ENTERTAINMENT

Alfonso Cuarón, 'Gravity' Director, Explains Why Watching His 'Harry Potter' Movie Is Like Watching His Parents Have Sex

10/01/2013 12:14 pm ET
Warner Bros.

Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" isn't quite what popular opinion thought it was going to be just a few months ago. The conventional wisdom would have told you that the movie was about an astronaut (Sandra Bullock) who is hurtled into space after a horrific accident. OK, yes, that part is true. But "Gravity" is not 90 minutes of Bullock's silently contemplating her own mortality. (The film's original title, "Space Adventure in 3D," should have been enough proof that this theory was false.) What "Gravity" is, as Cuarón likes to say, is a roller-coaster ride. And, yes, that does sum it up fairly accurately.

In person, Cuarón is not exactly what you'd expect from the guy who made the wonderful "Children of Men" and the most avant-garde Harry Potter movie, "The Prisoner of Azkaban." Cuarón is incredibly welcoming and has an almost childlike excitement when he discusses a topic that interests him -- but you surely might not expect Cuarón to compare the feeling of watching his old movies to that of watching videotaped intercourse between his parents.

"Gravity" (starring Bullock and co-starring George Clooney as her veteran astronaut counterpart) is not a traditional action film, but it might just be one of the best action films ever filmed. As Cuarón explains, his goal was more "Duel" than any other movie that's been set in space. Cuarón also discusses "Gravity"'s little-known short-film companion, "Aningaaq," that his son (and "Gravity" co-writer) Jonás Cuarón directed, along with how you'll be able to see that film.

But, first, Cuarón explains his love for his old Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe.

My next interview after this is with Daniel Radcliffe, so it's like a "Prisoner of Azkaban" reunion for me.
Here in New York?

Yes.
Send my love to the bastard.

"The bastard"?
Send my love to him.

And include the word "bastard"?
Say, "to the amazing bastard" [laughs] ... I am so full of admiration on how he's handling his career. I'm so filled with admiration for him. He's so smart and has amazing taste.

You two should do another movie together.
I would love to do something with him again. I'm a big fan, man. In your article you can quote me, because he's one actor I would love to work with again.

Just please don't wait as long this time between movies.
Man, I don't know, I'm thick and slow -- I'm lazy. I'm lazy.

Obviously that's not true. But you have to be pleased with the reactions to "Gravity" so far.
It's better than the alternative. Of course I'm pleased. And quite honestly, surprised.

How so?
When I saw you last [at San Diego Comic-Con], we were still working on the film. It was close, but not quite. And I didn't close the whole thing until two weeks before Venice. And I closed because they pretty much cut the line in the water.

If it were up to you would you still be tinkering with it?
Well, yes. There's always stuff that you're a little dissatisfied with -- in particular a film that you're trying to portray a real rendering of the whole thing.

Is there a specific scene that you wish you had more time on?
Look, I have to say, I was really lucky in that as recent as 10 days ago, I had a screening and I noticed some little stuff under the eye of one of the characters and we went back to fix it.

Do you notice stuff like that in your older movies?
Once I finish a film, I don't ever see it again. Never ever. I have never seen any of my films since I finished them.

What if "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" comes on television?
If it's on TV? It's a little bit like you're switching and you see something that is familiar. And then, immediately, you have the same reaction as if you suddenly jumped into a video of your parents having sex. And it's like 'Ahhh!' and you just change the channel.

That's not what I was expecting you to say.
It's a little bit like that.

That's horrifying.
It's like, 'Whoa!'

I don't feel that's a fair comparison. No one would ever want to see my parents having sex, but many people want to watch "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."
How do you know?

I feel confident in this answer.
That's spooky, man, that you talk about that in such confidence. I know it's confidence and not voyeurism [laughs].

OK ... but I can say for fact that millions of people love "Prisoner of Azkaban."
Oh, no, I don't want to convince the audience about anything, it's just my process. You know, it's something that you move on from the past. If you talk with Guillermo del Toro or any of my friends, their films are like their babies -- like their children. And they really take care of them and do new additions and new commentaries. For me, my films are not like my children. They are like my ex-wife. They gave me so much; I gave them so much; I loved them so much; we part ways and, it's OK, we part ways.

The original title for "Gravity" was "Space Adventure in 3D." That title makes complete sense now.
That was the original title. And that was bold to say -- and maybe with 3D big, big, big on the poster. There's a part of this film that we wanted to do a bold movie experience ... a movie movie. And, yes, there's all the subtext that the movie has. But, we kept on saying, we didn't have one single reference -- when we were writing or developing or talking dramatically about this film -- about space films. But we did reference "Duel" by [Steven] Spielberg and "A Man Escaped" by [Robert] Bresson.

There was a misconception for a time by a few people that this whole movie would be Sandra Bullock floating through space contemplating her own demise. Had you heard that?
It's so weird. I try not to hear that much, because, then, it can be very distracting for a process. You know, you're trying to focus and trying to find the right voice. I know that after Comic-Con it was a very good reception -- but some voices of skepticism, talking about, you know, "What a bore?''

As far as the "Bullock floating through space" misconception, it was never "What a bore." It was more "I can't wait to see how he pulls that off." It is an introspective movie, but there's much more action than I was expecting.
It's a roller-coaster ride and at the same time it's an emotional ride -- they go together. And then, between those two rides, we can interweave them and connect those two things through themes.

How accurate are the physics in this movie?
We went through pains to make sure that the behavior of objects in micro-gravity and no resistance was as accurate as possible.

There's one scene I was wondering about. When Sandra Bullock's character is holding onto George Clooney's character, his momentum seems stopped, but he's pulling her away? I'm sure I missed something that explains this.
What happens is she's grabbing the tethers and he comes with momentum. His momentum pulls her. They're moving together. There's a wide shot that shows they keep moving and you can see the background keeps on moving. What happens is, if he lets go, his force stops and the force of the tether takes over. And, look, by saying that, this is not a documentary. We took certain liberties. Part of the liberties we took were in the sense of we would stretch the possibilities of certain things. But what's great was I received an email this morning from French astronaut Jean-François Clervoy -- he's seen the film already twice. He said, 'I used to tell people that if they want to get an experience of what it is like to be up there, they have to see one of those IMAX documentaries of footage shot by astronauts. But now I can tell them to go and see 'Gravity.'' The vision and the sound is what he says are so accurate.

At one point in the film, Sandra Bullock's character is communicating with an Inuk man living in the Arctic. At TIFF, there was speculation he couldn't hear her.
They're having a conversation, but they don't understand each other. It's two different languages so they don't understand each other. Actually, in Venice and in Telluride they've been showing a short film that Jonás directed that is that same scene from the standpoint of the other character. And he went to some remote location in Greenland to do this film with one Inuk fisherman that is dealing with his own sort of circumstance, now talking with this astronaut and having a conversation.

Will that be on the Blu-ray?
Yes, yes, yes.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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