Fans of world cinema will know that for the last decade Spanish filmmaker Ignacio "Nacho" Vigalondo has been consistently creating a string of smart, unexpected genre films. From theatricals Timecrimes and Extraterrestrial to his segments in anthologies like V/H/S: Viral, Vigalondo's vision is always unique.
But nothing is quite like Colossal, his ode to Kaiju movies that's equal parts comedy, drama, thriller and feminist revenge movie all thrown into a blender that whips up a strangely satisfying tale.
Colossal stars Anne Hathaway as Gloria, a too-old-to-be-cute-anymore party girl who is sent packing by her fed-up boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). Unemployed and far too attached to happy hours, Anne goes back to her home town to sort herself out. It's there that she soon runs into her grade school friend and now local bar owner Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). To reveal any more would spoil the truly ingenious twists and turns that Vigalondo masterfully crafts, but it's safe to tease that Gloria discovers her hedonistic actions are actually having a catastrophic effect on the other side of the globe in none other than Seoul, South Korea.
That such a strange mash-up works is due to Vigalondo's clever script and inspired direction of a cast of actors who masterfully dance on the razor's edge of selling both the story's absurdity and knuckle-biting tension. In an exclusive interview with the director, we asked about his impetus of the idea, casting against expectations and what scared him most about directing this movie.
Colossal is about so many things, including addiction, abuse, self-worth and Kaiju. What was the one idea that actually inspired the script?
Ignacio "Nacho" Vigalondo: It started as a Kaiju film from the beginning. The original idea was a really humble one: How can I make a monster movie with a small budget and without making something that is kitsch or campy? I set about writing this idea about these tiny characters being related to something really big happening on the other side of the world in a micro way. I also wanted to see two guys fighting, while drunk, early in the morning in a park. (Laughs) But it didn't become a plausible film that I could write for 100 pages until I found the characters. Specifically, Gloria led me to Oscar and together they led me to the reason they were fighting. When you find that reason, you start thinking about this movie in a different way.
Using Kaiju as a literal metaphor for characters living in the shadow of addiction is both brilliant and on the nose. Was it easy for you to tie those elements into a cohesive story that has emotional resonance?
The process is that sometimes language can be useful to describe a finished film. But when you are working, it's not easy to be able to perceive the pieces from a distance. But I can describe you the order of [my] creative process.
First of all, when you have Gloria and Oscar and you know they are going to fight, the stakes of the movie suddenly become higher than two guys fighting. If it was two guys, it would be a competition you see in so many films. But with a physical fight where one of the combatants is a woman, it becomes more dark. She's no kung fu expert. She's an average woman fighting with an average man.
And then the movie is also about the consequences of your lack of responsibility of your inner wild self that looks different under the light of day. I also needed her to be a person who feels out of control. I have felt like that in my past, so you start bringing things from your life to her.
Then you add in a little town. I'm from a little town in the north, but I live in the city. When I go back to home it's like going back to the nest to where I was raised as a child. But at the same time, going back home means failure at life because then you stop making films. So step by step, the movie becomes something.
And then some decisions the movie makes by itself, like the Oscar twist. That's scary for a writer because, on one hand, it's betraying the audience and the characters. It also happens right in the middle of the film. If you want to reveal this guy is the villain, you need to show it in the first act or the last act. But the fact that this nice guy becomes the villain right in the middle is really scary. It was scary for me.
You also cast actors arguably known more for playing comedy or at least lighter fare. Why go that route?
I have a theory that all comedians have an evil layer. I was making jokes recently about featuring our most attractive comedians as villains. Can you imagine if we made a James Bond film where the evil mastermind is Tom Hanks? Wouldn't that be great? For me, turning Jason into this kind of character was so exciting because it's the first time he's played a character like this, and he's so scary and frightening. One of the most rewarding things in my life was watching Jason have so much fun with this character.
The battle between Gloria and Oscar gets so dark that your last act is extremely cathartic as both an arc resolution but also in a female empowering way. Was that your intention or an unexpected outcome?
It's half what you want to put of your life into the film and the other half is what the movie is asking of you. I needed the town, and the guy fighting with the woman, but I also need the climax and the twist to be represented this way. And then I always recommend to people walking into films to keep some degree of innocence. Don't be self aware and try not to make a very 'movie' movie. If you put something in [a film] from yourself and your life, it will be interesting. Every life is unique in its own way and there's something there that can be really useful for a film.
You pull off two very effective kinds of action scenes: ones with actual monsters in Seoul and ones with Anne and Jason just stomping around a park. Both work beautifully. Did you enjoy shooting one more than the other?
Shooting the monsters was a beautiful experience especially with the companies behind the monsters and the VFX. But working with actors and watching scenes being born in the camera is a unique experience. When you are giving instructions to Anne and Jason in front of them and you are enjoying how they are making scenes more funny, you feel like a privileged audience in front of these guys. It's a beautiful time watching scenes grow in front of your eyes. That experience can't be compared to building VFX. But I enjoyed both.
Last but not least, talk about your approach to designing the actual Kaiju which have to function both comedically and then deadly in the last act.
You know what, the trick we applied with the monsters was let's make creatures that feel part of the tradition. Let's make the monster and the creature part of the club of Kaiju. Instead of trying to make distance and trying to design ironic creatures, we said let's make ones as genuine as the ones we love. We wanted them to also feel the opposite of each other.
Colossal opens in theaters today.