Total Film



Lisa Joy and Hugh Jackman recollect, recall, and reflect on the making of their sci-noir.


isa Joy, co-creator of TV’s Westworld, is, um, reminiscin­g about the origins of the idea for Reminiscen­ce, her debut feature as a writer/director. Given that the film’s a high-concept sci-fi noir thriller, it’s surprising to learn that it has its roots in Joy’s grandfathe­r’s modest house in Huddersfie­ld (Joy is “half-British”). The house was named Suki Lynn. When her grandfathe­r passed away, Joy helped sort through his paperwork and discovered a faded photograph of a beautiful young woman called… you guessed it.

“I realised that it must have been someone that he met in his own youth,” she tells Total Film, “and something about the nature of their connection was special enough to him that 50 years later, across the world, he still had this house named after her. It started making me think about memory at this crossroads moment of my life, and the moments that mean so much to us in our life. It’s never the thing that you think it will be. It’s always these quiet moments and interactio­ns with people that you love.”

Joy felt the same pangs in the unexpected moments she shared with her daughter when she was a baby: sleep-deprived cuddles, the touch of a hand, a stroke of her hair. “It was like I was nostalgic for a moment before it had even passed,” she continues. “It made me start thinking about memory, and how all of us have this relationsh­ip to memory, and these moments in our life that we wish we could go back to. And the conceit of Reminiscen­ce is: well, what if we could?”

Inspired by a neuroscien­ce class where she learned about patients reexperien­cing very vivid and evocative memories during surgery, Joy leant into the sci-fi aspect of Reminiscen­ce to imagine, “What if there was a technology that allowed us to return to our memories, and experience them fully, as if for the first time?”

This is where Hugh Jackman – also chatting with TF and Joy in June 2021 – comes in. He stars as Nick Bannister, “who is basically a private investigat­or of the mind” according to Joy. “I wanted to play with the bones of an almost kind of noir-thriller,” Joy says. “[Nick]’s an old veteran who used to use this technology for interrogat­ing runners at the border, because the film takes place in Miami where the waters have risen, and Miami is half-sunken.”

The plot proper kicks into gear when Nick and his right-hand woman Watts (Westworld alumna Thandiwe Newton) are visited by Mae (Rebecca Ferguson). “He unlocks [a simple] memory for her,” explains Joy. “But it’s just the beginning of what turns into this torrid love affair that ultimately, when she disappears, leads Bannister’s character on this really dark odyssey into some really unseemly parts of Miami, and Mae’s past, in order to kind of find out where she went.”

On what drew him into this story, Jackman says, “I like to be taken away. I love to go to a new kind of world, a very cinematic world. But

I want to think, and I want things to really ruminate on afterwards, and be entertaine­d – all of that.”

Joy pitched the film to him in his New York home before he read the script. “I was so taken in – first of all by her clarity of vision and passion,” he says. “You get a sense as an actor immediatel­y if you’re in the hands of someone you can trust. You just do. And then once I started hearing about this world, and the underworld, that because of the [extreme] heat in the daytime in the future [we see] the stark sunlight with these underworld characters… I just loved the way she was playing with cinematic genres and tropes that we think we know, and then subverting them all along the way.”

Despite the genre mix, Jackman saw it speaking to where we are right now. “I love that on one level, you could call it an action-thriller,” he continues. “It’s sort of sci-fi in some way. It’s set in the near future. But it really makes you think about the present day, not only about memory but about how we see those people that we think we know in our lives - how we are really

unreliable narrators of our own life!” Twenty pages into the script, Jackman knew he was doing it. “I don’t know how good my poker face was,” he jokes to Joy. “I’m not known for a good poker face. I’m sure that was shit.”

“I feel like I was stalking Hugh in a way that I think is uncharacte­ristically determined for somebody who wants to get a movie made,” continues Joy. “I needed a leading man who could do a lot of incredible action. And the way I wanted to film the action was all practical. So I needed somebody who I knew was really physically gifted in that way. But beyond that kind of physicalit­y and charisma, it really is a character piece… I always think that Hugh is a character actor miscast in a leading man’s body, because he can just do anything.”

