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Capone talks time travel and identify issues with PREDESTINATION star Ethan Hawke and directors The Spierig Brothers!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

I’m been fortunate enough to have interviewed Ethan Hawke a few times over the years, including once when he was promoting a vastly under-appreciated film called DAYBREAKERS, the second feature (after a tasty zombie comedy film called UNDEAD) from the Australian Spierig Brothers—twins Michael and Peter. Early in 2014, I saw the brothers latest work, PREDESTINATION, based on the Robert A. Heinlein short story “All You Zombies,” about as twisty and dense a science-fiction story as you’re likely to see, but it’s also wildly enjoyable and entertaining. Once again, the film stars Hawke as a type of counter-terrorist agent who goes back in time to stop crimes before they happen. He’s on the hunt for a particularly nasty criminal known as the Fizzle Bomber, who is about to kill thousands if Hawke can’t stop him.

Somehow, pretending to be a bartender and talking up one of the bar’s patrons (played by the unreal Sarah Snook) plays into his plan to stop the bomber, and if I told you any more, it would be too much, and you might not believe me anyway. At the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, I sat down with Hawke and the Spierig Brothers to talk about PREDESTINATION and all of its mind-bending turns. It’s an almost impossible film to talk about without spoiling major plot points, so I suggest that you simply see the film (which should be making its way to many markets this Friday, January 9) and then come back to this interview. But if you like your films spoiled, read on and don’t say I didn’t warn you. Please enjoy my chat with Ethan Hawke and the Spierig Brothers…

Capone: Hi, Ethan. We’ve talked before on the phone, but we’ve never actually met. Great to finally meet you.

Ethan Hawke: Yeah, sure. I’m so happy you’re here. We haven’t shown the movie to people, so it’s cool to hear people are responding to it. What did we talk about on the phone?

Capone: I believe the first time we might have even been talking about DAYBREAKERS [it turns out the first time we talked, it was actually about 2007’s BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD], but at the end of the interview, the publicist was wrapping it up, and you said to me that you had read my review of THE HOTTEST STATE [Hawke’s second film as a director, based on his novel], and you said, “Thank you for saying so many nice things about it.”

EH: When you only get a handful of people understanding something, you remember everybody [laughs].

Capone: That was a first, I’ll admit.

EH: Well, I really did appreciate it.

Capone: You mentioned last night during the Q&A that there is this famous diagram of this film’s path—based on the short story. I feel like you’ll need to include that with every ticket you sell, just so people can review it afterwards. It’s just not a film you’re going to go comfortably through the first time and get everything. The first thing I wanted to do when it was over was watch it again.

EH: Yeah, but how did you feel the first time you saw BRAZIL or something like that?

Capone: Exactly. This isn’t the only film I’ve ever felt this way about, but it’s definitely one of them.

EH: I think that’s the fun of the movie is trying to figure all of that shit out. I love listening to people last night. In the car, my whole family was, “Oh mom, don’t be such an idiot. It’s this. They’re one person.” “I know it’s one person, but—”

Capone: When the film eventually comes out, is it even possible to try and keep the secrets of the film secret?

Michael Spierig: Well, that’s a good question. We had gone back and forth on this discussing how much we actually reveal, and at this stage, I’m not 100 percent sure.

Peter Spierig: Anyone who really wants to know can go to Wikipedia, and it’s all there. It’s the fun of what we’ve done with it. It’s the fun of what’s new and interesting.

EH: I love the short story. It has this spark of genius to it, but it is six pages long. What you guys have done with it is remarkable. If we were to adapt “Stranger in a Strange Land,” we would fail because the book is so massive and so interesting, but to take a short story and riff on it is a lot more fun. I think the questions are a lot more interesting than the answers, that’s why I wouldn’t do the diagram.

MS: And I think it’s more about whether you connect with the emotional journey than whether you fully get every beat the first time you see it. You also mentioned that you wanted to go back and see it again, and that’s great! I hope that’s the reaction people have, to hit rewind and go back.

Capone: This is one of those rare films where every scene counts. There’s nothing extraneous.

EH: I know. That’s what’s hardest about shooting it, though.

Capone: In a lot of films, you accept the filler, because it gives you a chance to process, but here, ever scene has to mean something, and it has to add to either the unveiling or the compounding of the story. I imagine there’s almost nothing you shot that you didn’t use.

PS: There’s almost zero.

MS: There won’t be deleted scenes on the DVD.

EH: You changed orders or shuffled or intercut scenes, but there was not one serious thing that we did that we didn’t use. Even the thing that I bet you you wouldn’t use. What do I owe you? I owe you something.

MS: You owe us a round of drinks.

EH: That’s all it? Okay, good. I’m be good for it. There was one shot where I kept insisting, “This will never be in the film.”

MS: I think we put it in the film just so you’d lose the bet. [laughs]

Capone: With most great works of science fiction, there’s a message about society. But this is science fiction that gets to the heart of something. It’s much more intimate and emotional. It’s rare that you see that. Was that a tough thing to crack about this story? There are issues about identity and the ethics of time travel, but talk about figuring out that “We’re going to make a science fiction film that’s about this one character’s journey.”

PS: That’s what I loved about the short story is it is about one character’s journey, and you don’t realize that until the end. Everything you’re watching, everything that Ethan’s doing, everything that Sarah’s doing.

EH: It’s all emotional development.

