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'Sunshine' director Danny Boyle

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'Sunshine' director Danny Boyle
Acclaimed British director Danny Boyle chats exclusively to Digital Spy about the making of his new film Sunshine - an exciting journey into the realms of science fiction from the man best known for Trainspotting.

The thrilling film follows the crew of a one way mission as they attempt to fly a massive bomb into the dying Sun to bring back light to the Earth. As we find out, Boyle adopted a cunning approach to gearing the cast up for the first cry of 'action', whilst steering clear of the usual trappings that blight the usual Hollywood foray into the genre. Here's what Danny had to say when given a sunblock-free grilling at the hands of DS...

Much of Sunshine comprises of cracking scenes that focus on character and conflict rather than effects, such as when the crew discuss who they must sacrifice in order to save oxygen. As a film that’s science fiction in genre – do you hope that it will go some way towards making the critics realise that great drama is great drama whether it be set in the 17th century or the 27th century?
"You're absolutely right, and it won't work otherwise. I personally think that's why the later Star Wars films aren't as good as the ones he made earlier, because that drama isn't there, just the same. Great drama is playing out wherever, you're absolutely right. The scene you're talking about, I remember when Alex Garland wrote that, because I said to him "we need a vote scene, you know", cos they talk about voting earlier, and the guy says "we're not going to vote, we're experts", and I said to him "let's have a vote scene later on". I was imagining a visual scene where people put their hand up and all those kind of things. And then he wrote this incredible scene where they just talk about 'shall we kill someone' and it's a brilliant sequence. So yeah, that's the whole essence of it, really, to try and make it about the eight individuals and the price they're having to pay increasingly as they draw closer to the Sun."

And the beauty of that is that the crew are debating the consequences of one life when several billion are at stake and they're all going to die anyway...
"That's right. In fact, it's interesting, because we had a scientist on board helping us with research for the film, and he is very cold-hearted about those odds. He said "those are the odds. You vote, you kill that person, that's how it works". I was like 'hang on a minute'...you struggle with that because you can't abandon your morality that easily, even though the sums seem to add up! "

Was the amount of computer generated (CG) effects in the film at all daunting for you as a director?
"I'd have to be honest and say of course it was, yeah, because it's something that you don't have - you have some control over it - but you don't actually have control of it like you do the rest of the film. You cast the actors, you talk to the writers about rewriting scenes, tell the designer...you have a hands on effect, on everything in the film normally. The CG you don't, cos you can't see it. They preview it for you and we use picture references and stuff like that, but it's a slight mystery - entirely appropriate given that space is a complete mystery. 95% of which we don't understand. But this - you just don't know what's going to turn out nine months later. It's extraordinary - and I'm not just saying this 'cos I'm promoting the film, but I was ambitious for the CG, but I have to say some of it made my jaw drop when I saw it. I thought 'oh my god, that's fantastic'. I was very pleased. You have to give credit to Tom Wood - he's the same as a cinematographer or designer, he's your eyes, really, you know, he's your partner in the film. If you don't have that partnership there the film won't work, and he was brilliant, the way he delivered the CG."

When you started to storyboard the film in the early stages of pre-production were the effects team already involved in terms of the shot composition?
"Yes, that's one of the key things you have to do, if you can afford it, is to keep them involved from the beginning, really. You have to conceptualise it together and a lot of the people come on afterwards, but your main team of CG people have to be involved right from the beginning, and they have to hear everything you're saying, because you can't put your finger on it and say 'it was when he said this, or when he showed us this', but they pick up the film in the way that the actors pick up the film. As you go along, it's a bit of an organic journey and you're picking it up as you go along. It isn't a finished entity until it is finished. You're kind of accumulating the film as you go on. They must be with you there to do that, otherwise it won't be what you imagined, really, or what you described."

Now is it true you insisted on the cast living together in a dormitory in East London for two weeks before filming started?
"Absolutely, as a director you've got this problem with films is that actors, when they arrive on a film set, and especially if they're good, they've usually left another film set the Friday before, and they have a bubble around that, the actor's bubble, I call it - basically their little world of agents, per diems, interviews, what's my next film, what am I going to do? You've got to pop that bubble to make them be part of your film, and one of the ways we did that was banging them together, car crash together in student accommodation for two weeks at the beginning of rehearsals. It meant they had to muck in together, and it wasn't like a Big Brother thing, I wasn't watching them to see how they'd react or anything like that.

