The director of the zombie-esque sequel goes 1-on-1 to talk about the new film
Movie PictureJuan Carlos Fresnadillo is one of those guys you just have to root for. Born in the Canary Islands, he made his way to Madrid as a teenager to pursue his love of filmmaking. He received an Oscar nomination for his short film, "Esposados"; then really raised eyebrows with his feature debut, Intacto. Danny Boyle, the director of 28 Days Later, wanted a fresh perspective for the sequel. He found the right director in Juan Carlos.
I met up with Juan Carlos in a swanky suite at the famed Essex House. He was a bit overwhelmed with the rigors of a publicity tour, but was resolute in promoting his English language debut. The emergence of Spanish directors has provided Hollywood a much needed shot-in-the-arm. They've added vision and style to the stale studio system. Juan Carlos has the chops, but I sincerely hope that the behemoth that is Spider-man 3 does not chew 28 Weeks Later up at the box office.
What happens 28 Weeks Later?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: This movie starts right after the first outbreak, which means London is absolutely devastated. American military, with the help of the British government, try to rebuild the population; bring the survivors back. But obviously when you're dealing with a terrible disease, like this infection, it's difficult to control. So you can imagine the virus is more dangerous. In this story, there is an evolution to the virus. We see this journey, from the reconstruction back to hell, through the eyes of a family. Family is the heart of this film, but it's a black heart because this family is in trouble.
Fans always worry that a sequel won't be as good as the original film. How did this project come to you, and what have you brought to it to keep up with the quality of the first film?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: This film came to me two and a half years ago. I was so surprised. Why me? I'm not from London, and it is a main character in the story. English is not my first language. But I was curious, and then I met Danny [Boyle]. Then I understood why they wanted me. They were looking for something new, a fresh perspective. I told him I could do it, but I needed freedom. They accepted me. I wanted to create something new, an evolution. To me, it is the infection, the rage. They are surrounded by rage. I think this is more of any apocalyptic thriller than a horror movie. It reflects the world we live in. So I shot it in a documentary fashion. I believe the more real something is, the scarier it is.
So you focused on realism...
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: Yes, the sense that, "My God, this is actually happening." For me, it is an exciting approach to the story. I think the fans of the first film will like this 'real' approach. This is a movie about survivors, surrounded by the world of infection. There is something special about survival. The audience thinks, "What would I do in this situation?" I hope they will be immersed in the plot and the journey.
Can you discuss any difficulties you had while filming? For instance, you mentioned you were unfamiliar with London; and it is central to the film. How did you find the right locations?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: One of the hardest things...there is a moment when one of the protagonist's becomes infected. For the actor it was tough to play. We tried to create an atmosphere of fear. Then the actor got it, he lost control and attacked one of the people on set. It was an accident, but it was fantastic though the monitor. I thought, "My God, a moment of total conviction!" But at the same time, there were consequences of that. The crew was absolutely focused on the concept of the story. I felt such support from them. Otherwise I would have been lost. They understood that I was a Spanish filmmaker, and that I needed help to know the city. They were honest and did their best. The English crew was fantastic. London is a huge city. You need to know the best place to shoot. We found it because the crew was so good.
The cast is filled with Danny Boyle regulars. How involved were you in the casting process?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: I was involved in every single creative decision. That's my feeling; you need to be in these decisions. But obviously a director must pay attention to his collaborators, the people I worked with. Danny mentioned Robert Carlyle. I didn't know him, but I loved his work. To be honest, I didn't know if would say yes. We spoke and he loved the screenplay.
So Robert was on board from the beginning, how did Rose Byrne come to the project? How was the chemistry between the leads?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: Aha, that is something important to mention, the chemistry. The casting process is so strange. You like someone, but you don't know how they will be with the others. This is why the rehearsals are so important. Fortunately, everyone rehearsed and it gave so much to the movie. My procedure is to rehearse at least fifteen to twenty days before the shooting. It builds a sense of community. They are real. It's the girl next door. It's your neighbor. They are people who you can easily see in that situation. Every one of them shows the human side of the characters. They blend very well. In most movies you have the antagonist and protagonist, but in this film the bad guy is the infection. You can see these people face both sides. Because every character has that dark moment they face. I love this theme in movies. You feel empathy because you recognize yourself in their dark moments and bright moments. The actors definitely had this ability.
I'm a fan of the psychological thrills of the first film. American movies have, in my opinion, really overused blood and gore. How much blood and gore do we have here?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: I think this is more of a thriller than a horror film. It's an apocalyptic vision of the world. It's natural that you see blood and violence in a real way. And it conveys more of a punch because it's so real. Every single drop of blood is from being hurt. To me, this blood and violence that we see in the movies is not the same here. This is more human, by far.
Can you see a third film in this series? Will we see another sequel if it's as successful as the first?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: It's amazing because everyone talks about this. To be honest, I did not make this with the intention of there being another. Obviously, this is not my decision. It would be a nice idea if somebody wanted to make a third one. If this movie works well, and the audience demands another chapter, this is a great compliment. But in the same way that Danny did with me, they will have to grant that to anyone interested in making a third one. It's the only way for fresh eyes to get new perspectives on things.
The film opens this week against Spider-man 3. Are you at all worried about the box office success?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: It is a record opening. I think there is an audience for 28 Weeks Later. But you never know, the numbers are a mystery. I think that the evolution of the story will bring more people to the theaters. I am very excited. This is my first movie in the United States. I'm not worried at all about numbers...not yet! (laughs)
You received an Oscar nomination for your short film "Esposados". Can you talk a bit about your history, and the emergence of Spanish filmmakers in the Hollywood studio system?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: I think this Latino attack in the last few years is the result of Latino filmmakers finally connecting with the masses. I think we made fantastic stuff, but it never crossed over to the larger audiences. Now with Alfonso [Cuaron] and Alejandro [Inarritu] and Pedro [Almodovar], they have made the connections. They made the big films in a unique way, which has refreshed the industry. In my opinion, this is the most important contribution we have made. I was raised on an island, one of the small Canary Islands. I thought I wanted to make movies, but there it was impossible. So I moved to Madrid when I was eighteen. I studied filmmaking there and became making films. That's why I think journeys are always in my stories. My personal experience was a far journey from my home. To me, making a movie is a journey. There is a lot of learning in that process, and you have to fight for what you want.
28 Weeks Later hits theaters everywhere this Friday and is rated 'R' or strong violence and gore, language and some sexuality/nudity.