PS: It’s all character development. It’s all about what this person has gone through to get to this place at the end of the movie. And that’s the fun of it. You don’t realize that what Ethan’s doing is, he’s lived the life of the other person is now starting to live.

MS: And there’s a joy in watching that too, maybe we’re giving away too much here, but you can watch it from two perspectives. The first perspective is, you’re curious as to what these two people are on about. And then to watch it again knowing this time what his character knows, it’s a totally different experience.

Capone: It really a big manipulation, what you’re doing to her.

EH: Absolutely. I think the movie is better the second time. It’s a richer because you guys worked so hard to have it make sense. The other thing that I love is, and I think I realized what I was saying about the performance thing yesterday, it’s a much more emotional film, this film. It’s a sci-fi movie, it’s time travel, it’s a thriller, and you’re on this hunt for this murderer. But at its core, it’s a movie that has a transgender character that’s not about transgender. And I feel like that’s so wonderful. It’s something you’ve never seen before.

MS: We always looked at the transgender element as a piece of a really interesting plot. It wasn’t about making a statement about anything; it was using it as an interesting sci-fi element in the plot.

Capone: It may become a statement whether you want it to or not.

MS: That’s fine.

EH: That’ll be what they make about it.

MS: Well like I say, we call this film a transgender mind bender.

EH: I have to tell you, the perfect poster for this movie should say: “PREDESTINATION: Go Fuck Yourself”. We have to do one poster like that.

Capone: Get those Mondo guys. They always do stuff like that.

EH: Yeah, exactly. It’d be so cool. I wonder what the image would be?

PS: I’ll look through the photos and put something together.

Capone: I’ve got to ask you about Sarah, because she is unbelievable. I went last night and looked up photos of her to see if I had seen her in anything, and she’s a beautiful woman. You’ve done this remarkable job of making her less so. What was it that you were looking for in that character? What did she have to embody?

PS: It seems like we’ve taken a couple of beautiful women and made them look incredibly ugly. We even took Isabel Lucas and made her look horrible [in DAYBREAKERS]. We were looking for somebody that had the emotional core of this character. She was able to play this woman who was tough and interesting, and then also play a man who was completely broken and an alcoholic and somebody who had been through hell. It’s a lot to do.

EH: And she did it. If sci-fi didn’t have its own weird ghetto, that performance should win awards. And seeing it on the big screen last night, she’s so believable as both of those people. The way you guys shot the transition, it’s really powerful, I think. It was so fun last night to see it work when she says, “When I was a little girl—”And the audience is is like, “Wait…huh?”

PS: Because the audience might be thinking that.

EH: They’re thinking, “Who is this effeminate guy? Okay, it’s a girl?” It was perfect.

Capone: Well you have a great reaction, too. Your reaction is basically the audience’s reaction: “Excuse me?”

MS: You’ve got to remember, his reaction is the character acting.

Capone: That’s right. That’s why I think it would be a completely different film the second time around.

MS: And lines like when Ethan gets called a son of a bitch. And he says, “Son of a bitch? That’s funny.”

EH: The second time you see it you’re like, “Oh, that is funny.”

MS: And using the song “I Am My Own Grandpa.”

Capone: That I got. That’s a little on the nose.

EH: That has a diagram too online.

Capone: Ethan, you come back to genre work every so often. What is it that you get out of doing those kind of films? You sell it maybe better than any actor out there. You make the unbelievable very believable.

EH: I just love it. What makes the best people in our profession, whether it’s Scorsese or Spielberg, as good as they are is they keep that kid in them alive, and you marry it with your adult self who has experience and knowledge and knows how to design a movie. I spent my life studying acting, but at that same time, you want to keep that part of you that went to see sci-fi movies as a kid. Remember WESTWORLD? Remember that?

Capone: Of course.

EH: I remember seeing WESTWORLD and just having my mind ask “What is this?!” I feel like you have to keep that joy alive, and I think with DAYBREAKERS and PREDESTINATION, that’s what the three of us are trying to do. It’s the joy of movies. Let’s say I want to make a movie about the war through time between the masculine and feminine in the self, and how almost always the male is beating up the female is almost a terrorist to the self, that would be pretentious. But if you make it sci-fi and you make it time travel and you make it two characters, then it’s beautiful and fun, and you’re still talking about the idea.

Capone: You can get away with pretentious.

EH: You do. What I like about THE PURGE, for example, is if you try to make a movie about Trayvon Martin right now, it’s like, “Oh, it’s got political agenda.” But if you go, “I’ll tell you a story. In the future, there’s a black guy running through a neighborhood…” It’s an interesting way as filmmakers to tell stories.

Capone: You guys have taken these staples in science fiction and horror and vampires and now time travel, and you’ve deconstructed them and re-built them. Do you have any other genres that you want to aim your guns at to do the same?

PS: I’d love to do a straight down the line action movie, but then put a spin on it. Do something that’s different and interesting. That’s the thing that we’re attracted to. It could be a vampire movie, it could be a two-handed drama. There’s something different and interesting about it, and that’s what we’ll gravitate towards. I don’t think we’re going to do a straight down the line comedy any time soon.

EH: But you could. UNDEAD is so funny. It’s hysterical. The timing in that, the humor, the wit in that. You guys could if you wanted to. It’d be an evil comedy, itdefinitely would.

Capone: Thank you so much. It was great to meet you all.

PS: Thank you. Cheers. -- Steve Prokopy
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