Interview With Director Of The Revenant, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
The Revenant was one of the biggest films of 2015, you know, the one which Leonardo Di Caprio (finally) won a Best Actor Oscar for. Upon its release the movie received a tonne of positive reviews from critics and moviegoers alike and was a front runner to win Best Picture at the Oscars. While it unfortunately just lost out on that one, it won Best Director and Best Cinematography by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki respectively, as well as Leo’s well deserved award.The movie tells the incredible story of Hugh Glass (Di Caprio), a guide for a group of trappers in early 19th century America, who was essentially left for dead in the middle of a frozen wasteland after being mauled by a grizzly bear. His journey and fight for survival is spurred by wanting revenge on one of the trappers, John Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy), who killed Glass’ son and was the one who deserted him. The story is made even more compelling when you realise it’s based upon true events.It’s a truly awesome movie which was masterfully directed by Iñárritu who perfectly captured the isolation and desolation felt by the characters and the environment they’re in. The Revenant is a tale of strong will and perseverance, and not only in the plot but the actual film-making process itself was extremely arduous and trialling. The movie was shot on-location in various freezing parts of Canada, America and Argentina, and many crew members were either fired or quit the production due to the conditions they were working in. Clearly Iñárritu is a man who demands a high level of dedication and perfection which definitely shows in the final product.The four-time Oscar winning director is a clear master of his trade, having won his last one just last year for Birdman (which also got Best Picture). Check out the below interview with him to read more about his insights into The Revenant and his admirable devotion to his art.
The Revenant is out today on Digital HD. Get it here on iTunes.How did you first become aware of the story of Hugh Glass?
Well, it’s kind of a legendary story although without many known facts. There was a first draft of the script written by Mark Smith, which was interesting and I thought could be a great opportunity to really get into something, so that’s where it started for me.
What research did you do?
I read a very good book called Here Lies Hugh Glass by a historian, Jon T. Coleman, as well as many other books and diaries from the trappers of the period. They wrote diaries that are very interesting; the social and historical context of this time hasn’t been explored very often, certainly in cinema, but it is a very interesting moment in the history of this country. These were people in unchartered territory having real adventures. Not like us with our GPS and “Oh, let’s have an adventure in India.” We don’t have adventures anymore. We know where things are.Although the film is set in the early 19th century, a lot of the themes it covers are relevant to today – the effects of consumerism, issues of race, how we respond to acts of violence…
I think the context of the early 19th century is extremely interesting and feel it has almost never been explored in depth because it was an unknown. There are literally no stories that have captured that period with accuracy. There was no photography. There was nothing. So everything from that period is still kind [of] a bit of a legend. Even the Hugh Glass story. We know he survived a grizzly bear attack and sought revenge on those who abandoned him, but before and after that his life is unknown. Just to give you an idea of the background: the biggest income in United States at that time was the animal pelt. This is before the oil, before the gold, before the West. The only people that had crossed the nation were Lewis and Clark years before. The country was a melting pot of French and English and Canadians, French Canadian, English Canadian, Mexicans, Spanish, and Native American tribes. There was no law. These men really were the start of how man began relating with nature. Basically, they were ignorant. They were primarily about greed. They did not see nature as something to respect and they broke every rule and every deal they made with the native communities. It was brutal. And honestly, it’s a very resonant theme because today we are doing the same. There was a lot of racism and slavery was legal – to have a different skin color was a big deal. So as a context that’s really interesting. How complicated it was. Up until now, it has always been reduced to bad guys and good guys and the Indians with the Cowboys. But it’s more complex than that.The film appears to be uncompromisingly ambitious and artistic. As a filmmaker, how easy is it to make exactly the film you want, given the nature of the business and commercial demands?
I think I made the film that I wanted to make and that we all wanted to make, really. There were no secrets. There were no dirty games. It was very clear what kind of story it was. I spent years writing this, and there was nothing else. I have been lucky all my life to do the films that I want. So if you see any shit in my films, then it is my shit! [Laughs] You know? I can’t blame anyone else! I had the support and the passion and the backing of the studio. They trusted in it. And so did the actors. It was a mutual trust that gave us the film we all wanted. It was uncompromising at every level and I feel extremely proud. In the context we are living now, to make a film like this is a privilege.
You shot the film using natural light, which greatly reduces the amount of shooting hours in a day. What was your thought process there?
