Five minutes with The Road director John Hillcoat

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Five minutes with The Road director John Hillcoat

blog_hillcoat_t.jpgIn his first major foray into the American film industry, Australian Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) has brought Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road, to the big screen. The film, which opens today, explores the journey to the coast of The Man (Viggo Mortensen) and The Boy (newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee) in a bleak post-apocalyptic world prevailing with cannibalism, earthquakes, fear and cruelty. The performances delivered by Mortensen and Smit-McPhee (who was just 11 during filming) have been getting early raves.

You had already signed on to direct the film when it was announced that the novel won the Pulitzer. That must have made you feel a little more pressure?
Yes, of course. Every phone call was like, “Oh, great!… oh, no!” It was a mixed blessing; I was very happy for the book and for Cormac. Yet, of course, it was added pressure. But I knew if I focused on that it would throw me off, so I became like a horse with blinders on, just focusing on the task ahead.

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Mortensen and Smit-McPhee in The Road

What was the biggest challenge in translating it from a novel to a film?
The casting of The Boy was the biggest challenge, because how do you find a kid who can meet the demands of such a huge role? If you don’t have an actor who can carry that role, nothing else matters. I had to just trust that we would find someone.

What did you see in Kodi Smit-McPhee that convinced you he could do it?
He did all these extra things that I would never have asked him to do. His real father played Viggo’s character in his audition tapes, so his father was basically saying, “My son can handle this.” For the actual audition, I saved Cody until last because I had a suspicion he’d be the one. We all got a chill within minutes and of course, Viggo was thrilled. And it just so happened that he looked like Charlize. What are the chances of that?

Even among this amazing cast, it seems like Kodi steals the show.
He was always engaged in a very subtle, real way. His understanding and intuition were both so raw, I wasn’t even sure he was acting! Javier Aguirresarobe, the cinematographer, kept whispering to me, “Not of this world.” It was like Cody was from outer space — he was advanced and able to nail things in a couple of takes.

The landscape in the film really feels post-apocalyptic. How important was it to you to use locations that felt extreme?
I discovered with The Proposition that when you create a world that’s so vivid, it becomes another character for the actors to respond to. It’s really helpful. I have no idea how people interact with a studio green-screen.

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Theron in the film
Was there anything you found surprising about working with Charlize Theron?
She has an incredible sense of humor. On her first day of shooting, we started with the most difficult scene ­ — the harrowing argument. To start with that kind of emotional intensity is extremely difficult and yet she was joking with the crew members. Charlize is also able to navigate the whole movie star “thing,” and yet be totally down-to-earth.

How did Viggo and Kodi get along?
They hung out together all the time — Viggo would teach him all the sword-fighting moves from Lord of the Rings.

This was your first big Hollywood endeavor. What are your impressions?
I think Hollywood is at its best when it doesn’t stray away from challenging material, like The Road. It’s brutal out there now. And the single biggest change is happening right now ­– technology. It’s a combination of many things that have all come to a head, like the perfect storm. There’s the global economic set-back so the studios don’t have the cashflow that they once had, but then there’s the piracy thing, DVD sales, Netflix, it’s all changing. And very soon everything will be web-based and there’ll be the new distributors like iTunes. Everything has to be re-modeled completely.

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