Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes, Man Push Cart) adapts Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for HBO this week, and after its gala premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12th, stars Michael Shannon and Sofia Boutella stopped by Deadline’s Cannes Studio to explain their interest in the project. For both actors, the opportunity was to update Bradbury’s text to shine a light on the social media era of today, something they felt Bradbury would have approved of. “I thought Ramin was right on the money,” Shannon said. “Ramin says that Bradbury himself was not shy about making changes to his own work, doing adaptations of even Fahrenheit 451. He would make changes to it, so I think it was really a situation where [Bahrani] wanted to be as visceral and immediate as possible, and how do you accomplish that?”
The film stars Michael B. Jordan as Guy Montag, the book-burning enforcer of Shannon’s Chief Beatty, who in a dystopian future is hell-bent on eradicating art and literature and keeping the populous in control. Boutella plays Clarisse, a young rebel determined to open Montag’s eyes.
Said Boutella: “I was baffled by how current it was and by how adaptable to the world we live in it was. I’m attached to my phone 24/7, that’s the way that I communicate with my family, who I live far away from, and that’s the way I keep in touch with my work, and I’m on it constantly. It’s scary to admit that, but being aware is what helps me know I’m making a conscious decision to not be shackled to my phone.”
Algeria-born Boutella hadn’t read Bradbury’s work, which only rarely appears on school reading lists outside of the US. But she was inspired by the prescience at its heart, which Bahrani’s film does little to alter. “1953 he wrote that,” she said. “He was so ahead of his time. He wrote that in six days at UCLA, renting a typewriter that he paid 50 cents an hour.”
For Shannon, there were similarities in his character with the one he plays in Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning The Shape of Water. “I would argue that I think ultimately Beatty’s a little more intelligent than Colonel Strickland. No offense, Colonel,” he laughed. “But, they are struggling with a similar predicament. They’re trying to fit into a system that they believe will ultimately take care of them, and reward them, and yet they keep getting injured by it.”
For more from Shannon and Boutella, check out our video above.