I think it was a very obvious choice. You know, first of all, there is no way to light a forest! Having the sun, you know, that’s enough light. And the complexity of that light and the beauty of that light can never be matched by artificial light. Because we were shooting in winter we knew that by 3:00 PM it was dark. By 2:30 PM there was no light under the trees. And the locations were often so remote that by the time we arrived we had to be ready: we would rehearse and rehearse so we were ready because we would just have an hour, maybe an hour and a half to shoot very long takes in just a couple of takes. That was it. And there was really no choice. We were shooting with 40 millimetre lenses, so there was nowhere to even hide lights. How were we going to cable that?Why did you choose such remote locations to film in?
I started scouting locations five years ago, because I knew that it would require close to 100 locations. And it’s not like shooting in a city where you can say, “Okay we need a bar, we need a building, we need an apartment, we need a taxi,” you know? But when you have a film that is in an autumn and a winter, and it goes from deep woods with huge trees to the plains, and ends up in the Rockies, and then in the middle of a valley… the distance between those locations, the logistics involved in simply going from one little hill to a creek with snow are massive, and are even more difficult with a crew and camera and cranes etc. And then every location, in a way, has to be in the right place to shoot with the right light, at the right hour… [laughs]. What I’m saying is it was complex, but I knew that the landscapes and these locations would not be “just” locations, they would basically be characters in the film that will embrace the character, or damage him, or transform him, or give him shelter, or give him a nightmare, or protect him or threaten him. The landscapes would be a huge part of what the submersion of the audience will be, so I knew that I needed very special landscapes, very remote, untouched, that didn’t look like you had seen them in other films. It was incredibly challenging, but absolutely worth it, I think.The film has quite a poetic tone. Do you set that tone or find it?
I think it’s a correlation: when you are in tune with those things and you are in the right spot and the right context and you are looking for it… it happens. Sometimes it comes to you. Then again, you are a creator, so sometimes you create them. I just think the nature that is exposed, the hours we shot, the locations, the landscape, which is so remote – for audiences to see real mountains, real Rockies, real snow, real fog, real rain – all those things people are no longer used to seeing in fiction. You can maybe sometimes see it in documentaries. But when you integrate the real world that we are part of, and you connect with that beauty, and you recognise and contemplate it, it’s just sublime. We are part of that nature. We are just another creature. And I have the feeling that it’s kind of like a creature missing its environment. It makes you feel: ‘Where is that?’ When you are contemplating beauty which is all around us, but don’t stop or don’t go and see it, I think that creates a certain feeling or tone. But then there’s the other side of that which I think is important. This guy’s remembering his life as he’s dying and as he’s trying to survive. It’s a guy that is remembering himself and stitching parts of his life together. And as he’s doing it, we see the memory of his wife and the relation with his son and all that he’s lost, and in that sense it can be seen as very romantic or poetic. And I wanted that. I wanted to have a spiritual dimension that speaks for this guy, so that people can really go into his spirit and soul.It’s a great performance from Leo. How did you find working with him?
It was a fantastic experience. Fantastic. He was great collaborator, and he thinks like a filmmaker too. He was present, supportive, sensitive, brave, and intelligent. Everything you can expect from an actor of that scale. I got it and I couldn’t be happier with the relationship and the experience we went through together.
It’s a very physical role…
Leo is one of those actors that with the body can give you everything, and you can understand everything from his eyes. He performs with his eyes. And in this case, because there’s very little dialogue, he has to make you feel fear, cold, sadness, rage and many complex emotions simultaneously only with his body language and his eyes, and that’s a very difficult task. I found it fascinating, not only how he really got inside his character, but how he related to the character physically and transmitted that.What do you think motivates Glass to take on this journey, to live, to seek out Fitzgerald?
I think that there are two levels. One is revenge. Somebody took from him that which he loved most – his son. But I think behind that there is a love story about his son, which represents the most valuable thing for him, and with the person that he loved and lost, his wife. And I think that love, to have known that deep sense of life and meaning of life, is what keeps him going. So behind the surface of revenge, what really motivates him is to create what he lost and the meaning of that. That’s how I see it. How he finds that. Because for me I don’t have the answers, but what I wanted him to find is that question: “What is after revenge?” It never brings back what you’ve lost. You never get back what you want. So if revenge is the meaning in your life, once you accomplish it then there is no meaning of life and the emptiness of that I just wanted to explore. What is after that? And I think he has something more than revenge, which is love.
The Revenant is out today on DIGITAL HD and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K UHD on May 18. Get it here on iTunes.