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Alexandre Aja On His Creative Vision and Bringing ’The 9th Life of Louis Drax’ To Life!

Alexandre Aja On His Creative Vision and Bringing ’The 9th Life of Louis Drax’ To Life!

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Director Alexandre Aja discusses his latest film, “The 9th Life of Louis Drax.”

With each new project, director Alexandre Aja (Horns, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D, High Tension) continues to push his creative limits as one of the most dynamic filmmakers in the industry. His latest project, “The 9th Life of Louis Drax,” is no exception to the rule. Based on the best-selling novel by Liz Jensen, with a script by Max Minghella, the film centers around the world of one very unlucky little boy. After surviving eight near-death accidents throughout his unlucky life, Louis Drax [Aiden Longworth] plunges off a steep cliff on his ninth birthday. While police investigate the cause of Louis’ near-fatal fall and the whereabouts of his violent father Peter [Aaron Paul], acclaimed neurologist Dr. Allan Pascal [Jamie Dornan] uses unorthodox techniques to try to tap into the boy’s unconscious mind and reveal the truth about the events that led to his condition. But as he’s drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of Louis’ seeming ability to cheat death, the doctor finds himself falling for Louis’ mother, Natalie [Sarah Gadon]. As new clues emerge in the case, a shocking revelation changes the fates of Louis Drax and everyone around him. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Alexandre Aja to discuss his approach to the filmmaking process, the challenges involved in bringing the world of “Louis Drax” to the screen and where he sees himself headed in the future.

We became familiar with your work over the years and each new project takes you in new directions. What went into finding your creative voice early on as an artist?

It is something I try not to think about too much. I try to respond to material by finding a movie I would want to see as an audience member. I feel that you cannot really know what people want to see and when you stop thinking about that, you usually take a really dangerous path that leads you to making bad movies. I go forward with a very simple, common sense thing — “If I want to see this movie, other people might want to see it as well.” That was how I chose the subjects I have kind of gone for. Making them, I have always tried to be, and it’s a paradox, to be as invisible as I can but at the same time creating unique visuals that will make the movie personal to me. What I realized growing up watching all these movies is that the movies that I loved the most were the ones that gave me the feeling of an experience, a true experience where I was completely forgetting that I was watching something, a movie that took me on the other side of the mirror with a character and I was really involved and immersed in the story. Every time I was watching movies that had bad acting or bad effects, I was slipping out of that immersion and I never liked that feeling. A lot of people in the genre community have a tendency of liking movies for a scene, a gag or one element or another, instead of the global storytelling experience. That is something that is the key for me. On every movie, I am trying to create the best immersion for the audience.

Your latest project is “The 9th Life of Louis Drax.” How did discover the material and what made it a film you wanted to bring to the screen?

'The Ninth Life of Louis Drax'

‘The Ninth Life of Louis Drax’

While we were doing “Horns” and Max Minghella was co-starring with Daniel Radcliffe, he told me about this novel that his father, Anthony Minghella, was supposed to direct before he passed. He said that he was writing an adaptation of that novel and would like me to read it. I did! I was not expecting such a strong, emotional ride reading the script. From the first pages, following this boy who fell from a cliff in San Francisco, I found myself, like him, falling into the emptiness and not knowing where I was going to land. Page after page, I was discovering very complex characters that were hiding truths and were never like the character you think they are. All the psychological twists and turns of the story were very unexpected. What made me really want to direct it was the voice of Louis Drax. It is this little boy who claims to be the amazing accident prone boy, all the accidents that he went through and the lightness of tone in which he is taking it. Then you realize, in going through his recall, that there is something else. There is violence with his parents and his father, played by Aaron Paul, is on the run and involved in something much more sinister. All of those elements interested me and there was something very Hitchcockian in the script. I felt it was something new and fresh. As I said, it was something I wanted to see! Every time I was reading it, it was very emotional and echoing with me in a very personal way, so I knew I had to make this movie!

Did you have anything you wanted to accomplish with this film you may not have had the opportunity to try on previous projects?

