Director/screenwriter Vincenzo Natali gained international recognition in 1997 with the surreal sci-fi thriller Cube.
Revisiting the sci-fi genre, Natali’s new movie Splice opens this week. It tells the story of two brilliant scientists, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) who specialize in splicing DNA from different animals to create new hybrids. But now their experiments have gone too far – mixing human DNA with animals, which creates Dren (Delphine Chaneac) – an uncommonly intelligent creature, who turns their lives into a nightmare.
I spoke with Vincenzo about his movie, which has taken him years to bring to the screen.
How did you come up with the design of the creature, she looks kind of creepy.
Hopefully she’s creepy and attractive. I think it’s the attraction/repulsion component in her which is so interesting. But my prime directive in creating Dren was always make her real, because I think the tendency in creature movies is to do something that’s really larger than life, that’s over the top, and in this case I thought, it will be more shocking if we’re subtle. And so we were very subtractive in our design.
We wanted to take things away from the human form, rather than add on to it, and make small changes, which we felt would be more disturbing than big ones.
How much green screen did you use with Delphine?
She generally had on blue stockings. What was interesting was we went through a stage where we tried to figure out how her digital legs would interact or would fit with Delphine’s real legs. And ultimately what we realized was that the more natural her gait was, the better, the more realistic it was going to be when we did the effects.
So the rule of thumb was that wherever Delphine’s real foot was, that’s where the digital foot was. So she always was standing in the center of her gravity.
Were you a fan of horror movies like Frankenstein, did that inspire you in some way; especially how they treated Dren. She’s treated worse than an animal.
Clive and Elsa are named after Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester who were the original actors in (Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein), so that was very much on my mind. I loved James Whales’ movies, but I also felt being a fan of them that if we did a movie like that now, we really did have to push it into the 21st century.
Therefore, at the moment where normally, particularly in these kinds of stories, the monster escapes and wreaks havoc in the outside world, I felt that the opposite should happen, that our scientists should imprison their creation because they can’t let it out, and then it becomes much more of a psycho drama.
In the tradition of Mary Shelley, it humanizes the monster and we definitely find some monsters lurking in humans.
Can you talk about casting Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley in the movie?
This in many respects is a chamber piece, there are only five speaking parts in the entire film. Most of the movie is just the three characters, the two scientists and Dren, so I knew I needed actors of a high caliber and I needed actors who exuded intelligence, and I think both Adrien and Sarah really fit the bill.
At the same time, I needed actors who the audience would maintain an emotional connection with, even when their characters are doing some morally reprehensible things.
I think Adrien and Sarah have those qualities, you really like them and you feel for them, even when you don’t agree with what they’re doing.
I was just lucky, I think. Sarah and Adrien happened to be perverse and demented individuals who immediately gravitated towards this material and really, to their credit, they are actors who were not afraid of doing this sort of thing. Especially for somebody like Adrien, he has a love scene in this movie that if it had backfired it could be very damaging to him.
Can you talk about shooting that love scene between Clive and Dren? What did you do to assure Adrien it would be okay?
Well, I cast Delphine Chaneac first of all, which didn’t hurt. She’s a very beautiful French actress. I didn’t have to do anything, if Adrien was afraid he didn’t show it at all. And when it came time to shoot that scene, which for me was the most important scene in the movie, I only had a day to shoot it, they were terrific.
It seems you’ve set this up for a sequel, have you already thought about what the story would be?
Even though from the very beginning it felt like this was leading to a second movie, the way the film ends, I really didn’t intend that. I felt that this was the right end of Elsa’s story. With all of my films I like to end them with a question, I like endings that are a little bit open, so I really wasn’t gunning for a sequel.
If you had spoken to me three or four months ago, I didn’t even think this film was going to get released in theatres, let alone have the possibility of having a sequel.
Now, given where we are, I guess it’s a distinct possibility, and I wouldn’t be opposed to it. My first film, Cube, was sequelized.
They made two sequels to that and I didn’t want anything to do with it, I completely divorced myself from that process. Ultimately whenever I meet somebody who knows about Cube and the sequels, they say, ‘Did you do the sequels?’
For better or worse I have to say, ‘No, no, I do not claim any ownership over them.’ So I decided if that happens again I will remain involved, and I think in the case of Splice, unlike Cube, maybe there’s room to expand the story and not just repeat the first film.