Blade runner 2049
SHROUDED IN SECRECY, BLADE RUNNER 2049 REVISITS RIDLEY SCOTT’S VISION, 35 YEARS ON. TOTAL FILM TALKS ROBOTS, REVELATIONS AND ROOMBAS WITH THE STARS AND FILMMAKERS OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED SCI-FI OF THE YEAR – AND FINDS A DEVOTED TEAM WHO ARE TERRIFIED OF G
It’s (Philip K.) Dick, but not as we know it. Gosling, Ford and Villeneuve talk reviving the replicants.
Talking to Ryan Gosling about his latest project is like quizzing a replicant. Though he’s very much flesh and blood (as evidenced by the number of upscale Barcelona hotel staff loitering, suddenly cleaning non-existent dust in our interview room) and unfailingly polite and congenial, his discussion of the film is limited to pre-approved, perfunctory ‘talking points’ and deflections as instructed by his company paymasters.
The inscrutable Gosling knows this is faintly ridiculous – an amused smirk playing across his face as he dodges queries about his character, the plot, other characters… and that question. “What I can say is,” he sidesteps, hunkering further into his denim jean jacket with popped collar, “I’ve never done science fiction before, and I’ve always wanted to. I’m glad I waited.” He chuckles and shrugs apologetically. “You can do a lot of disservice to the movie and to the work people did when you’re doing interviews by just trying to create soundbites about the narrative. I don’t think I’m allowed to say if I had a good time making the film…”
He’s joking of course (more about the good times later), but that lockdown on specifics is a project-wide necessity in a tentpole arena where the arrival of a sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 sci-fi starring Harrison Ford provokes as much audience expectation and debate as another of Ford’s recently re-visited iconic franchises. Like The Force Awakens, Blade Runner 2049 walks a tightrope task of honouring the source material while also moving the story on by decades. That’s especially tricky given the original tale – in which 2019 cop Rick Deckard tracks and ‘retires’ rogue replicants (bio-engineered humanoids) through a rain-soaked neo-noir LA – became a cult classic, ended up with seven different cuts, and birthed one of cinema’s most enduring teases: is the hunter unwittingly the hunted? Is Deckard himself a replicant? A question that Ford and Scott famously disagreed on and, according to 2049 director Denis Villeneuve, still do.
To make a sequel, then, is no mean feat – and for years, seemed impossible. Scott admits to viewing his film as an unfinished painting; Ford dismissed it in 1999, saying, “I didn’t like the movie one way or the other – I was a detective who did not have any detecting to do;” and the rights were bound to the producers.
But as the years increased from initial release and new generations embraced it, Blade Runner’s brand equity only grew, making a return to Deckard’s world increasingly inevitable. Enter Alcon Entertainment, run by Andrew A. Kosove and Broderick Johnson, bolstered by success with The Blind Side and hooked up to Warner Bros for distribution (though this film will be shepherded by Sony outside North America). In 2011, they bought sequel and prequel rights – but not remake rights, which are still sacrosanct – from exec producer Bud Yorkin, who retained producer credits on the sequel along with Scott. With original screenwriter Hampton Fancher onboard and Scott intending to direct again, the team knew there was one ingredient that was non-negotiable in furthering the tale of Deckard: Ford. A man not known for beating around the bush. A man who, when asked what fond memories he has of making the original, replies, “None whatsoever, no, no, no.”
He pauses. “That’s not fair. Ask me again.” What are some of your fondest memories from making Blade Runner? “Going home in the morning as the sun rose. Fifty nights of rain on the backlot of Warner Bros. It was a tough shoot. The hours were long, the lighting was complicated and difficult, there was a lot of waiting.” Oh.
