Ari Folman’s preceding endeavour, the Oscar nominated Waltz with Bashir, was an innovative, compelling animation that made this director a force to be reckoned with. His latest piece, The Congress, blends animation with live action, in what is a barbed, satirical look into an ever-changing Hollywood.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Folman ahead of the film’s release, as he discussed the pressure that comes with adapting a Stanis?aw Lem novel, as an author renowned for disliking cinematic adaptations of his work. Folman also tells us how he went from casting Cate Blanchett in the leading role to Robyn Wrigjt, and tells us why he never dreams of combining animation and live action ever again.

The Congress is of course based on a Stanis?aw Lem novel – what was it about this novel which made you want to bring it to the big screen?

Well, I always wanted to adapt this novel, but I had no clue how to do it. After Waltz With Bashir I decided to option it because I thought it was going away from what I had just done, and it was good for me to run away from everything that happened with Bashir. I still didn’t know how to do it, but eventually I came up with this specific film.

Do you know if any members of Stanis?aw’s family have seen it, and is that something you’d be interested to hear?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a funny story, when I optioned the novel there was a sci-fi festival in Tel Aviv, and there was a lecture by a Polish journalist, and the title of the lecture was ‘Why did Stanis?aw Lem hate all film adaptations of his novels’. There was five people in the audience and I was one of them. Of course they started off with Tarkovsky’s Solaris and then ended up with the Solaris that Soderbergh did. So the journalist explained why Lem hated everything, and I went out of the lecture feeling very good, because first I knew I was going to be in very good company, with some great directors that he didn’t like the work of, and then I thought, anyway the guy, isn’t with us anymore, but once you know that he won’t like what you do, you’re free to do anything you want. I think when you purchase an option of literature you really love, and I do think this is a classic novel, if you stay really tight with the original you’re in big trouble. You have to fly away, because it’s a completely different world. However, there was a screening for the Lem family before the release in Poland and they thought it was the most accurate adaptation ever made of one of his novels, and that the master would have loved it. So you never know.

The one key difference between the novel and your movie, is that changing of the gender of the protagonist. What made you decide to go with a female lead in this instance?

Well, I was at Cannes Film Festival five years ago and I went to the market and there was an old lady walking around, and I was asked if I recognised this lady, and I saw no. I asked who she was, and when I was told her name, I realised she was one of the biggest actresses of all time. I don’t want to insult anyone so I won’t tell you her name, but she’s in her late 60s. She really is a Goddess. I was shocked that she was walking around Cannes, the Mecca of cinema, and nobody recognised her. 35 years earlier she would walk down the red carpet and people adored her. I found it pretty amazing. So I thought, what does it mean to be her? To be someone who was once a Goddess of cinema, and to come back to the same place and being completely unrecognised? This specific night, this is where the film started. This is when I decided it would be an actress, and it would be about an actress growing older. There were eight months between seeing this actress in Cannes, and finishing the script.

Robyn Wright is fantastic, and it’s a very personal and intimate portrayal of an actress of that age. Did she take any convincing at all, or was she always keen on the project?

Well the first treatment I wrote for Cate Blanchett. I was in contact with her and we had lovely illustrations of her, but I always felt somehow my mind was not complete with that choice. She was too perfect, in a way. Nobody would believe me with her. Then I saw Robyn for the first time and immediately I knew she was the one. I could immediately see the opening shot of the movie, where the camera tracks out of her face and I knew she was the one. So I pitched her the project, and it took her one and a half seconds to be convinced, that’s what she says. I was surprised that eight months later, when she read the script, that she didn’t want to change anything. It’s a tough role, as you can imagine, but there were no complaints, nothing. It was only when we released the film in Cannes, and I was interviewed with her, that I realised she doesn’t think it’s her in the movie, at all. I found it amazing. I thought she was joking at first, but then I realised she was serious. This is why she’s an actress and I’m a director and you’re interviewing me. We couldn’t do it – but she could. The most bizarre thing, is that after spending a few days with her there, I too started to believe it wasn’t her, but somebody else in the movie.

There’s a real satirical side to The Congress, taking a barbed look at Hollywood and the future of cinema – is that something that you yourself are genuinely concerned with?

It’s not about what I feel, or what I think, this film brings you the current situation of cinema, laid out on the table. You decide as an audience what you feel towards it. Cinema has changed immensely in the past few years because of technology. When I wrote the script I had no clue that they were scanning actresses in Hollywood, and I had no clue that the scanning facility we shot in actually exists. The role of the director has changed tremendously in the past 10 years. When I went to film school, the idea of being a director is going on set and with a limited period of time you have to create the magic. If you were not able to create this magic, the film will never work. This is the time of the director, it doesn’t matter if you shoot in a 22 days or you’re lucky enough to shoot 12 months, and today I think the set is just a platform for what will happen afterwards in post production. This is a different role for a director and cinema is going to be different. But it’s not about being sad about it, this is just where we live, with huge comic book adaptations and sequels, and prequels that appear in huge multiplexes, and maybe the next Jim Jarmusch film is going to be screened in a museum. It’s not about whether it’s good or bad, this is life.

Were you encouraging your actors to draw from real life experiences to help relate to the roles and the world they’re inhabiting?

Of course. It’s not only me, this is what they bring on set. Their life, their experiences, their defects, their psychology. This is what they bring and this is the magic that is created between the pages on the script.

Danny Huston’s Jeff is my favourite character in the movie, have you ever met anyone quite like him before in the industry?

Me too, me too. But nope, never. When I was in this glam period after Waltz with Bashir, with the Golden Globes and Oscars… I was invited to studios and I pitched them this project but of course nobody was interested. But no, they treated me really nicely. I know that Danny was asked a lot about it, I mean, with his family connections and everything, whether this was how studio executives were really like – but he said that his performance came from his imagination and has nothing to do with reality.

So finally, you’re becoming renowned for this striking use of animation in your movies. When doing live action I imagine you may not have the budget to do all of the surrealistic things you planned, so it must be a real joy to have the creative freedom that comes with animation?

It’s amazing. Animation is amazing. It’s addictive. You have no clue what a pain it is as well. It’s unbelievable. It’s pure suffering from the production side, you know, and then pure joy on the creating side. I don’t think there is anything in life that is such a contradiction between those two sides of life; the artistic one, and the production side. Man, it’s a nightmare. This film was made in nine different countries because of the European system of financing. We had the spend the money where we raised it. It was just insane, completely insane.

So can you see yourself ever mixing live action and animation again?

My next project is totally animated, it’s an adaptation of the Anne Frank story for kids. But nope, I don’t want to mix again. I have a few live action films I want to do, but in this life, I’m not going to mix them again.

The Congress is released on August 15th.