Eccentric genre-bender Nacho Vigalondo has just come out with Colossal, a kaiju-indie dramedy hybrid that pits Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married-mode against giant lizards, angry robots, and toxic masculinity.
The Spaniard previously made waves with his Oscar- nominated short 7:35 in the Morning (2003) and alien invasion-romcom Extraterrestrial (2011). In his second English-language feature, Vigalondo capitalizes on his largest budget yet to share his playfully insightful voice with a mainstream audience. During our interview, he was warm and welcoming. His rowdy hair, rapid speech, and zany energy belie a deeply analytical mindset. You can find the interview below.
So, something that everyone comments on when they see the film is how you get to be light-hearted at times, but at the same time give people a sense of catastrophe, both personal and political. How did you navigate that when you were working with the actors on set?
Nacho Vigalondo: When you are writing the script, first, you have the idea. This happens to me in every film. You have the idea, it’s like this small exercise. You come up with the idea and you know what the movie’s about and it’s like, “Okay! This is amazing, I’m a genius!” Later you write the script and things turn out to be a little more difficult. But at least— you don’t have the same sense of self-confidence of course—but at least you have everything close to each other, all the elements are two pages away or one page away. So when you write the script, you have everything in the same place, and you are able to balance tone and everything. So, if you’re lucky everything seems to make sense, okay? And you will leave it there. Later when you’re making the movie you’re horrified, because all the elements are spread [out]. [For example] Today, I am shooting a sequence where Jason Sudeikis is completely scary, two months later, I’m shooting people running away horrified by this monster, and three months before we were shooting this really funny dialogue in which Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis are making you laugh. You are terrified during the process because, you are living it in a really intense way as one whole sequence. And you’re like, “OK, how does this relate to the other stuff that I shot yesterday. How are all these pieces going to make sense together?” And the only answer you have is to request a leap of faith: “OK, this will make sense because it made sense once [during the writing process].” So later if you are lucky, when you are in the editing room, you will be able to bring back the same feeling you had when you were making the script. In the meantime, you need a lot of self-confidence, a lot of faith in what you did, because, you are crossing this canyon, this dense, dangerous forest.
Anne Hathaway works Gloria’s transformation as a character seamlessly as her arc progresses over the film. Is that something you discussed with her explicitly? Or was that something that just came organically through table reads and rehearsals?
Vigalondo: With both Jason and Anne, we talk a lot. Not necessarily about the character, but a lot about which kind of situation from her life and spirit relate to her character. There was a point in which Anne and me were sharing drunk anecdotes about, “OK, now we are adults, we seem to control stuff, but there was a point in our lives where we drank too much in these specific circumstances, and that was an inappropriate moment for us to behave that way.” I remember talking to her about the movie being for her like the hangover of a party we [the audience] never attended. Like OK, she had a lot of fun, but at some point in her life, that is not the case anymore. She’s living through this long hangover, which other people would call depression. So that’s what we were attempting: how can we make this character rise from this dark state of mind? How can it rise in a way that it works both times, from the drama side of the film, and at the same time from the comedy side of the film. We needed the climax to put all those things together.
As Gloria, Anne makes very particular choices with her dialect, her body, and verbal and physical tics, not necessarily just the head-scratching but other things that imply a backstory. Is that something you leave up to your actors or is that something you work specifically with them.
Vigalondo: It’s a collaboration, half-and-half, a lot of things coming from the characters are coming from them, from the actors. I don’t feel like acting is about transforming into another person, I don’t believe in that. I know there’s a tradition of people who think about acting in those terms. But I don’t believe fully in that thing. Acting is more like, how can you, as a person, how can you as a person add something to people who don’t exist. But I don’t feel that you are vanished, completely vanished, inside the character. Who are the most legendary actors of all time? Let’s say, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, let’s say, I don’t know, Spencer Tracy, Jeanne Moreau…I don’t know. We know that it’s them! They don’t dissolve into all the characters, they are just giving something from themselves to those characters in a way that is unforgettable. And that for me is the essence of directing somebody: just allowing that person to become something else by adding something to the character that came from her, or from him. And now that I know Anne Hathaway, I can see the piece of Anne Hathaway inside Gloria. The same way, when I wrote her, there’s a piece of me inside her also. Yeah, it’s interesting to see the product. I’m just implying, I’m just suggesting, that if I had a daughter with Anne Hathaway, it would be Gloria somehow [laughs]. Which is disturbing but at the same time makes sense.