Getting Ford to return would seem like a hard sell then. But he says he had no apprehensions having seen the Fancher/Michael Green-written script. Why? “I think it’s kind of fun to play a character 30 years later, so I didn’t see a real problem with it at all. Before that I had revisited Han Solo… in a way, I’m used to trying on old clothes, happily they still fit, so it wasn’t a struggle – it was fun.” He also saw in K, a blade runner working in 2049 LA and searching for Deckard to unlock
‘the movie is walking alone like an animal. we know the story works, everything is there’ denis villeneuve
a mystery, a role for Ryan Gosling (who Fancher had in mind while writing). “I was really very enthusiastic about proposing to the producers, and to the then-presumed director, that the part be played by Ryan Gosling,” Ford recalls. “And they said, ‘Oh yeah, we know, that’s what we were thinking too.’”
Though Gosling was already in the conversation, that presumed director soon changed from being Scott, as he was fully loaded revisiting another of his iconic franchises with Alien: Covenant, and moved to a helmer who’d shown an affinity for cerebral sci-fi with Arrival. A self-confessed film nerd from a small Canadian town who had been transported by Blade Runner on VHS as a 14-year-old, Denis Villeneuve couldn’t believe he was being invited to revisit it. And with Ford. “I had to be approved by him,” he remembers when TF catches up with him in Barcelona in June.
The film is now ‘very close to picture lock’ and Villeneuve exudes relief (as well as exhaustion). “The movie is alive and walking alone like an animal,” he enthuses between sips of espresso. “We know the story works. We know the movie is strong. We know everything is there.” He makes it sound as though it were easy, but when we talk about those early days of taking on the project, it’s clear Villeneuve had mountains to move.
Not least, battling the ‘don’t-fuck-it-up’ pressure of expectation, as well as negotiating a path to a legacy film that had his own stamp on it. “The movie is very, very my movie,” Villeneuve insists. “When I decided to agree, I agreed on certain conditions. That we’d change things in the screenplay. Not the ideas, not the characters, but I made it more simple, more direct and closer to the script of the first movie. That was a way to make it my own.”
The other condition of acceptance was the blessing of BR godfather Ridley Scott. “He was very graceful and kind to me. He looked at the designs we were doing, he gave some advice. I followed it, but sometimes I stayed truthful to what I believed was right to do, because I don’t have the same sensibility. And at the same time I needed distance. He came on set one day, and he was behind me. I was directing. I said, ‘Ridley, who’s your favourite director?’ ‘I was a big fan of Kubrick and Bergman. I love Bergman.’ ‘How would you feel if you were directing and Bergman was behind you?’ And then he started to laugh and left.”
Villeneuve courted Gosling (also 14 when he first saw the film – US Theatrical Cut), legendary DoP Roger Deakins (“The negotiation lasted 10 seconds”) and production designer doyen Dennis Gassner [see ‘Neon Demon’, p65] as well as David Bowie, who he wanted to play new owner of the Tyrell Corporation, Neander Wallace. “I needed a rock star to portray that character. When we approached him, we heard the sad news [that Bowie was terminally ill], so I had to find somebody else who’d have some qualities I was looking for.” The gig went to part-time rock star, Oscar winner and fabled Method man, Jared Leto. “He’s someone who has a level of dedication. It was a journey to work with him – a positive one.” No confirmation if he stayed in character for the entire length of the shoot, mind.
The key to the cast, though (alongside Ford), was Gosling – hot off filming La La Land and bringing with him a certain cinematic cachet. “Listen, I know Ryan has a strong sex appeal, which is always a good thing for box office,” Villeneuve laughs, while Ford jokes, “I’m hoping desperately that Ryan will continue to attract an audience for us, that he’ll stay out of jail, out of trouble, and that we can take advantage of his enormous current success.” “But seriously,” Villeneuve stresses, “I chose him because he was
perfect for the part. If you put someone in front of Harrison Ford, you need a strong star. Harrison on the screen, he’s not small. He’s huge – the star power. So you need someone who can take that and bounce it back.” That strength for Villeneuve also became a necessity off-screen too. The two men bonded immediately in a shared vision for the movie and arrived early in Budapest before filming to prep and ensure the screenplay was ‘bulletproof’.
