Alex Garland on Ex Machina, Dredd 2, and wanting to direct Doctor Strange

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Alex Garland made his directorial debut with Ex Machina, a sci-fi film that came out this past weekend on a wide release. It follows a programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who got chosen to hang out with his reclusive employer (Oscar Isaac). It turns out that he’s been chosen to test a new female robot AI named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Things start to get intense when the line starts to blur between humanity and machine.

We had the chance to chat with the writer/director about Ex Machina, the possibility of Dredd 2, the Halo movie, and more.

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Nerd Reactor: For Ex Machina, you have pretty much the three main actors. You’ve got Domhnall, you’ve got Oscar, and you’ve got Alicia. Did the script originally feature three main characters, or was there a treatment where you had more?

Alex Garland: No, no. The script we had was the script we shot. I mean, it’s very…the film we made in other words is the film we intended to make.

Nerd Reactor: And for the three different characters, did you have them all in mind like the actors to play them, or were there any actors that surprised you?

Alex Garland: I had Domhnall Gleeson in mind because we knew each other well. We made three films together. Ex Machina was the third, and so that was kind of straightforward. I just literally called him up and said, “Hey, I want to send you a script. I hope you want to do it.” It was as simple as that. With the other two, it was more old-fashioned casting, you know? In both cases, I’d seen them in stuff where they’d been really striking, and just brilliant performances that made it obvious how good they were. In Alicia’s case that was a Danish movie called A Royal Affair, and in Oscar’s case, it was several films. The one I remember being quite struck by him in a particular way was a film where he was opposite DiCaprio called Body of Lies, and it was incredible, kind of how assured and complex his performance was in terms of some of the stuff he was doing. I found him really fascinating. So, in both cases, I spoke to them and they had just really insightful, smart things to say about the script and the way they wanted to approach the characters. And that was it, we just offered them the job.

Nerd Reactor: If you had your preference, would you rather write and direct, or would you just direct and have someone else write?

Alex Garland: I find it very, very hard to imagine directing if I hadn’t written the script. I mean, for me the most important part of the process for me personally is writing the script, so it would be– it would feel weird for me to not write the script. But, you know, never say never I guess, but the way I would approach it would be thinking of it as a writer.

Nerd Reactor: And for the writing process, how would you compare that to the process of filmmaking? Is it a very jarring feeling or was it a smooth transition?

Alex Garland: I think writing is filmmaking. I mean, when you write a script, you’re not doing it to have a bound document with words on it, you’re doing it to have scenes spoken by actors on a screen, you know? And in that respect, there is very little – there’s no real bump I’d say, between writing and directing. I think anyway, these terms get kind of – they’re almost just convenient, these terms. What you have on a film, at least the films I work on – I think it’s not true with everybody – but when I’m working on a film, you have a group of people and they’re all filmmakers, you know? The director of photography is a filmmaker, the production designer’s a film maker, the actors are filmmakers and so is the director and so is the writer and so it goes on.

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Nerd Reactor: Two of the actors are going to be in the upcoming Star Wars film. Are you surprised? Are you excited?

Alex Garland: Well, to be honest, it was just like when I heard about that, which was not long before they did that read through, which was announced online, which is when we were getting towards the end of post production on our movie. I was just really pleased because I thought Ex Machina is a Trekkie-level movie, and this is going to help. I thought it would just help, so I was delighted for them.

Nerd Reactor: What what your ideal movie be, if budget wasn’t an issue?

Alex Garland: I’ve got a film I really want to try making. In fact, it’s in with a studio at the moment for them to decide if they want to make it or not and it’s called Annihilation. It’s based on a novel by a guy named Jeff VanderMeer, and if everything goes well with Ex Machina, what I’d really like to do is make that film a hit. It’s a step up, it’s twice the budget of Ex Machina. Ex Machina was $15 million dollars, this would be $30 if not more, like maybe $32 or $33 or something like that. But that’s what I’m hoping for.

Basically it’s about a group of women who enter into an area in North America which has been sealed off by the government, and discover what’s in there which is a very kind of strange, landscape where everything has gone kind of surreal I guess.

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Nerd Reactor: For your other projects that you’ve worked on before, have you ever tried to go back to them and revive them? For example Dredd 2 or Halo?

Alex Garland: Well, they’re very different kinds of projects, those two. Halo was – I mean I know it’s up on IMDB or whatever but that was something I wanted to make thirteen years ago, I mean really a long time ago. I got hired to write a draft, and I wrote the draft and I got sacked, and someone else carried on and that’s the last I’ve ever heard of it. So, I haven’t got any insight into that project at all because it was such a long time ago, and anyway I was knocked off it.

So in the case of Dredd it’s slightly different. That was a film we actually got through to production and got released, but it didn’t do well in the box office at all, so that makes it almost impossible to get money for a sequel.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah, for me, and I know for a lot of fans out there, we enjoyed it a lot, and not a lot of people are watching it.

Alex Garland: Well, yeah, it’s strange. It’s like it’s gained a reputation almost once it got released, because certainly when it’s released very few people went to see that film. I think it got a second life maybe on digital downloads and DVD and that kind of thing. Although it has to be said, there were people – maybe you were one of them, I don’t know – there were people that really got behind it when it got released, like it got some real enthusiasm, and it just never really translated into any kind of commercial success. But in some ways it’s really nice because, like now that a bit of time has gone past, you can feel more sort of happy like a group of people made a film they were happy with and then other people seem to dig it, and that’s just a good feeling.

Nerd Reactor: Since Marvel is huge right now, if the company were to come up to you and ask you to do a movie with them, would you do it, and what would be your dream movie?

Alex Garland: My dream Marvel movie?

Nerd Reactor: Dream Marvel movie.

Alex Garland: The story I’d be the most pulled to is the one they’ve already got set up, and are way down the line of doing it. Good luck to them by the way. I’m– I think the group of people making it are really good actually, and I’m fascinated to see what they come up with. But the one I’d have thought I had the most prior attachment to was Doctor Strange, but it’s like I’m happier to encounter it as a viewer than working on the movie.                                     

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John 'Spartan' Nguyen
John 'Spartan' Nguyen 9085 posts

Assassin, scoundrel, editor-in-chief.