Loaded with amazing visuals, a brilliant script by Drew Goddard, great performances from the entire cast, and science that makes sense, Ridley Scott’s The Martian is one of those special movies that needs to be seen on the biggest movie screen, in the loudest theater possible. While I saw a lot of movies at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Martian was one of my favorites. For more read Matt’s review.
Based on Andy Weir‘s best-selling novel of the same name, the film stars Matt Damon as Mark Wattney, an astronaut stranded alone on mars in the aftermath of a disastrous evacuation. With only the remaining supplies, his scientific genius and a great sense of humor to subsist on, Wattney must find a “science the shit out of this” to survive on the red planet and find a way home. The Martian also stars Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Donald Glover.
While at TIFF I landed an exclusive video interview with Chiwetel Ejiofor. During our wide ranging conversation he talked about working with Ridley Scott, making The Martian, the way he likes to work, comic book movies, future projects like Secret in Their Eyes and Triple 9, his favorite movies, and so much more. Read what he had to say below.
Collider: So, what is the secret to surviving a film festival? What should you never do at a film festival?
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: Well, you shouldn’t do everything. [Laughs]. I mean, there’s always a lot going on at a film festival and the temptation is to try and hit every party, every spot, see every film that you can squeeze in, and it can run you down. So you gotta choose your hits very carefully, I think.
This movie Martian is fantastic. When did you realize, “Wait a minute, this thing really came together, this is a very special movie”?
EJIOFOR: We shot it obviously in the three sections, and I had no real connection to what Matt [Damon] was doing or the spacecraft stuff – and JPR but I was there for a bit of JPR with Benedict [Cumberbatch] — so, we had an interesting time with the NASA stuff, but how to kind of fit that into everything there’s no way I could. So I went away after filming in Budapest and they shot for another 4 months or something and went to Jordan and did a whole heap of stuff. So really for me it was when I was watching the movie, when there was a screening, a small screening for me in London and I was watching the movie, watching away, and suddenly it hits you about a little bit into the movie and you’re like, “This is a great movie!” [Laughs] and I was just taken with it.
You’ve worked with some very talented filmmakers, Ridley Scott is one of my favorites. What did you take away from the experience of collaborating with Ridley?
EJIOFOR: Well Ridley creates a very immersive world, so when you walk up to a Ridley Scott film set you’re in Ridley Scott’s imagination, and it’s a really comfortable, cool place to be [Laughs]. It’s a very dynamic place to be and an interesting place to be and a very thoughtful place to be, so I think all of the sets, everything around you when you’re working on a movie with Ridley Scott is just incredibly well thought through. And that allows actors to kind of play and run free and experiment and not worry about failing, not worry about it not working or something, but to see what’s there and play with it and he’s very supportive and collaborative.
How has your process as an actor getting ready for a role been refined through all the projects you’ve now been doing? Do you have a very similar approach or has that maybe been adjusted with more movies?
EJIOFOR: I’ve always felt the same way; I’ve always thought that the key to acting is kind of meta-thinking, it’s like thinking about how you think. I think you approach every role in that way, that the key to it is not having a standard model of how you look at a part, it’s like what does this part require me to do to get inside of it. And that’s different for every job, it has been and that’s always been the case.
What’s the least amount of work you’ve done for a role and what’s the most you’ve done, if you’re comfortable saying?
EJIOFOR: I don’t feel like there’s ever been…I don’t know, I mean, that’s…It’s weird one to answer because sometimes you’re not out there with an Encyclopedia Britannica trying to find the history of a specific person, but that doesn’t mean you’re not working. You can be working sitting, lying in bed [Laughs] and working very hard, your subconscious could be battling you to figure out the inner workings of a character. And obviously there are times when it’s very helpful to go out and, for example, when I was doing Kinky Boots you had to go out into clubs where there’s a sort of — I’m not sure about the terminology these days — the Trans community, what was called then a drag community or a drag queen community. But that and just clubbing was most of the work for that film so…
So basically you forced yourself to go to clubs and drink and have a good time to get ready for the role.
EJIOFOR: Exactly. If that’s what it requires, yeah.
You’ve been involved in a bunch of stuff, but has it been weird for you signing on for a Marvel thing? Has it been weird the amount of people wanting to ask you about it, and is it sort of taking you aback, just the level of interest?
EJIOFOR: Well it’s exciting that people are interested and hopefully, you know, it’ll be good [Laughs].
[Laughs] What I’m saying is I think that a lot of people, when they first get involved, they know that there’s gonna be a lot of interest and then it sort of surprises them because the genre of the superhero is just becoming the biggest genre right now.
EJOFOR: Well I think it’s been big for a while.
But it seems like now every studio is developing one, it just feels like it’s even bigger now.
EJIOFOR. Yeah. I mean, I think the movies themselves have become so sophisticated, so good, that it’s really carried this audience with it, it just has a much larger reach than before and I think that that’s testament to some of the great work that’s been done in that genre.
Was there hesitation to be involved with it or was this genre something that you were looking for?
