If you’re a fan of science fiction, you probably already have your calendar marked for Friday, April 19th. That’s the release date for Oblivion, the new action film directed by TRON: Legacy helmer Joseph Kosinski that features Tom Cruise’s return to pure sci-fi. The film is loaded with incredible visuals, solid performances, an Inception-inspired score from M83, and – unlike TRON: Legacy – this movie actually has a good story.
Cruise plays Jack Harper, a drone repairman on a post-apocalyptic Earth who meets the leader of an underground revolution (played by Morgan Freeman) and a mysterious woman he seems to remember from his dreams (played by Olga Kurylenko), and he quickly discovers that things aren’t exactly as they appear. I won’t say more in fear of giving anything away, but trust me – if you dig action movies, Tom Cruise, sci-fi, cool technology, slick visuals, or any combination of the above, you’ll want to see this movie.
On Thursday, April 11th, I had the chance to attend a small press conference with a handful of other journalists on the Universal Studios lot on the edge of Hollywood. Surrounded by props from the film (pictured below), we spoke with Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, and director Joseph Kosinski about how the project came together, working with Tom Cruise, and how this sci-fi world is different than ones we’ve seen recently.
Freeman, dressed in a denim jacket and jeans, was laid-back, funny, and affable when chatting about the movie. He’s a legendary actor who has been in some of the biggest films of all time, so I asked him what it was about Oblivion that made him commit to the project.
“Tom Cruise. It’s a Tom Cruise movie, so if I was going to be a truck driver hauling supplies, I would have taken the job. I’m one of his huge fans, have been for I don’t know how many years. Way, way, way back. I know at this point I’m not going to be offered minor role. If you compare the script to the movie, they don’t compare. But I was excited by the script. The movie is so much more than what you can read on the page. But it’s a big draw. A big science fiction film with Tom Cruise? Hard to go wrong.”
That, plus the fact that he got to actually partake in the action for once. “I’d never fired a .50 caliber machine gun before,” he laughed. He spoke with us about a range of topics, from celebrity (“I don’t do autographs – they’re a waste of time. But photographs stay. Touching someone’s hand, hugging a beautiful lady, all of that works out very well.”) to the film’s cool tech toys (he called them “awesome” multiple times), and he even offered a response when someone asked what his ideal vision for the future would be:
“We would all live in trees. We would all hunt for our food. We would walk wherever we went. The planet would be rejuvenated. We wouldn’t be killing off all the animals just to feed us.”
Dibs on the tree next to Morgan Freeman’s! Even at 75 years old, he still has a pretty great sense of humor. I mentioned that “South Park” has poked fun at the fact that Freeman often plays characters that show up to explain the plot to the rest of the characters and deliver heavy exposition, and I asked him if he embraced those kinds of roles these days.
“That’s the way shit worked out…If you sat down and you wrote a script, you may write something that’s way beyond anything you’d ever seen me do, but if you thought of me to do it, I would be flattered to be asked to do something other than be ‘wise’, you know?”
I’ll be completely honest: I didn’t expect a former Bond girl like Olga Kurylenko to be too smart (Bond girls aren’t normally cast for their brains), but she proved me dead wrong when she came out to talk about this film. The actress (who was poured into a long pink dress) seemed extremely intelligent and totally engaging, proving yet again that the whole “judging book by its cover” thing just isn’t cool. Apologies, Olga. There isn’t much I can tell you about her character in Oblivion without giving away a huge plot point in the movie, but actually that’s why she wanted this part in the first place.
“That’s what attracted me to the role, what I found very interesting: the fact that there was this mystery to Julia and I couldn’t reveal everything from the first appearance on screen. The fact that she had to unravel and uncover her story during the whole film, she’s a completely different thing in the end than what we see her as in the beginning.”
She does a terrific job in the movie, and beat out actresses like Noomi Rapace and Olivia Wilde for the role. Like Freeman, she also got to pick up a machine gun, and she mentioned that “Bond school served [her] well” in training for how to convincingly fire a weapon. But it’s her relationship with Cruise’s character that becomes the centerpiece of the entire movie, and the actress had nothing but good things to say about her mega-famous co-worker.
