Interview by: Jack Foley
STEVEN Soderbergh once told me that he felt it would be great
if people stopped looking at science fiction films as westerns,
while speaking at the London press conference for his film, Solaris.
It is a sentiment echoed by Cypher director, Vincenzo Natali,
who agreed that he was happy that the genre had, once again, become
a little more serious and intelligent, thanks to the likes of
Soderberghs remake and Steven Spielbergs Minority
"Science fiction is becoming so popular and so prevalent,
but the thing is that its a very resilient genre; it absorbs
other genres," he told me. "You can make a science fiction
film that is also a comedy, and a horror, and a Western, or a
combination of all if you wish, and still put it under the science
"Its almost always a hybrid, and Im just happy
that, more recently, it has become a little more serious, and
Cypher, starring Jeremy Northam
and Lucy Liu, falls comfortably into that bracket, thrusting viewers
into a futuristic world, in which corporations rule and loss of
identity is commonplace.
Northam stars as out-of-work accountant, Morgan Sullivan, who
seeks an escape from his lacklustre existence by joining the multi-national
computer corporation, Digicorp, to become a commanding spy. But,
after falling under the spell of Lius elusive Rita, he is
forced to work for a rival organisation as a double agent, and
finds his only means of escape lies in uncovering the identity
of a deep cover operative, known as Sebastian Rooks, who seems
to have made a living out of playing one side off against the
The picture which results is a twisting and claustrophobic potboiler,
that has earned Natali some rave reviews, as well as some favourable
comparisons to The Matrix, The Manchurian Candidate and the films
of Alfred Hitchcock.
And while Natali is flattered to have drawn such weighty comparisons,
he remains modest in his achievement, stating that most of the
credit lies with the writer, Brian King, whose story he developed.
"When Brian first mentioned the idea for Cypher, it was
simply about a man travelling from convention to convention, and,
no matter where he goes, it all seems same; and over the course
of his travels, he starts to lose his own sense of identity,"
explains the director.
This was exciting to me - in a world controlled by large corporations,
and drained of humanity, what happens to people? Do they lose
their sense of identity?"
He continues: "As soon as I read the script, I was impressed
by how complex and how flawless it was. Brian and I had already
been working together on developing a project with a Hollywood
studio that went nowhere, but we remained friends afterwards.
"He initially gave me the script to get an opinion, and
my opinion was that he should let me direct it. I immediately
knew it was a film for me.
"We started filming eight months after I agreed to do it,
which was almost too fast, but then I guess it just felt like
one of those things that was meant to be."
The ability to be able to start filming again was another reason
why Natali embraced the project, for the director had found himself
in development hell following the release of his breakthrough
movie, Cube, five years earlier.
"Ive certainly had some Digicorp-type experiences,
yes," he laughs, when recalling the period, during which
it seemed, at times, like he might never get to make another film
But in spite of the experience, the director insists he would
leap at the opportunity of tackling a big budget project should
the opportunity arise.
"Hollywood is a big scary machine," he admits. "But
I would love to do studio films. It can be hard making films that
have a lot of visual effects for very little money, and I am fortunate
to have worked with generous people. But I keep dipping into the
same well, and, at some point, Im going to have to start
Not that Natali has to worry, for the distinctive look of the
film is another of the reasons why critics are hailing it as such
a work of quality. And it is something that the director tackled
"I knew instantly that this was a film that had to be told
from a first person perspective. It takes place in the main characters
head and that idea excited me, because Cube was a movie that was
far more about being a group dynamic.
"I wanted to design a look that accentuates the transformation
the main character makes. The film evolves visually, along with
Morgan Sullivan, as he turns into Jack Thursby, and, ultimately,
into who he becomes. I saw it as being a highly stylised film
and as a director it was really exciting to be able to create
that kind of world."
And commenting on those comparisons with The Matrix, which could
yet help to propel him into the blockbuster spotlight, Natali
"I love the first Matrix film, and thought it was highly
intelligent, so that is amazing to hear and very flattering. But
if there is any similarity, then I guess it comes from the fact
that both movies have similar influences, most notably in Philip
"When I read Cypher for the first time, it read to me as
a more faithful Philip K Dick story than a lot of the films that
are actually based on existing Philip K Dick stories. And Im
sure that the Wachowski Brothers were influenced by him as well.
"As for comparisons with The Manchurian Candidate, it also
compared with another of John Frankenheimers films, Seconds,
with Rock Hudson, which was also a paranoid thriller concerned
"I felt this was a movie that paid homage to other sources,
but I think it is the way that Brian takes all of those familiar
elements and blends them together, is what makes it so unique.
In a way, the movie is a little like the character of Morgan;
a blend of different elements, which ultimately comes into its
It is hard not to disagree, for Cypher is the type of movie which
really ought to be seen by any true fan of science fiction.