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Interview: Jonathan Glazer Talks The Guerilla Shoot Of His Bold 'Under The Skin' Starring Scarlett Johansson

The Playlist By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist September 12, 2013 at 1:26PM

It has been close to a decade since commercials and music video director turned filmmaker Jonathan Glazer released his sophomore feature film, “Birth.” Following his slick and stylish debut, the gangster flick “Sexy Beast,” the film marked a leap forward stylistically, with longer takes, a bold visual approach and a carefully considered integration of narrative and score. And now with his third film, “Under The Skin,” Glazer has again pushed the language of his filmmaking into bold and truly exciting places.
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Under The Skin

The score by Mica Levi is phenomenal. What kind of conversations did you have about what you wanted and what did you see in her talent that was right for this?
Peter Raven, who's the music producer on this film I've worked with for years on most of my stuff, and there came a day where he said, "Look we've got to find a composer, it's time to get going on the music." I delayed this as long as possible [and] when I cut, I don't use temp, I cut absolutely dry. Anyway, I went over to his studio, and we talked three or four years ago, and I said to him, "Look, this is not going to be some sort of Hollywood guy, this will be a genius in a bedsit. Somewhere out there is this voice for this film." And I knew it would be the soul of the film. 

"She had a body guard with her who was shitting himself, he was sometimes in another vehicle thinking, 'This guy, who is he? He could pull a knife.'"

So I went in and he started playing me people like Hans Zimmer and [Zbigniew] Preisner, and all these great composers who have done magnificent work on scores, and number eight is this strange sound that came out, probably about 20 seconds of it and I immediately said, "Who's that?" He stopped the tape and told me who it was Mica Levi, she's a very young girl, 24, she is classically trained, she was doing concertos with the London Philharmonic, she was 21, she's also in a band Micachu And The Shapes. I thought this girl was unbelievable. I remember saying to Pete, "I really want this to be Mica's voice". So a lot of it was Pete and I sitting in a room waiting for Mica to find that voice. Pete would help steer and produce that process as well as he does, but the score came just out of this remarkable young lady and I think she's magnificent. I think she's a genius. She said to me, she saw the character as a rebel and I loved that.

Was there a lot of material left out of the film? The reason I ask, is not because it feels like that, but for example, there's a great sequence almost documentary-like of shots of people's faces in the city, and I'd gladly watch an hour of that kind of stuff. Did you have a lot of footage to work with?
I did actually. That particular sequence you're talking about, where it becomes kind of a layering of human life really, until it becomes this gold, shimmering kind of image, I used every single frame that I shot of that. There were lots of pieces, lots of film that was shot, 270 hours of film I think. Sometimes I had eight cameras running...there were fantastic scenes that I didn't get permission to use. So it was quite a high wire act in that sense, you would not know what you were going to get every day. You would take risks that meant that you might be shooting for three hours and end up with nothing.

Did you realize going in that there were going to be some days where you were going to be shooting and it just wasn’t going to work?
Yeah, absolutely.

Was that kind of the thrill of it then?
It was the thrill of watching it make itself. Scarlett would turn left and talk to this guy and then that was where the film was going to go, and she'd turn right, and that was where the film was going to go.

That's remarkable trust she puts in you to sort of take her out in the world.
She was saying yesterday how it felt like such an intimate family crew and it is. We were a small bunch and we were very tight and she was one of us. She knew she was completely safe and looked after. She had a body guard with her who was shitting himself, he was sometimes in another vehicle thinking, "This guy, who is he? He could pull a knife, I don’t know who he is." But she was game. She knew that the character's bravery had to be much more than hers.

I hope we’re not going to have to wait nine more years, do you have something else brewing at least?
I've got some stuff going on, but it's hard to know what precisely it is until this is done. I'm really so singular, I am only able to work on one thing at a time. I really am. I have to finish this process and the fact that this thing is being seen now, to expunge it. Then I'll know what my next is. It might be a film, it might not be a film, I just don't know. I've got some things that I'm thinking about but they're quite vaporous at this point, I'm waiting for that thing to strike. Hopefully it won't take nine years, I don't think I can handle it if it did. [Laughs]

Browse through all our coverage of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival to date by clicking here.  

This article is related to: Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin, TIFF, Interviews, Interviews, Toronto International Film Festival, Scarlett Johansson


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