Nacho Vigalondo was born in Spain, and showed an early affinity for genre filmmaking as his career kicked off. He made his feature debut in fine fashion with 2007’s Timecrimes (and if you haven’t seen that yet, be sure to give it a look). Other efforts include the Spanish language Extraterrestrial and the English language Open Windows, as well as a number of brilliant shorts in anthology films like The ABCs of Death and the VHS series. His latest film, Colossal, entails a giant monster attack and its mysterious connection to an alcoholic New Yorker played by Anne Hathaway. It’s currently playing in limited release and goes wider this Friday. In an exclusive interview with the Sci-Fi Movie Page, Vigalondo talked about the project and how it reflects his approach to moviemaking.
Question: How did you come up with a concept like this?
Nacho Vigalondo: It’s pretty ridiculous. I want to make movies that I like, and I love giant monster movies. I’ve loved them since I was seven. I wanted to make one, but I needed to do that on a budget. If you make a big movie, you have to tone down some of the wilder ideas because they’re not going to help you make your money back.
The first way to do that is to change the point of view. So instead of seeing it directly, you’re looking at it on the television or on the Internet. But you have to do that without it feeling distant. The story has to be with the people on the screen, not whatever it is they’re watching. It can be a good way to talk about the Internet – this great beast between us and the monsters. But I didn’t have much more than that, so it sat in my drawer for a long time: an interesting idea that really needed something special to make into a movie.
That special part was Gloria, Gloria’s character. And once you had that, you had Oscar’s character, and you had a conflict. You had somewhere for the story to go. When I found Gloria’s character, I knew I could take this giant monster notion somewhere worth going. And the script came from there.
Q: Did you have Anne Hathaway or Jason Sudeikis in mind when you wrote it? Hathaway’s listed as a producer.
NV: If I thought for a moment that I was going to get those two when I was writing the script, I would have been completely crazy. Those guys were beyond my wildest expectations. It’s funny. This is a much smaller movie then they normally do, but this is easily the biggest movie I’ve ever done!
Q: How does that change your approach as a director, both in terms of the budget and the cast?
NV: The cast is great. They showed up ready to work and there was never any issue. They didn’t want me to change anything from the script or rewrite it to fit their ideas or anything like that. They brought notes to the shoot, which a lot of actors do. We talked about ideas and worked out our approach, which is what you do with any actor, famous or not.
The money always gets a little tricky. I’m ready to accept that this is the biggest movie I’ll ever shoot. That gives you control and lets you make the movie you want to make. More money means you have to make compromises. It starts to be about the money instead of about the idea. So I like to stay small because it lets me make the movies that I want to make.
But when you do that, you own the movie, good or bad. The screenplay I wrote is the movie you see on screen. That hit me about a week in. “If the movie doesn’t succeed, it’s going to be all my fault!”
Q: Were there any challenges in terms of the effects and the concepts? How did having a bigger budget challenge you as a filmmaker?
NV: The effects weren’t a challenge at all. The biggest challenge was actually much smaller. Two weeks before shooting, I found out that Anne was five months’ pregnant! She was ready to go, and we had a great crew, so we knew we could hide her pregnancy so that the character didn’t look pregnant. The costumes were right for the character: someone like Gloria, in the place she’s at in life, would wear a lot of baggy clothes like sweatshirts. But the script called for some fighting, some hitting. You DON’T want a pregnant women involved in that. Yes you choreograph it and everyone knows their moves so it’s safe, but something can always go wrong. Somebody misses their cue, somebody swings too hard… it can be really scary. But we had a great team, a good crew, and we were very careful. It all went off without a problem.
Q: Did it take a while to settle on the settings? Why Seoul and New York?
NV: My first draft was set in Spain, in Madrid, and the monster appeared in New York. There’s a little town in Spain – my home town, Cabezon de la Sal – that looks a lot like the town we ended up shooting in. That shifted when I decided to write the script for an English-speaking audience, and we moved the whole thing west. So New York instead of Madrid becomes Seoul instead of New York.
But it wasn’t about a specific location. It was about home. It’s about looking at another country – somewhere with people who don’t look like you, don’t speak your language, and don’t practice your customs – and find empathy. When they suffer terrible things, we want to sympathize but there’s this distance. We see them on screens, far away, and there’s an emotional distance as well as a physical distance. I wanted the movie to talk about that.
Q: How does something like a giant monster attack free you to talk about these other things, like abusive relationships and the Internet?
NV: You don’t like to contaminate those things with triviality and jokes. The challenge is to include things that I love, like the giant monsters, and make them enjoyable and part of the story, but not let them turn something serious, like abuse, into a joke. That’s the challenge, and the nightmare if you don’t succeed. I was scared of that. The movie involves a man punching a woman in the face. You can’t make that silly or funny. You can’t show that as anything but awful. But can you do that in a movie with big monsters and giant robots, and a lot of comedy in general? That’s intimidating.
Luckily, I’ve talked to people who saw the film and who have been affected by that kind of abusive, and they’ve been very positive about the results. That was a big weight off of my mind.