After his stunning film Buried, director Rodrigo Cortes is returning with another psychological thriller titled Red Lights. Starring Cillian Murphy, Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver, the film focuses on a world famous psychic (De Niro) who comes under investigation by a paranormal investigator (Weaver) and her assistant (Murphy).
Earning strong reviews during its time on the festival circuit, Red Lights is an eerie and suspenseful film, with an interesting premise and some shocking plot twists.
Recently, we sat down with Cortes and Murphy in LA to discuss the film. They spoke about crafting the characters, building the world, casting the film and more.
Check it out below.
WGTC: Cillian, what stood out most about the role of Tom?
Cillian Murphy: From the moment we met, Rodrigo talked about the world being very real and everyone being human beings. He was very clear on everything being grounded in reality. For me, the character had to have very natural and had to posses human responses that you would have.
WGTC: Rodrigo, how did you go about creating this believable world of Red Lights?
Rodrigo Cortes: For me, it was very important to create a very touchable and tangible world. I’m obsessed with that. I like films that are not only meant to be seen, but to be experienced, so you have a very physical sense of what you’re seeing. It has to do with the research I had to do. I was investigating for a year and a half, studying both sides of the discussion, the believers and the skeptics. Many times, they use words to describe their professional works or real, inner deep emotions. So, we weren’t afraid about trying to be complex.
WGTC: When you did your research, was there any interaction or were you there merely as an observer?
Rodrigo Cortes: There’s always interaction. That’s one of the problems when you observe something. You always affect the result in a way and you have to live with it. On the other hand, I was not an investigator. I was more of a researcher. I wanted the information to make a movie. I’m not a scientist..
WGTC: Cillian, did you have a hard time leaving your character on-set? Did your opinions change on the paranormal?
Cillian Murphy: No, I’m quite boringly rational (laughs). I’m very skeptical of this stuff. I love a film that you can just disappear into for ten weeks and say “bye bye” to a normal life for a while. It also suits the character, because as you get deeper and deeper into the story, it becomes all-consuming, so I liked that. I’ve been asked about taking characters home and only in retrospect do you realize that during that shoot, you were not that easy to live with, but I love being in the thick of making a film.
WGTC: What got you excited when you read the script?
Cillian Murphy: I was very excited to read the part and work with Rodrigo. It was such a gift of a part for me and working with such actors of that caliber, Sigourney, De Niro, Toby Jones and Joely Richardson, it’s an amazing cast. As an actor, when you’re lucky enough to work with actors that good, you just have to observe and learn and I’ve tried to do that over the course of my career. To be in a room these screen legends do their stuff is amazing.
Ultimately, when Rodrigo says action, it becomes about the scene and the characters and serving them and doing as honest a job as you can. You have to leave all that stuff behind, but it was a great privilege working with people like that.
WGTC: Were there ever any intimidating or awkward moments?
Cillian Murphy: I do recall the first shot was with myself and De Niro, where I come into the big line of salts in this kind of lair. I had no dialogue in that scene. It was my first scene with him, so the character just has to be intimidated and overwhelmed, so there was no acting involved for me in that scene (laughs). It was amazing to have the pleasure to just watch him build that scene over the course of the takes and watch Rodrigo and him work the scene. I’ll never forget that.
WGTC: Rodrigo, how did you develop the cinematic style of this film?
Rodrigo Cortes: It’s hard to talk about, because you don’t always know what you’re doing. You just get up and go. If I did know what I was doing, I would stop doing it. Again, my great obsession is being totally credible and truthful, so people feel they can sense and touch it. I want to be very physical, in that sense. My obsession was creating something that people thought was happening that they couldn’t find an explanation for. Then, you start playing with the framing, with the light and trying to serve the story and not only with what you see,
but things you don’t see which are out of frame. You also use sound, music, and pacing. It’s hard to explain.
WGTC: This is a big departure from working in the box, which you did in Buried. Can you tell me how it was making the transition
to working in the open with real sets?
Rodrigo Cortes: To me, it’s exactly the same. When I did Buried, I always felt it was Indiana Jones or North by Northwest inside of a box. I never treated it as though it had limitations. If you focus on limitations, you simply don’t know what to do or you learn you can’t do anything.
So, you try not to think, because if you do, you’re dead. Then you just focus on the story. The size of a story doesn’t have to do with cubic inches.
It has to do with the size of the story itself. At the end of the day, you have the same tools. You have a camera. You have great actors and great lights and a story to tell.
WGTC: Do you want to film in Hollywood more to work on larger budget projects?
Rodrigo Cortes: Only if there’s a good reason you need that budget. To me, it’s never about where you shoot or pro or anti-Hollywood. I love Hollywood movies. It’s the way I learned to love cinema, but it’s never about where you shoot. It’s about what and how. I’m pretty obsessed about creative controls. That’s hard to find. The lack of money just means we’re sleeping much less (laughs). I could work here happily if I had a real story that I could express myself through. When you have a big story and you have 150 million, you have to do it here.
WGTC: What led you to cast Sigourney Weaver?
Rodrigo Cortes: In the case of Sigourney, it was the only case where I wrote the part for someone specific, which was her. Writing someone for her doesn’t guarantee a “yes,” but guarantees a real problem if she says “no” (laughs). I started to write this part and in two days her face started to appear. I needed a very strong woman with this very sexy nature, a very tough but also a very moving woman with a real heart and the perception of something broken inside her. Thank god she said yes!
WGTC: And what about casting De Niro?
Rodrigo Cortes: It’s nothing you can expect. I needed a legend, because this is the greatest psychic ever and he disappeared for thirty years. I didn’t want to spend 40 minutes explaining this. When you see De Niro, you think “Ok, he’s the greatest psychic ever.”
WGTC: Would you like to do bigger films?
Rodrigo Cortes: I don’t see it as doing bigger and bigger. I don’t feel that Red Lights is bigger than Buried. It’s just slightly more expensive, but not bigger. When I remember Buried, I remember many characters and a helicopter outside and a chase in the desert. I didn’t show it, but that’s the size of the story that I had.
So, it’s not about getting bigger or now I want to explore the planet and another galaxy. It’s about stories. If you find something compelling with great characters, that’s what I’ll be interested in doing. You never know what it’s about. It’s never about theaters. My favorite genre is good movies. You never know how you’ll react to things.
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank Rodrigo and Cillian for talking with us. Be sure to check out Red Lights, now in theatres.