Whether it be Moon, Source Code, or to a slightly lesser extent Warcraft, there’s something about Duncan Jones’ work, where the audience just want to exist in the worlds he has created. Needless to say we were absolutely thrilled when invited onto the set of the director’s latest production Mute, which launches on Netflix on February 23rd.
This sci-fi thriller, set 40 years into the future in Berlin, is a companion piece to Moon, set in the same universe (and with a cameo from Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell) and tells the story of a mute bartender, played by Alexander Skarsgard, striving to uncover the whereabouts of his missing partner, which leads him to the eccentric duo of Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) and Duck Teddington (Justin Theroux).
Set Visit Video Report
Given the futuristic elements, needless to say the set was breathtaking, with so much built, with full sets, be it of local nightclubs or our protagonists apartment, which we were able to walk around in, and study the meticulous attention to detail that made this such a special experience for us – helped along, of course, by the fact we were actually in Berlin. It’s been a project long in the mind of Jones, and while serving as something of s sequel to Moon, it did in fact come first – and he told us, at the end of a busy day’s shooting, that it’s been overwhelming to finally be making this passion project.
“It’s exhausting and very cathartic,” he explained. “I think you wait such a long time to do something like this and you try and maintain that enthusiasm because you’ve had so much imagination and thought invested into it, and when you finally get to do it, there is a weird sort of, now what? There is a strange feeling about actually finally getting to make it”
“But I couldn’t be happier with everyone in the cast. But mostly Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux. Fortunately they knew each other beforehand, they’re both really smart and funny guys, so they’re exactly what the characters are meant to be, but much, much nicer. So that chemistry works perfectly. Then Alexander is a terrific actor who I think relishes the opportunity to do things he hasn’t always had the opportunity to do. I think a role like this gives him an opportunity to be subtle and do things on an acting level you don’t often get asked to do, and he’s been terrific.”
We asked too how much the Mute we’re set to see has changed from when he first came up with the idea – and it sounds like a fair bit has been altered across the past two decades.
“It’s been such a long time coming for me that when I first started working on Mute, I think it was before films like Sexy Beast had come out, so it felt like there was a chance of doing this little seedy gangster film and then all of these British films started doing that stuff. Then over time you come up with new ideas, and then we did Moon and there were ways of creating something that was much more unique, and as a filmmaker, having had the chance to grow, and to get a bit older, there were just different ideas that came into it that just made it feel more mature and allowing for it to have its own voice, rather than just be an attempt at a noir thriller. There’s something pretty different about it now.”
And we couldn’t help but wonder how it ties in with Moon… “When I wrote Mute, Moon wasn’t even in my head,” he said. “Then after I did Moon I started thinking, there could be a way to make Mute a more interesting film by making it work in conjunction with Moon. So it was after Moon had been made that I started thinking about how I retro-fit the Moon universe into this film, but there were many years of time to be able to do that.”
“One of the early challenges I set myself, before Moon, was how can I make a film with a lead protagonist who doesn’t talk, that was the initial puzzle that I wanted to solve. The way I decided to address it, was to spend half the film with that character and really keep that emotional, sweet story – and then in the other half, have two very witty, fast-talking American guys who can balance out the tall, silent type on the other side, and I think it’s worked out really well. It’s an equation that feels a little bit different.”
One of those fast talking American guys is Justin Theroux, and we were fortunate enough to catch him in between takes, as he approached wearing a rather ridiculous jumper, and an even more ridiculous blonde wig.
“I love a wig or a pair of glasses or terrible teeth. It’s a cheap shortcut to get into a character but the when you’re playing a guy like I’m playing, the minute I put on this sweater and this terrible wig, it helps me a lot. It does a lot of the work for you.”
Theroux is playing one of the more comedic characters in the movie, yet don’t be fooled – both he and Rudd are dark, untrustworthy creations, and he explained how that’s been a new challenge for both actors to undertake.
“Paul is a riotously funny guy and we are the ‘lighter’ characters,” he said. “We have fun with each other, as characters, we’ll riff on each other a little bit, but within the movie I wouldn’t call us the comic relief necessarily. We’re having fun, but that’s not to say the audience is going to be having fun with us.”
