Lost City of Z

[Laughs] There’s also just so much to watch.

There’s too much, but I said this, I want to be an expert in at least one thing before I die so every night, I watch an old movie. Every night. Some pre-1960. After 1960, I’ve seen most stuff but lately, I feel like I’ve been into Busby Berkeley and George Seaton. Before that, I watched The Furies, an Anthony Mann movie. I’ve tried to really make sure that I don’t miss anything.

You’re quite right about the swashbuckler aspect, and we could get into that in a second, but anyway I met with Benedict, I loved him, and he’s such an odd looking guy in a great way. I thought I know what to do here. But then Benedict’s wife became pregnant, and she was due to give birth right in the middle of the Amazon portion of the movie. And I couldn’t, with any reason, ask her to give birth in what was a very remote place, so that didn’t happen again.

I was heartbroken to give him up, but then Plan B again called and said, “What do you think of this actor Charlie Hunnam?” And I said no, it’s a terrible idea, I’d never cast him ever because my wife had watched Sons of Anarchy and I said I’m not going to cast an American. We have to get a British guy. They said, “What are you talking about? He’s from New Castle.” He is? He’s playing a biker, he’s playing an American guy.

I invited him over for dinner because I didn’t know any of his previous work ’cause, again, I’m a loser. He came over and he’s the handsomest man of all time and my wife fell in love with him. I liked him enormously. He was funny and smart and tough but vulnerable. All these things that I find interesting. What I saw in him was this kind of ’30s Errol Flynn type thing. He may well turn into a mega star, King Arthur and all that stuff is probably going to be huge for him. When we cast him, he wasn’t that yet. It was a sense of that striving even though he had all the goods, there was a sense of that striving that he had not yet reached that place and I thought that’s great, he can identify with that part of Fawcett.

He was crazily committed. He lost something like 50 pounds in the span of 8 weeks or something. He and Rob both were basically starving in the jungle, they didn’t eat. So I would roll camera a lot without them knowing, and you see it all in the film, it’s all there with them on the raft looking like death. 100 degrees, 100% humidity. It’s a very arduous experience. I love them both so it was some ways a very happy set because when you like the actors and everything, it goes okay, but there’s no doubt that the physical demands and starvation that the actors are going through has a long term deleterious effect.

I was listening to an interview with you earlier today where you mentioned how early on, you were interested in painting.

That’s true.

There are some beautiful shots, like when Percy and Nina are engulfed in darkness or Percy watching his son from a distance in a field, that feel painterly. How much do you think your beginnings in painting influenced you as a filmmaker?

Hugely. I have the sculptor friend, a great sculptor friend, Thomas Houseago, who is one of my closest friends and he’s a great artist, recognized actually, fortunately. I showed him the film, and he said, “James, the movie is a masterpiece, and it looks like a painter made it. You’re a painter.” I said, “Okay, thank you, I think?” But that part, I don’t really know why would you say that and it was amazing because he cited a lot of the painters that Darius and I looked at. We looked at Claude Lorrain, we looked at Crowe, and we looked at Rousseau for the jungle, Henri Rousseau.

I’m not a good painter. The reason I never became a painter is I’m not a talented person. I have technical skill. I have that talent in other words if you said to me, “paint that silver coffee pot,” I could do it realistically in canvas and oil, but that’s not what a good painter is. I don’t know whether you would look at Ringo Starr and say he’s technically the best drummer, but that doesn’t matter, the dude is the greatest drummer ever. You’re talking about bum bum tss tss tss tss bum bum bum tss tss tss tss puh puh puh puh but you know what the song is [“Come Together”]. How many drummers can do something like that and you know? It’s incredible.

I abandoned my dreams of being a painter pretty quickly because I knew I didn’t have what it took and I did find that movies were a wonderful extension of the visual arts and that they involve more than just painting. Although certainly part of it is painting. Part of it is dance and how you put the actors in the frame and move them around and part of it, of course, is photography. Part of it was of course theater. I have talked about this before but it seemed like the combination of all things I thought were interesting and for this movie, part of the reason I’m pretty sure you feel that way and why my artist friend responded so much to the movie where other people might not is that we didn’t look at movies, we looked at a painting. The painting we looked at autochromes, you know what autochromes are?

I don’t.

I would be surprised if you did. Nobody has done autochrome in 120 years but before color photographs were color film, what people did was they took photographs and made plates on glass and then tinted the glass with a red, green, and blue and combine them to make an essence of color photographs. I wonder if I can find one for you, actually [looks at his phone]. These pictures were a very good source for us, for the UK material like her and him in the field playing with the kids in the beginning, it was a total autochrome inspiration.

There’s a level of desaturation but it’s not only desaturation, there’s something technically wrong with the color, but at the same time, it’s very painterly. Some of them are just extraordinary. Here’s an autochrome.

I wonder if this is what I think it is. Is this the Titanic? I can’t tell [Note: It’s the RMS Mauretania]. It certainly looks like it. I don’t know what it is. Anyway, this was a major inspiration visually for us. It’s an amazing art form because it’s ersatz, fake color but at the same time. If you watched the movie, you could see we cheated and stole these frames but you steal it from the best, right?

That’s right.

I got to drop this name while we’re here ’cause it’s such a good story. I wrote this big fan letter e-mail to Francis Coppola, whose birthday is today. I got to make sure to send a note or something but anyway, I was all, “I love you, I’m so in debt to all of your brilliance and all that and I’ve stolen everything from you.” He wrote back, “Dear James, that’s what it’s there for.” Best thing ever in my life. That’s Francis Coppola.

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