Ex Machina

I never quite knew who’s good and who’s bad. That’s sort of a simplistic way to put it, but movies mostly have a protagonist and an antagonist, and I think everybody sort of fills each of those roles in this movie at some point.

Well if you asked any of them who’s the protagonist, they’d say “I am.” Also the person who’s notionally bad is Nathan. The film is inviting you to say “this guy’s bad.” But the other thing is, he’s inviting it. He is in effect casting himself to the other guy as a predatory, violent, intimidating, alpha-male of a particular sort. From hoping this robot needs to be rescued. Now he’s doing that partly for the purposes of the test. But there’s another question. So he might be ramping up that aspect of himself. He may be presenting a false aspect of himself. He’s not like that at all. But it may be actually more like a mask slipping sometimes.

So actually a huge amount of what me and Oscar used to talk about was exactly that. At this moment in the scene, when he says this thing, where is his head at? Is this a mask slipping? Is this what he really thinks? Is he caricaturing himself to make himself seem darker and more misogynistic and more scary than he actually is? And it would, it was those kind of tracking things I guess.

Black Mirror is now available in the U.S, and watching this, I see similar themes. Plus Domhnall is in both. When you were making it, did you think about the show at all?

No, what actually happened was we were just starting prep and this film is part funded by Film 4. And Film 4 is part of Channel 4. And Black Mirror is a Channel 4 drama. And I was with the boss of Film 4, Tessa Ross, and the boss of Channel 4, David Abraham. And he said he knew about Ex Machina, which we were just about to make and he said “Ooh, we’re doing this thing Black Mirror and actually Domhnall’s in it and it’s got a sort of related element to it.” And at that point, I immediately knew I can’t see this. And I actually said this. I actually said, “Stop telling me about it.”

Actually there was a whole sequence — there was Black Mirror, but there was also Her and Transcendence and Automata and there’s Chappie. There’s been a whole string of them, and I’ve avoided all of them. For two reasons. One is it can be intimidating. If they’ve done a good job, it doesn’t help you think. And then the other thing is that you can end up stealing. You can steal without even knowing you’re stealing. A few years ago, a long time ago, I wrote this movie, 28 Days Later and it’s a zombie film.

28 Days Later

I’ve seen it.

Okay, cool. So well the beginning of 28 Days is essentially the beginning of, I don’t mean the very beginning, I mean, the beginning of the story proper is basically a beginning of Day of the Triffids. Which is a novel by a British sci-fi writer, John Windom. And I did not know I was doing that when I did it. And then a point arrived like and it may have been even as late as we were in pre-production or something or it was probably a bit earlier than that. Where I realized this is not like an homage type thing. It’s a lift. In some really specific beats. This guy waking up in hospital, finding that everything’s changed in London. And I think since then I’ve been very careful of it. A bit wary of it.

You mentioned Jock, and I have an original piece of his art on my wall, I’m a fan.

You’re kidding. That’s fantastic.

Jock Ex Machina

What was the collaboration like between you for this? It’s sort of unique to bring in a comic book artist to design just one specific character.

Well, I knew Jock previously. He and I worked together really very closely and very productively on Dredd. So there was a whole period in the development and early prep of Dredd where Jock was doing a huge amount of work because he knew that world backwards. And we’ve got a similar take on some things, and similar things that we’re interested in basically.

The first person you could say was on payroll of this film was Jock. So when the script had been, up to that point, only knocking around between me and the producers and they knew it was like “We need to move this forward” the first person I called was Jock. Literally just called him up and said “Let’s work together again. Here’s the script. Tell me if you wanna do it.” He read the script, he said “Yeah, let’s do it.” And that was it.

Ex Machina (1)

Did you have an idea of what you wanted Ava to look like? Did he give you a ton of stuff?

There were some things that were sort of set in stone about her. For various reasons. Like no part of her body could extend beyond what the skin line would be. And her face would be a human face. In a way, because of just having worked on Dredd and not wanting to hide a face again with a protagonist. And so there was some stuff which was set in stone and then the rest of it was very up for grabs. And so we started trading drawings and chatting and figuring stuff out. And the first images Jock sent were robot images I guess. Which would be colored different ways and stuff and immediately things started falling into place. Initially to do with the way things shouldn’t look rather than what they should look like.

That film has got all these icons, robot icons, and it was really important that the first time you saw Ava, you didn’t immediately think about something else, another movie. You’d discover something like plastic. Chris Cunningham, Bjork, I, Robot, no white plastic. Or, I mean, you might have a little bit of white plastic, but not dominant white plastic. And, there was a bunch of visual cues that we had to avoid and eventually, the thing that really cracked it was the mesh.

Poe Dameron Oscar Isaac Star Wars Force Awakens

As a Star Wars fan, it’s very exciting to see two people who are in the new movie in this movie. Of course you didn’t know that when you cast them. But since then, as a fan of science fiction, have you talked to them about it? 

I haven’t actually. I’ve avoided it because the scale of the production they’re on is so massive that it’s actually sort of dangerous to them. You need plausible deniability in a way. I know that if I ask them something, they might almost feel too embarrassed to not tell me ’cause it would feel like being unfriendly. So they would, they’d open up. Maybe they’d open up. I don’t know, ’cause I haven’t asked. Then if they told me, I could inadvertently let it slip. And if I did that, they’d be in serious shit. Not kind of like a bit of shit, deep shit. So I just was like, don’t wanna know.

Ex Machina is now in theaters.

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