Denis Villeneuve interview

Making a satisfying sequel to a beloved, inspiring science-fiction classic is a tall order. But if there’s a filmmaker up to the hefty task, it’s Denis Villeneuve. The director behind ArrivalSicarioEnemy, and Incendies has been turning out exceptional work. He can create an immersive and wholly tangible atmosphere, which is the kind of director a project like Blade Runner 2049 calls for.

For the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Villeneuve is again working with cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins, who shot Sicario and Prisoners. As Scott told the filmmaker, their vision of Los Angeles 2049 “was able to extend that atmospheric quality that the first movie had.” During a recent roundtable interview to promote the film at Comic-Con, Villeneuve told us about his collaboration with Scott and Deakins, why he wanted to make a sequel to Blade Runner, capturing the spirit of the original, and more.

Below, check out the Denis Villeneuve interview.

What gave you the confidence to do a sequel to a movie that’s so beloved?

Three things. First of all, I had Ridley Scott’s blessing. That’s the first thing I asked [for] once I said yes. There were some conditions. I wanted to be in front of him and looking into his eyes and hearing, “Yes, you can do it.” The second thing, the screenplay I felt had strong ideas in it. I’m not saying it was a perfect screenplay. I’m just saying that I understood why Ridley felt that there was potential to do a strong movie there. The third thing was that I’d been offered a lot of movies in my life – big sci-fi movies – but I always felt it was dangerous to do those big movies because there’s a lot of pressure when you make them. I said if I do it one day, it will be for something that is really worthy and really meaningful artistically for me.

Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies. I said to myself, “They will do it. No matter what we think, the studio will move forward and will make it.” I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but I know I will give it all my love and all my skills. I will work so hard. I didn’t want it to fall into the hands of someone that wouldn’t. I said, at least I will be passionate about it and give my blood to make sure it respects the spirit of the first movie. I was afraid to see a sequel to Blade Runner, but I said, at least if I do it, I will have some control over it. At least then I can blame only myself.

It seems like casting must have been crucial on this one.

The most important part of the film process is casting. You need strong actors. I’m a very different film director from Ridley Scott, but it’s a thing that both of us have in common. We always aim for excellence with the actors in our casting; there’s no compromise. One thing I’m sure of is that the performances in our movie are very strong. Very strong. I had the chance to do a massive casting around the world where I got to choose from among the best young actors.

One thing I love in the screenplay, there’s a lot of strong female parts. Femininity is very important in the second movie, just like it was in the first movie. So I had the pleasure to meet actors that sometimes are well known in their own countries but less known in North America sometimes, like Sylvia HoeksAna de Armas, and Carla Juri. Mackenzie Davis is in there, too, from Canada. Those young actresses are strong artists, and they brought a lot to the movie. It was a long casting process.

Who’s the secret weapon on this cast?

The four of them are the movie’s secret weapon, for different reasons.

Blade Runner 2049 cityscape

If you hadn’t landed Harrison Ford, would the movie have fallen apart?

It was the other way around. Harrison was there before me. The birth of the project was, the producers from Alcon were able to unfreeze the rights, which was honestly like a master, high-skilled negotiation to get the rights back to life. They unfroze something that was very difficult, and the first thing they did was approach Ridley. They said they’d love to do it with him and Ridley said, after 15 minutes, “Fly to London now.” What Ridley told me was, when he did the original Blade Runner, he had the desire to follow Deckard and different other stories. It was a universe that was open, and you have a detective in the future. It was not necessarily intended to be one movie. The desire was there. It was just that so much shit happened with the first movie that it froze there.

They went to Ridley, and they went to [co-writer] Hampton Fancher. Both of them had an idea to do a sequel that excited everybody, and the first thing they did once they got the idea was they phoned Harrison. At the early stage of screenwriting, they asked him because, without Harrison, there was no movie. Harrison said yes, and they developed the script. Harrison was there before me. I didn’t go to Harrison. I had to be approved by Harrison. It’s a different thing, you know? Once I agreed to do the screenplay, I had to meet Ridley to hear from his own voice that he wanted me to do this. Then I had to meet Harrison, to be scanned by Harrison and to make sure I would be Harrison Ford approved.

One of the big things about the original Blade Runner is it popularized this future-shock version of cyberpunk. The aesthetic imprint of it is all over the place now. Everyone’s done a Blade Runner-esque vision of the future. How do you plan to surprise people with this movie, aesthetically?

It’s a challenge. It’s a movie that has been so cut-and-pasted over the years that influenced sci-fi and all the movies, even Star Wars, are influenced by Blade Runner. So how can you go back to something that was so original but became a landmark? It was a long process to find the keys.

The keys were in the screenplay and Hampton’s ideas about how climate evolved. Climate for me was a key because climate means a different kind of light. With Roger Deakins, we explored those ideas and came back with something that we feel is deeply inspired by the first movie but slightly different. Let’s say that the first movie was made by a director born in England under the rain. The second one was made by a Canadian director born in snow. So the light is different. It took a lot of work to try to extend and project this universe into the future and try to find something that I hope will have some kind of freshness.

You mentioned wanting to stay true to the original spirit of Blade Runner. What did that entail? What was it you wanted to preserve?

There was a melancholia in the first movie, a nostalgic feeling of loneliness and existential doubt. A kind of inner paranoia about yourself that I wanted to keep alive in the second movie. I wanted to keep the film noir aesthetic alive, as well. That was very important. And a certain kind of pacing, too, which I deeply love in the first movie. It’s still made in the rhythms of [today’s] movies, but I tried my best to keep that tension alive. Ridley told me that it touched him because I was able to extend that atmospheric quality that the first movie had.

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