that’s what they’re going to be like. And that was later confirmed when I went to real labs…the mean age of the people working in the labs was around thirty. There were quite a few Clives and Elsas (Sarah Polley’s character in the film, also a geneticist). They were really great people (laughs). I really liked them.

MS: I’m sure you had technical advisers on the film for a lot of the scientific stuff. Did any of them ever tell you, “Wow, you know, what you’ve conceived here can, or might, one day be a possibility?
VN: Yeah. You know, I co-wrote the script (with Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor), but we did it in consultation with a geneticist. We would present him with ideas and, what was really shocking to me, was that he would invariably say, “yes, that’s possible.” So what I learned is that there’s a pretty wide bandwidth between what is possible in this science. And so there is nothing in “Splice” that is completely beyond the pale of possibility. Now some of it might be unlikely. Some of it may not quite be possible yet. But there is no doubt in my mind that they’re getting very close.

MS: Where did you get your inspiration for the story of your film “Cube?”
VN: I would love to say that it was some divine inspiration (laughs) but it just came out of the fact that I was trying to make a low budget movie on one set. I knew that it would be hard for me, as a filmmaker, to do a movie like “My Dinner With Andre” … that’s the kind of movie most attempt to do with a limited location. And it suddenly occurred to me, what if one set could double as many? And that led me to think of a maze of identical rooms. And then I thought it should be a symmetrical maze and, therefore, a cube. So really, necessity was the mother of invention in the case of “Cube.”

MS: How did you come up with the concept…with the look…of DREN? Did you intend her to have, say, the certain traits of one creature and then different traits of another?
VN: I always thought DREN should be a genetically engineered angel. And I was really fascinated with the thought that…you know, the concept of animal hybrids and animal/human hybrids. These have been a staple of mythology that transcends all borders and cultures. And now here we are in the 21st Century on the cusp of actually making these animals with new technology. So I really felt that DREN should have her roots in myth. And even though she wouldn’t be a typical kind of angel, there would be certain aspects of those mythical beings. But, having said that, the number one priority for myself and all of the designers and effects artists involved in the creation of DREN was to make her real. We really wanted a creature on-screen that an audience can believe.

MS: Well it sure worked for me!
VN: (laughs)

MS: Was there any scenes shot that gave a back story to Elsa? I take it from the scenes that are in the film that Elsa had a very negligent mother…she wasn’t loved, she wasn’t appreciated. Which is why I think she really overdoes the nurturing of DREN.
VN: That’s exactly right. We flirted with the idea of having more of Elsa’s background but at the end of the day our fear was that it would be over the top. It would just be maudlin and melodramatic. So we sided with the idea that less is more. Because all you need to know is that she had an unhappy childhood and that her mother was a very bad mother. Beyond that we just leave it to the audience to draw their own conclusions.

(I mention a particular scene in the film – no sense spoiling it for you)

VN: That’s really all you need to know.

MS: Is it true that you are remaking “Swamp Thing” in 3D?
VN: No, not yet. I wish that were the case unfortunately. I’ve done a lot of research on this and “Swamp Thing” is really in the swamp! (laughs) A legal swamp…a legal quagmire. There are all kinds of entities involved in controlling the rights and I’ve been told it just can’t happen anytime soon. So sadly we’ll have to wait for “Swamp Thing.” I loved that comic book…in particular I liked the Alan Moore take on “Swamp Thing” which is really very different than what Wes Craven did with his film. It would have been something really new and cool. But I think we’ll have to wait a little while.

MS: Speaking of Wes Craven, and I have to say that I almost consider “Splice” more of a horror film than a fantasy film, did you have anyone who really inspired you when you were younger and going to the movies?
VN: Many. When we talk about creatures I immediately think of Ray Harryhausen…a great animator who did all of the “Sinbad” films…all of the stop-motion monsters in (the original) “Clash of the Titans.” I thought his creatures really “humanized” the monster…they were creatures that had character. He clearly was a filmmaker who had tremendous empathy for these things. And that was really the guiding principal with writing DREN…that she be a character who would, in many respects, demonstrate more humanity then the human beings in the story. Ray Harryhausen would definitely be at the top of the list.

MS: That’s a great start to the list. Since “Swamp Thing” is not an option right now, do you have anything else in the pipeline?
VN: Well, you know you have to scatter a lot of seeds these days when trying to get a movie made. It’s always a challenge. What I have, actually, are all book adaptations. There’s a J.G. Ballard novel I very much want to make called “High Rise.” I’ve been working on it for a number of years. It’s about a super high rise, very much like the Burj in Dubai…the world’s tallest building. It’s about how the building, which is almost like a vertical city…populated with a vertically integrated society, which then collapses. I consider it a “social-disaster” film. It’s really an amazing story. There’s also a kids book I’m working on called “Tunnels,” which is kind of a fantasy that takes place under the streets of London. And then, recently, I believe I’ve got my hands on “Neuromancer,” the William Gibson novel. Which is really one of the greatest works of science fiction…in my opinion one of the most influential science fiction novels of the last 25 years. It’s pretty exciting.

MS: Thank you so much for your time. I hope “Splice” finds it’s audience. I hope it doesn’t get lost in the summer shuffle. It’s that rare movie that…it draws you in…it excites you. And when it’s over and you’re leaving the theatre it makes you think. And that’s certainly a rarity these days.
VN: Wow. That’s high praise. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.

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