The Knockturnal was on the red carpet for the New York Film Festival premiere of “Wasp Network.”
Notables in attendance included: Olivier Assayas (Director), Penelope Cruz (Actor), Édgar Ramírez (Actor), Wagner Moura (Actor) and Rodrigo Teixeira (Producer). The film tells the true story of René González, a Cuban pilot, who steals a plane and flees Cuba, leaving behind his beloved wife Olga (Penelope Cruz) and daughter in Havana during the early 90’s. He starts a new life in Miami. Other Cuban defectors soon follow and start a spy network. Their mission is to infiltrate violent anti-Castroist organizations responsible for terror attacks on the island. Olivier Assayas adapted the screenplay from Fernando Morais’s book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War. The film also stars Gael García Bernal, Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, and Leonardo Sbaraglia.
The Knockturnal: What attracted you to the book?
Olivier Assayas: The Brazilian producer of the film, Rodrigo Teixeira, who had the rights to the book, and he sent it to me through my French producer. And I read it, and it’s a journalist’s book. It’s a bit of a partisan book, also. So, I kind of used what, to me, felt like documentary, and I used it as raw material for a screenplay, but really what interested me was the human side of the story, more like individuals can be crushed by the wheel of history.
The Knockturnal: What were some of the production challenges?
Olivier Assayas: Shooting in a country where you have nothing, where everything is difficult. Even to send money to Cuba, it’s difficult. So, you know, it was difficult for the set design, it was difficult for the costumes, it was difficult in terms of anything that has to do with the technique of filmmaking, because you have to bring everything, and they don’t have the experience of working on that kind of format of movies.
The Knockturnal: Obviously, visually, it’s beautiful there, but why was it important to actually shoot in Cuba?
Olivier Assayas: Because it was impossible to make that movie anywhere else. At some point, the Cubans turned us down. They didn’t want us to shoot there. So, we started trying to figure out where in Central America or in Latin America, in South America, we could shoot, and there’s no place like Cuba, meaning, you have this incredibly beautiful colonial architecture crumbling, falling apart, and it’s both very sad, because you have to experience the misery in which the Cuban population is living, but, at the same time, of course, it’s visually very powerful.
The Knockturnal: What attracted you to the project?
Wagner Moura: This film is a very special film, because, first of all, it’s a film about Cuba, in a very specific moment in the Cuban history. I was always very interested in the Cuban history, though Cuba is a place where everybody has very superficial opinions. So, the fact that we were living there and experiencing living in Cuba was, for me, a very strong life experience. And, also, there’s another thing in this film that is very attractive for me, which is the fact that I had the chance to work with Édgar from Venezuela, with Gael from Mexico, Penélope from Spain, Leonardo Sbaraglia from Argentina, Ana de Armas from Cuba. It’s really rare to see so many Latinos in one film.
Édgar Ramírez: It’s the story of a spy, and I think that literature and cinema have been both obsessed and fascinated by the archetype of the spy because it is the ultimate exercise of split personality, and that, to any actor, is a dream.
The Knockturnal: Speak about what you admire about Olivier as a director.
Édgar Ramírez: Well, he’s very free. He gives his actors a lot of freedom. At the same time, he’s very precise in what he wants. So, it is a very complex and interesting combination, because he knows exactly what he wants, he knows what he’s looking for, and, however, he opens up the room for his actors to improvise, to be free to explore, and that is not very common.
The Knockturnal: Olga has had such a complicated emotional journey. Can you speak about playing that?
Penélope Cruz: Well, I do like complicated characters. The more complex they are and the more different they are from each other or from yourself, the more possibilities you’ll have to create something interesting. So, I’m not scared of that. We always look for that.