Danny Boyle’s latest film Slumdog Millionaire hits theaters today, November 13th. The film has been gathering quite a bit of Oscar buzz recently because it is quite simply, absolutely stunning. The film combines truth, horror, love and destiny all together in the beautiful slums of India.
Check out what Director Danny Boyle had to say about his film below….
Did you just read the script and said, “I just got to do it?”
They sent it, it was a film about “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” I just thought I don’t want to do a film about “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” The only reason I read it even, was because I saw Simon’s name on it, I knew him from the Full Monty. I was lost after about 10 pages, that’s the absolute honest truth. It sounds like PR goff, but its true, I was completely mesmerized by it. When you get that kind of experience, it’s not necessarily to do with the quality of the script, cause you read some scripts that are excellent and you can admire them but you don’t feel anything for them at all. But for some reason with this, I knew within 10-15 pages that I was going to make it.
So we set off, onto a kind of fact checking mission. It felt very real, very honest to the place. And so we set off to raise the money, and we raised about, somewhere between 6 to 7 million pounds, which is the limit of what I can raise without having to have a star in it or have a lot of studio interference. So, it was quite quick actually. We went off to India and started casting it. Casting it was the big time consuming thing because of the range of the kids and this idea of having three different people playing three ages.
The three different actors for every character were seamless. How did you go about casting so many different actors, instead of just having the same actor playing different ages?
Personally I think that’s more acceptable. What they normally do in movies, is cast the 29 year old and she plays, the 11 year old, the 17 year old, 29, 54. And you could see all the makeup and CG making them look young. I just think you think about things like that rather than the film. I just think audiences are really great. I come from theater. You do things like that in theater, no problem. Audiences do accept it, if you do it with enough confidence, and obviously if they’re good actors, with some similarity between them. But it takes a long time [to cast] because you find someone and you can’t get too excited about them because you might never find two others that could possibly be like them. It does take a long time to cast things, so I kept them waiting a long, long time.
Even some of the darker films you have done have a sense of optimism about them, do you think yours films reflect your own sensibility?
Yes, very much so. I’m a very positive person. When I run the crew I run in a very positive way, I feel very optimistic about stuff. So I’m a bit of a dreamer like that, yeah. Although you choose subjects where you have to be brutal sometimes and certainly, if you go to India, certainly Mumbai, some of the things you see are very shocking and it wouldn’t be a faithful portrait of the city really if you didn’t represent those things. But also what I did love about India is that despite that, it’s the most amazing spirit in the place. It’s a very open, positive country. Very forward looking in many ways, ironically, given the history and the problems, there’s an incredible future ahead of it. You can feel that. There’s a kind of optimism as well which I liked a lot.
In this film there are a number of graphic scenes that are difficult to watch. Did you ever second guess that or do you feel it was part of the honesty of the film?
No you have to do it. The whole time we stayed out there and we would always drive out to where we were going. The first corner were always these traffic lights and there’s a guy there the whole time that had no hands and you could see his hands had clearly been cut off. You got to get your head round that. The kind of moral horror you feel about that, has absolutely no value to him at all. You want to give him a 1,000 pounds, it’s absolutely irrelevant to him because the corner is run by a gangster, and he’ll just take the money off him. So already your preconceptions, your values are irrelevant. You have to try and see it inside his head, you have to tell the story of the people who live there. I don’t see it as grim, I think of them as honest, you know, you try to honestly represent something. But then I do believe — some pessimist would say it’s fantasy — I do believe in mining hope out of it somehow.
The two brothers in the film, have experienced the same things, but turned out completely differently. How did you orchestrate that? Especially in the scene with the gun where the two boys really diverge.
This is classic Indian film story-telling. There’s a good brother and the bad brother, and the bad brother sees his mother killed and from that point on, turns to violence. He abandons the girl on a train. If you look at everything he does is based on violence, its based on money, its based on a kind of vengeance for the death of his mother. The hero, Jamal (Dev), has the grace to overcome the death of his mother. It doesn’t drive him to vengeance. He’s marked by it, but not scarred by it if you like.
