Peter and Michael Spierig, also know as The Spierig Brothers, are known for directing horror/sci-fi genre films like “Undead” and “Daybreakers”. Their most recent film, “Predestination”, based on the science fiction short story “—All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein stars Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook (also interviewed here). Media Mikes had a chance to chat with the directing duo about their latest film and what we can expect.
Eric Schmitt: What was it you felt about the Robert A. Heinlein story “-All You Zombies-” would translate well into a film?
Peter Spierig: I’ve read the short story several times, read it first many years ago, and it stuck with me. I’ve never read a time travel story quite like that. You have to remember that it was written in 1958, so it’s still very original and different. Michael read it too and he had the same reaction.
Michael Spierig: My first reaction was “I don’t get it.” I read it again, still didn’t get it. Then I read it again and said “there it is, I get it!” [Laughter] What we loved about it is that it’s a completely original and new spin on the time travel story. It’s old and in the grand scheme of things it would make for a really good mind bender with heart and soul in it. We liked the idea of doing a genre that’s been done before and putting a different spin on it.
ES: With Daybreakers, you took the vampire genre and made it grandiose as far as how widespread it was. A very “maximum” take on vampirism. Then you go to Time Travel and it seems like a very minimalist approach to the subject. Was that by design?
MS: Yes! (Laughs) Peter and I wanted to test ourselves and see if we could do a more low tech approach to science fiction. The assumption today is that science fiction is all robots and space ships, and we kind of liked the idea of trying to tell a more intimate story of fate and identity without having to make it so grandiose. We really wanted to do an actor’s piece. We said when we first started that we wanted to dumb down the special effects where when people see it, they don’t even know there are special effects. A transgender character in a time travel movie seemed so out there, I think it’s so interesting, that it didn’t warrant massive battle sequences. It was a story about a person looking for their identity, and we just loved that. It was a bit of an experiment for us to do this, a more intimate film.
ES: Did you feel that there would be certain challenges in explaining the story’s revelations without the audience feeling rushed?
PS & MS: YES!!!
PS: It’s a very tricky thing; as a filmmaker, there’s no revelations for you when you’re cutting the film because you know it so intimately. So to place the beats in the film, it’s very tricky. So that’s where you rely on showing other people and testing. Do people get enough information at this point? Do we need to add more? What we discovered was that some people get it, some were ahead of the story, others don’t get it at all. I guess there’s a nice balance in the middle, but it’s very tricky to find that (middle). We hope that there are people who don’t get it, who are intrigued enough to go back and watch it again.
MS: I like how there will be people who are ahead of the game, ahead of the story. So we threw in a few jokes to kind of say “Okay, those of you who are ahead of us, here you go!” (This response had to be heavily edited to keep from spoiling some of the film’s reveals!)
ES: There’s definitely a point in the film having to do with the bar, where a light just goes on in your head and you have a complete “Oh shit!” moment. Even with Sarah, it took me a little while to realize that this man, well, it really isn’t a man. How did you go about casting Sarah for the role of John?
MS: We went back and forth on whether we should even attempt it – one actor playing both parts. We talked about casting two separate people, and got very serious about it. But then we thought “God, it would be so good if we could pull off an actor playing both of these roles. It would make the characters more interesting and I think you would care about the characters more.” We started auditioning people, and we saw every actress in Australia. People started touting this actress called Sarah Snook. She had done that Ryan Kwanten film “Not Suitable for Children,” so we had known of her. She came in and auditioned and really just blew us away. We did several auditions with her, actually; an initial audition, one in make-up, a test shot of her acting both female and male. This is also when we rely on our FX artist, Steven Boyle, who’s been with us since we did short films. I showed Steve Sarah’s audition videos and asked him “Can we really do this? Can we turn her into a man? Can we pull this off?” Steve looked at us and said “Yes I can do it. I promise we can do it.”
PS: With that being said, we wanted it to be a blend of male and female. We didn’t want it to be to masculine so you couldn’t see the feminine side. It’s a delicate balance, because if we put Sarah under a tremendous amount of make-up, it would have either looked silly or taken away from the performance.
ES: Did anyone mention on set that when she was made up as John that she looked like a young Leonardo DiCaprio?
MS & PS: Oh Yeah! Everyone!
PS: We all said it! It’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Jodie Foster’s love child. We also got a lot of Edward Furlong as well.
ES: Since you guys have worked with Ethan in the past, was he immediately at forefront of your minds when casting for Predestination?
PS: We didn’t really have an actor in mind until we finished the script. When we finished we said “You know who would like this material? Ethan.” It’s along the lines of what his genre tastes are, so we sent it to him. I think within one or two days, he said “Just tell me where and when – I’m in.”
MS: The thing he also asked us was what part he was playing. We told that we were still trying to figure that out and we’d get back to him.
PS: The amazing thing about Ethan is that he’s brave in a sense that he completely trusted us with the casting. He didn’t know who Sarah was initially, but he had faith that we were making the right decision. He’s fearless and he likes taking risks. We’ll forever be indebted to him for having the courage to say “Yes” to us.
ES: One of the things I noticed watching the film was that Ethan and Sarah had a very “organic” relationship in the bar scenes. From your perspectives, how did that develop over the course of filming?
MS: We had a lot of rehearsal time with them talking about the scenes. Our rehearsal time is not primarily about lines, it’s about why the scene has to exist in the movie. They spent a lot of time together working on their (respective) character’s mannerisms and that sort of thing. Sarah and Ethan are both incredibly intelligent, and I think they connected on that level. They’re both really smart actors and they ask the right questions. They wanted their collaboration to be very much intertwined.
PS: We spent a lot of time on the bar dialogue. There isn’t a single line that isn’t essential to the movie. Some of the lines have double meanings, even the joke that Ethan tells is critical to the film. We’re huge fans of the Science Fiction genre, so we really wanted to do this film with meaning.