Writer-director Andrew Niccol has always been one of my favorite filmmakers. I love all of his films - Gattaca, The Truman Show, Simone, and Lord of War - even though most of them failed to make a dent at the box office. So, I was quite thrilled when I was invited to visit the set of Andrew Niccol's latest movie, In Time, which hits theaters on October 28, and may finally bring the director some long overdue commercial success.
Like most Andrew Niccol films, In Time takes us into a bold new future, but this time, time is the real focus. In this world, the aging gene is shut off after one turns 25, when time literally becomes money. Every human has an electronic clock on their wrists, which shows how much time they have left in their life. When you go to work, instead of getting paid in dollars and cents, you get paid in minutes and hours. These units of time we may take for granted in our world, are used to purchase goods and services, but every item bought literally takes time off your life.
The story centers on Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), who always wakes up with less hours on his clock than there are in the day. When he ends up with centuries of time after a mysterious death, he kidnaps and goes on the run with Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), whose father (Vincent Kartheiser) owns TimeShares, one of the biggest time-lending firms (i.e. this world's pawn brokers) in the world. Essentially, In Time takes us into the world where the rich are literally immortal, and they will never look older than 25 to boot. The poor must scrape by however they can, while trying to avoid a corrupt police force known as The Time Keepers.
When I first arrived on the set with a small group of journalists, we were introduced to producer Eric Newman, who set up the scene we were about to watch.
"This particular scene is our heroes robbing a time lender, which happens to be owned the Amanda character's father. He's this sort of industrialist. He's got millions of years. They're about to drive their van through the front of this time lender and stick it up. Then, what they've been doing is sort of redistributing the wealth in kind of a Robin Hood style. So we'll do this and then the actors are coming, and then we'll move in for all the actual scene. This is obviously just a stunt team. As much as Justin would like a car through a wall, we would never let him."
The scene in question you may recognize from the trailer, where Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried encourage random people off the streets to take all the time they want. We get glimpses of both the rich and poor sides of the time tracks in the trailer, which Eric Newman described more fully.
"We sort of establish two very different locations. One is Dayton, where Justin's character (is from), and it's the ghetto. It's where people are living day to day. New Greenwich is where people have endless time. It's where the rich are. One of the characteristics of New Greenwich is that everyone is very paranoid because they have so much to lose. They drive these big, heavy, slow cars. It's a very secure world. And the great irony is that these people who have a lot of money don't do a lot of living. They're consumed with the fear of dying. They use these armored cars to get around. Justin and Amanda steal one and use it. They repurpose it for the wall of this place and robbing it."
After watching a few takes, where the large truck is being rammed into this time-lender office, Eric Newman discussed the casting of In Time, which posed an interesting set of challenges. For instance, Olivia Wilde plays Justin Timberlake's mother, and Vincent Kartheiser plays Amanda Seyfried's father. While these actors are all around the same age, they had to act outside their ages for these parts.
"The casting in this movie, the big challenge was we're drawing from the same pool of everyone who's under 27. We all know people in our lives; you meet people and think, 'Even though he's my age, he seems like he's 60.' So, it's finding these people that could play that. Olivia Wilde could play maternal. She's 24 years old, 25 years old, but she was able to find this very maternal performance. Vincent Kartheiser feels like he's possessed with the spirit (of someone older). Not when you meet him, by the way. When you meet him, he's like a child. But as a performer he becomes this guy. Cillian Murphy plays a cop who's chasing Justin, and he's been a cop for 60 years, 50 years, and he's a real hard-ass. And Cillian just nails it. Alex Pettyfer plays a neighborhood thug. He's the leader of a group called the MinuteMen, and, basically, they're muggers. They prey on people in an area where the cops don't really care. Poor people stealing from other poor people, nobody cares, but if you steal from a rich person, you're going to have a problem. He's a 75-year-old guy, really tough, a strong-arm guy. If he can maintain the upper hand with you, he can literally steal your time. If I'm on top, I'm taking time from you, if I'm on the bottom, you're taking time from me. He will strong-arm, literally, people for their time. He feels like Justin's character cheats him at the beginning of the movie, and he chases him to get that time back."
After speaking with Eric Newman for some time, watching several takes and viewing numerous stills and storyboards, we were able to speak with director Andrew Niccol for a brief period of time. To be honest, on a project like this, I was surprised and grateful he even had time to speak with us at all. Here's what he had to say below.
Director Andrew Niccol:
How does the transfer of time through your wrist actually work?