“We really spent days before the shoot together, drinking coffee, exploring each scene, trying to improve it, and making sure that it’d be pure, simple, powerful,” says Villeneuve, referring to Gosling as his ‘muse’. “I shot 105 days, and Ryan was there 103 of them. Every day he was giving me a lot of energy and was very passionate. He became a close friend and brought a lot of strong ideas – some of them are my favourites in the whole movie.”
The bromance is two-way, with Gosling similarly effusive. “It’s a special filmmaker that’s confident enough that they can sort of dog-ear what they have prepared, and also be open to exploring what else is possible. Denis is very focused on having everything feel as grounded and truthful as possible. It’s exciting when you have a filmmaker working in a heightened universe and genre but grounding it that way because part of what made the original so special is that it felt possible, somehow. Real.”
Veracity in sci-fi sounds something of a contradiction, but while Villeneuve took advice from Fancher in his approach (“Hampton said, ‘Stop trying to be logical. We did the first movie like a dream. Go into a dream world’”), he wanted to eschew greenscreen and build physical sets and effects. Taking over seven soundstages in Origo Studios, he had Gassner construct huge-scale exteriors and interiors complete with fully realised internal lives. Gosling personally decorated his character’s apartment, filling shelves with selected books, kitchen cabinets with crockery – much of which will never be seen on-screen. The spinners passing the windows were in-camera effects, futuristic gadgets and gizmos were functional, and the cast were not allowed onto the sets until they were complete to give them a greater sense of location.
“Physical environments are enormously helpful,” says Ford. “People behave in a more realistic way, in a real environment when it is actually affecting the sound of their footsteps and they can feel it and it’s real.” So real that Villeneuve admits the studio seeing dailies thought they were finished cuts. “Every day, the hardest part of my job was to not be impressed by the work that had been done and that everyone around me was doing,” admits Gosling. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t think I will again. It was really kind of breathtaking.”
Also part of Villeneuve’s ‘grounding’ was to ensure that Blade Runner 2049 continued from the aesthetic and world of Scott’s 2019 (“Our movie is not an extension of today, it’s an extension of the first movie… there’s a poetic distance from reality”), but that women became more than mere ornaments. K has a strong partner in Joi (Ana de Armas) and a badass adversary in Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) [see opposite]. Joi, de Armas says, “is a complex character with a beautiful arc” and a “big surprise” (“I’d tell you who Joi was, but… oh my God, there’s so much more I could say,’’ she squirms when pressed). Luv, meanwhile, may be a replicant and gives as good as she gets in a bruising fight with K. “Trust me, she was smacking me right back. Sylvia’s a worthy adversary,” laughs Gosling. “But we were conscious of [women not being objectified]. It’s part of what’s exciting about this incarnation.”
to be or not to be?
A part, yes, but what about the rest? What’s happening 30 years on from 2019? Is Deckard a replicant? Is K? “You have answers in this new material; it’s mind-blowing to think we’re actually
‘i’ve never seen anything like it, and i don’t think i will again. it was kind of breathtaking’ ryan gosling
going to tell more,” says de Armas
– but, of course, she cannot say what.
She, Gosling and Villeneuve talk of an ecological crisis, snow in California, only the sick and poor still living in LA – surviving rather than living – and the widening of the geographical scope to take in southern California [see ‘Lost In Time’, p61]. And there’s the mystery that K must unravel via Deckard, who is protecting secrets that could impact the whole of mankind. “It’s a very brave storyline,” Ford offers of the jealously protected narrative between K and Deckard. “It’s very interesting what transpires between them. And for me, what I value most is that there’s an emotional context there, especially in the world of futurism and hardware and conjecture. At the first meeting between K and Deckard, Deckard bizarrely quotes a bit of language from a book, which K’s character incorrectly identifies. But close enough for Deckard to say, ‘Oh, he reads. That’s good. Me too.’ It is presumed to be a rare habit in the time frame that we’re in.” So… does that mean they’re both replicants? Both human?