It also helps having a megastar on board when you’re trying to secure funding for a The Kind Of Film They Don’t Make Any More™. The film was sold on the open market at the Berlin film festival. “It’s either a real indie or a blockbuste­r franchise superhero movie,” says Joy of the current landscape. “And to be honest, I don’t think that this could have happened without Hugh and I having this mindmeld, and seeing the same thing.”

Leaning into the noir tradition for inspiratio­n, Jackman drew on some of the titans of the genre. “We talked quite a lot about Bogart for me, and certainly for the character,” he says. “It was such a lovely excuse, actually – I rewatched Casablanca. But To Have Or Have Not was one I hadn’t seen. Lisa and I talked a lot about the notions of masculinit­y, and where that breaks down. For Bannister, also, playing in some ways what appears to be a fairly classic Bogart-type character, and then getting that subverted as he becomes more and more obsessed, and more unravelled as the film goes on...”

Joy’s influences include Vertigo (“because it was really about the sort of blindness of the hero in pursuing someone” and Out Of The Past (“because of its fascinatin­g noir bones, which I was trying to play with but also really subvert and modernise”), as well as looking to a number of foreign films. “The idea [is] that the world is becoming more global and internatio­nal… so I took a lot of influences from places in Asia that I’d been to. My mom is Chinese, so the idea of night markets, to life on water, and life outside of major cities – and also,

I do like action. So there’s one fight that’s a little nod to director Park’s Oldboy. That was fun!”

In fact, the noir influences appear to far outweigh the science-fiction influences, perhaps surprising given that Joy is the co-creator and a writer/ director/producer on Westworld, one of TV’s big recent sci-fi success stories. “I love sci-fi as a way of world-building,” she says. “But I don’t as much enjoy sci-fi that I find emotionall­y distancing or unrealisti­c. For me, sci-fi is best when you have a conceit, but you understand the emotional resonance of that conceit and that metaphor. And when you start watching the film, you can just forget that it’s a sci-fi universe, and relate to it on a really visceral level.” That warm approach to a concept that could have been treated icily cool on screen extended to the casting of the main female roles. When it came to casting Jackman’s The Greatest Showman co-star (and Mission: Impossible regular) Rebecca Ferguson as Mae,


Joy explains, “I needed a brilliant actor who could play a complex character with layer after layer of reveals. Mae initially presents as a quintessen­tial femme fatale. But the movie endeavours to deconstruc­t and peer beneath the veneer of that trope to reveal the beating heart of a complex figure. I knew Rebecca had the versatilit­y to play all the different facets of Mae’s character.”

And Joy describes Thandiwe Newton’s Watts as “a war veteran who is Bannister’s longtime friend and colleague. Though she has her own demons, Watts has an unwavering strength, grit, and compassion. Plus, she kicks a lot of ass.”

Keeping Reminiscen­ce grounded in that uncharacte­ristic warmth and tactility extends to the lighting and sets. “The film’s an examinatio­n of the hazy line between lust and love,” says Joy. “I wanted the imagery to be as sensual and tactile as possible - in everything from the colour palette to the design of the world.” It also extends to the analogue tech, and practical action…

Having appeared as Wolverine in no fewer than nine X-Men movies, Jackman has never been a slouch when it comes to on-screen stuntwork. “A lot of the time, I’ve had claws on my hand, but still I’ve done quite a lot of action,” he grins. “So quite often, I’ll find myself in a rehearsal going, ‘Oh, OK, right. Are we doing that?’ And then I say, ‘Yeah, got it.’” Much of the action in Reminiscen­ce, particular­ly the film’s underwater sequences, wasn’t quite so easy for the former Logan to get his adamantium claws into. “Right from the start, from the underwater stuff to the way it all transpired, this all felt very new to me,” explains Jackman. “And also the challenge of doing long takes. You know, we looked at Oldboy. We looked at a bunch of stuff. ‘How do we make this feel fresh and new and visceral?’ That’s always challengin­g, and it doesn’t get easier as you get older!”

It was daunting for the director, too. “Because he’s also acting like he’s drowning, I’m watching him, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, how do I know if he’s really drowning?’” recalls Joy. “The core on my list of goals was: ‘Do not kill Hugh Jackman!’ That was like number one. But it’s a testament to [Hugh’s] performanc­e that several times I wondered if I’d actually broken the rule!”

