Showcasing just three movies, today’s Netflix panel was a fascinating insight into the wide-ranging tastes of a company fast changing the landscape of the film industry.
First up was the Coen brothers’ portmanteau western, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, which was represented by an all-actor line-up comprising Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck, Harry Melling and Tim Blake Nelson, who plays the titular Buster Scruggs himself.
Talking to Deadline’s Nancy Tartaglione, Blake Nelson revealed that the project had been in gestation for a very long time, and that he was the first actor approached. “When I was given the script, [my story] was the only one that had been written,” he said. “I read the rest of them after they were written, which was 15 years later, and I was certainly excited to be a part of it because the other scripts were just as fantastic as the one I was doing.”
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Given the anthology nature of the project, it came as no surprise to hear that, at the auditions, the cast only saw what they needed to see. “We [only] received our stories for the audition,” said Heck. “And then, once we got the job, we were given the script in its entirety.”
Nevertheless, all four were keen to keep the movie’s secrets intact, for fear of spoilers – especially Blake Nelson, whose character, a charming, singing cowboy, isn’t what he seems. “You’d never find a better friend if Buster’s your friend,” he said. “You just don’t want to be his enemy. It was important to show him as a benign, loving, singing cowboy who embraces life and the world with as much brio as possible – so that when that gets undercut, it’s more dramatic. The idea was to make him seem as friendly as possible.”
Asked to describe their directors in a single word or sentence, the cast was unanimous in their praise for the two siblings. “They’re really playful in a really unexpected and simple way,” said Heck. “Generous,” offered Blake Nelson, and “Mischievous” said Melling. A little more revealing was Kazan’s response. “There’s this strange mix of perfectionism and deep relaxation,” she noted. “You don’t often see perfectionists that don’t want to micro-manage
From there, the tone became much more serious with the panel for Paul Greengrass’s 22 July, which depicts the terrorist attacks carried out by far-right supremacist Anders Behring Breivik in Norway seven years ago. For cast members Thorbjørn Harr and Maria Bock, both Norwegian nationals, the murders of 77 people, many of them teenagers, is still a raw subject. “My youngest daughter was born on the 21st of July that year,” recalled Harr. “And so we were in the same hospital as these kids, who were flown in by helicopters. So we were celebrating a new life, a new hope and new meaning when this tragedy occurred. All the parents were gathered in the hallway. It was just horrible.”
Nevertheless, Bock believes that Greengrass’s harrowing film tells a story that had to be told. “I’m just so proud and so honored to be in this film,” she said. “It’s a really important film for people to see. And I’m so happy that [we shot it] in English, and that Netflix is doing it, because it means a lot of people will see it. The most important thing is the message with this film. This is a film about a right-wing extremist, and extremism is increasing. When you look at the world today, you see Donald Trump. He’s a bully. He’s bullying his way to the top – and he’s staying there. He is not being a good role model. As artists, and as directors too, we need to lead the world in another direction.”
Finishing the panel, Alfonso Cuarón came to the stage with Yalitza Aparicio and Marina De Tavira, the two leading ladies from his fall festival hit, Roma. Drawing heavily on the director’s youth in 1970s Mexico, Roma tells the story of a young maid (Aparicio) and the family she selflessly works for. But when he was asked how long his story had been percolating in his brain, the usually talkative Cuarón became tongue-tied. “Oh, gosh. I don’t know,” he said. “The seeds of the film were growing for a long, long period of time. Decades probably. But it was 12 years ago when I, for the first time, seriously tried to put it together.”
Once production was underway, the director proceeded under a veil of total secrecy. “No crew, no cast – nobody saw the script,” he said. “I showed it to my production designer, but that was halfway through the shoot. It was important, because the project was about memory, and I wanted to do it by accessing my subconscious. My collaboration with the actors and the crew and so on was the same – the hope is that the film is just a vessel, which audiences can load with their own experience.”
Cuarón’s insistence on radio silence had unexpected consequences. Said Aparicio, “When I was invited to do the second step of the [casting] – which was in Oaxaca, the capital of where I live – my family and I thought it might be trafficking in people. We really felt fear. Because it was not common at all that we had a casting [call] in our community. We didn’t know what to think. They told us the name of the production company but never the director’s name. So we thought that was weird.”
The audience laughed, but Cuarón added a note of sobriety.
“It sounds funny,” he said, “but what is scary about that is that a casting is not normal [in Oaxaca] – but human trafficking is.”
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