Under the Skin: interview with Jonathan GlazerCultureCinemaLondon Film Festival 2013
Jonathan Glazer is the director of Under the Skin, one of the most opinion-dividing movies of the festival. The picture is an adaptation of the very conceptual novel of the same title by Michel Faber and it stars Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson in the role of an alien.
What drew you to the material?
I really connected with the idea of looking at the world through alien eyes. That was the spark.
How did you come to shoot the film in the way you did?
The central idea was about disguising the actress and dropping her in the real world. Everything had to serve that. So we built a bespoke camera system with heads that were small enough to be hidden, and positioned them according to the action we wanted to cover. Then the crew would effectively walk away and Scarlett would step in. This way there was no evidence of a film being shot. There’s a scene for instance where she falls in the street and is then helped to her feet by passers-by. Conventionally, you’d have to lock off the street, fill it with extras, block it, rehearse it then shoot it. Here, we pointed our hidden cameras at the spot where she’d fall and waited to see what happened. Also her character spends a lot of the film driving and I didn’t want that to be simulated either. I wanted her immersed in the function of driving. So we built the cameras into the cab. This way she could drive and we could film everything she did and everything she drove past. We were photographing her and her points of view simultaneously. The cameras become an extension of her own eye almost.
When she winds down her window to some of the people you see in the film, were they just people passing the streets?
Yes they were people just going about their lives.
Did anyone recognise her?
Yes, there were a couple of people who did, but not so much most of the time. We were filming in a nightclub in Glasgow across two nights and Scarlett was in the thick of that and after you’ve been there for a while and she’s been doing the same thing four of five times, crossing the dance-floor, you begin to see people are aware that something is going on. But she didn’t look familiar in how people are used to seeing her.
How do you choreograph a scene where most of the cast is unaware of what is going on?
Well, you have to plan where to hide your cameras and then you shoot the way you would if you had control. It made the scenes very tense and you always run the risk of not getting what you set out to but that was how I saw it, that’s the way I thought it would work best.
Did you know if it was going to work?
Conceptually I knew it was going to work.
It’s amazing to get someone of Scarlett’s profile, someone that is willing to really go with this.
She had to be committed to the task, and she was, in every sense. Her performance is very pure, very alive because of that.
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