Sitting in a Tin Can, Where Hell Is Still Other People
Director Duncan Jones on his debut film, 'Moon'
The straightforward title tells us the location of this psychological science-fiction thriller, which stars Sam Rockwell in one or multiple roles – depending on your interpretation of Moon's events. To say much more risks giving too much away. The film is a compelling new take on some old genre conventions and is shaped by Duncan Jones' strong directorial sensibility and Rockwell's dynamic central performance. As the son of David Bowie, the actor/musician known for his embodiment of such otherworldly figures as Ziggy Stardust and the Man Who Fell to Earth, Jones' interest in science fiction should come as little surprise. But this first-time feature-film director has seized the helm of mission control with a confidence and discipline all his own. In March, Jones was in Austin for a screening of Moon at the South by Southwest Film Festival, where this interview was conducted.
Austin Chronicle: Although Moon has the trappings of a science-fiction film, it's not strictly a genre film. How would you describe it?
Duncan Jones: I think we tried to tell a human story. The science fiction is just part of it. It's really a very human story, and it's asking a very simple but important question: If you met yourself in person, would you like yourself? Or would you only see the faults? How would that relationship go?
AC: This film is such a technical challenge to have pulled off for your first feature. Did that worry you?
DJ: When I was learning about the craft of working in film, I had a chance to work with Tony Scott for a little while. He was incredibly generous with his time and said that if you want to do feature films, you really should think about working in commercials for a while – just to get the technical side – and then move into feature films. I took his advice and worked in the UK making commercials. So, technically, I knew it was a real challenge, but I felt pretty confident we could do it.
AC: I don't want to get too technical ...
DJ: That's good. The film worked. That's all we need to know.
AC: ... But the whole film, physically, is something like just two sets.
DJ: For the shoot, what we did was build one major, massive set, which was the interior of the moon base. And then we had another soundstage where we built the landscape of the exterior of the moon, and the exteriors were done with model miniatures. So we had these beautiful vehicles and things that we built, and then they were being pulled along with fishing line. It was a very traditional, old-fashioned way of making it, but, technologically, we were able to do a lot of things to enhance it.
AC: The effect is really good, and it also brings to mind lots of other outer-space movies.
DJ: Absolutely. It very much pays homage to the films that Sam [Rockwell] and I both loved while growing up: films like Outland and Silent Running and Ridley Scott's Alien. That was a conscious choice: a love for those films.
AC: Was it coincidental that the character Sam Rockwell plays is named Sam?
DJ: Well, I wrote the story for Sam Rockwell. We met to discuss another script a while ago. That project wasn't going to work because he wanted to play one role and I wanted him to play a different role. We weren't able to convince each other, but we got on really well. We talked about science fiction and the films that we loved, and I told him, "Look, maybe this project isn't going to work, but I really want you to be in my first film, so I'm going to write something for you." So his character's name is Sam. It's for Sam. But in all seriousness, one of the reasons why I left the name Sam is I wanted [Rockwell] to have that feeling of it being a little uncomfortable, that he's having to face himself, because in the story that's what happens.
AC: How did you get Kevin Spacey [who contributes the voice of the computer Gerty] involved?
DJ: We were very fortunate. One of the producers who joined the film when we were about to start shooting was Trudie Styler, who is Sting's wife. She's involved in a lot of UK productions, and she's also incredibly well-connected, and she was able to get the script to him. And Kevin Spacey read it and loved the script and was very concerned about how we were going to achieve it for the budget we had. He basically said, "Look, why don't you come back to me once you've made the film because it's a voice." So we gave him a rough cut of the film with some basic effects in there. He was so bowled over by Sam Rockwell's performance that he said, "Yeah, absolutely, I'll do it." I'm so glad he did. We wanted him the whole way through. And the reason was HAL [the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey]. We wanted audiences to make that connection between HAL and Gerty, but we also wanted to steer their expectations and then take them on a different route. I think Spacey's voice conveys this sweetness but malevolence at the same time. That makes the audience start to doubt Gerty which then made it easier and more interesting for us when we take it in a different direction.
Moon opens in Austin on Friday, July 10. See Film Listings for review.