(Archive) Lunar Mission: An Interview with director Duncan Jones on his indie sci-fi drama MOON

Duncan Jones in Houston (circa 2009)

** This interview was originally published in the June 2009 issue of Film Monitor. Duncan Jones has since directed his second feature film, Source Code, which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on July 26, 2011.

Is science fiction making a comeback? Battlestar Galactica may be over, but it is as popular as ever. With a brand new cast and storyline, J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek has become this summer’s first blockbuster. And here comes Moon, an independent sci-fi drama by first-time director/writer Duncan Jones. Sam Rockwell plays the protagonist Sam, an astronaut who is anticipating his return to Earth after spending three years working on a moon base without any human contact. Sam starts to question the nature of his role and identity when a mysterious stranger (also played by Rockwell) arrives in the station. I sat down with filmmaker Duncan Jones at the Angelika Film Center Houston to talk about his film.

How did Moon become your debut feature film? 

Duncan Jones: Basically, I’m a huge fan of actor Sam Rockwell and I’d sent him another script a few years ago. He loved the script but he wanted to play a different character from the one I wanted him to play. So we met up in New York to have a discussion about it, but we couldn’t convince each other. We got on really well and we talked about the films we love. I knew I really want to work with him on my first film, so I told him I would write a film for him. So that is why the main character in Moon is called Sam because I wrote the story for Sam Rockwell (laugh).

Why did you want to work with Sam Rockwell so badly?

DJ: He’s an amazing actor. In all the other films I’ve seen him in before, he just takes over the scene. He has so much energy and he invests so much of himself in them. He can just see the work he is willing to do. When I met him in person, it became very obvious to me that I needed someone who is that generous and serious about his work for my first film. When you have a good cast, and obviously Sam is most of my cast (laugh), it does half the work for you.

Besides a handful of flashback scenes and his interaction with the robot Gerty, the film is mostly Sam Rockwell on Sam Rockwell.

DJ: Absolutely! (laugh) When I told Sam that I would write something for him, I needed to be able to offer him a film role that would be interesting and challenging to him as an actor. And I think having him play different roles and perform against himself, for him, is an interesting challenge. He has never done it before. It gave him a motivation and reason to be involved in the project.

The two characters are virtually the same person, but Sam Rockwell does such a great job in making a distinction between the two.

DJ: He brought so much in the role. For an independent film, normally you don’t have as much time to rehearse as other [major studio] films. But we were very lucky. Sam and I, and another actor friend of his, got to spend a week just doing rehearsals, going through the script, working out who the characters are and what makes them different [from each other]. It wouldn’t have worked if Sam just played the same person for all these different parts.

Without giving away any spoilers, the computer in Moon, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), is quite different from other famous evil computers like HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

DJ: The film pays homage to a lot of sci-fi movies I watched while I was growing up—the films from the late-70s and early 80s, like Silent Running, Outland and the original Alien. And 2001, of course. What we wanted to do is to take the things we love from those films, recreate them in a new film, but change them in subtle ways so the audience does not know what to expect. Kevin Spacey’s Getry is a good example of that. Obviously, there is going to be similarities with HAL 9000, but at the same time, we’re using people’s expectations. When people hear Kevin Spacey’s voice, they’d think he’s very slick and he’s probably a bad guy, as in The Usual Suspects and Seven. So we take that [expectation] and make the audience think one thing but then we go into a different direction.

Speaking of expectations, your father is the rock legend David Bowie. How do you feel about living under the shadow of your famous father while you’re trying to find your own path? 

DJ: Thank you. I am trying to find my own path (laugh). I love my father and I have huge respect for him. I see him all the time. He brought me up. I am influenced by him because when I was small, I was always around when he was working. That had a big effect on me. The good thing is I am working in film, but not in music. So I am not trying to do the same thing. He is an incredibly talented man and he has made his mark on the world. Hopefully, maybe one day I can too.

Have you watched your father’s sci-fi cult classic The Man Who Fell To Earth (directed by Nicolas Roeg)?

DJ: I’ve seen the movie. It has some amazing special effects for its time (1976). I remember this one camera move, where the camera goes directly behind his head and he’s looking in front of a mirror. It took me years and years before I figured out how they did that (laugh)! And this is really strange: Nicolas Roeg’s son Luke Roeg is in charge of the company Independent, which is distributing my movie internationally. My co-writer for Moon, Nathan Parker, is the son of British filmmaker Alan Parker. The three of us are all sons of people who did well in the past and we’re all trying to make our own mark now (laugh)!

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Filed under Interviews, July 2009

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