Andrew Niccol: Through the electricity in your pulse, the natural electricity in your body. It's in every cell of your body. It's not as if you can cut your clock off. You constantly have to replenish your time.
This sounds like an interesting companion piece to Gattaca. Can you talk about when you actually hatched the story for this?
Andrew Niccol: I think it was the bastard child of Gattaca. At the time, I thought the Holy Grail of genetic engineering was to find the aging gene and switch it off. The implications were so huge, that I thought it could become another movie, and, it turns out, it has become another movie.
Do you see this as more of a timeless tale?
Andrew Niccol: I mean, when are you ever going to advise people to not live in the moment? It should be timeless.
Since you're shooting in Los Angeles, is this set in Los Angeles?
Andrew Niccol: Because we're filming in Los Angeles, I don't say it's Los Angeles, but I don't say it's not. For me, the interesting thing is this is the capitol of staying young. It seems very appropriate to be in Los Angeles.
Can you talk about casting Justin Timberlake?
Andrew Niccol: When I talked about going to Justin, people thought there might be too much celebrity baggage. When you take somebody like Justin Timberlake into the future, a lot of the baggage stays behind. It gives him permission to go into another world, so you don't think of him in a contemporary movie. I think that helps, and, of course, he's just a great talent.
The director was needed for another setup and had to go, but luckily we were ushered into another area where we got to speak with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. Here's what they had to say below.
So what drew you guys to this movie, I mean, it's obviously a really cool idea, what was it about it that made you think it would be fun to do?
Amanda Seyfried: The concept for me was like different
Justin Timberlake: I had sort of two or three meetings with Andrew before I decided to do it. It is a high concept so I think my conversations with him were more to find out how we could really bring out the characters as well. Because I thought the idea was amazing and I think Andrew's obviously pretty prolific when it comes to this type of concept and film. But he said he was looking to delve deeper and see what he could bring out of it with this experience and so that seemed like it would be fun to try to Rubik's Cube with him. I just used Rubik's Cube as a verb...
Are you feeling pressure to carry the movie?
Justin Timberlake: Am I feeling pressure to carry the movie? I don't really look at it that way. After reading the script, there are two really interesting arcs for both of our characters and I think there's a little bit of...And the movie definitely starts off with my story, but after you meet Amanda's character in the middle of the film, and through our sort of relationship and our affair [says in a breathless voice], um, she has a great arc. I feel like, obviously, it's going to hard to answer a lot of these questions while we're making the movie. I've never done this before, so forgive me if I seem the opposite of specific, what you guys are looking for. But after reading it, I feel like you start off seeing the movie through my character and you end up getting the value out of Amanda's character's arc in the second half in the film.
Amanda Seyfried: Together, as we kind of go through it together...
Justin Timberlake: Yeah, I think it kind of becomes a two-hander in a way.
Amanda, how and why do you get involved? Take us through a little bit of your arc. You're a hostage initially, right?
Amanda Seyfried: Yeah, it's a boring life just to sit around and trying not to die, basically. Which is...that society having so much time, having so much money, whatever. It's everybody has a bodyguard, everybody eats really...it's a very mundane existence, they just eat like egg whites and try to stay healthy. She just wants adventures. She's young and she's got no one around to share the same feelings with and her dad is overly controlling and basically she just wants to get out. And she sees this guy coming from - she doesn't know where he's from - he seems like trouble in a good way. And then all of a sudden she has no choice, because he takes her hostage and I think at first it's really scary, because this is not how she would have gone about getting out of her life. But at the same time, she's exhilarated by the danger and the experience and also the possibilities.
Justin Timberlake: Mostly sick of egg whites though
Amanda Seyfried: She just wants to get away from the smell...
Justin Timberlake: I think they both think, when they first meet each other in the movie, it's a great...it's sort of great for their relationship. They both see each other from other sides of the fence. Because this world that we live in in this film has completely separated society into two classes and I think Andrew always have a very interesting way of writing things that when you see them in a film, you kind of go, 'Oh that mirrors a bigger idea that I can relate to what's going on in society right now.' But I think specifically for our characters, we see each other from the other side of the fence and we both underestimate the other one's values. And you know someone who comes from nothing sees someone who has everything as probably spoiled and bratty and whatever descriptives you know to relate to the opposite for her character. Um, and I think we learn through crazy...you know through my kidnapping her and us being shoved into this high-paced you know run from the law, so to speak, we learn that we have more in common than we think and that turns into sort of like...the other person turns into a confidant in that way and the relationship kind of blossoms after that.
