Garnering quite the cult following across a career spanning close to 40 years, Richard Stanley returns with a suitably unconventional sci-fi in his latest project Color Out of Space, based on a short H.P. Lovecraft story and starring Nicolas Cage (of course).
Last October, during the film’s festival run, we spoke exclusively to the creative filmmaker about his collaboration with the enigmatic Cage, and how he went about directing such a unique actor – while he also tells us how he once came close to working the actor on a previous movie. He also spoke about the film’s high-concept approach, and what it tells us about the real world – and the process of adapting such a revered author.
Finally, he explains his break from films and how he felt getting back into the swing of things.
I was reading that this project was one that took a little while to get off the ground. What was the breakthrough for you?
In strict terms it took a few years. I think that the best idea in the script was to have the young son Jack and the mother grow into each other and fuse into a single creature – which was the point when the script started to really come to life. The breakthrough in setting it up obviously was discover that Nic Cage was a fan of the works of H.P. Lovecraft and keen to do a Lovecraft movie, which made him a very good match for the material. When I was writing the script it was going to be a British family [at the centre of the story] – I think I wrote it with Hugh Grant in mind initially – but once we realised that Nic was a Lovecraft aficionado it felt like a natural match.
Had you at any point approached Hugh Grant to speak to him about the role. Was he award of your interest?
No, I don’t think he knows about it but that’s okay as I think I’m probably going to go down that route again because there’s something I like about that guy.
Talking about working with Nic Cage, he’s absolutely brilliant – he’s one of the most underrated actors in the world. He does unhinged in a way that so few other actors can do. What was it like collaborating with him on this project?
He single handedly restored my faith in Hollywood. Nic brings a tremendous energy to it. Weeks in advance he went through the script and highlighted areas where he thought he could improvise or bring something to it. He was always very respectful about letting us know what he wanted to do and where he wanted to do it. He didn’t just pull stuff out of the bag or out of nowhere. He always arrived on set with tremendous energy. The first take was usually close to perfect an generally we would [inaudible] on take two or take three which meant we actually got ahead of schedule. It cause all the other actors and the crew to raise their game and be on point when Nic was there, and as a result it went like clockwork.
You got close to working with him on Dust Devil? Is that right?
I’m assuming then that across these years he’s someone that you’ve always wanted to work with.
Yes, and I would like to work with Nic again at some point when a sufficiently different part presents itself.
Is it true that you asked him to use his role in Vampire’s Kiss as an inspiration for this part? If so, what was the thinking behind that?
There’s kind of a hidden factor behind that which is one of the things I was doing throughout ‘Color’ was, in order to try to conduct an argument or a dialogue with HP Lovecraft who wrote the source material, really doesn’t believe in the human race – doesn’t really have characters in his stories. He’s more interested in the cosmic horror itself, and in order to try and make the case for the human race and such I deliberately based pretty much all of the human characters on my loved-ones’ next of kin. So Joely Richardson is playing a part which is very close to my mother. I have a cousin in real-life who is called Benny who is exactly like Benny in the script. I imagine that Jack makes hand drawings while his parents tear each other apart is kind of a version of myself. When Nic was in Auggie-mode, he would start to do his version of his father’s voice (August Coppola) and mannerisms, and the last time Nic did Auggie was [in] Vampire’s Kiss.
You mention the source material. When you first got hold of that was it something that that you were instantly visualising a movie adaptation. Was it something you saw cinematic potential in straight away? Or did it take a little while for those thoughts to process?
I’ve always been a tremendous fan of Lovecraft’s works when I was a child. It was my mother’s favourite author and she read me his stories when I was seven or eight years old. So I was always conscious of it and I’ve been fascinated by the way that the awareness of his work has grown exponentially over the years. So, one hundred years after his death by the early 21st century it has saturated into human culture – to such an extent that kids in Russia or Japan… almost everyone has heard, despite no company or corporate structure promoting this… it’s spread in almost an alarming, kind of viral way. That made me more and more determined to finally break the logjam and make a reasonably high-profile Lovecraft movie.
When you have these high concepts and ideas of films, they often tell us so much about the real world in which we inhabit. I often find that the best way to understand humanity is to step as far away from it as possible. What do you think that this film has to say about us, humanity, today.
Clearly ‘Color’ is reflecting on the Trump period and also the notion that we may be looking extinction down the barrel – or at the end of a certain dream or the idea of the Spielberg-ian notion that one can actually safely raise your family and kids and alpacas in piece. I mean, if the Gardner family weren’t hit by a meteorite, they’d be destroyed by cancer or economic recession or something else. There is so many different problems. I think we are living in a time period of incredible insecurity and uncertainty about the immediate future, coupled with a growing sense of disillusionment in conventional or orthodox religion.
It has been a while since you’ve stepped behind the lens. I was just wondering how it was getting back into the director’s chair – and do we have to wait as long for your next one? I hop the answer is no.
I’d say that the answer is no – you’d have to talk to the backers – but ‘Color’ has recouped and is now in the black. It has been sold to an American distributor for a reasonably wide theatrical run in January so that bodes well for future projects.
Color Out Of Space is in cinemas and On Demand from 28th February.