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Interview: Director Rupert Wyatt on Why ‘Captive State’ is Not Your Typical Alien Invasion Film

March 20, 2019Ben MK

What if you had to either accept surrender or face the prospect of near-certain obliteration? That's the seemingly impossible choice facing humanity in Captive State, leading some people to cooperate with a hostile alien presence, while others opt to fight back against their extraterrestrial oppressors.

The latest from Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt, the film is set in a near-future Chicago nine years after aliens wage a violent takeover of the Earth, becoming the new "legislators" of our planet and effectively enslaving its citizens to help them deplete our own natural resources for their benefit. However, even in the darkest of times all light is not lost, as a network of resistance fighters plots to strike the aliens where they least expect it, even while a conflicted cop hunts them down one by one.

I caught up with Rupert Wyatt to talk about the sci-fi thriller, which sets out to put a markedly different spin on the sub-genre of movies revolving around an invasion by species from another planet.

Captive State is your fourth feature film. Why did you want to do a story centered on an alien occupation?

Wyatt: In some ways, I wanted to make a film more about occupation, full stop. That was where my real interest lay. And I wanted to do that in a time, in a place, in a society that felt wholly relevant to us. And so, with that in mind, I couldn't really go too far back into history. I wanted to do a global [story], and so I pushed it into the near future, and that's where the notion of an alien attack and first contact and occupation then came about.

Even though it's a sci-fi thriller, much like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you're keen on exploring the human drama in the background as opposed to the potential spectacle of the larger events in the foreground. How do you balance between the need to have both?

Wyatt: It's a challenge. You're right, I think that I deal with the exploration of the humans within our film [and] less about the macropolitics or the alien species itself and what they're here for and their needs. That becomes secondary; it's much more about the monster being within us, the choices that we have to make, the moral dilemmas. And so it became sort of being led by the human narrative or being led by the multiple characters within our story.

That to me, was the priority, and where the drama lay. But, of course, we're set in the future with an alien occupation unfolding, so I started to create rules for the world and strip away pieces of [human] technology — and obviously food shortages and fuel collapse and things like that — and insert alien technology into our story. So that's where the science fiction grew from.

We only get fleeting glimpses of the aliens — the "roaches" and the "hunters" — but what we do get does look quite terrifying. What was the inspiration behind their design?

Wyatt: From insects, ultimately. I saw them as wasps, if we're bees — the idea that we're willing to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good and they're looking to attack our hives, colonize us, terraform. And from there grew out this idea that they are insectoids by design, and they live below ground, their vehicles have a hive-like appearance. So it all came from this idea of the insect world. And it just made sense to me, because I thought if they're from another planet and they are invading — they're here for our fossil fuels — so they would be from a carbon-based planet.

Aside from that, were you inspired in any way by other movies in the genre?

Wyatt: All of my references were non sci-fi, in an interesting way. Definitely Children of Men is a massively influential film for me, in the world of sci-fi, just because of how grounded it is. But again, I would never classify that film [as sci-fi], even though just technically you'd have to because it is set in a fictional future — but it's really an incredible drama of the near-future in a documentary kind of way. And so that's something that I was looking to do with this.

You've also assembled quite a cast, including John Goodman and Vera Farmiga. Can you tell me more about how you chose the actors for this film?

Wyatt: It's a good question, in terms of how does one color in a character that is not on the screen for very long. And that is the case for many of our characters. We're dealing with a hyper-narrative — multiple characters, multiple viewpoints, multiple stories all intertwining to form a unified whole. And so it's vital for those characters, in many ways, to be embodied by actors that have an innate understanding of the smallest of details, that have the ability to convey emotion and mood and temperament and timing though just the smallest of actions.

The only [type of] actor that can really pull that off is a great character actor, and so that's where I started. I went out to those that I had knew and respected and whose work I really admired, and looked to try and bring them in. I also have a keen sense of the physical; I have faces in my mind of how these characters look. So James Ransone, for example, who plays Ellison, who I'd seen in The Wire: I had a very keen idea of what that character should embody — and it was this sternness that was also quite vulnerable — and I felt that, as an actor, he embodied that.

And what do you want audiences to walk away with after seeing the movie?

Wyatt: Hopefully, the idea that they're coming away from seeing something that is quite unusual in modern, mainstream American cinema. For better or for worse — I'll let people be the judge of that — but it's definitely not your typical genre film, and I always look to achieve that. And to play to the dramatic idea of who these characters are, play to the fact that the everyday people on the ground are the real heroes, and not go to this idea that heroes with extraordinary powers are ultimately the ones to right the wrongs of the world that we live in today.

And also, ultimately, I would say that we as a nation, as a race, as a species, should always be reminding ourselves that we are custodians of this planet. And right now, we're not doing a very good job of safeguarding it. I think, if there's anything political to say in this film, it's about the fact that we more often than not allow the near-term interests of capitalism and big business to drive us to what could be — dare I say it — the brink of extinction. And I think it's our generation that has the opportunity to turn that around.

Last but not least, what are you working on next?

Wyatt: Many things, but I don't know yet what will be next. I'm writing some scripts and working on some stop-motion animation, which I'm very passionate about as well. So I don't know what exactly will come next, but I hope it will be at the end of this year.

Captive State is now in theatres.

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