“I don’t think of us as villains. Technically you could say that, but it’s more that there’s only one hero in the bunch, and that’s Alexander’s character. Even he is a strange anti-hero. It’s flexing a different muscle. Me and Paul have done some stuff where we’re having fun together. We’ve done two movies together, but they were both comedies so we have that shorthand which you would think would come in handy, but in this it’s a much more structured thing. In comedy you rely on cultural references to joke about, but you can’t do that in this movie because it takes place in the future, so you can’t be making topical puns, or things like that, because who knows if that will still be funny in the year 2050 or whatever.”
“Me and Paul have spoken, pretty extensively, that this is a genre we know nothing about. We’ve digested it, watching Blade Runner and whatever, we know what future movies look like, but playing in them is really different. Duncan wants us to play light, fun, whatever, but we both realise we can’t have the same kind of fun we’d have had in another movie, because the characters are considerably darker than they would be. You can get away with more in a broad comedy, you can improvise. But this is a harder thing to improvise because you constantly have to track where the characters are at, the action that they’re taking, they’re doing darker things, so you have to really respect the tone and act appropriately. We can’t lose sight of the super objective of the characters just out of respect for the script and Duncan.”
Given how close this project has been to Jones, Theroux admitted in this instance he has completely given himself to the director.
“I’m a big believer in letting the director be the director and try and move towards what they want as opposed to bring it towards my comfort zone. I’m happy to go out of my comfort zone and into what he wants, I rely on him heavily. It’s all about what he wants, not what I want.”
“Duncan has created this whole world of technology that is recognisable but different. In a weird way we’re not drawing much attention to the technological aspects, because we have the props, it’s a rabbit hole. But it goes without saying it’s a wireless world, phones aren’t things you necessarily hold in your hands, things like that. Then there are things that are recognisable, like movie theatres, even if there is a different way of viewing things. The virtual world has creeped in a little more, but it’s good because it’s not set so far in the future that we’re in jetting off in jetpacks or whatever. It’s a recognisable future, it’s not like we’re taking trips to Mars at the weekends.”
Though the narrative does seem as though it could work at any time in history, we asked Jones to explain why he felt the need to set this tale 40 years from now, and we went on to ask why it had to be in Berlin.
“There’s something fairly unique opportunities in how a thriller would work, and what our protagonist is up against, that would only work in a science-fiction setting. The fact he is a Luddite in a world that is full of technology, that expects voice activation for everything, with antagonist who are incredibly comfortable with technology, I think it sets up a good conflict between him and what he’s up against. The idea is that his family were Amish and he lost his voice because of an accident early on in his life, and in respect to his mother who didn’t want him to have the operation, he’s never talked, and that becomes an important part of the film, the fact that he’s got these principles that don’t fit into the world that he’s found himself in,” he continued.
“Berlin is a unique city. Mute has feelings of Casablanca, these different immigrant communities and live in this city where people are coming and going all the time, and Berlin being this crashing point where East meets West and Eastern Europe and Western Europe blend, and the mass immigrations we’ve had recently in the real world, just makes it this very active, busy, interesting city. Then you also get the architectural side, which obviously had a lot of rebuilding and many periods of history with architecture and we’ve tried to bring as much of that into the film as we can. The ICC building looks like a spaceship from the Battlestar Galactica, which has just landed in this city. It’s amazing, we shot both the exterior and interior, and inside it looks like a Kubrick set, the most amazing building. So between that and the other locations we’ve been shooting, it has this historic, futurist feel which is very much what we were doing in Moon, trying to make a sci-fi film that felt like it came from the past, and you’ll get a sense for that in Mute as well.”
There was an energy to Jones, and he just felt like he was in his element. A sense that he was going back to basics somewhat, after a rather challenging experience on Warcraft, and one that wasn’t met with the most positive of responses.
“The feeling for us making this film is very much the same as when we were doing Moon, we really are having the freedom to be creative and come up with things. We can be very flexible and change things as we go and that’s a lot of fun.”
So that concluded our wonderful trip to the German capital, a city that is beautiful to visit, whether it be now, or even this version 40 years from now. But while we were there it did rain throughout the day, but as Theroux explained to us – that’s part of the charm, in a way.
“There’s something to the never-ending dreariness of the drizzle in Berlin. It feels like there’s not a lot of light in the movie, and there’s definitely not a lot of light in Berlin. There’s very little daylight, it feels like we’re constantly in a state of darkness. We’re not getting a lot of vitamin D while we’re here,” he finished.
Mute launches on Netflix on February 23rd.