What I wanted with this movie was to keep the focus on the boy’s perspective. I wanted to push even further the genre-bending that I started with “Piranha” and pushed even further in “Horns.” I wanted the movie to start in a very light way, almost like a Tim Burton type of storytelling and then continue to get darker, darker and darker following this journey through the comatose world and finding your way back to the surface following the sea monster and discovering facing the truth is the only way to come back to the surface. The fact that the twist was an emotional one instead of a more traditional plot twist in the story was something that made it very unique to my eyes. Visually, I wanted to translate that Hitchcockian vibe that I received when I read the script into the picture. That was my goal!

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Sarah Gadon and Jamie Dornan in ‘The 9th Life of Louis Drax.’

What went into finding the right cast to bring these characters to life and what did they bring to the table you might not have expected?

You know, there were a lot of very complex characters. The father, Peter Drax, who was played by Aaron Paul, is that violent figure at the beginning who is on the run. Then you realize through the flashbacks, when you go inside Louis’ mind in his comatose state, you learn he was a different father than you had expected and perhaps a more protective figure than you thought. Without revealing too much, he has a big evolution by the end of the movie. For me, I knew Aaron Paul was the obvious choice for this character and I had wanted to work with him for a long time. It was the perfect fit! To play the doctor who is trying to bring Louis to the surface and bring the audience, I wanted someone who could really carry the audience by the end and kind of experience falling in love with the mother of his patient, while protecting her from this violent husband who is on the run. I am a big fan of “The Fall” and the way Jamie Dornan interrupted the serial killer figure was a very interesting and unexpected one. Here it is not a serial killer part but he had something genuine and kind as someone who works with kids and wants to help them in a different way. He is almost the last hope when your son or daughter is in a coma and that is the person you hope to see because he has some resolve. I thought he was an interesting choice, not the expected one and I wanted to see him playing something different. The most complex character to find was the mother character. That Hitchcockian woman. The reason I went to Sarah Gadon was that I have always been very impressed with her work. With every movie that she has made, she has been so different each time. She has an amazing skillset of inventing characters and making them come to life. She looks like a different person almost! We met and talked about the script. She really responded to it and I knew right away that she had the Hitchcockian side but she had a complexity and ability to bring every nuance to the character that I needed for the part. That was not an obvious spot to play. There are a lot of things she is doing that is a lot like hunting. I don’t want to reveal too much, which makes it hard to talk about in this way, but even in the darker part of herself, she always brings a deep sense of empathy. You really feel for her. There is something that goes beyond her act. One of the biggest challenges on this film was finding the right Louis Drax. He has such a unique voice and it had such a nice melody in my head. I wanted him to be funny, smart and have this very sharp common sense on the adult world. Aiden Longworth, who plays Louis Drax, is definitely that kid! We saw a lot of them but he came into the room and read the cave scene with the sea monster and got very emotional. It was a magic moment where I instantly knew I had found the right Louis Drax!

What were some of the other challenges you faced in bringing the film to life?

The other challenges were trusting the script and the emotion you have in the beginning. At the same time you must stick to your guns to prove you can make a story with very intertwined storylines, while bending the genres together and creating an emotional journey.

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Aaron Paul and Aiden Longworth in ‘The 9th Life of Louis Drax’

Where do you see yourself headed next in a creative sense?

I am very curious about many genres and I am reading a lot of scripts and books. I would love to find the right horror movie in the more straightforward, scary story to come back to the genre at some point but I want to explore different fields. I am doing this period movie that has a lot of elements from “Horns” and everything I have done in my past but it is also very different. I just don’t want to do anything that is similar to what I have just done. I want to, as much as I can, find something new each time!

A lot of people can look to you as an inspiration with what you created. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?

That is a big question and I appreciate it. What I am trying to do is trying to stay true to my tastes and never try to think too much for the audience. I think of myself as an audience member before being a filmmaker, always. I want to keep the same pleasure I have, still today, to be scared in a movie, be amazed or emotionally involved with a movie!

