“I’m very good,” director Gavin Hood says over an interrupted phone line from London to LA, where he resides. “How’s the weather for making movies on weekends?”
As we joke about the unpredictable British weather which may hamper any productions our tiny crew of filmmakers may be planning, Hood sets the scene of surprising clouds of Los Angeles and fog coming off the ocean. We’re speaking on the spotty connection about the release of Eye in the Sky, a drama thriller about a drone operation in Narobi. Starring Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman, the release – which is out on DVD & Blu-Ray today – was met with critical and commercial acclaim.
“It’s a huge relief,” says Hood with a cheery response. The South African director, who also crafted X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender’s Game, and Academy Award winning Tsotsi has had waves of laudation for this year’s tense drama/thriller. “The reaction is a hugely gratifying response. The story was a good thriller, keeping you on the edge of the seat, and once we made it and found out that people felt that way, it was fantastic.”
The drama is focused mainly in boardrooms and is tethered to the shoulders of your cast. Hood would’ve had to have a lot of trust in, not only Guy Hibbert’s script, but his actors. He stresses that it wasn’t a perfect shoot, particularly getting all the pieces in one place at the same time. “In an ideal world, in a perfect world, we would’ve filmed the sequences in Nairobi with the little girl first, and edited that footage together so the case can play with what we have on screen.”
Unfortunately, due to budget restraints and cast schedules, this wasn’t the case. “There were brave people to fund a film like this, a controversial film on a limited budget, and it meant we had to figure out a way to make everything fit together. We filmed it all in South Africa because we couldn’t go to London or America or make the cast numbers work.”
Filming most of the action in South Africa meant that Rickman, Mirren, and Paul could come and film their sequences separately without worry about timing conflicts. “Helen was only available for limited window. For exactly 8 days,” Hood describes and explains that anytime with the Academy Award winner was exciting. “She arrived in Cape Town and she had to work with green screens, without the footage. I had to explain what was going on, where the little girl was, and what Aaron and Alan were saying. I was really worried but she turned to me and said ‘Gavin, it’s fine, I’m paid to use my imagination.’”
Hood continues to praise his leading lady, who plays Colonel Powell, tasked with making the horrid decision on whether a little girl should live or an impending terror attack should be stopped. “She was a remarkable woman, wonderful, and an absolute delight to work with. I have so many good stories from filming with her like the time she discovered the wardrobe, which was an unflattering camouflaged jumpsuit. Instead of arguing, she simple said ‘This is what you want me to wear and this is what they would wear. In that case, that is what I’ll wear.’
For Aaron Paul, who arrived after Helen Left, the experience was a little more hands-on and difficult. Hood had wanted to develop the scene and the technology Paul’s drone fighter pilot would have to work with; “I had him work with drone pilots and learn everything they did, what buttons they pushed, how they could control,” says Hood, who spent days developing the right techniques with the Breaking Bad star, “You have to work with the technical stuff first so the actors can push forward with the emotional performance. When they are comfortable with what levers to pull, then they aren’t distracting and can eventually convey the right feelings, giving truthful performances.”
Beyond the gravitas of seasoned thespians, Hood stresses that every actor, from the extras to Mirren, were perfectly cast. “The populous on the ground had never acted before. My terrific casting agent Moonyeenn Lee was from South Africa and really hit the ground running by finding Somali refugees in Cape Town and going to Shanty Towns and Community Halls whittling them down. The mother, the father, and all the actors involved were Somalian refugees.” Hood explains but stresses that not one of them gave a bad performance. “There were different but excellent performances across the board, working in slightly different ways.”
At the emotional core of the story is this little girl who is unaware that her life is being bartered by operatives in different countries to her. Aisha Takow portrays the character with innocence and greatness and the director was clear to be patient with her. “You have to work in slightly different ways, you have to not distress her on the ground whilst collecting these pieces together. But from everyone, I got to right expressive responses and arcs. Nobody let us down.”
Eye in the Sky has one of the last performances of the late and great Alan Rickman who performed with a handful of actors around a table. “It was the politicians watching the screen and speaking with Helen and Aaron who, of course wasn’t there. But still, it was brilliant.”
Despite all the logistical issues with the film, Hood and his team have crafted one of the most undeniably brilliant thrillers that keeps your heart pulsating in your stomach. The turning thriller is definitely a testament to Hood’s talent and work. But he assures us he is taking a little break before he goes onto his next project.
“I’m working on a few new things that I can’t get into in case they don’t develop.” Hood says, divulging only a little of the countless amount of project he has Yet Gavin Hood stresses that his three years on Eye in the Sky will always be treasured. “With all the cast and crew, it was one of those truly great experiences.”
EYE IN THE SKY IS OUT ON DVD & BLU-RAY NOW!