This week in theaters Director Cary Fukunaga attempts to surprise us with his romantic, dark and a times even a bit scary take on (Jane Eyre read review). The film stars three of the most subtle and yet magnificent performers working, the much loved shooting star Mia Wasikowska (read interview), the always interesting Michael Fassbender and the painfully good and this film, wonderfully funny Judi Dench.

Cary is not in the business of making movies, but making films. He’s a true artist who not only loves his craft but has a number of insightful things to say about it. Find out more in our interview with him below…

How do you take on the challenge of balancing a period piece with a sense of horror?

Cary Fukunaga: It was definitely a cautious challenge. I couldn’t really think of a film and I’d always ask my cinematographer or other people sort of a survey question, “can you name that film?” A period romance film with elements of horror. That was successful, because I feel like Coppola’s DRACULA was one or the other. You know? It was never scary it was never a film he got invested in the romance of the characters. He understood it, but he never got invested. So it as a challenge for me to see if I could do that, I still don’t know how audiences will sort of react to that.

Have you heard peoples reactions to it yet?

CF: The reviews are just starting to come in. I haven’t even watched it with an audience yet. It was sort of found in the writing, found in the shooting, it was also found and finally defined in post. We kind of went back and forth from different versions of horror or not, and I was kind of fighting to keep more horror in, but I do agree that it was taking away from the relationship. So it was a balance, a balance that was sort of not the lowest common denominator but something where you wanna make sure Jane wasn’t lost and the love wasn’t lost. In the end that was the most important.

Making a period piece, were you ever forced into any decisions, be it casting, music, or otherwise?

CF: One of the great things about working with Focus is that you’re never forced, especially with a film with our budget. The pressure is sort of off. It’s like it’s so under the radar in a sense that you can cast whoever you want. Everyone loves Fassbender and Mia was up and coming. That was about the time they were showing The Kids Are All Right so they were excited about her. I’d seen her in HBO’s In Treatment. She looks different in so many different ways, she really is a chameleon in that sense. I think that’s what she wants to do, I think she wants to inhabit different roles, she doesn’t want to become a brand.

When you’re working with someone like Judi Dench who has so much experience, is she hard to direct?

CF: She still likes direction, everyone likes direction. There are so many subtleties and nuances to performance to make sure everyone’s on the same page. And people like to know they’re doing a good job and pleasing the director. So, Judy’s agent let me know that Judy likes direction so don’t be afraid to help her get to where you want to be.

Though Mia and Michael eat of the scenery, it’s Judi Dench who steals the scenes, often with some well timed humor? How did you get such great reactions out of her while sitting at the breakfast table, listening to the gunshots outside?

CF: We had little ear phone things in their ears, rather than going BANG on set for the shooting I was playing music and changing the music inside their ears. I was playing True Life Crew and Nelly. She was like, “you gotta be kidding…” Instead of faking big boom, giving something that actually disturbs them.

Was it nice to have someone so good at timing adding to the levity of such a dramatic, dark film?

CF: Levity, you need levity to feel anything. You need to laugh before you cry. I think films that take themselves too seriously without any levity are missing an important ingredient to the potential emotional impact of their stories. You need to laugh with someone to like them, often. I think the way Dame Judy portrayed Ms. Fairfax was perfect. Slightly clueless, slightly small minded and obviously not used to being around people. She was great, and I wish we could’ve used more of it.

You didn’t ever test Michael and Mia together, how did you know it would work so well?

CF: Blind faith. It didn’t really occur to me. I just cast the two people I wanted for the role…and, cross your fingers.

And Jamie Bell?

CF: Same thing, I didn’t want to cast the kind of obvious person for that role. I think that Jamie seemed like, or Sally Hawkins, kind of anti-casting for him.

What do you strive for, or hope to get out of your films?

CF: Everyone wants to be liked, so of course you want critical acclaim. After that, box office acclaim isn’t bad. More than anything I think you have to try and make something you’re proud of.. I’m the kind of person where you’re never done, you just keep perfecting and perfecting and perfecting, or trying to fix things that drive you crazy. Often times when you watch a film, “if I could just get through this minute, I’ll be fine.” So I think I’m just hard on myself. There’s not really any sort of sense of, “This is the perfect film, why don’t people like it?” It’s more like, “This is what I’ve done on this film and next film I want to do better on whatever I’m working on at the time.”

Do you ever feel pressure to do something less artistic and more mainstream? Do you ever want to?

CF: They’re always surprised with what I want to do and don’t want to do. I think they’re surprised I don’t want to do robo-tech. I don’t know, it’s like they want me to have a long career. And be prolific and make big movies. I want to be happy while I make movies and not just do things just to work. I want to do things I spend two years on. Because that’s what it means in the end. Or more! Sin Nombre, by the end was nearly 6 years of work. You only have so much time in life so everything you do needs to mean something to you.

With this film were you looking to work with a writing instead of writing the film yourself?

CF: I definitely did it instead of doing my own script, I wanted to get back in the directors chair. There’s a sense of like doing something every year. It’s not like riding a bike, you’re always learning new things, you’re gonna face new challenges and when you face new challenges you’ll have an answer for them. I did a commercial the year before, a short film, then Jane Eyre. So I’ve beens staying busy. I think this year I’ll do another short film, I’ll do some photo shoots…I will stay busy in one way or another.

What kind of pressures do you face moving from one project to the next?

CF: The only pressure is the pressure I put on myself, that’s up to be I guess to mitigate that. I think there’s always pressure that you make the right choice for the next film. You don’t know what the outcome is gonna be, there’s always potential to find length to your career as well. Now I’m so far from any other job skills that if I don’t make movies…

What do you love most about filmmaking?

CF: I mean there’s a lot of favorite parts. I love making the film, working with the actors, showing it when it’s done. It’s something that exists, it’s tangible, it’s immortal. Sometimes you wish that all this energy was spent making movies that meant more as well. You are making art, and art is important but it’d be nice if more of it had an impact on the world. And maybe story-telling does, it’s hard to tell sometimes.

Check out Car Fukunaga’s latest film Jane Eyre in theaters March 11th!

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