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28 Weeks Later - Juan Carlos Fresnadillo interview

28 Weeks Later

Compiled by Rob Carnevale

SPANISH director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo talks about some of the challenges of bringing 28 Weeks Later to the screen and some of the decisions behind casting the movie.

He also discusses some of the themes running behind the film and how he went about creating such a visually distinctive version of London.

Q. Did you have any reservations about doing a sequel, especially since sequels don’t always live up to the original films?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: To be honest, when I received the invitation form Danny Boyle to make the movie it was a big surprise and shock. I was like: “Why me? I’m not a Londoner, I’m not English and London is a big character in the first film.” So to be honest I was scared. At the same time it was an honour, but it’s something that’s a big challenge. That’s why I met them and I asked them and asked what they were looking for.

It was a big surprise when they told me they were looking for someone in that way: a foreign director. They were looking for a new approach, and some fresh eyes to look at London. That sounded good to me. That’s why I thought I could make something fresh and new but I needed to have a kind of freedom to deliver something my way. So that’s why when I thought about the concept of rebuilding and then how the outbreak breaks the calm of the new situation.

Q. The film contains a lot of political analogies. How open was the studio to exploring these ideas?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: When I was making the movie my intention was always to take a human approach rather than a political approach. I think there are no bad guys or good guys – another way to look at it is that everyone is a victim of a terrible apocalyptic situation; a disease which takes over. Obviously, when you’re dealing with a concept like rebuilding a population there are several connections with real things that have happened: you’re dealing with a military force and you’re trying to deliver the idea that everybody is in danger. It’s a difficult situation and the approach to that is the dilemma. I think the movie is a war between nature, and nature means infection, and the survivors and exploring the behaviour they need to adopt to adapt to survive that situation.

Q. Did it make it easier that none of the original actors from the first film were in it?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: Yes, because in this one the concept is completely different, the story is completely different and the characters are completely different as well. I think it’s good to have that, especially because in 28 Weeks Later I think now it’s more focused on the characters.

Q. Was it always the plan to use actors who weren’t necessarily household names?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: In the same way that I was thinking about the film in a documentary format I also looked for people who fit this concept. The American casting for example: I think Jeremy [Renner] for me was someone who perfectly delivered the humanity and the credibility and the inner strength, but at the same time, loneliness, which is something that I loved for that character. It’s amazing because Jeremy came to the audition to play another character and he was so fantastic that I thought, at the end, he could be Doyle.

As for the English casting, the first actor we thought a lot about was Robert Carlyle. I think Robert contains a big contradiction between someone who is a hero, but a hero who has done something he considers to be very weak – and the guilt he feels the whole time. I think it was very easy for Robert because he understood what the character was. He played this kind of anti-hero who, in a moment, decided to follow his survival instinct more than his love. I loved the idea that this small thing was going to affect the whole movie.

Q. The sense of fear in the film is very claustrophobic but the freedom they’re running to is very wide open. Was that a conscious choice?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: Yes, there are four levels in terms of the spaces of the story. The aerial level, from which we see the emptiness of London, which means there’s somebody watching the situation, a kind of God-like presence. Then we have the rooftop level, the world of the snipers who are trying to protect the military situation, but at the same time are in a lonely situation. When the outbrak happens they’re completely lost and have to deal with a dilemma.

Then there’s the ground level, where everyone is living. And then the underground level, which is related to the military stuff but – at the end of the story – is related to something terrible, like all the corpses. Those levels was a kind of map that I needed to draw. I think in a way it delivers four different dimensions for this situation. It was very useful in terms of imagining the film.

Q. How easy was it to shut down parts of London? Was there anything you wanted to do but weren’t allowed?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: At the end I think we got the main things. We tried to shut down one big street in London but it was impossible because it was too long. That’s why when we were shooting on the ground level it was very important to shoot really early in the morning. We had only 15 minutes to shoot sometimes and we needed to move around a lot. But it’s so exciting and challenging and the end result is very impressive.

Q. Do you have any problems with this being labelled as a zombie movie?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: You know, zombie is a word that, for me, is a little bit far away from this. Zombies are related to death. I think infection, in this movie, means people are suffering, like a rabies virus, which means rage. Rage was something that when I said yes to this movie I thought a lot about the meaning of rage. There are two dimensions about rage that I love. The first one is that rage is connected with the real world. I think we’re living in a world that’s full of rage at the moment. It’s a mix between pain and revenge and that combination is something that connects me with life, not death. That’s why I think this movie is more about infection and rage rather than zombies.

I can understand why people put that label on it because it looks similar. But it’s completely different to me. And talking about rage and why it’s interesting for me is that rage is a feeling that you’re trying to keep back. Rage is always related to suffering, it’s a reaction to suffering that someone else has inflicted upon you. In that sense, it’s something you are letting out. People, they begin as humans and then become infected and start returning that suffering.

Q. The film is very clearly left open for a sequel… Would you be interested in directing it or would you be happy to pass it on to someone?
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo: I think it’s good to “pass the baton”. Danny [Boyle] did and I think it was very generous of him, so I think I should do the same. I think this landscape is a great concept in terms of a franchise because all the filmmakers have the freedom to make a work that is very unusual. I would love, now that I’ve set the challenge, to make the third one.

Read our review of 28 Weeks Later

Read our interview with Robert Carlyle