Oscar as a character reverses this rom-com trope of the “nice guy” which I think people are increasingly fed up with. How did that idea to subvert that trope and criticize what it’s hiding, how did that idea come about?
Vigalondo: I mean, when I wrote the movie, it became a comment. I’m not making a comment on monster movies, I’m not showing anything but love towards monster movies. I am making a comment on romantic comedies somehow. I mean, I was born in 1977, through all my teenage time, through all my childhood, I’ve been watching these film in which the message was, “if you persist enough, you will win the girl at the end of the romantic comedy, if you interrupt the wedding, she will fall in love with you, because you are persistent.” Which is a crazy idea if you think that, it’s like, “OK, if you don’t want me, and you’re not attracted to me, but if I stalk to you enough, at the end of the road, you will find my charming side,” which is terrifying [laughs]. But we find all this familiar on screen. Yeah. So, it’s funny how romantic comedies normalize behavior that would be really creepy. So yes, I felt really blessed, like “OK, you will never be this lucky in your life,” when Jason Sudeikis wanted to play this role. Because for me it was like “OK, because there’s a subversive element to this film, the fact that Jason Sudeikis is a character is going play that on high volume.” I know some people don’t like the film, for the same reason some people like it. And that confrontation for me is the most exciting thing ever. And I thank Jason Sudeikis for being part of that mess.
I think for a lot of men it’s going to cut to the bone, when they see that character…
Vigalondo: Yeah, if that happens, I’m sorry about that because…every time that a female member of the audience comes up and says “I’m deeply affected by this story,” I’m always like “thank you, I’m sorry” [laughs].
In addition to Oscar, you have Tim, and Joel, and they come across as these different critiques of masculinity in different ways. I was wondering if you could talk about your decision to have that in the film but not necessarily have it said explicitly in the dialogue the way you would normally expect Hollywood to do when they’re tackling issues.
Vigalondo: It’s something that’s implied. When you write, it’s something that comes naturally when you’re writing. I never mentioned the word “alcohol” in the film, or “alcoholism.” It’s something that is not said because you don’t want to lecture people. You want to tell a story that can evoke certain stuff in people’s minds. So you don’t want to…I don’t make conferences. I don’t wanna make a speech, I wanna make a movie. And movies are not there to just to lecture, I think movies are there to trigger a discussion. I would never let Gloria’s character be perfect and just be like a beautiful character with no flaws, and I would never try to portray Jason Sudeikis as just the devil. They are just persons in this situation, and I needed to show the flaws in both of them, in order to make the movie something that could trigger…I don’t want to make a comment, I just want to trigger a discussion about how the movie works and what the movie tells. But I’m just describing the best case scenario. I’m fine with showing the film to enough people. I’m not trying to open people’s minds or anything like that. But if some people like the movie in an interesting way and if other people don’t like the movie in an also-interesting way, that’s fine by me. That’s something that, when you’re younger, and you read bad reviews coming from your films you get really angry and desperate and it feels like everything is going to the personal level and you think that, “that guy is the enemy!” But as you become older—and older has to be good for something—you understand that a sincerely bad review can be really interesting, in order to define what kind of movie you made.
Could you talk about any upcoming projects that you are excited about?
Vigalondo: Oh I’m excited about a bunch of things…this script, which is amazing, this other property that maybe a studio wants me to be related with…I’m writing something right now. If something goes wrong, at least I have my story that I’m developing right now, about dreams, about the chance of finding a narrative in dreams that equals to narrative in real life somehow [sic]. I don’t know, this is a small experiment that I’m doing now that can be interesting. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s interesting or not at this moment. I don’t know, honestly, I don’t know what to do now. I don’t know if my next movie is going to be a really intimate experiment on myself or transformers vs. Captain America, I don’t know [laughs].
The film hits theaters this Friday.