Splice - Vincenzo Natali interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
VINCENZO Natali talks to us about some of the challenges of directing sci-fi drama Splice, about genetic engineering, and why the science surrounding the film actually caught up with and almost overtook the fiction.
He also tells us why he was so excited by some of the film’s more icky moments, why it was important to have a human play the genetically created Dren, and why he’s developing several projects next with a view to getting them all made.
Q. Where did the idea of Splice come from?
Vincenzo Natali: Well, I almost hate to admit it but it first came to me 15 years ago! It’s been a very long time in coming [laughs]. But I was first inspired by the Vacante mouse… the apparent MIT experiment involving the mouse that had what appeared to be a human ear growing out of its back. As it turned out, it wasn’t a genetic experiment. But it was so shocking, I felt there just had to be a movie in that mouse! So, it started there and very slowly gestated and grew from there. So, here we are in 2010.
Q. They say that the best and most credible science fiction is born from reality. So, how close is the reality of Splice and its genetic engineering?
Vincenzo Natali: You know, it’s more close now than when I started writing [laughs]. The science caught up with the fiction to the extent that it almost eclipsed it! For that very reason, I tried to adhere to the real science as much as I could. There are some exceptional things that happen in Splice and the movie is definitely fantasy. If such an experiment took place, it wouldn’t happen as we portray it, I don’t think. But the underlying principals are real and I tried as much as I could to portray the way the science is done and the way a real genetic lab looks as accurately as I could.
Q. Did that scare you – the fact that the science caught up so fast with the fiction?
Vincenzo Natali: [Laughs] It excited me… I got to know some geneticists and spend some real time in labs. It’s incredible stuff, it really is. Life is bizarre and far weirder than anything you could imagine. In making Splice, I got to be an amateur mad scientist and I got to design my own monsters… and that was fun.
Q. You’ve been fascinated by creatures since an early age. What fuelled that fascination?
Vincenzo Natali: I honestly think it’s in my DNA. I don’t mean to be glib, but the earliest memories I have of the drawings I did as a child were all monsters. I just think that they always held a fascination for me. The first movie I remember seeing in the movie theatre was The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. That has some beautiful creatures in it. It’s inexplicable, though. I have very nice parents and I had a happy childhood.
Q. But with that in mind, it must be tremendously gratifying to be able to bring the things you devise in your imagination to real life?
Vincenzo Natali: I think there’s a really thin line between mad scientists and film directors! You almost feel like screaming “it’s alive” when you see it up on screen for the first time. But there’s nothing more exhilarating than seeing a fanciful notion, or an idea that’s been floating around in your head, take on the dimensions of a real movie… and to then see people respond to it is an incredibly empowering feeling. It’s what makes suffering through all the trials and tribulations of raising financing, etc, so worthwhile.
Q. How important was it to have an executive producer as visionary as Guillermo Del Toro on board?
Vincenzo Natali: It was very important. While Splice may seem like a commercial movie, when people started delving into it and saw it was actually quite transgressive and emotionally and psychologically complex, they became afraid. It really is a creature film and I say that with pride… but when it came time to put their money where their mouths were, people were afraid. Guillermo gave it certain… he contextualised things in a certain way. His presence had a lot to do with us being able to bring so many international parties to the table for this.
Q. Guillermo credits you with having a savage imagination. How does that make you feel?
Vincenzo Natali: [Laughs aloud] It’s like the savages calling the savages ‘savages’, It’s great and it’s wonderful, as well as mildly amusing that he finds my film shocking. I find his films shocking. But I take it as high praise indeed. He’s a lovely man and a magical character. Really, anyone who meets him is immediately enchanted by him. He loved what we were attempting to do with Splice, and I feel so incredibly lucky and honoured to have this film associated with him.
Q. Another of the key components in the film’s success is the casting of Delphine Chaneac as Dren. When did you decide to opt for an actress for the ‘creature’ role, instead of relying totally on special effects?
