The interview was originally posted on July 11th 2011.
I sat down with director/writer Joe Cornish and John Boyega, the star of his new film Attack the Block. We discussed ET and creature movies, friendships, and of course aliens.
How did you come up with the idea for Attack the Block?
Joe Cornish: Basically, through a lot of 80’s creature movies like ET, Gremlins, Critters, and Predator. I use to watch those movies when I was growing up in South London, the area the film is shot in, and I use to wonder why no one told a story like that in that neighborhood. It struck me that it would be a cool flip on that story. Have an alien land in that urban environment and to have the kids responding the way they do. I was also interested in the character of Moses. A lot of British movies set in this environment start with a good kid who’s taken down by his environment. One small action or one small beef escalates and it ends up in a kind of depressing, holistic place. I wanted to start with that and sort of flip it and go the other way. Take a stereotype and strip the stereotype away and reveal the humanity and give the character redemption at the end of the story. But also do that with crazy chases, explosions, samurai swords, and all that good s—t.
Joe: Yeah exactly. That was the idea.
How did you get involved with the film?
John Boyega: I got a call from my agent and he said there was a film about an alien invasion set in South London. I had my first audition where Joe showed interest and came to see me. I had a play at a theater in North London where I had a ten minute stage appearance in that play. From there I got recall after recall and finally was told that I got the part of Moses and I was really happy. I did a little dance. [everybody laughs]
I know there will be an immediate comparison to Super 8 when this movie opens. They’re two completely different movies. What would you say is the major difference?
Joe: I suppose this is a character story. It’s interested in Moses. It’s interested in the front that kids like them have to build up to survive in these neighborhoods. It’s interested in stripping away that front. It’s using the monster movie scenario almost as a metaphor for the dangers that face them and showing that any character can be good as well as bad. Showing that a bad person can do good things and people can be redeemed. It’s a character study and sort of a social study. For me, ET is an amazing creature feature but it’s about divorce. So it’s using this alien as a metaphor about a boy that’s very lonely and in many ways Moses character is like a contemporary Elliot. He’s lonely his parents aren’t there for him, and he relies on his friends as his peer group. This is like a contemporary, bad ass, tougher version of that story.
There were two things I loved in this movie. One being the aliens. How did you come up with that concept? They don’t look like anything I’ve seen before.
Joe: I don’t know. There’s no short answer to that. You would think that after all the interviews I’ve done, I would have come up with a sound bite for that [laughs]. It was a whole lot of ideas. I was interested in a technique called rotoscope. You take live action and you actually paint on top of it. They used it in various old school cartoons. I was interested in a cartoon-y alien that was more stylized and a bit more like the stuff you see in 80’s movies. I wanted to do it practically because I wanted there to be real physical contact. I just wanted something stylish and old school. We attempted to come up with something we’d never seen before. I’m like you, it feels like the dragon out of Harry Potter could wander over into Cloverfield and no one would know. So we go completely the opposite way. We have a very unique design, and we used very little CGI. We used our CGI to take away detail rather than add it. Hopefully these are creatures like you’ve never seen before.
The other thing I loved about this film was Moses and his relationship with his friends. Is that anything like your relationship with your friends back home?
John: Yeah. When people ask me how I relate to the character, the only thing I can say is part of me and him is his friends. Moses doesn’t have a family that’s stable. His boys, that’s all he has. I don’t know if you know that love. When they’re your boys, they’re your boys, they’re your brothers. It’s like having the same blood. Literally, you’ll die for them point blank. That’s the kind of love that Moses shared with the other characters. It brings the good out of him and it makes him think, ‘Because you aliens have done that – cool. Now I’m going to mess all of you up.’ He gets really angry because the love is there. It helped me do those scenes [makes an angry face] They got Dennis! [everybody laughs]
Joe: They really bonded for real. We saw 1,500 kids. We chose John first. As soon as he walked in the room he was clearly it. Then we assembled the gang around him. We rehearsed for a few weeks and they did stunt training and bike training. By the time we started shooting, John was properly best buddies with Franz (Drameh) who plays Dennis, and the Pest character who’s already a little bit annoying and lovable [laughs], and Jerome. They all kind of fit together.
Did you do a lot of your own stunts in the film?
John: Not all of them, but a lot of them. I remember reading the script thinking, Oh yeah. He does this and he does that. So who’s going to do it [everybody laughs]. We had a lot rehearsal practices to get the training in and to get pumped up for it. The producer got me a trainer to get really fit for the role. It was really cool.
Have you thought about a sequel?
Joe: We had a lot of fun thinking about sequels while we were shooting. John came up with the best idea. You have every kid in South London on their BMX bikes cycling across Westminster Bridge with this huge third wave of meteors and a much bigger creatures coming down. We don’t know where we’d take it from there. The other idea was to have the meteors attack a really posh estate in the countryside and for the gang to have to come in and save them. To do that we’d have to do that now and wait for the Benjamin Button technology to be cheaper. John is two years older than he was when we shot.
So what are you working on next?
John: I finished another indie film called Junkhearts that should be coming out next year. Then I shoot Law & Order UK and that’s going to be really fun. I’m looking to start shooting another movie soon.
Joe: I’m working on a movie version of the Marvel character Ant Man with Edgar Wright. I’m also one of the writers on Spielberg’s TinTin that comes out this Christmas. Then I’m developing more movie ideas. Just sticking to my guns to see if I get the opportunity to make another one.