Gravity’s pull: the making of a rocket-fuelled space smash
Mexican film-maker Alfonso Cuarón is delighted about the warm reception for his gripping space yarn. And what about the criticism of its supposed scientific inaccuracies? ‘It’s not a documentary,’ he shrugs
“It’s the internet, man,” he laughs. “Everything on the internet is true. Right? I had conversations with so many people. It took us two years to develop the basic technology. I definitely discussed it with Angelina. But she eventually had to go and direct her own film. I can also say that Robert Downey jnr was attached. But we eventually decided that his style of acting was not compatible with the technology.”
What was George Clooney able to do that Robert Downey jnr couldn’t? “Everything had to be pre-programmed on this film. That was the nature of the technology. The scope for improvisation was limited. And if you take that away from Robert you take away his wings. It was unfortunate, but that was not going to work.”
After all the ins and outs, Sandra Bullock ended up playing the medic around whom the head-stretching action revolves. In the two decades since Speed, Bullock has found herself saddled with too many iffy romantic comedies and sentimental true-life dramas. She is not the first person you expect to meet wrestling with a crippled space station in zero gravity.
“Yes, that’s right,” he splutters. “That’s part of the reason I cast her. This character is shut-off. She is inaccessible. She lives in her own bubble. So, you need an actor who can be accessible when playing an inaccessible character. She has that. And she is an amazing actress. She is precise and disciplined. To perform under these conditions is a miracle.”
Born in Mexico City, Cuarón is the child of reasonably well-off parents: dad was a doctor who specialised in nuclear medicine; mum trained as a chemist and ended up becoming involved, if her son is to be believed, in “Shamanism”. His parents were reasonably relaxed about him drifting towards cinema, but wanted to make sure he had a back-up plan.
“So I also studied philosophy,” he says. “Because that’s where all the money was. Haha!”
As things worked out, he found himself a member of a golden generation of Mexican directors. Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñarritu and Guillermo Arriaga are all near-contemporaries. Mexico has a fine cinematic heritage, but rarely have so many directors from that country had such commercial success overseas.
“We came from a generation who encountered a lack of opportunities,” he says. “We rejected the whole system. It was very claustrophobic. Everyone then was supposed to remain in their bubble. It was a very different time to the 1930s with the surrealists and people like Diego Rivera. Mexico had become shut-in. We reacted against that. At this stage, it was thought arrogant to expect production standards like those elsewhere. We wanted all that.”
Small step for Potter
In the mid-1990s, after directing one feature in Mexico, Alfonso travelled to the US to make a critically claimed, but financially disappointing adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. Then came his fitful updating of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Here’s where the career gets quirky. To succeed abroad, Cuarón had to go back home . The road movie Y Tu Mamá También became a breakthrough hit, made a star of Gael García Bernal and propelled the director towards the lucrative world of Harry Potter.