'Origin' Director Paul W.S. Anderson On Fixing A Glaring Error In Sci-Fi Spaceships And His Upcoming 'Monster Hunter' Movie [Interview]

YouTube Premium's latest original series Origin premieres this week. The first series created by writer Mika Watkins is a sci-fi ensemble show. Paul W.S. Anderson directed the first two episodes and executive produces alongside Watkins.

In the series, the spaceship Origin is on its way to a new colony, but several of its passengers wake up early. As they explore the ship to try to figure out what went wrong, they also learn about each other as the audience sees their backstory in flashbacks. The cast includes Natalia Tena, Tom Felton, Sen Mitsuji, Nora Arnezeder and Fraser James.

Anderson spoke with /Film by phone from the set of his next movie, Monster Hunter, based on the Capcom video game franchise. Origin premieres Wednesday, November 14 on YouTube Premium.

How is Origin your first TV pilot? Had there been others over the years that you tried to do?

Well, it's not a pilot because it was a straight commission which is one of the attractive things about it. I have basically not really had much time to do TV. I've done back to back movies for several years now. TV is something that me and my wife watch a lot. I started in television in the U.K. and I've always wanted to get back into TV. I had this gap in my schedule. I was prepping to do this movie Monster Hunter but I knew because of the weather, we weren't going to shoot it until the later half of this year. So it opened up a six month gap when I could jump into a television show. Coincidentally, the script for Origin came across my dest, which I loved. All the stars were aligned.

Since you did the first two episodes, was that like doing one movie?

I directed the first two and then I'm an executive producer on the whole show. I think one of the things I did was I brought my feature film crew to work on it. We shot the whole thing in Cape Town which is were I shot the last Resident Evil film and which is where I'm shooting my new movie right now. So basically, I pretty much put the feature film crew onto the TV show. They shot the TV show and then when the TV show was done, I took them back and put them on my new movie. One of the things I wanted to do, I felt the show should have a very cinematic look to it. So I felt it should be shot by a feature crew. It was very much in terms of working and in terms of the gear we had and the crew we were working with and scale we were working at, it was very much like a feature film. Obviously, it was a fast one but we shot two 50 minute episodes. If you look at it in that way, it was feature length definitely. In terms of the ambition, the sets that we built that Ed Thomas designed for us, they were definitely feature film sets. The bridge of the Origin took up an entire soundstage at Cape Town Studios. It was a big, big build because it was a big expansive world that we were trying to establish.

Does Origin resemble a video game, the waking up on a strange ship, exploring the ship and meeting mysterious characters?

It's not dissimilar. It would definitely make a terrific video game. It was a very compelling, you see a lot of the first episode from Sen's character's point of view, who plays Shun. In that regard, you're following one person around this gigantic labyrinthine spaceship. So it did have some of the hallmarks of a video game in terms of the visuals but Mika's writing was a lot more engaging than most video game scripts, that's for sure. In terms of the story that it tells and the depth of the characters. That's not to take a swipe at video games. It's just, you know, video games, movies and TV are different media.

Was it written to have a diverse cast and was that important to you?

Yeah, it was again one of the things that attracted me to it. One of my favorite countries in the world is Japan and I've spent a huge amount of time there. The fact that the opening episode, 1/3 of it was in Japanese and gave me an opportunity to tell not only a science fiction story, but a Yakuza story at the same time, in Japanese with Japanese actors set in Tokyo. I mean, that was a big, big draw for me. The movies I've made have always been very diverse. I feel like television is definitely catching up with that and that was one of the hallmarks of this show. It had episodes set in Berlin, in Tokyo, in France and it wasn't afraid to let those people speak in their own voices as well. There's no one putting on French accents. If it's going to be in French or Japanese, it's in those native languages and it's subtitled. So it had a very diverse cast and a very diverse setting as well. I definitely saw it as an international show. This was a ship of survivors that represented a basket of humanity from all around the world. That was very exciting because most shows or movies, you get to establish one world. I love building worlds and this was a chance not just to establish one world. Just in the first episode, I got to do futuristic Tokyo and the spaceship. In the second episode, futuristic Washington, D.C. and the spaceship. Then the show went on from there.

When you cast the characters, were you more casting for the backstory they are eventually going to play than their current state on the ship?

It was both really. You can't have one without the other. You need the narrative strands of the present to also merge with the past. You didn't cast a person just for the backstory or for what they were doing on the spaceship. It had to be both. Quite often, we were casting a little against type so that you found characters would develop and be quite surprising. Someone who you thought was an irredeemable asshole would actually become somebody who was very sympathetic. I think that really takes an audience by surprise.

How did you decide how futuristic those flashbacks would be?

We didn't put an exact date on exactly when they're set but they're set in a very relatable near future. Technology has not really evolved that much. If you look at how much technology has evolved in the lats 30 years, it hasn't made huge strides forward. Things have gotten a little smaller sometimes. I don't think anything works particularly better than it did 30 years ago. Sometimes it works worse, the better technology has got. So we felt if our show was projected 30 or 40 years in the future, although we weren't specific about it, that things would have changed but they would basically still be the same. It will be a very clear projection from today into the future. So it wasn't going to be something that was in the far future because I think sometimes those settings and those characters do become a little unrelatable. It's a character piece and we wanted the characters to be very relatable. So we didn't want the science fiction to get in the way of the character stories.

When you're doing a show with flashbacks, do you have to think about Lost? How did you want Origin to operate differently?

