Tarsem (pronounced tar-SEM) Singh has directed such visually striking fantasies as Immortals, Mirror, Mirror and The Fall. Self/less, which will be released on July 10, 2015, is his first science fiction film, a thriller about a man whose personality is transplanted into another body. It goes without saying that he experiences ... complications.
Blastr spoke with Tarsem about the implications of personality transplant, his dislike of organ harvesting and what excited him about Self/less.
What about the script attracted you?
The groundedness and thriller element was basically what interested me. Organ transplants and harvesting are the creepiest things I can think of happening right now. But I didn't want to make it about organ transplant, because it couldn't up the ante as much as consciousness [transplants].
Do you think Self/less raises important issues about ethics and technology?
If you hurt people who aren't supposed to get hurt, it's called "collateral damage," and it doesn't sound that dreadful. When you go and get a kidney from somebody else ... it's called "harvesting," as if that person was growing the kidney along with the corn for you. In [Self/less], we just use "shedding." We're not going to call a spade a spade; we just end up using nomenclature. People change the nomenclature of something and come up with laws that justify anything you do. [The movie is] is taking an element of something that will happen in the future and trying to address it in the moralities of today. And people's morality are always a couple of years behind technology.
What made you decide to direct a science fiction film, rather than fantasy, for which you are known?
I had done four visual films back to back, and suddenly I realized that all everybody thought was, I'm the guy who does visual things. I thought very specifically, Let's look for something grounded now.
But for a movie that emphasizes story rather than visuals, it's quite a pretty film.
There's a big difference between cinematic and fantastical. I tend to shoot things cinematically. The most cinematic person in our generation is Mark Romanek [Never Let Me Go and One Hour Photo], and he hasn't done a fantastical movie at all.
How realistic do you think Self/less is?
[Personality transplant is] going to happen, not in our generation, but in the next 40, 50, maybe even a hundred years. But it's something in the future that is definitely coming. You look at it and say, this could happen. I'm interested in the ramifications of that. It'll be nothing like the movie, but it will be about taking your consciousness into something.
What was it like working with Ben Kingsley, Ryan Reynolds and Matthew Goode?
Sir Ben Kingsley. I love the man. The most prepared person you'll ever meet. Like the cliche in jazz, [if] you learn the notes, you're allowed to improvise; if you haven't learned it, it doesn't work. He comes so prepared, you can take him any way you want. Matthew [Goode] comes up with a rhythm, and that's what he plays, and Ryan [Reynolds] is completely the opposite: It's all about reacting to the other person. [Their acting styles] worked in my favor. If you went to a place and said I would like a new body, design something for me, that is what they would draw: Ryan Reynolds, a person who has probably never heard no in his life from a woman, ever. A perfect male specimen.