What would you say the Aquaman fans can expect from this movie, and are you nervous about how they react?
Yes, I’m always nervous about any of my movies that I make, but so far the trailer has been very well received by the fans and the Comic-Con piece as well. I think because of that, they’re definitely a lot calmer than before they saw anything, and I was constantly getting a lot of people on social media just hitting me up saying, ‘what are you making? What are you doing? Tell us about it.’ It was great to finally put out those images and eventually the trailer. I think the fans are very excited about the direction that we have. Then, obviously it’s just trying to find that medium ground of appealing to the fans and appeasing the fans but also to a huge mainstream audience that are not familiar with the comic book as well.
Is the entire script form the comic book?
No, ultimately what we did here is we pulled ideas, certain story strands from the different comic books. The great thing is that there are a lot of stories to pull from and character beats and stuff like that. Ultimately, we have an umbrella story that is from the comic book but then we hang a lot of moments that are either from the comic books or are stuff that we made up.
What was the biggest challenge for you to create the Aquaman world?
The movie’s just very technically difficult and challenging to put together. There’s so many stunts and visual effects and practical locations, and how they all come together. Obviously, the most obvious one is the challenge of trying to recreate the underwater world, and how characters talk, move underwater. How do they fight? How do they move?
They’re extra-human. They’re not like us. If we go underwater, we move very slowly, but for them, they’re like super heroes in the water. They’re so much more powerful. Water gives them so much power. So that was the trick, just trying to find things that were different, that we haven’t quite seen before. That was definitely the most difficult, challenging aspect of it.
How much use was the Aquaman from Justice League?
Obviously, I have to be mindful of where he was in Justice League, but I always knew early on that I need to take him on a hero’s journey to become the hero that he needs to become. In that movie he didn’t really care that much, he was kind of a grumpy guy, he was kind of a nomad. And so, in this one I really need him to come full circle and one of the things I really wanted to do is actually play up to Jason Mamoa’s strength.
Everyone knows that he’s a big tough guy, we’ve seen him do those roles, he’s very convincing as that guy but I think most people will be pleasantly surprised how charming and funny he can be. He actually has a very goofy streak about him and I just wanted to pull that into my movie. That was one of the things, very early on, that I said to Jason, that I want to take him out of his safe place and do stuff that he would otherwise probably might not have tried.
And on the editing specifically, how long have you been in this process and living in this room…
James: Kirk! Come on here’s your opportunity to talk about the process!
Kirk: We got back here in November basically.
James: Yeah but you’ve been editing all through when we’re filming in Australia. That’s what we do right?
Kirk: Yeah, I came on for previs at the beginning.
James: Previs, just to explain, is the process where we design sequences in the film but we do it in computer and we lay it out and having Kirk there early on it really allowed us to plan the movie so we’re not just coming in cutting stuff that we’ve already pre-planned. We really want his voice in the way we put it together and I want his input in that and so it was really important to get Kirk in early on.
When you have a movie like this with so much visual effects, how do you keep a realistic atmosphere for the actors?
It’s kind of what actors today go through, they’ve made enough visual effects films. They know how it is. It’s my job to make sure they understand where they are. They know where their characters might sit at and stuff like that, so it’s just something that as the director, you’ve just gotta make sure that even though there’s a lot of blue screen that they still live in that world that they’re supposed to be in. There’s a lot of imagination for sure.
In terms of the editing, how difficult is it when you have things like chemistry and banter and those kinds of funny interactions for it to feel fresh in your mind when you must watch it hundreds of times and have all these different takes to choose from?
James: Well it’s definitely one those things that when you’re filming it on set, if it’s a moment that works, it’s very apparent when it works. And it’s very apparent when things don’t work either. Then you get into editing and you think, ‘Oh how can we make this better?’ The stuff that does work, you want to make sure that you keep a track of that. When you shoot a scene, you kind of need to roughly edit the moments in your head so that you know, then get into editorial. You know how to put things together as well, so it’s part of the process. I don’t know, Kirk do you want to talk about any of this process?
Kirk: Yeah, the same thing when you watch the dailies and you see moments that work, and you grab those pieces together and you put them together. And one of the things with editing is you just have to kind of always try to keep the first time viewer in mind, because as you cut things out of story, you want to make sure that it still flows and not rely on things that you know was in there before. You just always have to try to keep a fresh perspective…
James: And it’s not easy when you’ll be editing and watching the same shot 100 times already. How do you keep a fresh perspective? Sometimes you’ve just got to remember your first impression. That’s why it’s sometimes cool to just show moments to friends or show it to other people.
When do you know that a scene is right?
We keep working. I love to tweak, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be tweaking this movie all the way to the release date because I want to get it as good as I can and give everything I’ve got. We spend a lot of time just on tiny little details.
Remembering things like, trying to put yourself in the mind in the Atlantean world. If you’re down there, you’re part of that civilisation and that culture and that race of people. If you talk, there wouldn’t be any air bubbles because you don’t have any air in your lungs, but then you see in that sequence where Patrick Wilson’s character gets enveloped in this air pocket right in this air tunnel and he’s breathing air after that… That’s why he’s gasping. Because he’s a fish out of water and now he’s got all of that water inside his lungs that he throws out. He throws up before he can breathe air again. These are just the technical details that we all think.
How if we’re underwater, if we don’t actually look wet, it’s only when you’re out of water that you look wet because water’s beading off your skin and the sun hits it and stuff like that. So, when you’re actually under there, you’re really matte. Just a lot of things that are indeed things that we did very early on. We did a lot of development where we would put props in a tank, put costumes in a tank just to see how they would move and then just film our stunt guys to see how we would move underwater.
Patrick Wilson is his brother, so who are his parents?
Patrick Wilson is his half-brother. The story is – and like the comic book as well – Mom fled a betrothal that she did not want to be a part of. She falls in love, but wasn’t expecting, with a surface-dweller. Then to save them she has to go back to Atlantis. She had to go back to marry the king that she was betrothed to but doesn’t love and is a horrible person. She then has a son with him and then the son is the younger, half-brother to Arthur.
James, you’ve worked so much with Leigh [Whannell] since the beginning, so when you first got this, did you call him up?
This was a long time ago now. I feel like I’ve been on this project for like over two years already but I’m pretty sure at some point I went, ‘Hey Leigh, I’m going to be doing this superhero movie, and it’s the one that everyone makes fun of.’ I always value Leigh’s opinion, and I got him to do a little cameo for me in there as the pilot. At the time he was busy filming his movie Upgrade so I had to pull him between his directing duties on that film.
After doing horror films, action, and these superheroes, what’s next? What would you like to direct that you haven’t done yet.
I’ve always kind of joked or threatened that I would make a romantic comedy one day, and I will do that one day. I love that genre, that’s one of my favourite genres to watch. Not many people realise that, but I love it and I’d love to do my While You Were Sleeping.
Aquaman is in cinemas December 13, 2018