From filmmaker Neill Blomkamp and made through the experimental Oats Studios (which is looking to make original short film content that will eventually lead to full-scale feature films and series from the titles they create), the sci-fi short Zygote follows two lone survivors (Dakota Fanning and Jose Pablo Cantillo) who are forced to fight for their lives. Stranded in an Arctic mine, they must evade a horrific and terrifying creature that can anticipate any move they might make.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Dakota Fanning talked about how she got involved with this short, wanting to work with Neill Blomkamp, why this character was appealing to her, getting to see the creature come alive, the physical challenges of this shoot, being open to further exploring this character, if they were to make a full-length feature, and why she feels like she’s in a good place, creatively.
Collider: I have to say, I really enjoyed this short, but the creature has stuck with me since I watched it. What did you think of the creature, once you saw the final visuals?
DAKOTA FANNING: I saw images of what it was going to look like, but of course, it was completely computer generated, so when I saw it for the first time, it was so much grosser than I had pictured. It was cool to see it come alive. The noise, the movement and realizing what it’s made of was so gross.
When and how were you approached about this project, and what were you told about what this would be?
FANNING: I worked with Neill Blomkamp on his BMW commercial (The Escape) last summer. We shot for 10 days and got to know each other a bit, and then a few months later, he asked if I would be interested in doing an experimental project – a short film – for his studio and he sent me the script he had for it, at the time. I loved working with him so much and I think he’s so talented, and I thought that this idea was super cool. I was excited to be a part of something I’ve never really done before. This was the kind of character I’d never played. And then, when I got there and saw what everything was going to look like, in the end, I saw how talented the people were who were working on it. With the special effects, I learned a lot and was excited by it. Just from working with him before, he thought of me for this and the timing worked out, so here it is.
You probably never imagined doing a short film for BMW, so was it working with Neill Blomkamp that got you interested in that project?
FANNING: I don’t know if you’re familiar with the BMW shorts that were made years ago, but I was familiar with those and a fan of those. So, when they were making a new one, I thought it would be so cool to be a part of it. When I worked with Tony Scott, he showed me the one he made and he was very excited about it. It was a full circle thing to be asked to be in one. Also, of course, I’m a totally huge fan of Neill, so the opportunity to work with him was exciting. We had a really great time doing it, so I knew Zygote would be a good experience because he’s a good person and he’s talented.
What do you enjoy about working with Neill Blomkamp?
FANNING: He’s very direct about what he’s looking for and the vibe of everything, and I appreciate that. He’s also so knowledgeable about the special effects side of everything, and he explains it in a palatable way for someone like me who doesn’t know anything about that. I could understand it and it made sense to me. He’s able to mix the story with all of that, so that it doesn’t become too technical of an experience. He’s really good at that, which is important on a project like this.
You said that this is a character that you haven’t played before. Were there things that you were most excited about getting to do because of that?
FANNING: I was excited for the running around and the handling of the weapons, and being chased and the fear, and all of that. By the end, my character becomes a bad-ass, and I liked getting to see her 20-minute journey of having to fend for herself and figure out how to get herself out of danger. I was excited by the traditional bad-assness.
You really have to fight for your life in this film. How physically challenging was that, and how hard was it to drag such a large gun around?
FANNING: I was carrying that large gun around on my back for most of it, and then I’m also carrying the other character because he’s wounded, so I had a lot going on. We shot this right before this past Thanksgiving. We shot it in Canada, and then I flew home to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I was changing and my sister came in my room and was like, “Oh, my god, what happened?!” I had this huge black bruise on my ass, which I knew that I had, but she hadn’t seen it. It was from the gun, slamming against me as I was running. It didn’t last forever, obviously. It went away, but I had a little mark left over.
This story unfolds in a way where there are only two of you for about half of the short, and then there’s just you for the other half. What was it like to have Jose Pablo Cantillo there to interact with and establish that dynamic, but then also be on your own for quite a bit?
FANNING: I love working with other actors, so I was happy to have him there, for sure. We filmed this in such a short amount of time that we’d work together for part of the day, and then I’d be alone for the other part of the day. I, of course, enjoy working with other actors, but sometimes when you’re by yourself, you have to push yourself in a different way. You’re working more with your surroundings and you’re thinking more about your own emotions, instead of what someone else is giving you. It’s just different, not better or worse.