Vincenzo Natali: I don’t think, even if I’d had the money, which I didn’t, a CG Dren would have connected with the audience the way that Delphine does. My prime directive in designing Dren was to make her real. The temptation with a film like this is to make the monster larger than life. In Splice, Dren was another character in the story and had to be scaled down. So, it was essential to have a wonderful actress playing that part.
Q. What made you decide on Delphine? Was she easy to find?
Vincenzo Natali: It was meant to be… fate. She was the very first person to walk in the room and I knew it was Dren instantly. She was exactly the way I had envisaged Dren, in so many ways. She intuitively knew how she moved… everything you see her do in those scenes comes from Delphine. That’s her invention. She understood and embraced the character from the start.
Q. The film also taps into primal fantasy, giving rise to the tremendously ‘icky’ scene between Adrien Brody’s character and Dren… Did you have fun playing with that dynamic?
Vincenzo Natali: That was my Raison d’etre for making the movie. lf that scene had been taken out of the film, I wouldn’t have been interested. For me, it’s that part of the movie that blazes new trails and takes audiences somewhere they’ve never been before. It’s deeply entrenched in what Dren is. I always viewed her as a genetically engineered angel. I find it to be a fascinating concept… the idea of falling in love with someone, or something that is not human. Those archetypes, that dynamic has been with us for years going back to tales of mermaids and centaurs. It transcends all boundaries and cultures. So, it was important for me not to hold back and to go all the way.
Q. How have audiences responded to the scene?
Vincenzo Natali: The responses have been just outrageous. But I always knew it would be the one scene that everyone would remember. I just didn’t anticipate the level of reaction. They [audiences] go insane. They don’t know how to respond. People laugh, people scream, people literally shout at screen. It’s wild. I feel like we literally touched some kind of nerve. And it’s exciting to do that. It’s what makes a movie like this so exhilarating to make. When you tread into territory like this you don’t quite know what you’re going to get – it’s a bit of a scientific experiment in itself and it could blow up in your face. But that makes it all the more exciting and the reaction to it has been great.
Q. Adrien Brody reportedly came up with the line: “What’s the worst that could happen?” So, what’s the worst thing that did happen when filming Splice?
Vincenzo Natali: [Laughs] I can’t tell you that without harming the reputation of certain individuals! So many things went wrong on Splice. I had a great crew and cast but there were problems and some people didn’t make it to the end of the production. But that’s all part of filmmaking. It’s very much like fighting a war. It’s tense and things go wrong, but you learn from it and you have to embrace those things.
But ironically, I’ve come to believe that good things come out of bad things. That’s true all the way to the selling of movie. We went through a very difficult time trying to get it distributed because we finished the movie right in time for the financial collapse. It was literally the worst time ever to sell an independent film to the US market – none was buying. Two of the companies who wanted the film went out of business. At a certain point I thought it was going straight to DVD. But we were lucky enough to go to Sundance and Joel Silver found us. But he found Splice it in an odd way. He saw a photo online and said it looked interesting.
So, he decided to pick it up through his Dark Castle banner at Warner Bros and we got a major summer release. But in order to get that outcome, everything had to go wrong first. Seriously, if the original distributor hadn’t gone bust, we would have had a much smaller release. But that’s very much in the nature of the business.
Q. What’s next for you?
Vincenzo Natali: I have a few things and I’m working very hard trying to get my next film going. I have three projects I’m developing. There’s High Rise, based on the novel by JG Ballard. I’m very excited about that. Another is a book called Tunnels, which is written by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, and which is a young adult fantasy story that takes place under the streets of London. And then there’s Neuromancer, which I’ve managed to nick the rights to. It’s based on the science fiction novel by William Gibson and I can’t quite believe I have this golden opportunity to make it. So, it’s really just a question of who writes the cheque first! But I’ve learned over time that it’s good to have multiple things going. Very often, projects help each other. Putting all of your eggs into one basket is a huge risk, but if you have a few things going, the success of one will help spur the other. So, we’ll see where we go from here.