Interview: Duncan Jones

Source Code director reveals meetings with WETA and why he’s only got one more sci-fi in him for now.

One of DIY’s most treasured films of the year, Source Code is coming to DVD and Blu-ray on 15th August.

Moon director Duncan Jones follows up his stunning low-budget debut Moon with a high-concept sci-fi thriller. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Colter Stevens, a soldier who wakes up in an unknown body on a strange train, and is blown to bits by a bomb within minutes. He wakes up in a dark capsule, communicating with Vera Farmiga’s officer, who informs him of his mission. A terrosist bomb killed hundreds that morning, and he must find out the man behind it by reliving the last eight minutes of a dead commuter’s life - the source code. Find out more in our review from April.

A classy, Hitchcockian spin on sci-fi with Gyllenhaal joined by the infectiously charming Michelle Monaghan, Source Code is an action-packed, twisting, emotional rollercoaster of a movie, and one of the year’s finest.

Jones more than overcomes ‘difficult second album’ syndrome to solidify his status as one of the most exciting directors working today. He’s so awesome, it’s now a case of looking at David Bowie going ‘wow, that’s Duncan Jones’ dad’. You get the picture.

We grabbed an exclusive interview with Jones over Skype, which was initially terrifying, but the genial director soon put this technophobe at ease.

After talking about the exciting news that Source Code is to get a theatrical release in China, Jones revealed why his third film may be his last sci-fi before switching genres, and that he’s met up with the WETA digital team for the secret project.

Congratulations on a successful campaign to get Source Code released in China. Can you explain why it’s so important to you?
Thank you! It’s been a really, really interesting and bizarre thing. Obviously, I don’t even know if this would’ve been possible three or four years ago, to get a film released in China! It’s such an alien society to me - I really know nothing about how cinema works out there. It’s very odd. There’s a story that went round a few months ago that the Chinese government had banned time travel movies. What a strange thing to ban! But there was a news story, and we were like, we’ve been told that the film’s going to be released in China - what do they think Source Code is? [laughs] Do we fit into that category? For whatever reason, we have escaped the government censors! It’s also been absolutely lovely, because Twitter in China is banned - they have their own version Wiebo, and it’s an internal programme where you can only talk to other people in China. I’m not on Weibo, but I am on Twitter, and a lot of people are able to use proxys, and they’ve been flooding me, campaigning me to get the film out in China. It’s been a very interesting experience and I’m thrilled it comes out at the end of the month.

I consider you in a class of young filmmakers who are bringing something really fresh to sci-fi, like Gareth Edwards and Neill Blomkamp - do you enjoy their work?
I do - I think Neill’s incredibly talented, and I’m a deliciously jealous rival of his! I can’t wait to see what Elysium turns out like, and I hope my next film’s much better. [laughs]

There’s a fine line between leaving an audience debating and just scratching their heads, and you got it right - was that ending collaborative?
It’s an interesting one - I’ve almost lost track of what was originally planned, and where we ended up. There was a lot of thinking on our feet, and even when we were shooting, we were thinking, maybe if we shot this it would be useful - just in case. There was something about the ending of the original script I just didn’t like, and we did try a few things out in the edit. Some of them were much more saccharine, and much more Hollywood. Some of them were a little darker and a little weirder. What we ended up with was slightly to the dark and weird, and I’m so relieved. We did test a few different endings, and fortunately the ending I loved the most was the one we stuck with. I feel it does the most justice to Ben’s [Ripley, script writer] idea of what the film is about. It was a lot of fun, and definitely a bit of puzzle-solving going on in the edit.

Jake brought the role to you, but was he also very active when on set?
We had a great time. Jake is a real joy for me to work with. Some people have found him difficult - I don’t know why - but I found him absolutely lovely. He’s incredibly smart and very funny - sometimes too funny. [laughs] He’s a lovely guy - always throwing ideas at me, and always getting me to experiment and try stuff out, and go beyond where he thought the role was on the page. There are a lot of really great moments in the film when the audience is getting a good laugh, because Jake is going a little too far! It also helped that we had Michelle Monaghan with him, because the chemistry really helped.

On paper, her character could be a passive bystander and she’s anything but! What were you looking for in an actress?
I was looking for Michelle Monaghan in the film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang! She was fantastic in that movie, and when Jake and I were talking about who would work as Christina, it was like, we need someone like that. Someone who’s going to have that back and forth. Then we thought - why don’t we just ask her then? It worked out really well.

I get the impression you’re an actor’s director, despite working on effects-driven films. Is it vital for you to get on with your cast? Are you that kind of filmmaker?
I try to. So far I’ve been incredibly lucky. I’ve worked with actors who are really conducive to that style of directing, and who want to work with me, and want to hear my opinion, and want to try stuff out themselves. Fingers crossed it’s worked. I don’t know - there are people who are notoriously difficult, and I don’t know if I’m ready for those kind of actors yet! I think as long as I keep working with people who are as lovely as the people I’ve been working with, it all seems to work out great!

You’ve been on the shortlist for big films recently - is that something you see in your future? Can you imagine yourself doing a major studio film, or do you have a clear vision of the sci-fi films you’d like to make?
I can see myself doing a big studio film under the right conditions. There’s something I have in mind that I would love to do - maybe not the next film, but as my fourth film. I don’t think I could ever do a sequel. An original project through a studio, I would love to take a crack at. Source Code was a toe in the water of working with a slightly bigger budget and working with bigger name actors, because I do want to try and do that. Hopefully I’ll be able to get that balance right and keep making movies based on my own work.

Is science fiction your passion? Will it always feature in your work?
That and fantasy - I was a geek growing up, so sci-fi and fantasy were both the worlds I loved exploring, but I wouldn’t want them to define me. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to make films that are a little bit more unexpected. We’ll have to see how that plays out.

Can you give us the tiniest hint about the script you’re currently writing?
I can say that it is a science fiction film, and potentially… I’ll take a break from sci-fi after this film. Moon was done at a tiny budget and we really squeezed everything we could out of it. Source Code was a chance to work on a bigger budget with name actors, but on a project that wasn’t my own. Hopefully, this third film will be the kind of sci-fi I want to make, on a budget where I can afford to do it as I see it in my head. After that, I’ll change genres.

You’ve mentioned that you’ve been meeting up with special effects artists - can you tell us who they are?
My producer and I travelled to New Zealand to visit the guys at WETA. We had an amazing experience. They’re the best in the world, and when you get the chance to meet them, and see how they do it, it’s not just a company - they have a community of people who love film, and are amazing at it. I feel I would be privileged to get the chance to work with WETA so hopefully that will happen.

Have you seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes yet?
I have, and I thought it was amazing. They were just finishing off some of the shots for that when I was down there. Andy Serkis is a treasure.