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.”