The fantasy romance Upside Down, from writer/director Juan Solanas (The Man Without A Head), tells the uniquely original story of an interplanetary dystopian romance, in which opposite gravities literally keep the young lovers apart. Adam (Jim Sturgess) lives on the poverty-stricken planet below while Eden (Kirsten Dunst) is on the wealthy, exploitative world above, and even though their planets are so close that their highest mountain peaks almost touch, the numerous obstacles they much overcome to be together seem insurmountable.
At the film’s press day, filmmaker Juan Solanas spoke to Collider, during both a roundtable and a 1-on-1 interview, about how the whole project started for him, how emotional it was for him to see the finished product of the very first vision he imagined for the film, why Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess were the perfect actors to bring his characters to life, the biggest challenges in making this film on the budget he had, and the four ideas he’s developing for films next. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: If this whole project started with a dream, what was it that you dreamt about, that started the idea for you?
JUAN SOLANAS: Well, it wasn’t a dream. It was just a vision. That happens to me a lot. Sometimes I just think of an image. Basically, I see an image in front of me. My eyes are open, but I visualize an image, very truthfully. It happened with my other movies the say way. It’s interesting because I wasn’t searching for an idea for a movie. Seven years ago, I had just finished doing my first feature movie and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do a movie again. It was really far from me to find another idea to make another movie. And then, I saw one mountain with a guy looking up, and another mountain with a girl looking down. It just happened and I said, “Oh, wow!” I realized that it was a super cool idea and I said, “I guess I’m going to try to make another movie, even though this movie is crazy to try to do.” The guy and the girl try to love each other, but gravity is a big metaphor. Right away, I understood the incredible fertility of the idea, in visual terms. I’m a photographer and D.P. More important than that, I understood that this idea was an incredibly interesting metaphor to speak about reality. That was the thing that gave me the energy to want to try to make it happen. So, the same afternoon, I started to write. After two months, I had the first version of the script.
How close is the finished film to the first version of the script that you wrote?
SOLANAS: For example, my vision of the two mountains together to what you see, it’s really, really, really close. A moment of emotion for me was the day we first shot the top of the mountains. We did everything in pre-vis to make sure because it was very complicated to set up everything. But then, I went out to the set and saw the two cameras together and the image started to become a reality. That was a strong emotion for me.
Did you have a vision for what you wanted the actors to be like, for the roles of Adam and Eden?
SOLANAS: Especially if you are a writer/director, the characters are a part of yourself, so you feel it. It’s not rational. Because you feel it, you are looking for someone with that sensibility. Kirsten [Dunst] was the really the only person, and I was crossing my fingers. She’s the perfect balance of the sensibilities that that character has. So, we sent the script and she loved it. That’s why I took a plane and spent the morning with her [at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles]. With her, it just reassured the feeling that I had about her. And then, I had to make sure that she understood the movie the way I understood the movie. She said yes, and it was pretty fast and cool. With Jim Sturgess, it was the same. I took the train from Paris to London [to meet him]. I needed a guy who could be fragile, sensitive but sexy, at the same time, and funny, and he was the perfect balance of all that. I remember being on the train back, after I spent the afternoon with Jim, and I thought, “If he says no, I’ll kill myself. He can’t say no! No way!” Happily, he said yes.
Since this is not a major studio film, what were the biggest challenges in making this film with the budget you had?
SOLANAS: It was crazy for me! There were a lot of problems because people said, “That’s insane! We need a studio to double the budget.” But that’s what we had, so we needed to work more to find solutions. In the end, it was feasible, so we were right. At one point, the budget was so critical. They called and said, “Juan, do you feel that we should go [ahead with this]? Obviously, we need a lot more money to do this.” I had been a D.P., so I knew that we would be more than a foot over the cliff, but I felt like that was going to be okay. It was not rational, but we did it.
How was it to do the tango scene with Kirsten Dunst?
SOLANAS: Kirsten was great. I didn’t know it, but she’s a very good dancer. That was a good surprise for the movie. Making a movie is trying to capture moments of true reality. I didn’t want to have a body double dancer. It was an obsession for me to find a good teacher, and we found a great tango dancer, Pablo Veron, who is one of the best. He came to New York to figure out what Kirsten could and couldn’t do. At the end, he told me, “She’s amazing!” She practiced a lot, and everything that you see is her. There was no double.
Where did the idea for the anti-aging creme and the bees come from?
SOLANAS: I don’t know. I wanted to be a scientist before. Bees are a tiny little animal, and maybe without them there is no humanity. It’s an interesting metaphor about the fragility of life. Sometimes you don’t know. You kill something and the consequences can be huge. I spent seven years on this movie and, every week, I added a layer. It was not necessarily all to be caught, but if they are caught, I’ll be happy.
Your father is acclaimed Argentinian director, Fernando Solanas. Do you ever go to him for advice?
SOLANAS: No, not at all. My father doesn’t speak one word of English, so he could not read the script. The first time he saw the movie, it was without subtitles, but he loved it. He’s super proud. When you write, it’s really a painful, complex experience. I wrote this in Spanish first, but I also translated myself to French because the producer was French, and then, I translated it to English.
Do you have any idea what you’ll be doing next?
SOLANAS: I have four ideas that I’m writing now, that just came to me. I had no plan. They just came to me. This time it’s four ideas, so I’m pretty happy. After that, I have to find a producer, but for the moment, I’m my own client, so I’m just writing the ideas. I’m really excited about them, so let’s see what happens.
What types of films are they?
SOLANAS: One is a very romantic fantasy. One is more like a real science fiction movie. When I say real, I mean something that can happen in 40 years, that’s concrete. That one is really, really cool and I’m really excited about it. One is a really crazy comedy. Because it is so crazy, I don’t know how I got the idea, but the cool thing for me is that there are no special effects or anything. And then, the other movie is very grounded in reality and is about South America. It’s very real, like my first feature movie.
Upside Down opens in theaters on March 15th.