Gray’s mat­ters

Montreal Gazette - - MOVIES - BOB THOMP­SON

Film­maker James Gray spe­cial­izes in crime dra­mas, so he was sur­prised when Brad Pitt’s Plan B pro­duc­tion com­pany of­fered him The Lost City of Z job.

Gray ac­cepted the test and even­tu­ally wrote and di­rected the movie based on David Grann’s non-fic­tion book. It pro­files Bri­tish ex­plorer Percy Fawcett (played by Char­lie Hun­nam in the film) who even­tu­ally dis­ap­peared in the Ama­zon jun­gle while search­ing for El Do­rado.

Gray of­fers some thoughts.

De­spite the ad­ven­ture tone of the pro­duc­tion, Gray add a few meta­phys­i­cal lay­ers to the movie:

“There was a no­bil­ity to Fawcett’s ex­plo­rations, but he also had this need to es­cape the in­dig­ni­ties of this Euro­pean class sys­tem his fam­ily suf­fered from,” says the writer-di­rec­tor. “I wanted to in­clude those philo­soph­i­cal points of view.”

Fawcett’s the real ba­sis for a reel char­ac­ter we know well:

“In­di­ana Jones is ap­par­ently based a lit­tle bit on him,” Gray says. “The fe­dora, the jacket and the whip were taken from Fawcett, so I didn’t in­clude them be­cause peo­ple would have as­sumed I was steal­ing.”

His cast choices were an at­tempt to be dif­fer­ent:

“I did want to avoid cast­ing the typ­i­cal English pe­ri­od­piece, tea-and-crum­pet ac­tors.”

Film­ing in the jun­gles of Colom­bia turned out to be more dif­fi­cult than the di­rec­tor imag­ined:

“It was insanity,” Gray says of the shoot. “In the jun­gle, there was a slowly ac­cu­mu­lat­ing sense of mad­ness and catas­tro­phe.”

The cast and crew sol­diered through de­spite the jun­gle’s 40 C tem­per­a­tures and 100 per cent hu­mid­ity “which would cause my glasses to steam up:

“Ev­ery­body was ab­so­lutely spec­tac­u­lar, and it re­ally helped the film.”

His next gig is an­other Plan B project and an­other de­par­ture for the writer-di­rec­tor:

“It takes place en­tirely in space,” Gray says of the sci-fi story in its early devel­op­ment stage. “I’m very ner­vous. It’s a genre that eats di­rec­tors.”

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