By Bears Fonte
Out-of-work, recently dumped, recovering alcoholic Gloria (Anne Hathaway) has nowhere to turn to steady her rapidly disintegrating life. So she goes home. Holed up in her empty childhood home (her family has left and taken all the furniture), she soon finds distraction by taking a part time waitress gig at her childhood friend’s bar. Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) is thrilled to have her back and has clearly had a crush on her for years – and Gloria clearly enjoys the attention. As she slips into comfort, she also slips back into drinking.
Sounds like another dull indie preacher right? Except that’s only half of the story. Gloria becomes fascinated with the international news shaking the the work: a giant lizard has appeared out of nowhere and stomped its way through Seoul, Korea. Only director Nacho Vigalondo (Time Crimes, Open Windows) can take a dark relationship drama and turn it into a Kaiju film (a Japanese genre that features monsters, usually attacking major cities and engaging the military and other monsters in battle, most famously in GODZILLA). Instead of belaboring the screen with countless tanks and planes trying to take down the most, COLOSSAL focuses on Gloria understanding the consequences of her actions, which are mirrored and amplified in the giant lizard across the world by virtue of supernatural connection in the park across the street from her house. Every night as she returns from work stumbling drunk, the giant lizard appears in Seoul and wreaks havoc. When Oscar begins to fight with Gloria, a giant robot shows up in Seoul to fight with the lizard.
Yes, it’s a film that is entirely in service of a metaphor, but under Vigalondo’s sensitive, funny and heart-warming direction, COLOSSAL lives up to its name. Both actors give hilarious and nuanced performances and the film handles very difficult issues in a fresh and entertaining way. And the monsters look fantastic and pay due homage to the genre.
Vigalondo’s film will be the first narrative feature released under the new distribution banner from Radius founder Tom Quinn and Alamo Drafthouse’s Tim League, Neon, announced just in time for the film’s run in Sundance’s spotlight section. I had a chance to sit down with Nacho Vigalondo at the film’s US premiere at Fantastic Fest.
BEARS: I love using a monster movie context to tell essentially an intrapersonal story. At what point did your monster movie get hijacked by addiction and recovery, or was it a story about addiction and recovery that got hijacked by a monster?
Vigalondo: One of my favorite lines from an author is from Philip K. Dick, “A short tale is about an idea, and a novel is about a character.” So, I had this small idea about using a Kaiju creature as an avatar to this guy making stupidities in the park, early in the morning, while this monster is destroying a city on the other side of the world. I had this idea, but it didn’t became a project until I found out what the movie was about through these characters. So, for years, that was just there, and I got this guy, it was a male, fighting with another male. And there was a woman in the middle, and they were jealous, and there was this kind of love triangle. And it felt funny, but it felt rusty and old. It felt funny, but not exciting. There came a point in which I was working on the post-production of OPEN WINDOWS, that was kind of a delicate time for me, because I was having a bad time trying to put all the pieces together.
BEARS: Yes, very technically complicated, that movie.
Vigalondo: And that was taking a lot of time. And I was lacking some kind of faith in myself. And I was drinking probably too much. And I felt like I was going out of control. I don’t want to portray myself as an alcoholic and things like that, because I think that’s a serious thing. But, I was kind of going out of control at some point, and then I realized that the movie was about this film, the character, trying to put things together, trying to be aware of herself, and trying to deal with some toxic people around her.
BEARS: So is there more of you in Anne Hathaway’s character or Jason Sudeikis’s character?
Vigalondo: She represents this specific moment in which I was, she represents this emotional place that I visited. He represents the kind of guy that I don’t wanna be. But I can feel his proximity. I can feel the way of thinking, I can feel all that male bullshit inside of him. Because I feel that so close to me, I wanted to make this kind of character, as a way to exorcise all this stuff. So yeah, when I put the abuse in the film, I’m not trying to portray those evil guys in the background. I’m just trying to portray something that was really close to me. Closer than I would want, closer than what I would like to be. It’s a way to fight against my demons, in a nice way, without no victims in the process.
BEARS: Well, it’s a great movie. I fucking loved it. I mean, that’s not even a question but it feels so personal and so huge at the same time, and that’s near impossible to do. I think it’s your best film yet.
Vigalondo: Thank you, thank you so much. I appreciate that, because, it’s a fortunate thing that that’s the last one that I made. I feel the same way. I have a conflicting emotions with all my films. And that emotion fluctuates. I read the really amazing enthusiastic review, and I read it, and it’s like, “Yeah, fuck, yeah.” Because the movie’s amazing. And then I read a bad review, and I’m like, “Yeah, he’s right. Ah, I screwed things again, how can you be so stupid? Vigalondo, yes, you screwed the whole thing again.” So, I’m really sensitive to all commentaries. It’s ridiculous – it’s like I don’t know what I did. But I think that with Colossal, I feel really, really, really fine.