EJIOFOR: When I was first looking at comic books and graphic novels, which was a long time ago, but in England there wasn’t even a term “graphic novels” that much. I went into a bookstore in London and said, “Do you have a graphic novel section?” and he said, “We don’t do that kind of thing here, sir.” He thought I was talking about porn [Laughs].
EJIOFOR: Yeah, “graphic novel.” And there was actually no sense of that sort of thing. I mean obviously that’s changed now. So then I was looking at Alan Moore’s From Hell and The Watchmen, and I was really all over that, 2000 AD, A.B.C. Warriors, Rogue Trooper; I loved all that stuff growing up. So it was interesting to see all of that sort of shift into mainstream, for so many people it was fascinating to see that. Initially it was kind of met with an, “Oh no! Because now everybody is gonna know the stuff that I know, that I kind of grew up and I thought was my sort of thing” and then obviously the mood shifted into like, “It’s great!” that this is all up for grabs and it’s gonna be quite interesting to sort of carry on and explore all of those universes.
Are you based in London or you live in London?
EJIOFOR: Yeah I’m based more-or-less in London, yeah.
Have you spent any time or much time in Forbidden Planet?
EJIOFOR: Not recently.
I was gonna say you should go in there now and just wander through and see what the reaction is from people like, “I’m looking for Doctor [Strange] books”.
[Laughs] And just see the reaction of the people working there, I think it might be a lot of fun.
EJIOFOR: That’s true.
After 12 Years a Slave and that movie, how has everything changed in terms of meetings and filmmakers and scripts that you’re being offered?
EJIOFOR: Well, I was always lucky that I’ve always had a gig, I’m fortunate in that way, and so in that sense things don’t change that much, you’re still looking for the work that inspires you, that you think is the kind that leads you along the path to the best work that you will produce and that’s what one is always searching for.
I believe you have Secret in Their Eyes, Triple 9, you have a few things getting ready to come out.
What can you tease people about some of your upcoming movies?
EJIOFOR: Well, I think Secrets is this extraordinary thriller and I think it’s an amazing opportunity to transplant something from the Argentinian original of it and then base it in L.A. and bringing it into America and making it an American film just kind of changes the tenure of it in a really interesting way, in a very sophisticated way; I think it’s a great thriller. Triple 9 was John Hillcoat so, you know, he’s an exceptional filmmaker obviously so I think people are in for a bit of a treat.
I’m a huge fan of his work. What was it like collaborating with him, and was it the script or was it him that got you involved?
EJIOFOR: It was definitely John. I’d spoken to John about it years ago, he’d been sort of working with Triple 9 as a project that he’d been working on for a long, long time. So as it sort of started to pull together I was just really excited to keep the conversation going and as the script just got better, and better, and better, and the through-the-roof good it was an exciting time.
Yeah, I really love his work, like sincerely.
One of my last questions, what do you geek out over? What is it that you collect or what is it that when you’re online and you’re going through Amazon what is it that you’re looking for?
EJIOFOR: I think the thing that I geek over is when you discover like — I love film, you know, I didn’t always in a way, I wasn’t kind of raised on film as much as some other people maybe, so there’s always like huge gaps in my film library. I was always a theater actor, for a long time while I was at school and then into my 20s. I didn’t fall in love with cinema really until I worked with Stephen Frears in Dirty Pretty Things, and being a film actor and the kind of poetic nuance that can afford. So I’m still catching up with movies in a way. I mean I only saw Charlie Chaplin in City Lights the other day, literally not long ago, and then that last sequence, that last image, like people have thought the best part of a hundred years, I teared up. And that is something, and it’s such a simple movie, and it’s so beautifully constructed and it has that one last reverse at the end and then the credits roll, and it’s beautiful. I geek out over that, I geek out over those little discoveries that everybody knows but that I’m new to.
Do you have a favorite film?
EJIOFOR: My favorite film is Bicycle Thieves by [Vittorio] De Sica, it’s the perfect film.
Yeah, that’s kind of an incredible movie.
EJIOFOR: Yeah. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch it it’s beautiful, from every conceivable angle it’s perfect.
I think unless you’re really a film person, a lot of people have forgotten about the French New Wave or Orson Welles or the list goes on and on, because Hollywood produces so much content now and so much great television it’s almost hard to go backwards.
EJIOFOR: Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely worth it. It’s definitely worth the kind of poetry, the nuance, the skill of telling a story in near 90min – 84min I think Bicycle Thieves is something like that – that captures a world, a mood, a tone, a relationship, a sequence of relationships, a time in the world efficiently executed the grace, and heartbreaking by the end. That is craftsmanship of the highest order.
My last thing, television right now, as I just said, I think it’s the best it’s ever been.
And there’s come amazing work being done in 8-10 episode seasons. Is going after something on HBO, or FX, some of the incredible stuff being done something that appeals to you?
EJIOFOR: Yeah, no, I’m open to all the sort of outlets, all of the kind of ways of expressing the art of the work. I supposed right now I don’t know, I mean, if something was to come along that was engaging that I kind of felt was the right thing for me then 100% I’d do it. And that’s the same with theater, I just finished doing Everyman at the National Theater in London. So I’m sort of open to all angles of telling stories.