Thanks for your time today, Alexandre. I wish you continued success!

Thank you, Jason!

Lionsgate’s ‘The 9th Life of Louis Drax’ hits theaters on September 2nd, 2016.

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Alexandre Aja Discusses His Career and Bringing Joe Hill’s ‘Horns’ To The Screen!

Alexandre Aja Discusses His Career and Bringing Joe Hill’s ‘Horns’ To The Screen!

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Over the past decade, director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D) has established himself as a dynamic filmmaker on the rise in Hollywood. A rarity when it comes to genre films, he isn’t afraid to take on new challenges and stretch as an artist. His latest film, ‘Horns,’ is a shining example of that mentality. The film is an amazing adaptation of Joe Hill’s original novel, which centers on Ig Perrish, small town guy who finds himself blamed for the brutal murder of his girlfriend. In light of that event, he finds himself ostracized by everyone he knows and hounded by the media. Matters are further complicated for Ig, played masterfully by Daniel Radcliffe, when he awakens one morning to find he’s grown a pair of horns. Armed with the supernatural powers they possess, he sets out to find the true killer. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Alexandre Aja to discuss what drew him to filmmaking, his evolution as an artist and the challenges involved in bringing “Horns’ to the silver screen. 

Alexandre Aja

Alexandre Aja

What was it about filmmaking that initially intrigued you and made you want to pursue it as a career?

I had the chance to have a family that was working in the industry. My father was a director/producer and my mother was a film critic. I kind of grew up on movie sets. As far back as I can remember my father was writing scripts and taking me on sets. At the time, I thought it seemed to be a very fun job because it was always changing and they were always making something different. What really sucked me in was, when I was 10 years old, my best friend and I started going from video shop to video shop to rent everything we could find. We would watch them and start writing scripts. The writing process for me became such an exciting part of the process. You can imagine, when we were 12, the scripts were not very good but they were fun to do. We discovered the excitement of creating a story and characters. Everything was possible! The writing was always my first passion. It was when we were a little bit older we started writing short films. We had one short film that was financed by the French State. We started thinking about directing and we got our start. I have to say that I have been lucky to have never stopped working for the past 17 years now. When you are working on something and are passionate about it, there is never a day that is the same as the previous one. It has been pretty exciting and I am very grateful to be able to do these movies.

You experienced so many different aspects of the filmmaking process. Do you still gravitate toward the writing process or some other part of the process?

I think there is really three different parts of the process when it comes to filmmaking. Of course, there is the initial writing of the script, the collaboration with the actors and then the editing, which is maybe the most important one. I love the three of them. I enjoy more and more the directing part and I feel more and more confident. It excites me to work and collaborate with the actors and all of the departments. The writing is still a huge part of my life and I try to write every day. I have also discovered the pleasure of directing scripts that I did not write. It is very interesting and a different process. I really enjoy the entire experience these days!

'Horns'

‘Horns’

Your latest film is “Horns,” which is an adaptation of Joe Hill’s amazing book. What was it about this story that made you want to pursue the project?

My agent and manager sent me the galley of the book when I was finishing “Piranha” at the time. I didn’t know anything about the novel or Joe Hill. I just started reading it and, from the very beginning, I was blown away by the way it went from a dark comedy to a suspenseful story to a dark drama to the supernatural. The mixing of all of those genres made it so interesting. Usually, when you make movies, you have to make something that fits in the box. Making this film was like making a film that fits in all those boxes together! I loved that! That was what got me! I felt, at the time, “If it works in the book, why wouldn’t it work on the big screen?” I knew I had to make this movie!

From what I read, Joe Hill was very involved with the project. What type of effect did working with him bring to this film?

