Nacho Vigalondo always rules Fantastic Fest both physically and in terms of what he brings to the table film-wise. He is funny, intense, often drunk, but also insightful and genuine. In short, he is an awfully lot of fun to be around and never makes anything less than great conversation and great movies. Extraterrestrial tells the story of a someone who wakes up in a woman's apartment after a one night stand just as an alien invasion is beginning. As the huge ship floats above the city the question of who is really human and is complicated by the arrival of the woman's boyfriend and her socially awkward stalker neighbor. Told without much in the way special effects the very funny, Extraterrestrial questions what it means to be human and revels as it's characters discover the "other" in each other. This rare chance to sit down with nacho and his co-star Julian Villagran proved so interesting I'm presenting it in two parts.
INT: The move from the suspense and terror of Timecrimes to Extraterrestrial which is really lilting and restrained and lighthearted feels like a calling card move.
NACHO: In trying to develop pictures it helps if you work on more than one at a time. Timecrimes was development intensive and I wanted Extraterrestrial to be a smaller more understated film for that reason. I also wanted to send a clear message that I am not a director who will always make the same kind of picture. It buys freedom for me, especially in terms of what the future holds. When Shamalyan made Lady in the Water it got him in a lot of trouble because people expected one thing and got something else. The Coen Brothers are a huge inspiration to me. They made Blood Simple and then they made Raising Arizona. It just shows how smart they are. They can make anything they want.
INT: There's an elegance you share with them as well. There is always a defined balanced tone of their films, they know what kind of story they are trying to tell. Still Extraterrestrial has a complex tone. There's a sense of danger in the air yet the movie never falls into the tropes established by sci-fi or horror. Yet it can't be characterized as a simple thriller.
JULIAN: Nachos films are always about dark yet lovely human beings. They are flawed but they are not classic villains. They show us our own complexity, real life complexity, but not real-life situations.
NACHO: Yes in Timecrimes the moral identity of all the participants is in doubt. It is lost in the idea of what we call the human condition. It's just another way of pointing out our universal brokenness.
INT: Julian your physicality figures into this as well. You are tall lanky character that seems to embody whimsy. Yet at a certain point in the film we become aware of the fact that you are, in actuality, quite tall and potentially threatening. Again we aren't sure what too think. Yet it also suggests a patience with the flaws of humanity.
NACHO: Yes in these two movies we have that sort of quiet connection between characters. At the end they end up sitting in chairs next to each contemplating something much bigger than themselves that they feel changed by. It is a transcendence or a revelation of sorts. I love the idea of the character in Extraterrestrial ends up getting the whole picture. The way this happens of course, is that he has moved back from the picture far enough to really see it. Only then can he see his relationship with her and the rest of his situation, where he is inside of it.
INT: Julian, actors often talk of reading a script and realizing right away how important it was to do the film, play the character. What was your experience?
JULIAN: Constant laughter. I kept stopping to talk about it and share it with my mother. It was obviously a very rare opportunity to do something very special. It was like being in a garden.
NACHO: Gardens grow, that's what scripts do. There is a language for film that cannot be expressed in the script. Suspense for instance is a film language all it's own. So I knew there were things this garden would grow into once Julian was on set. It made me very happy to see him starting with laughter though. I had actually written the character for Julian and gotten him on board even prior to that.
JULIAN: I hate romantic comedies that only ask the females to be pretty and depend on the male characters. I wanted this character to be a disastrous person. She's constantly confused, she's mean, but she's in crisis. She has been dishonorable to her boyfriend of many years and it has driven her a little crazy. But it has made her realize that she is looking for something else.
NACHO: Yes the film is designed to draw the characters together into all sorts of weird camaraderie. There is a moment I love where Julian's character and the character of the boyfriend are tying someone up. They look at one another and realize they are criminals, but somehow they are also men, together. There is a bond they enjoy but don't really want.
INT: Yes but of course everyone in the film is a criminal on some level and the hilarity and humanity of the piece comes from the constant unmasking of them. They are awful criminals, frauds. They can't lie, or cheat, or abuse one another with any sort of efficiency. The aliens are not even very good invaders. It's a very spiritual process the film takes them through.
NACHO: When I was writing the film the sense of chaos seemed more and more important to the story.These characters only learn under great duress. Mostly they just repeat the same mistakes. I also wanted to tap into peoples expectations of genre. We go through all the same scenes you would expect but not the way you would expect.
Circumventing genre conventions was very important to me because I wanted the film to be about the people, the souls if you will, not the effects or the monsters or things like that. For example, I knew we needed an attack from the sky. This is on some level an alien invasion film, there is a ship hovering over the city. But when the sky attack comes it comes in a totally unexpected way, it takes a new form that is rooted in the real world rather than simply the movie world.
Part Two posts this Tuesday.