“Tom is fascinating. I don’t know what that man doesn’t know how to do. He flies a plane, a helicopter, everything. It’s very inspiring to work with people like that. But don’t try to outshine them in the action scenes. I think there was a stunt guy who tried to compete running with Tom Cruise and Tom was running faster than him. And stunt guys are tough. The strongest, the fastest I’ve ever seen, and Tom was still stronger and faster, so he’s one of a kind.”
That stunt guy must not have seen this compilation of Tom Cruise running, otherwise he probably would never have tried to race him. It seems like Cruise has it in his contract that he has to run in every movie he’s in, and while we all know he’s a physical guy who loves to do his own stunts, what we don’t know is what he’s like to work with as an actor. Kurylenko spoke about her experience with him:
“[Tom is] very interesting creatively. That was an unexpected thing, to see how much he gives. Of course, he’s a big star and he’s a wonderful actor, we know that. But we don’t know – and only his partners and other actors know – how much he gives to the other. He’s such a generous partner, and that’s not always the case. I’ve never seen him sit in his trailer. He’ll always be there…He is involved 100%. That’s a wonderful thing. Very supportive, of course. He’s done all these stunt scenes. When I came on set and there was this gimbal that was spinning, he talked me through it. He knows how it works. It’s very reassuring to have a partner like that. He’s not just an actor, you know, who has no idea. He actually technically knows how things work.”
For director Joseph Kosinski, Oblivion has been a project years in the making. He created the story in graphic novel form a long time before directing TRON: Legacy, and now he’s finally able to see his creation come to life.
“I wrote the first version of this story about eight years ago, and I thought it would be my first film…I never would have imagined eight years ago that I would have been able to make it on this scale. Going to Iceland, New York City, building all the incredible sets and vehicles and getting the cast I was able to get for this film. But I will say in the end, it’s the same story I originally wrote. Despite the spectacle of the final product, the story of Jack Harper has remained unchanged, so that’s something I’m really proud of…some of the experiences I had on this movie – shooting on a mountaintop in Iceland, working with Tom, seeing him and Morgan together – were just spectacular, what I always dreamed filmmaking would be like.”
Jealous? Me too. Like last year’s excellent sci-fi film Looper, Oblivion isn’t afraid to ask big questions and not hold the audience’s hand while telling the story. Kosinski says that’s very much on purpose:
“You never want to intentionally want to make a confusing movie, but I love movies that ask big questions but don’t necessarily answer everything. I like people walking out thinking about something. I wanted this to be a movie that people would talk about and debate and argue over and discuss and think about a couple days later. Great science fiction films I think help you think about issues that relate to yourself: “What’s my purpose? Why am I here? What is it that makes me who I am?” Those kind of questions my favorite science fiction films ask.”
One of the most interesting things about Kosinski as a filmmaker is the path he took to get there. He studied mechanical engineering and industrial design before going to architecture school and becoming a director years later. Dressed in a sharp suit, the director clearly has an appreciation for aesthetics. His design background is very evident in the insanely gorgeous visuals of his films, and I asked him about the challenges of creating an entirely new science fiction universe that we’ve never seen before.
“I was inspired by some of the films I remember seeing as a kid, some of the films of the ’60s and ’70s. I loved the ‘Twilight Zone’ television show, I remember seeing Planet of the Apes, Omega Man, La Jetée. It felt like in the ’80s, after Alien – which is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time – science fiction went into a very dark place. Deep space and dark ships. I liked the idea of bringing science fiction back out into the daylight. For me, that felt like something we hadn’t seen in a while. That juxtaposition of the world we know set against the landscape of Iceland, to me, was an exciting depiction of the Earth’s surface. I thought we’ve seen so many kind of dusty, gray, green, brown, post-apocalyptic worlds, it’d be fun to see something with some color and daylight and brightness in this world above the clouds. As an aesthetic, that was really exciting.”
The choice to avoid darkness really works in Oblivion’s favor, and as a result Kosinski was able to create one of the most beautiful-looking movies of the year. Be sure to check out Oblivion when it hits theaters on April 19th, and I’ll leave you with some photos of some of the props from the movie that were on display nearby.
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