How difficult has it been to adjust to the sort of generational dynamic that you guys have parental figures who are played by actors who are your same age?
Justin Timberlake: The first week of filming, we got all that weirdness out of the way so to speak because Olivia Wilde, who plays my mom and is three years younger than me in real life. Um, I've got to tell you man, I officially, The Social Network and this film make me feel old because all the castmembers are younger than me. Or most of them. But, but yeah, you have to...it was a real challenge, and we spent a lot of rehearsal together sort of figuring out. I think, Olivia and I sat down in our first rehearsal and we talked about the things that our parents do with us. The things that really registered in our memory that our parents naturally do with us and will always continue to do. I mean we all know what it's like to have a mom and they never really change and you go through life and they always look at you the same way. So I think that value, really really helps but I think it was one of those things where I sat and I said my mom would do this and always do this. And it was one of those things we just really spent time together...it's really funny, it felt like one of those things you would do in class or something where, 'okay, you're the mother and you're the son and go.' And it really did feel like that, but I think it's just one of those things, you know, obviously you just commit. And I think Olivia was very conscious of - I don't want to speak for her, I'm sure you'll get a chance to speak to her about it - but I know she was very conscious of moving in a way that felt like more motherly and maternal and it's definitely when I first read it, it didn't hit me as hard as when you first see it. You know the movie is going to open up with me waking up and walking into the kitchen and any other movie where I and Olivia Wilde are the first two actors you see in the movie, you're like, 'Oh, they're obviously together' [chuckles] But I walk in to say, 'Good morning mom,' I'm sure it'll be a shock for the audience. But it's a cool...as the movie progresses when you see that everyone looks the same age, I think you start to let it go...
Amanda Seyfried: But then they don't act the same age, which is crazy. I'm a little envious of the people that get to play these older characters, like Vincent because, I mean, in my career I like to look for characters that are so unlike me and then that's the challenge, trying to relate to someone like that. So he's trying relate to someone that's like 80 years old. I think his character is like 80 years. And it's just so weird, so you have to study that and like the nuances of someone that's lived like sixty years longer than you.
Justin Timberlake: I actually think Matthew Bomer had the most challenging role in the movie. He plays 115 or 116 or something like that. I don't know what you'd research to try to figure that out. I think it's just one of the things, you sort of ask yourself at some point, what would you hope, what values and characteristics would you hope to have if you got to live that long? And I think you'd hope for a certain type of grace and a certain type of patience and all of the things that none of us obviously possess.
You talked about being older than some of your castmates on The Social Network and on this film, and with having you both been entertainers from a very young age, does it help you relate to the role in the sense that a lot of young actors don't continue on with the success that you both have had. Do you feel almost like there's a little watch counting down on your wrist sometimes?
Justin Timberlake: Well, I feel that way in general.
Amanda Seyfried: You old man you.
Justin Timberlake: Yeah, I make a joke that years in this business are like dog years. It really is an amazing job. You get to learn so much, you step in someone else's shoes and you're going to play a doctor in this movie. You learn things about being a doctor, obviously you're not skilled enough to perform surgery on someone, but it's your job to sort of know how to do it. God, that sounds terrifying. But I don't know. I guess, every once in a while you look around like am I doing everything that I wanted to be doing and for me, I absolutely am.
Can you talk about the level of action in this film. I know you got hurt on the set a few weeks ago. Is it a much more physical movie than you're used to?
Justin Timberlake: Yes.
Amanda Seyfried: It's the most physical movie in the world. It's kind of true.
Justin Timberlake: We were trying the other day to figure out if there was a movie where there was more running other than like Run Lola Run. Forrest Gump maybe. But yeah, I dig it. I think it's a huge part of the movie. Where my character comes from, we don't have time to walk at a normal pace, we have to move quickly. When you first see my character, we shot the scene right before. We shot the opening sequence right before Christmas break and it was so surreal to sort of - it all really came together for me because I started in this little door and then as soon as I stepped out there were all these extras walking at a pace that looked so uncomfortable. And it's jarring when you first see it in rehearsal, but when you think about. When I think about the first time I read the script, and what I sort of imagined that - it was exactly how I imagined and you see everybody walking at a pace that would make New Yorkers look like they were walking with...
Amanda Seyfried: Caterpillars
Justin Timberlake: Yeah, look like caterpillars. I don't feel like this is an action movie more than it is a thriller, because I feel like the running is a huge character of the movie, because it relates to the time that you don't have to live. Um, but injuries are just reminders that, again, that you're not as young as you used to be.