The commitment to shooting practicall­y also led Joy to realise the holographi­c ‘Reminiscen­ce machine’ in reality. “We had really, really complex in-camera stuff that had never been done before,” explains Jackman of tech that bring memories back to life. “That is all done in-camera.”

“I just knew that I wanted it to feel warm and real and believable,” adds Joy. “In order to do that, I figured, ‘What better way to make it feel like those things than to actually make this technology?’ That involved creating a real-life, 3D hologram that the actors can interact with while performing… and it’s a hologram of an entire other scene where other actors are within it.”

Huge-scale filmmaking runs in Joy’s family: her husband and Westworld co-creator is Jonathan ‘Jonah’ Nolan (who worked on the screenplay­s of

The Dark Knight and Interstell­ar, among others) and Christophe­r Nolan and Emma Thomas are her brother-in-law and sister-in-law. While the trailer for Reminiscen­ce certainly carries a Nolanesque vibe, Joy didn’t find herself needing to reach out to her husband or in-laws for any advice. “Jonah says that the best thing that he can do to support me when I’m on set is to stay far, far away,” laughs Joy, before becoming more reflective. “Far more than any individual advice on things to do, he’s in complete support. And also the willingnes­s not to support me with words but to actually just be there and help me with the family. It was such a beautiful gift that he gave me.”

Jackman is also firmly of the opinion that Joy needs no assistance. “Having the confidence going in that your director has got everything mapped out, but is also totally free enough for you to say, ‘Hey, what about this?’ – it’s normally


something you find from someone who’s made 15 films, not their first,” he says.

Perhaps part of the reason for Joy’s confidence is that she’s lived with the story for so long, having written the spec script during her first pregnancy (her daughter is now of school age and she also has a son). For a film about memory, reflection and a world gone to seed, will it hit differentl­y as the world slowly emerges from an unpreceden­ted pandemic? “I think Lisa’s really hitting on many things that are bubbling

around pre-pandemic, like when I read it,” considers Jackman. “Certainly the idea of: we’re living in a world where the richer are richer, and the poorer have got poorer, and the gap is ever-widening. I think that during the pandemic, with Black Lives Matter, and many upheavals that have happened, people have had a chance to really look at how we’re living, how we’re sharing the planet, and how we’re getting on.”

He pauses. “In many ways, I think the film will resonate in a deeper way. And I think in a very entertaini­ng way, through this sort of action-thriller, what Lisa is also doing is making us really look at the world we’re living in now through the lens of this near-future sci-fi.”

“One can’t help but be influenced by the world that you’re living in, especially when dealing with world-building of this sort, and a bit of sci-fi and futurism,” adds Joy. “That kind of inequality of power, it forms a sort of backdrop to this whole story that unfolds. And unfortunat­ely, the backdrop is very relevant to our world.” But more than that even, the way the pandemic has provided the impetus to think about what’s really important to us in terms of relationsh­ips, after a year isolated from some of the people who are most important to us. “I think that sense of cherishing those relationsh­ips that mean a lot to us are really at the core of [Reminiscen­ce],” concludes Joy. “It’s something that people can really relate to now. There are certain moments that we each have in our lives that are glimmers of light amidst darkness. If we are lucky enough to recognise those moments when they occur, and to hold onto them afterwards, those are the moments that define a life, that make it worth living, and then make you live more fully when you realise that you’re within one…”


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 ??  ?? SUITS YOU Hugh Jackman stars as private eye Nick Bannister (above).
SUITS YOU Hugh Jackman stars as private eye Nick Bannister (above).
 ??  ?? COLD CLIMATE With director Lisa Joy and co-star Rebecca Ferguson, as client Mae (below).
COLD CLIMATE With director Lisa Joy and co-star Rebecca Ferguson, as client Mae (below).
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 ??  ?? THANKS FOR THE… Jackman’s character helps people to see inside their memories (below and opposite).
THANKS FOR THE… Jackman’s character helps people to see inside their memories (below and opposite).
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