"It was more like what those football managers do with their footballers, they create a 'siege mentality' by putting people together - not exactly hostile world, but you make them feel like 'we need to rely on each other' a bit. Then they come on the set, where there's 100 people, and they're a group of eight rather than being eight separate people. It's amazing the way it worked. There's no tension, other than what was called for. They're a very disparate, very headstrong group of people, very good actors, and yet they bonded brilliantly and I think a lot of it was that two weeks, getting them started. They didn't make little separate alliances, they made a group alliance together and that held for the rest of the film."

When in their student accommodation did you insist they ate nothing but Pot Noodles and listened to The Smiths all day?
"Hahaha! I couldn't go that far! I'd like to have done that! It was enough to keep them out of the Dorchester, you know? 'Cos they turn up and they think - one of their questions that hovers around their bubble is 'which hotel am I going to stay in?' and you say 'actually you're staying in Mile End University in Mile End. Anyway, it was great."

Is it fair to say you like your actors to take the Method approach then?
"Yeah, I think so. I take it really seriously, and they've got to as well, especially with something like this. On a mission like this, Earth would select the absolute cream of people to go. You say to them - you're not just playing a physicist, Cillian, you're playing the Michael Schumacher of physicists, this is the top person in his field. And then everybody says 'yeah, but he's not going to be 30 years old, like Cillian'. But when you research physicists, all their great work is done in their '20s and '30s. By the time they're old men, which is the image we have of science, they're over, they're just repeating what they've done before. Einstein, whose image is of that grey, silver-moustached man, all his genius was done in his '20s. So all that's really interesting. You pile them with all these facts, all this material, that tells them how real it feels, to make it feel real to them."

The actors in the film, including the normally stunning Rose Byrne, seem to be devoid of make-up. Was this a reaction to the typical Hollywood sci-fi film where everyone looks glamorous and there's a mandatory romance tacked on?
"Yeah, you've got to. You can't seriously set out on a realistic mission like this and have everybody plastered in make-up, and wondering about 'when's the next boy turning up'. It's also true, in fact, that space movies are really interesting, but you can't do romance in space, not on a serious film, it just doesn't work. I don't know what it is about space, it's very weird. It's like it's so intimidating in a way that you sort of expect your people to take it seriously - this isn't popcorn time, this is in deadly earnest, now. The fate of the world is at stake, not just the nation. It's a very interesting discipline that comes with the territory, you know."

The soundtracks for your films are very well regarded, but how early in the production process does the music come into play?
"I listen to music the whole time, but I tend to try and not make decisions too early - there's an energy about making the music decisions in editing which is really exciting, even though you might have music in mind when you're shooting it. It tends to come gradually over the time that you're making the film and editing it, you're listening to music all the time. Something slips into focus in front of you as being the right soundscape for it, and you start veering towards it somehow.

"On this it was slightly different - Underworld did an experimental path across the whole film. We hadn't quite finished the film when I gave them the film and they kind of improvised to it. They sent that work to the classical composer John Murphy and he kind of completed it and it's a hybrid of the two of them. It's very interesting. We're very pleased with that, it's worked very well for it. It was a real risk, actually, which actually turned out to be risk free. Potentially it could have been disastrous."

There’s a beautiful scene where Michelle Yeoh finds a tiny plant growing out of the ashes from the burnt botanical garden. Is that one shot perhaps symbolic of the core of the movie – that ultimately life will go on through the ashes?
"Yeah. It's a beautiful scene, that. I remember when we shot that, I was really - the size of that bud had to be so big. It was so tiny, because it was a real thing, but it had to be so big in the frame that it took us ages to shoot it on a special lens. I knew it was really special, it felt really special, that there was a bit of hope there. It gets torn away from her in a way in the story, but I hope the image remains for people, yeah. It's a very potent image, I think, a regeneration out of the ashes."

Sunshine is released on Thursday, April 5. Click here for our review.

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