BEARS: What was it about Anne Hathaway that made her kind of your perfect vessel for this recovery monster? To help you fight your own personal giant demons. She is always so good but I felt like went some new places for her in COLOSSAL.
Vigalondo: The way media portrays things is like I was able to bring her to this boat, like I was some kind of seducer. It’s not the real thing. She read the script through her agent and expressed her will to make the role, and so we met at some point, she saw some of my stuff. She didn’t wanted to change the script at all. The first time that we got together, we talked about drunk anecdotes. It was like a fairy tale. Anne Hathaway wanted to make this film. When you read the script, when you know about the premise, it’s pretty clear that I want to make another contained, science fiction extravaganza. But she wanted to make the film and the movie became something different. The game changed, completely.
BEARS: She’s so relatable as an actress, that it just took it to a very strong, personal level, I think.
Vigalondo: She plays the drama and the comedy like she’s, I don’t know – like she’s pushing buttons. She’s able to switch from drama to comedy in the same sequence like in a blink. It’s amazing. Sometimes when you’re making a film, and you going back to the hotel after a day of shooting, you feel like, “Okay, I fuck up things here and there, so I hope later in the editing I’m able to…” I never had one of those days at all. Everyday I had this stupid smile in the car going back to the hotel.
BEARS: So, let me ask you this. Last year you had a star turn in Josh Waller’s CAMINO, which I loved. I know you acted in many of your own shorts, but was there anything about your experience working with Josh that you were able to apply to this film?
Vigalondo: Yeah, sometimes, because of all this mythology about the masters of filmmaking, like Hitchcock and Kubrick, all those legends about these guys treating the actors so bad, in order to make an amazing film. That is a big pile of bullshit. Especially when you’re an actor, you realize that you feel more comfortable and more aware of yourself in a proper way, when the director shares information with you and is generous with you. I really know how vulnerable you can feel when you’re on a set and you feel lost, and you don’t know what the fuck you are doing. So, when I’m making a film, I think part of my mission is to make the actors feel like they’re in a safe place. You have to respect the fact that they are putting their face in your film. When you think about a big giant failure, like, for example, BATTLEFIELD EARTH, what comes to your mind is John Travolta’s face, not the director’s face. So, all the fiascos are represented by faces, and those faces tend to be the main actors. And so, you have to respect that. They are being exposed, like anybody else in the film, and you are stealing their souls in the camera. Like, those old tribes that were scared of the camera. Because the camera is stealing their soul, so you have to respect the gift they’re giving to the film.
BEARS: What do you think the legacy is of the Kaiju and Godzilla films? What do they mean? And how did that influence this film? Because obviously you’re working in the shadow of that, but you’re doing something different. But you have to acknowledge what those were.
Vigalondo: You know what I like about Kaiju films? The accidental side of it. Those are not evil creatures trying to destroy mankind. Most of the time they are just confused. They are like really gigantic animals, just probably lost and confused, and in the meantime they’re destroying the city. I love that. I love that element of, the accidental side of the whole thing. Why are they fighting? Because the same reason a cat is fighting with a dog. They are just fighting. But they are not fighting because this dog represents good and the cat represents evil. They are just fighting because they are animals and they are aggressive towards each other. That’s what happens in Kaiju films, they’re just fighting. And the fact that they destroy something that’s in the middle, like, this kind of accidental thing going on, and I love that side of the thing, because its pure surrealism.
BEARS: Right. It’s the humans that have to ground it. And yet, you never remember them. They’re boring. The last American Godzilla film completely failed in my mind because they tried to make it about the humans, and not Godzilla. No one cares about the humans. They are just there to facilitate Godzilla destroying things.
Vigalondo: The humans are like the bread of the sandwich. You need the bread to hold the sandwich, but you want the meat. So, the monsters are the meat . And the bread is just, I don’t know, something that you need to eat, like metaphorically speaking. The problem comes, when it comes to climax, and the monsters fight, the humans normally don’t take part in the fight — they’re just spectators watching from a distance. If a character has nothing to say or nothing to do in the climax of the movie, that is probably not a useful character. That is when you realize the humans are just there to make it longer.
BEARS: I have to say COLOSSAL may be the first Kaiju film where the humans decide the climax. Where they are necessary.
Vigalondo: I don’t know if you can count this as a true Kaiju film, because it’s an American film, but probably the seminal film is KING KONG. That movie solves the equation. The climax of the film is about the monster holding the human character, and you can’t put the human character away from the climax. It has to be there. So, that’s something that I wanted to explore in COLOSSAL. The fact that the climax is about how the human and the monster are tied in this way, there’s a real dramatic bond between the monster and the human.
COLOSSAL makes its theatrical release on April 7th. Quinn and League’s NEON also just acquired the U.S. distribution rights to Sundance world premiere, INGRID GOES WEST, starring Aubrey Plaza as mentally unstable woman obsessed with a social media “influencer” who moves out to Los Angeles aiming to be her new bestie.