Interview by: Jack Foley
Q. What drew you to Cypher in the first place? When did you
first become aware of the script?
A. The majority of the credit has to go to Brian. As soon
as I read it, 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
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.
Q. How did you arrive at the look of the film, which is really
A. I knew from the instant I read it 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
With Cypher, 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.
Q. And how did you decide on the use of location, which is
also quite striking?
A. One of the things that is unusual, considering that this
is a sci-fi film, is that at least 80 per cent of it was filmed
on location, because I felt it would be good to ground the movie
in a kind of reality.
As much as the film takes place in a kind of skewed universe,
I felt it was important to give it a sense of realness. And that
was also a lot of fun for me as a director, because Cube was shot
entirely on a single set, whereas on Cypher, we bounced from location
to location, and were always somewhere new. For instance, one
day we would be underground, then on water, then in the air. It
was very liberating.
Q. How did you arrive at Jeremy Northam as first choice for
A. I chose Jeremy Northam for a lot of reasons, most notably
because, after speaking to him, I felt that he really understood
it [Cypher] and the character of Morgan. He is a wonderful combination
of leading man and character actor, and I think he has that ability
to transform himself in a way that most actors are not capable
If you were to show someone a scene from the beginning of the
movie, and then from the end, I think that most people would not
recognise him as the main man. And thats testament to his
ability as an actor.
And I think he wanted to do it because he had spent a lot of time
in period costume and relished the idea of a sci-fi movie.
Q. And Lucy Liu? I mean, we get to see a different side to
her in this. She still plays the icy persona so well, but there
is also a warmer side to her in Cypher?
A. I cast Lucy for the opposite reason to Jeremy. I wanted
her to bring her screen persona to this film, because her character
is also playing an identity game, and wants to project the image
of being the classic femme fatale. She wants to play into his
head to see what its like to be a spy, in order to draw
him into her own plan.
I also liked doing the non-traditional thing of casting a not
so well-known male lead, and a female lead who everyone is very
familiar with. But, ultimately, she does do something different
from that established persona, as I think she is a warmer character
than normal. She is a very, very bright and intelligent woman
and I think she relished the opportunity to do so, and to make
a slightly more independent film, away from some of the bigger
projects she is better known for.
Q. Ive read several reviews that make comparisons with
The Matrix, as well as The Manchurian Candidate, and you yourself
cite Hitchcock as an influence. But what they are saying is that
Cypher is a more intelligent take on The Matrix, without the action.
Given that The Matrix is rightly regarded as an all-time science
fiction classic, how does that make you feel to have people say
it is actually better?
A. 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 The Manchurian Candidate reference, it also compared with
another of John Frankenheimers films, Seconds, with Rock
Hudson, which was also a paranoid thriller concerned with identity.
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, that helps to make 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 own.
Q. The themes of the movie are quite powerful - those of identity,
displacement, etc - how closely do you identify with those? And
was that another reason for wanting to make it?
A. 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 the same; and over the course
of his travels, he starts to lose his own sense of identity.
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?
Q. Youve certainly had your experience of corporations,
given that you admit to being in development hell following the
release of Cube? But given that you have established yourself
as a great director of intelligent, smaller-budgeted movies, would
you leap at the opportunity of entering the mainstream?
A. [Laughs] Ive certainly had some Digicorp-type experiences,
yes. It [Hollywood] is a big scary machine. But I would love to
do studio films, but its always difficult to find the right
That said, its also 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 paying
Q. I was at a press conference with Steven Soderbergh, for
Solaris, in which he said that he wished directors would stop
seeing the sci-fi genre as a Western. That was one of the reasons
he made Solaris. And there does seem to be a return to more intelligent
forms of sci-fi at the moment, what with this and Solaris, for
example. Is that a sentiment you share? How do you perceive the
state of sci-fi at the moment?
A. Science fiction is becoming so popular and so prevalent,
but the thing is that its a very resilient genre; it absorbs
other genres. 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 fiction umbrella.
Its almost always a hybrid, and Im just happy that,
more recently, it has become a little more serious, and intelligent.
For me, science fiction really belongs in the realm of ideas,
more than many other genres do, and so its nice to see some
things that have been prevalent in sci-fi literature finally being
turned into movies.