I think Lost didn't invent the flashback obviously. It's been a cinematic tool. It's been around almost as long as cinema has. Certainly it did it exceptionally well so I think that was something that was always in the back of our minds, to try not to emulate Lost but to learn from what it had done really well and perhaps what it had failed to do as well. It was a big part of what we thought of but we didn't see the show as being an imitator of Lost because the setting is so different. Ultimately, the character stories are a lot different as well. If you look at Lost, it was predominantly set on the island whereas this is more 50/50 or 60/40 split between Earth and the events on the spaceship.

Origin Trailer

Did you get to design the ship?

Yeah, from the bolts upwards. I sat down with my production designer, Ed Thomas, and we pretty much drew the whole thing up. We wanted a spaceship that people hadn't seen before. I think it's a very well trodden past, spaceship designs, and certainly I've done it in the past. I felt when we designed the Event Horizon, we had a very distinctive looking spaceship. It's one of the reasons why I hadn't been into space again. I felt like I'd done a really great job with that movie and the look of that movie. It's only recently that I've become interested again in going into outer space and started wondering about oh, if I did another space movie, what would the spaceship look like? How could we make it look different to anything people have seen before? Obviously it needs to have all the things that a spaceship has: rooms, corridors, a bridge. But I felt like there had to be a fresh take on all of that. I think emblematic of that and one of our key focal points in terms of design was the actual bridge or control room of the spaceship. When you think about it, bridges of spaceships have pretty much stayed the same since the 1950s. It's always been this idea that the captain would sit in his or her chair and be surrounded by officers who would do things. There'd be a navigation officer, this officer, that officer. It's a terribly outdated concept that still you see in science-fiction. The fact is we all fly around the world in aeroplanes where the pilots never touch the controls. Aircrafts are flown by computers now. They take off and they land and the pilots, unless it's an emergency, will never touch the controls. So the idea that a spaceship is actually going to be operated manually by human beings is completely ridiculous. These spaceships are going to be probably built by computers and flown by computers. Humans really won't have any interface with that. That's what we tried to do with the design of the bridge on the Origin. We tried to give it a monolithic feel. It's basically a series of service decks with very little way to interface with them. I always refer to it as a techno Stonehenge with the idea that primitive man, when he encounters technology, can obviously think that it is magic or it has a religious connotation. That's what we were after with the control room on the Origin, was this semi-religious feel where man was presented as being quite primitive in comparison to the technology and had no idea, was kind of overwhelmed by the technology. That's what we were trying to do with the imagery in that room. I think as a result, on the one hand it looks very, very different to anything you've seen on a spaceship before, but also it's probably a lot more like what spaceships in reality will be.

I liked the retractable ladders too.

I'm glad you liked them. They were one of my little touches. I thought it was rather cool and unusual. It's one of my favorite deaths in the show.

Were you any help to Mika in learning the realities of creating and shooting a show?

Yeah, it was a very exciting and collaborative relationship I have to say. She was very willing to change a lot of things. I think I definitely made a lot of things better and a lot of things I didn't need to make better because I think she's an excellent character writer. I definitely had a hand in terms of the staging and the pacing of things and the general retractable ladder-ness of it all, and certainly the look. But the show is her and I thought she did an amazing job. It's one of the reasons why I wanted to do it in the first place, was I read her scripts and thought this is really exciting. The idea of having this techno show that could be really scary but also is a great character study. To get to do one of these every single week, that's an exciting prospect.

Was Monster Hunter a game you were obsessed with like you were Resident Evil?

I became aware of the game 10 years ago. I've been a long term fan of Monster Hunter before most people in the west even knew what it was. Partly because I spend a lot of time in Japan and I fell in love with the imagery of the game and started talking to Capcom about it nine years ago. It's definitely a passion project of mine, nine years in the making.

Is it similar to Resident Evil in that you're creating new, original characters like Alice was?

No, the movie has a lot of characters from the video game in it. There's The Handler and Admiral, Aiden, Aiden's Handler. We wanted Palico. It's very much a movie of the video game, but in Monster Hunter you get to create your own character when you go in there. You don't get to play Lara Craft or Jill Valentine. You get to play your own creation, and there is definitely an element of that in there. Some of the leading characters will be fresh characters but that's a reflection of what the video game is. It's definitely a movie that is firmly and fully entrenched in the world of the video game, as you would expect with me having worked with Capcom for nine years on adapting it and bringing it to the screen.

Do you get to realize all the monsters from the game or create any new ones?

Listen, I don't need to create any new monsters. There's such a vast array of amazing creatures over the years. We're leaning quite heavily on the favorite creatures from Monster Hunter World which is the latest game, but we're also bringing in what I think are some of the fabulous monsters from some of the earlier games and well, and some of the imagery from the earlier games. So I think for fans of Monster Hunter World, you'll recognize that world and the characters from that world very much, but also it'll be a callback to some of the favorite moments and creatures from some of the earlier games, which hopefully will get people excited to check out those earlier games as well because there's some magnificent imagery and monsters in those earlier games as well that I think a lot of people who have just played Monster Hunter World may not be aware of.

Has Tony Jaa taught Milla Jovovich any of his martial arts so she can get up to some new tricks?

Tony Jaa is phenomenal. We're having a complete love affair, the two of us. He's amazing. He's a lovely, lovely guy as well as being an amazing martial artist. He's also a very accomplished comedic actor. He has great comedy timing. He's bringing a wonderful warmth and humanity to his performance which I'm very excited about. He and Milla have just excellent chemistry. We have Ron Perlman turning up in a couple of weeks who's playing The Admiral. He's such a genre icon and I've been such a fan of his for such a long time, I can't wait to start working with him. His character, The Admiral, is such a big part of the game, such a larger than life character. It's great casting.