That’s a key scene where the guy turns up with a gun. You’ve been watching cute kids in terrible jeopardy, and suddenly the guys got a gun and everything going to change there. It’s a key moment really. Whats interesting for me being British, is we don’t really have guns. I mean the police go around shooting innocent people, but half of the general public don’t have guns they can shoot back with. So it is very acute when you get guns out cause we don’t really use them. You know in American movies, it’s automatic a gun. It’s an automatic presence in a film. So. I love that moment suddenly when the gun comes out — and that kid, the other kid, he’s such a good actor that one, the one that plays Jamal as a 12 years-old – he looks, and you can see him thinking, “What? Why’s he got a gun? He was my brother, we were just kids, and suddenly he got a gun, and hes gonna use it as well.” So that’s the key moment. It’s interesting. Not many people talk about the middle boys.
They had some of the heaviest scenes in the film and neither of the boys were professional actors, did that take a lot of help from you?
They tend to be in the worst position, the middle kids because everyone loves the little kids cause they’re so cute. They’re in incredible jeopardy and you think “oh no, don’t look at that, stop that.” And the older ones you think she looks pretty sexy, he’s okay looking. It’s the middle boys who get the rough deal cause they’re 12, 13 which we all know is the worst possible age to be ever. So yeah they need a little tweaking.
You had a co-director on this, what that was like for you?
She was the casting director, originally, and she did such a great job. Cause you make mistakes all the time culturally, and she was able to tell me. What I needed to know, is when I was contradicting some things. So I asked her to come on the film the whole time. She was always there, helped with kids, certainly with the Hindi bits. So, I sent here over to the 2nd unit to shoot. She wants to be a director, so we gave her that credit.
We got a huge amount of help with the film. The guy that was the first assistant director, which for technical reasons to do with all the gills here, I can only credit him with that role, but he was also my kind of eyes and ears. And this other guy, he does live sound, cause live sound in Mumbai is sort of for the certifiably insane only, it just doesn’t work, and most people don’t even try it really. But of course if you use it,iIf you don’t have it, it doesn’t sound right, it doesn’t sound like Mumbai, cause it is a miasma of noise. You know, it’s 20 million people in a tiny island, and you can’t replicate it, you’ve got to capture it for real.
At the screening the film was so loud that it actually shook the seats. I asked them to make it a little lower and they said they could not because it was set to your specifications…
Why is the sound like that so important to you and how would you enforce it in regular movie theaters?
No, you can’t sadly. Everybody raves on about cinematographers and all that and stuff, but 70% of the movie is sound. I mean you watch any movie without sound and your finished, virtually none of them survive. That’s what’s so extraordinary about Wall-E. You know, you watch the first half of Wall-E, which is virtually a silent movie. They are the geniuses they can get away with it for about an hour. Without sound, your lost. So it’s very important. But in Indian films… I love the way the music is much more up front, it’s much more passionate and declared. Where as we tend to hide music, it kind of creeps in, there in the beginning, then is floating around and then uhuhuhhh, it jumps at you. In Indian movies it like here’s the music everyone DADHAHDAHDHADAH! It’s there you know and I love that. I said to A.R. Rahman, they guy who did the music for us, “I’ll mix it upfront, whatever you produce for us, I promise it’ll be WOAF upfront,” like that.
There was such a wide variety of music in the film, where did you get that music?
Oh yeah it was beautiful, it’s this guy A.R. Rahman. Just an amazing composer. Very lovely man, very sweet man, very famous. Very famous in India, I mean staggering fame and yet so modest and gentle. I mean it’s a really interesting time though. Because what’s happening is there is, the classical way of scoring, which is songs really, and then there’s R&B and Hip hop, coming in, flooding in from America, and House music and disco is coming in from Europe more, so you’ve got this fusion going on of styles. And then of course the cities all styles and the film is a lot of styles and different things, there’s romantic bits, melodramatic bits, horror bits, and people say how do you balance all those things? And you don’t, you just put them in because that’s what the city is like. And that’s the same with the music, he just did that. He just uses all these different elements in it. You know, he’s got sitar in it one moment and the next moment, he got, oh whose that woman… whats she called?
BEYONCE!! and jay-z!! it begins to sound like a lot of their stuff suddenly.
How was the film received in a city like London, which has a large Indian demographic?