Amanda Seyfried: We're really sore right now. It sucks. My neck hurts and my hamstrings are killing me.
Justin Timberlake: This is physically the hardest job I've ever done, including world tours.
What do you look for in a role when you're picking a role. Both of have done very diverse things, so what do you look for? What draws you to a role?
Amanda Seyfried: Diversity.
Justin Timberlake: Yeah, I mean you want to try...I think, you sort of see things in yourself in the character and see things that maybe you feel like you don't possess or could be better at as a person sometimes, but I think diversity probably does have a lot to do with it. I'd say the number one thing is do you feel safe in the hands of the director and is the material interesting in a way that moves you. And for me, that's the basic...and that's basic rule of thumb, but I don't find that it's just for my character. You know, I...of all the movies that you mentioned, I loved the characters. I loved all the characters and they all had such great values to me that I find myself looking at all of them and saying, what's specific and special about that person and, um, you know...a big part of it was Amanda's character and the values that she, her character gets to have in the second half of the film, because I think it comes out of...it comes from a different angle, so I found myself really relating to her character as well in a way.
Amanda Seyfried: But the way all the characters relate to each other too has to make sense. It has to be intriguing, like you know, it has to be realistic.
Justin Timberlake: For this movie specifically, I had just never seen, you know, I hadn't seen material like this. And it was done in such a way...Andrew writes and directs with such care and when you. I think really at the end of the day what pushed me to where we are right here was really Andrew. To hear his take on the movie and to hear his passion and where he comes from and what it meant to him and what was beautiful about it to him, it just felt really inspiring. And that's contagious, you know. That overwhelming inspiration, when you see it someone, you're like, oh man, I'm not going to regret this experience because it's going to be filled with care and unbelievable amount of energy.
Your relationship in the movie seems to be pretty complex from where it starts to where it gets to. How did you guys go about developing chemistry. I mean was it just in rehearsal. Did you hang out?
Amanda Seyfried: We dated...
Justin Timberlake: Yeah, yeah, yeah
Amanda Seyfried: We started dating the first day of rehearsal, bought a house together...
Justin Timberlake: I don't know. We just talked about. The...I think what helps is... the kidnapping is such a huge vessel for how you could be sort of thrust into a high energy or a high consequenced situation with someone else and I think know that when we actually do discover that we are so similar, our characters are so similar to each other, and that we couldn't come from world's further apart, I think - in sort of our talking about it- that felt like a great vessel to develop a genuine love for each other's characters.
It seems to be a pretty subversive movie in the way it points out to social inequalities. I'm wondering if it was something you were very aware of in real life and if it was a big part in you're choosing this project?
Justin Timberlake: When I first read this movie I was...I was talking to one of my friends and I said, yeah, I think I'm going to do this movie. It's interesting - everything you just said - it's an interesting subversive piece that kind of mirrors in a way our economical situation today, how things can become so split up and...
Justin Timberlake: Yeah, polarized, subjective to upper and lower class society
Amanda Seyfried: It's so black and white though.
Justin Timberlake: I don't want you to walk away thinking this movie is trying to preach that because it's not, but it hit me when I was in the middle of reading it. The other thing about this movie that is so interesting is that it just goes from moment to moment to moment. Like the actual film doesn't happen in a long period of time.
Amanda Seyfried: Yeah
Justin Timberlake: It happens in a short period of time and so there's so much of it that goes moment to moment to moment and I thought that was so appropriate because it is about how time is constantly slipping away.
After our final interview of the day, we were taken in for an up close and personal look at the shot they had been filming most of the day. After the truck is rammed into the time-lender office, we see Justin and Amanda rifling through the time capsules, stuffing them in large bags, when we slowly see a crowd form around the truck. The way legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins frames this shot is simply gorgeous, which is par for the course with Deakins. It looks like a simple shot at first, but he slowly pulls up and we see this mass of people emerge from the street. After Justin shouts, "TimeShares now offers interest-free loans with no payments," the crowd fights their way in, stuffing time capsules in their shirts, just trying to live their lives, one day at a time.
That about wraps it up from my day on the set of In Time. I was thoroughly impressed with everything I saw on the set and, like all of Andrew Niccol's previous films, this looks to be a sensational trip into an incredible, futuristic world. I can't wait to see how it all unfolds when In Time hits theaters October 28.