Apocalypse 'Monsters,' Redux

Director Gareth Edwards interview, part two

It's Halloween weekend and what better way to kick off the Season of the Weird than with some soon-to-be-very-Famous Monsters of Filmland? Of course we're talking about Monsters, director Gareth Edwards' road movie romance (with tentacles), which has finally creepy-crawled its way to the theatrical distribution it so richly deserves.

For what it's worth, we've watched Monsters four times now, which is both completely unheard of and a testament to just how unique a monster movie this is. And while it is available via VOD through the iTunes Store right now, we're telling/pleading/begging you to check it out on the big screen this opening weekend.

Not only will you be gobsmacked by the sheer "gosh, wow, sense-of-wonder" of the film itself – colossal, many-tentacled bio-luminescent behemoths from beyond the stars have relocated to Mexico and Texas … and it's mating season! – but you'll also be able to bask in the warm, phosphorescent glow that comes from knowing you saw Monsters as it was meant to be seen: towering over you, in the communal dark, in Dolby Digital, instead of, you know, alone, in what passes for your home, on your comparatively eensy, 50" Samsung plasma HDealio. Plus, internet fanboy buzz has it that Edwards is the next James Cameron (or, for our ¥¥¥, the next Ishiro Honda). Either way, Monsters proves the ancient kaiju eiga maxim that size, and heart, matter equally.

The following interview with Edwards is the second of two parts. You can find the first part here.

Austin Chronicle: You shot mostly on location in Mexico, right?

Gareth Edwards: About half of it was shot in Mexico. We also went down to Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and then Texas. In a way Mexico has been turned upside-down by the events in our film and I wanted it to be a little bit like what I imagined Mexico was 30-40 years ago. And it's not like that now. It's very well developed now and it's like being in the United States. So we created this kind of fantasy version of Mexico in terms of what we needed for the film. Mexico was great for getting that kind of texture that I was craving: semi-post-apocalyptic. Additionally, we went to Guatemala and Belize to get all the run-down locations and stuff.

AC: When you were on location did you have any run-ins with the federales? I ask because the Ford Brothers, who shot The Dead in Ghana, had all kinds of difficulties with bribes, threats, and stabbings.

GE: I think we were really lucky. Nothing really bad happened to us, but lots of bad things happened around us. For instance, a week before we arrived at this village a bunch of guys had showed up and machine-gunned an entire café full of people. When we arrived in town there was a line of boxes in the street – coffins – that were part of a protest about the fact that nothing had been done about these murders.

AC: And that was your location? Was that par for the course?

GE: I don't know. There was a prison riot in Guatemala, near by the local town where we were, and they decapitated people's heads and put them on the fence. There were shootings outside our hotel. At one point, we arrived at this motel in Mexico in the middle of the night and the lady [at the motel] spoke [imperfect] English, so when I asked for my room she said it was "Next to the tigers." I thought, bless her, I wonder what she meant, you know? And I'm walking down towards my room and I see these tigers. Live ones. Basically, my room was part of a tiger enclosure. We found out later that drugs cartels are very much into exotic pets. It's like the equivalent of having the Lamborghini or the Ferrari, right? We started to realize we were in the heart of this drugs country, which was the same place as this town that was machine-gunned.

AC: Drug-runner tiger-guards? Seriously?

GE: Yeah. I had to sleep with only some chicken-wire between the tigers and me. And because I had a really bad back from carrying the camera all the time I was limping everywhere. I kind of felt that the tigers could spot that. I was the weak one, you know? Every time I walked by the tigers I tried to straighten my back to make it look like I wasn't the weakest of the pack. There was loads of stuff that happened. Swine Flu broke when we were there and it just seemed like the end of the world at the time.

AC: I assume that all added to the verisimilitude of the shoot, right? When you're in that sort of breaking chaos, as it happens, that can only benefit the film so long as neither the actors nor the crew get hurt.

GE: Yeah, that's true. In fact, the people you see carrying guns in our film were, in actuality, the real police, who were providing security for us due to all the kidnappings. Wherever we went there were always two or three guys with guns, just keeping an eye out. So it did feel quite a bit as though we had this portable, militarized atmosphere wherever we went.

AC: How did the actors respond to that?

GE: I think it unnerved them a bit, to be honest. But it definitely fed into the atmosphere of the movie. The film's full of this sense that, just around the corner there might be death, but right where we are now it's quite beautiful and disarming.

AC: You shot Monsters well before the bloodbath began on the Texas/Mexico border and yet your film could not be more culturally relevant. At least, you know, in Texas.

GE: I'd never been to Mexico in my life before we started filming. I had no chip on my shoulder about any kind of immigration issues or anything to do with the United States or Mexico. But, inevitably, when you have a fantastic story with giant monsters, you have to ground it in the real world as much as possible. And in the context of the story, I feel like, America, wherever this [giant alien invader situation] had happened in the world, America would try and build a fence around it, to try and contain it. Obviously, America has a lot more money and resources than most other countries, so they'd probably build a massive wall, whereas, you know, Mexico would only be able to afford this electric fence.

AC: Apart from Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, almost everyone else in the cast was local, non-professional talent, right? How did that work?

GE: Often, when we were trying to get performances out of the people who weren't actors, we would just talk to them and work with what they knew, or what we assumed they knew. So, for example, with the "guerrilla fighters" we were asking them questions about immigration, we were asking them questions like "Have you ever seen a UFO?" We asked them where they were when September 11th happened, things like that, and they would give us really genuine responses, which we would then shoot. Then we'd reverse the camera and have [McNairy and Able] asking different questions in the context of the film: "Have you seen the creatures? Have you seen them building the wall around the infected zone?" In that way we would use the non-actors real answers alongside the fake questions. We played that trick quite a bit in the film and it created very realistic responses to things. I think if you keep it vague enough and you keep the metaphor open enough, you can read into it whatever you want. Science-fiction works best when it does that, I think.

AC: Right now, things at the border are very different than they were when you were there three years ago. Like it or not, the *narcocorridor* is the most traveled route from Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua to El Norte, terrestrial aliens or otherwise. And, of course, there's a real wall under construction. Monsters is freighted with social commentary for those who choose to view it in that light.

GE: I'm happy for the film to raise questions about all these sorts of things, but in no way was I trying to preach about what the solutions may be. Foremost the film is a love story, then a road movie, then a monster movie, and then, somewhere down the line, it probably has some political overtones to it. But I would happily lose those and keep the other aspects. That wasn't the reason I made the film.

AC: Final question. What are Gareth Edwards top three favorite monster movies?

GE: That's hard because, you know, what is a "monster movie?" My definition of a monster movie involves something two stories tall, right? A third of my DVD shelf is 1950s B-movies. In terms of that, I think the ones that stand out are George Pal's War of the Worlds, Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts – although I'm a massive fan of all of Harryhausen's stuff – and while it's not really a monster movie, Forbidden Planet. The creature from the Id? That's pretty monstrous, and I love that movie.

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