In Britain especially, there’s a very visible Indian population. We were there 60 years ago, so we have a deep connection with the country anyway. Although it’s not reciprocated anymore, we kind of go as Brits expecting people to recognize you. And they don’t care about the Brits anymore. People have moved on. It’s amazing being the old colonial power. They way your brought up in school, you expect to arrive and think their going to ask me about…. BRITAIN. They don’t care about Britain.
How do you think the film will translate to the US?
I thought it wouldn’t work. And then we got it here ad started playing it here, and it was clear there were a couple of things. One was that it was the underdog and that idea of the guy from nowhere who apparently is unqualified, apparently doesn’t have what is necessary, but he has a dream. And that is very deep in the psyche here, you can feel it. So I think that helps get over the barriers, that you know it’s such a long way away, it’s such a strange the first third of it’s in Hindi; that helps get over that. It’s also, as a country, got a big heart, and you can feel the heart respond dear to it as well. Whereas Britain is very cynical, that kind of slightly cynical humor we have in Britain, where we chip away at things because we don’t want to be embarrassed by emotion, so I think that connects it as well.
The film is beginning to get some Oscar buzz, how are you preparing for the award season?
I’m not actually. I’m kind of really flattered to be involved in it. Anybody that says don’t dream about things like that is lying, I’ll tell you that. But the thing that is really wonderful about it is, in India. All the people who helped us make the film are all on google alert. They’re fanatical about google alert. So I did an interview with someone, and 5 minutes later I get a phone call from India saying we’ve read the interview, you’ve given 4 minutes ago. So any mention of it, they’ll be delighted. Because they do look at Hollywood. Although they do have a huge industry, they do keep an eye on Hollywood. Anil and people like that would really admire certain actors in Hollywood. So they’ll all be watching.
It’s important to remember, what were lucky about is that you get into the season. Because a film like this, this is the season you get the chance, because the campaign is the raft that takes you out to people who would normally never hear of the film like this. You think of America beyond these cities on the East coast and the West coast. They’re not gonna hear of this film unless you have a raft like that, that’s gonna take you out there
What’s going on with the 28 days/weeks series?
Well there is an idea for the 3rd part, but I haven’t done enough about it yet. But I’ve got an idea. I can;’t really tell you more than that at the moment.
Would you come back to direct it?
I’d certainly like to, yeah. The idea is quite strong. It could well involve directing it yeah.
Would you ever like to make another film in India? Possibly a Bollywood?
I would like to make a thriller there.
What would that be based on?
It is a great city for a thriller, cause you’ve got these phenomenal extremes as we know, but also the police are deeply corrupt, the gangsters who run the place live in Dubai cause they’ve been exiled, but they still run it from Dubai, and they are completely devoted to the Bollywood royalty. So you have this staggering royalty, who are flown out to Dubai to do birthday parties at the gangsters daughters, and lo and behold there will be a policemen there as well. That’s what New York must have been like at the turn of the century. It’s that feverish sense of opportunity, and the bad side of humanity comes out and you’ll find some nobility in them as well. So I’d love to make a thriller there I really would.
There has been talk about how they’re moving the slums into a new Mumbai city, do you think that will kind of change the nature of the city?
I’m not sure they’ll be able to move them much. They think they can move them. But they don’t move them. They knock one down and they move them out and they slowly just move back in again and reestablish the slum. What matters to them is the community they live. And listen they’re right. We did that in Britain. We moved everybody out to these bloody housing estates, and they’re terrible. Crime begins immediately and dissatisfaction and isolation, and they want to live together. And the problem is obviously, sanitation and clean water, and reliable and safe electricity. Those are the problems, not the people. India’s going to the moon in 20 years time. They’re talking bout landing on the moon so they can harness fusion power through helium 3 isotopes, they’ve got nuclear weapons, they’re about to sign a deal with America on nuclear developments, but there’s no toilets. Why can’t this apply to stuff, why can’t this solve stuff. The big mystery is you never see women go to the toilet, ever, ever, ever. You see guys all the time crapping, and doing all sorts of things, and it’s shocking but you just used to it. Never, ever, ever, ever, see women. And that’s one of the mysteries.
Thanks Danny! You can read the ScreenCrave interview with Dev Patel the star of the film here. Check out Slumdog Millionaire in theaters now!