Knowing director Alex Proyas found a new way to crash a train

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Patrick Lee
Dec 14, 2012

In the second part of our exclusive interview with Knowing director Alex Proyas, he talks about shooting a massive subway crash and working with star Nicolas Cage.

In the sci-fi thriller, papers in a 50-year-old time capsule contain predictions of every major disaster since it was buried—as well as prophecies of disasters yet to come.

Nicolas Cage stars as a professor who stumbles on the terrifying predictions about the future and sets out to prevent them from coming true. Following is an edited version of the second half of our two-part interview. Knowing opens March 20.

Tells us about shooting the subway crash.

Proyas: The subway shoot was quite different. I mean, that was a more traditional sequence of shots. Because, basically, Nick is inside one carriage and virtually, you know, bunkers in while this carnage happens around him. I mean ... I sort of did that scene almost as a response to [stuff that's been done before]. ... Train wrecks in subways are kind of a film genre unto themselves, and I've never really seen a satisfying one. And I just wanted to do one which was just so brutal and horrific that it would kind of put an end to the genre, in a way. ...

So what we decided to do is we had the train actually leap the tracks and go sliding across the subway [platform], and I just ... find that, you know, carnage in crowded places is one of the most horrific things you can possibly imagine, because there's nowhere to go. So this whole notion that a train carriage at a hundred miles an hour is ... skidding across a platform, and you've got nowhere to run, and you're going to get mowed down, is a pretty brutal concept. So ... that was the inspiration, I guess, for that segment.

I saw the clip of the crash, and what impressed me about it was the sense of velocity and the momentum of the actual train.

Proyas: Right.

Which I don't know that I've seen before.

Proyas: Well, that was the key, to try and get that. That was the whole notion. The fact that bodies will get thrown into the air, ... as well as get knocked out of the way. So that was the notion of trying to create that, you know, visceral reality. ... I think we came pretty close.

What does Nicolas Cage bring to the role and to the film?

Proyas: I think Nick brings an enormous depth and reality to the character. ... I've been a huge fan of Nick for a very long time, and I've always wanted to work with him. And I think what impresses me is he is so different in everything he does. He truly is an actor, as opposed to a movie star, [though] he also happens to be a movie star, which is great. But he goes with the character.

His primary concern is that he tells a story and he creates a great character, which is all we can ask for in an actor. ... The bonus for me was that he completely got the story and was a true collaborator in that sense with me. I felt we were really telling the story together as a team. ... We would discuss the big ideas, which I think is really important. We spent very little time talking about the detail. ... Most of the time we were talking about the big notions in the movie, ... which is the fun stuff.