“This is the only way I can have a Lars Von Trier t-shirt,” director Nacho Vigalondo said to me about the Cinemetal shirt he was wearing. “I’m more into Von Trier than Van Halen.”
I talked with the Spanish writer-director about his latest film Colossal, a subversion of the monster movie featuring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis. Colossal is a monster movie unlike any other, equal parts funny and dramatic with themes exploring the worst aspects of masculinity and chemical addiction.
“From the very beginning I wasn’t trying to make a comment on monster movies or trying to make a satire or a spoof or anything. I wanted to make a movie that would feel like a monster movie,” Vigalondo said of the origins of Colossal.
“It took time until I found what I needed to turn this into a feature film, which is characters,” he continued. “The human beings can hold the thing with an emotional arc. That took time because as I was trying to describe character that could make sense to be the human side of the story with the monsters, blah, blah, blah, I just needed something really powerful and nothing came for a long time until I found Gloria. When I found Gloria and Gloria led me to Oscar. When I got those two characters, when they were clashing with each other, then the third thing came, which was the reason why they were fighting. When the reason came I was like, ‘Okay, I have to make this now. This has become a movie. This is something that deserves to be told in 110 minutes.’”
Colossal is a movie that occupies an odd place. It’s a genre film and yet it’s not. “Okay, this movie is a genre defying thing. This is a dramedy with a monster element or a monster movie with a dramedy element. I understand those things triggered by watching the film but I have to say that when you’re writing the thing you’re not thinking in those terms. You are not self-aware to that point. You’re just writing something that is completely cool,” Vigalondo says of his work. ”I don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Okay, let’s defy some genre tropes.’”
Genre is just a springboard for the ideas of Vigalondo. “Let’s say we’re going to play checkers. We can play checkers because we both know the rules,” the director said. “Making a genre film is not about showing people that you know the rules. It’s about the audience knowing the rules, too. Everybody knows a horror movie or a monster movie; everybody know what’s a slasher; everybody knows what’s a western. Now that we know the rules, let’s have fun with it. Now that we know the superhero tropes in a film, let’s change this little thing here and see what happens. It’s not something you do to show that you’re the smartest guy in the room. It’s something that is simply really, really fun at some point. If it works, it’s really funny. It doesn’t work all the time, of course, but if it works it’s the best.”
Part of the reason that Colossal is so easily able to weave in and out various genres is the film’s casting, which sees Hathaway and Sudeikis playing roles that defy what we’ve come to expect from them. “There’s nothing more exciting than watching your casting, your actors, feel so excited about what they’re doing. One of the biggest gifts when making this film was like bringing this privileged audience to enjoy both of them having so much fun with the characters,” the writer-director said with ample enthusiasm.
“It’s amazing when you’re shooting with these kind of actors and when you go back to the hotel every night you have this kind of smile because you are seeing these guys have so much fun with the characters and enjoying the process of that. That’s one of the best things I’m going to take with myself,” he continued.
The giant monsters terrorizing South Korea aren’t the only monsters present in Colossal. There’s also the demon of alcoholism which plagues the characters in different forms throughout the movie. “You know what’s beautiful about making a film? If you make a movie, if you tell a story, you have to create problems for the characters. You have to put them in the worst situation ever. But at the same time, I think it’s beautiful to do this to those characters without judging them, without condemning them,” Vigalondo told me. “That’s one of the challenges in making a movie like this, putting together this kind of threading monsters and alcohol and putting these characters in the worst situation ever but not necessarily punishing them for being alcoholics or something like that.”
As for the dark turn the film takes towards its conclusion, Nacho Vigalondo says his approach is in understanding the characters instead of simply condoning their behavior. “I think it’s okay to drive the character to that point in a way that we can understand why that happens,” he said. “People can be really evil. You can go to the internet and see every time people being sadistic to other people who are far from them. You can categorize those guys as evil, bad. There’s always a reason why they’re like that. There’s always a reason. I’m not saying that we should forgive all the horrible things that happen all the time. I feel like we can make an effort to understand why this happens.”
Like he did with his film Open Windows, Vigalondo uses Colossal to explore the dark side of masculinity and the way that men try to control women. ”I don’t know why I’m attracted to that stuff. I love when masculinity in films is not something that is taken for granted but is something we can discuss,” the filmmaker said with a sense of introspection. “That’s really interesting because not many movie have been done that way. I think it’s okay and we have the tools to question stuff that we always took for granted in the past. To question things is always a useful tool when writing. And when I say question things I also mean question myself, and I can question myself as a male, a male director.”
Colossal is also the first release for Neon, the new distribution company founded by Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse. “I’ve never enjoyed a release as much as this,” the director said of the new distributor. “They’re doing this amazing job. I feel really lucky to be part of the starting point of this company. So far I’m enjoying all of the decisions that they’re making so much. It’s a beautiful feeling.”
What does the future hold for Nacho Vigalondo following Colossal? “I have no fucking idea,” he said. “I’m writing some stuff. I’m reading some cool stuff that is coming to me, some properties that they’re interested in me to talk about. I don’t know, things could happen. At this point, I wish I was able to tell you. When I make a movie, I want to know always what’s coming next because it’s a beautiful way to keep you focused on something and not get lost in the film. But in this case I failed. To my own standards, I failed.”
Colossal opens in theaters on April 7th, 2017.