Ford is legendarily exasperated by the question that’s been asked for decades. “I wrestled with several story points famously,” he says now. “And I’ve come to the conclusion that not answering the question about Deckard’s origin or manufacture or previous history is perhaps more interesting. Although I think Ridley firmly came down on the side of Deckard being a replicant, I thought that was less interesting for my character. I thought that the audience needed to have that human character to depend on for an emotional connection.” Scott, for his part, promised IGN in June that ‘‘it will be revealed, one way or another”, but Villeneuve maintains 2049 upholds the ambiguity. “If Ridley was sitting here, he’d say, “Yeah, he’s a replicant,” laughs Villeneuve, “I’d say, ‘No, we’re not sure.’ The way the movie is designed it can be attached to any one of them. I think it’s quite beautiful, that doubt.”
Subterfuge and misdirection? Either way, in a world of spoilers and leaks, the team are keen to maintain the levels of secrecy seen on Bond and Star Wars, with scripts locked in safes
(only Villeneuve and Ford had a full printed screenplay according to the director), the location of filming kept even from family and the strange reality of doing interviews in which most questions cannot be answered. It doesn’t faze Ford. “I like people to see a film without too much information. Without a particular ambition for what they’re going to see. I want people to be able to experience a film. And feel their way through it. I think that’s emotionally the best.”
How about we just discuss whether anyone would like any of the gadgets from the film then? “I know you’re going to ask me about flying cars or something and I don’t really have an answer for that,” apologises Ford. “Look, it made me look at my
‘i was very enthusiastic about proposing the part be played by ryan’ harrison ford
electronics differently,” admits Gosling. “I wanted to get my Roomba [robot vacuum cleaner] another Roomba to keep it company. They’re amazing, it’s a thankless job and mine needs a friend.”
Memories then (like tears in the rain)… what have they seen that people wouldn’t believe? “I had some moments that I will remember all my life,” Villeneuve nods. “Being in a trailer with Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling for three hours, working and asking them to improvise in front of me, to try to find the dialogue. It was a fantastic experience.” Gosling similarly recalls a Ford moment when he first arrived on set, giving his inner teen fan a thrill: “The light was so low that everyone was just silhouettes and there was a mist everywhere. We heard Harrison was on set. So we were just searching the silhouettes to see that silhouette that you know is Harrison. We were watching for him all day. And suddenly, he appeared out of the mist…”
It’s this “feathering”, as Gosling calls it, of past and present, original movie and new project, Easter eggs (of which we’re assured there are many) and innovation that the filmmakers are hoping will emulate what The Force Awakens did so well: deliver a love letter to the source material without being pastiche. And, in a business currently modelled on wider franchise potential, further Blade Runner films are likely to follow. “I think they are having some ideas, yeah,” Villeneuve nods. “Me, I was approached to do one movie that will be linked with the first one. We didn’t fall into the trap of trying to be those movies that are just a middle movie. If it stops there, the story’s complete.” And with Scott’s portfolio, there’s also a possibility that if BR does great box office, there could be a shared Alien and Blade Runner universe in the future. “That, I will leave to Ridley, probably he’ll link them one day,” admits Villeneuve. “I see that, and I understand it’s possible, but I would not dare try to make links in his bubble.”
Villeneuve has another iconic sci-fi to revitalise anyway; he’s working on a reboot of Dune. But in the meantime he can only wait to see what the world makes of his ‘animal’. “I’m looking forward to you seeing the movie – which you’ll either hate or love,” he says, draining his coffee, “but at least we’ll have a conversation…”
BLADE RUNNER 2049 OPENS 6 OCTOBER.
Walk and talk (above) K with Wallace Corporation’s Luv, played by Sylvia Hoeks; (right) Harrison Ford reprises the role of Deckard.
identity crisis It remains to be seen if we’ll learn the truth about Deckard (below); Villeneuve (above) studies the closely guarded script.
neW Worlds (above) K gets out and about in future LA, and explores beyond the city limits.
spin city Concept art depicting the 2049 world and (left, second and fourth images) trailer grabs showing how it’s been turned into cinematic reality.