color out of space interview

After crafting cult genre curiosities like Hardware and Dust Devil, South African filmmaker Richard Stanley was presented with the opportunity to break into Hollywood productions with a big adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. But things didn’t turn out as planned, and Stanely found himself fired by the production – a saga chronicled in the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. Stanley then stepped away from feature film directing for over 20 years.

Now, Stanley makes his return with Color Out of Space, a big, weird adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s tale of terror The Colour Out of Space. The project finds Stanley working with Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson, and the three were on hand at the Toronto International Film Festival where the film had its world premiere. Stanley, Cage, and Richardson spoke with /Film about what makes this particular Lovecraft adaptation so special.

“H.P. Lovecraft said all of his work attempts to evoke the sensation of cosmic horror of mankind’s frightful position in the universe,” says Richard Stanley. “So I have tried to do that [with Color Out of Space]. There is a crazy, traumatic cosmicism that keeps bleeding through the whole way through the movie. I’m not sure it’s science fiction because there’s not a lot of hard science in there. I’m not sure it’s horror because it doesn’t exist purely just to shock you and freak you out – there’s other stuff going on as well. And it’s also funny, and heart-wrenching. I like things to be simultaneously sad and oddly comical and somehow repellently scary all at once.”

In Stanley’s Color Out of Space, Nicolas Cage plays Nathan Gardner, a man living on a farm with his wife and three children. This marks Cage’s second outing with SpectreVision, the production company that was also behind his recent acclaimed mind-trip Mandy. “I’d just finished Mandy and [SpectreVision] brought in this contract – I just finished, literally gotten off the set, finished the movie and, and [they’re] making me sign up for another SpectreVision film, which is absurd,” he says. “But anyway, I did it…The thing about the story that I find so fascinating was the way Lovecraft presented it – he was talking about an alien color that’s not in our spectrum. So how do you do that? How do you create an experience where you’re looking at a color for the first time? What is that? When I found out Richard was going to [direct] it…I almost worked with him a million years ago on a movie called Dust Devil. It didn’t happen, but I saw the movie in the theater and I was blown away by this kind of yellow, gold color that he had infused the frame with. Then I saw Hardware as well, [and] there was a reddish color that he infused the frame with. So I thought of all the filmmakers I could imagine doing this and getting close to creating an alien color, it would be Richard.”

Any new project with Stanely at the helm is going to take on a certain air of curiosity, as it marks a comeback of sorts for the filmmaker. Thankfully, his experience on Color ended up being the polar opposite of The Island of Dr. Moreau. “I think I used up all of my bad luck coupons on Dr. Moreau,” the director says. “Like every conceivable bad thing imaginable happened to Moreau. On Color, nothing truly bad at all happened – which I’m very grateful for. I think the extremely creepy location actually liked having us there. There was a sense that the house [we filmed in] kind of enjoyed coming back to life and being occupied for a while – which shows you that sometimes the stars are aligned and sometimes they’re not. It also certainly restored my faith in the entire process.”

And what was it like for the cast to work with Stanley? “It wasn’t the usual,” says Joely Richardson. “But I’d watched the [Lost Soul] documentary before I went out to [film] and I was fascinated. Fascinated by Richard the man. Because I’m an actor and I study voice, [and] it was actually his voice that I really got tuned into, and I thought: ‘There’s a real character in there. This man, his voice is true.’ Richard is a very kind man. And if the directors kind, that spreads. That’s the whole experience.” 

“It was a very unique rehearsal process,” Cage adds. “He was noticing how I liked to just jump right in, and run the lines and get going. But he took the time to kind of put an umbrella on everyone. And I remember [he] took two rocks, and he brought blood from a stone and, I thought that was wonderful. I said, well, I think [we] could speak the same language.”

Here Stanley adds that it wasn’t two rocks that he brought “blood” from, it was two meteorites. When I press Stanley to talk a bit about the meteorites – an object that plays a big part in Color Out of Space – the director proceeds to blow my damn mind. “The thing with meteorites: there’s as a strong possibility that all life on this planet could have been started by them, and thanks to the Panspermia theory, people believed that long-chain DNA and protein molecules might’ve found their way to planet earth ages ago thanks to meteoric debris,” he begins. He continues:

“And by the same token, all life on this planet can be vaporized and wiped out by meteors eventually. The things which could have created could [also] destroy us, [and] at the same time [they] are completely impartial to our existence. [They] aren’t good or evil, [they] don’t really care that they’ve actually created us, and probably did so by accident. So they lie at the heart of all of mankind’s religions. Like how every Muslim in the world has to align themselves twice a day to the black stone of the Kaaba – [they] face this meteoric black stone. No one can tell me why, but they do. Underneath the Vatican is where a Roman temple was which contained a black Phrygian goddess, her body carved out of a single meteoric iron. Underneath the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, there’s allegedly something called the, Even ha-Shtiyya, the Foundation Stone, the first stone of creation which again is a black stone. The Dalai Lama has a symbolic lightning bolt carved out of a meteorite. So these things that have found their way into the core of most of our faiths may well have started us. So it corresponds very nice to Lovecraft’s idea of an impartial deity, or an alien deity that’s neither good nor bad, and honestly is not even aware of us. Something that could conjure us into being or disseminate us into atoms without even noticing or caring about us.”

“And that is Color out of Space,” Richardson adds after I’ve sat in a kind of stunned silence for a moment.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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