This Friday we see the release of a rather unconventional alien sci-fi thriller hitting screens in the form of Arrival. Featuring Amy Adams, Jeremy Reiner and Forest Whitaker the film directed by Denis Villeneuve is based on the short story by author Ted Chiang titled ‘Story of Your Life’. In fact the film which released overseas earlier has been receiving rave reviews not only for the in film performances but also for its screenplay and direction. We caught up with Denis himself to find out more about Arrival.
To be honest, I didn’t know how to crack the short story because it’s very intellectual, in a strong and beautiful way. But from a dramatic point of view, it’s a bit difficult to articulate because it’s about process. I left the adaptation bit to the producers and Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter. They came back with a screenplay written by Eric that was surprisingly good because Eric was able to crack it and create a sense of tension and a drama inside of that process of translation.
Initially, the spaceships were supposed to be round, like spheres, but I felt that had been done before. It wasn’t ominous or strange enough. I came up with the idea that the spaceship should be shaped like a pebble, a little stone, ovoid. I based the shape on an asteroid, or small planet called Eunomia (aka asteroid 15) that’s in orbit in the solar system. The shape’s insane, like a strange egg, which felt mysterious, frightening to me. There was a relationship with life, with birth, that was perfect for the idea behind the spaceship. We thought that it should be made from matter that’s not from earth. It’s not a shiny spaceship. It’s not white, or made of metal or plastic, it’s made of a strange stone. We aren’t sure what this is exactly. We can’t even guess. The way it works, too, the way they travel through space will be totally different from what we have seen before.
Casting for Arrival was the easiest in my career because everybody fell in love with the screenplay. I needed an actress that would be strong enough to make us believe that – someone with vulnerability, sensibility, strong intelligence and range to bring that onto screen. Amy Adams was the actress I was dreaming of for this part because I knew that audience would believe in this movie if the actress believed in it – everything is happening through her eyes. Amy fell in love with the screenplay and got on board right away.
Jeremy and I have wanted to work together for a while, so there was an opportunity there. It’s very unusual to cast Jeremy Renner, who is more of a James Bond or Jason Bourne type of an actor, into the role of an intellectual. It was funny because, from time to time, on set he had to jump around like a rabbit because it was too contained. But seriously, Jeremy came on board because he was dreaming of working with Amy Adams again. He came full of generosity, because he’s there to support Amy, I was amazed by his talent and strong instincts. He was able to bring that dimension of a scientist in a very dynamic and funny way.
Forest Whitaker is one of the best actors living today. He is a master, and I saw that because he had the toughest part on this movie. His character, Colonel Weber, didn’t have a lot of depth on the page and Forest was able to bring a gravitas, wisdom and dimension to this character in a way that I was very impresses by. It was not an easy process for Forest, there was a lot of work on set and I’m very grateful.