I wanted him to be so involved. I wanted to make a movie that was as close to the experience that I had reading the book and I wanted to do it with his blessing. I was so happy that he was one of the producers on the project. It was so helpful to have him in the writing because he is someone who is really smart about the adaptation. He knew that an adaptation that was word by word would be boring, not interesting and a six-hour movie! We knew we had to find shortcuts and ways to hone the story but respect the DNA of the story. I wanted to make sure we respected what made the story so interesting. Having Joe next to me and being able to access his brain for solutions and shortcuts was terrific. The collaboration with Joe was really strong and I hope to work with him on another project very soon.

Was there anything you hoped to accomplish stylistically or technically with this film that you might not have attempted on your previous projects?

Yeah. When I was reading the pages, behind all the sheets of tone and emotional and scary measuring, I could read the lines. I could see so many important things I wanted to attempt for such a long time. I always wanted to find a story that would give me the opportunity to create a world that was a very hyper-real vision of America. I wanted to create a small American logging town in the Washington State that has a very “Twin Peaks” aspect to it and oppose that to a much more out of time measuring. I wanted to make those two worlds live together. This story gave me that opportunity.

Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple shine in 'Horns'

Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple shine in ‘Horns’

The cast for the film is absolutely tremendous. What did they bring to these characters that made them jump from the screen?

I have to say that, when we finished the adaptation of the book and started with people in Los Angeles reading the script, we realized how much the story was a magnet for actors. People were really, really willing to be a part of it and excited about it. We were obviously excited about the project but to get such an amazing response from everyone involved was amazing. There are so many projects and scripts going around but this one was so exciting, original and singular. The material gave us the opportunity to have the characters start in a normal way but become very different when they are under the influence of the horns. It was a great challenge for the actors. Having the opportunity to cast whoever I wanted was the best thing possible. I am so happy with the cast of the movie. The collaboration with Daniel Radcliffe was amazing, obviously, but also with Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, Max Minghella and Kelli Garner were also great experiences. This film was definitely the best experience I have had working with actors in my career.

What was the biggest challenge of bringing “Horns” from script to screen?

I think the biggest challenge was linking all the genres together and making the movie feel like a journey. In the beginning, I was trying to explain the film to people by comparing it to other movies, because that is how you would usually do it. You would say, “It is like this movie meets this other movie.” With “Horns,” this was impossible! The only movie I could think of was a darker Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.” It is so different and has nothing to do with our story but it was the only supernatural fable I could think about that has a similar tone and elements of trying to figure out what has gone crazy in his life. I kind of felt right away the best way to make these genres blend together and meet the challenge was to get the right Ig Perrish. I think the reason why the movie is multi-genre and also has a love story is because we have an amazing actor in Daniel Radcliffe. He managed to sell these different emotions with such skill. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part.

Daniel Radcliffe and Alexandre Aja on the set of 'Horns.'

Daniel Radcliffe and Alexandre Aja on the set of ‘Horns.’

Looking back on your career so far, what is the biggest evolution you have gone through as a director?

That is a tough question. What I am trying to do every time is not choose something that would be a repetition of what I have done before. I try not to allow myself to take the easy path. In genre, that is something that can happen very fast because once you have done a slasher or a supernatural thriller, you can easily find yourself doing another one because you know the world, you improve and it becomes comfortable. I try to make different choices every time rather than doing the same thing again and again. If you look at “High Tension,” “The Hills Have Eyes” or now “Horns,” they are very different from one another. That is what I continue to try and do. It is not easy because people want you to repeat that thing when it is successful. That is what I am trying to keep as a guideline, to not let myself become repetitive.

'Horns' hits theaters on Halloween.

‘Horns’ hits theaters on Halloween.

Where do you see yourself headed in the future as a director?

I am starting a movie on Monday called “The Ninth Life of Louis Drax.” It is a very intense psychological thriller, very Hitchcockian with some supernatural elements. It is something very different from “Horns” and I am very excited about it. It is different from anything I have done previously, as we were just discussing, and it is a new challenge!

You serve as a huge inspiration to many aspiring filmmakers. What is the best advice you can pass along to someone looking to pursue a career in the industry?

I would say that it is all about the story. It is all about finding a story that makes you want to commit a full year of your life and makes you want to make it happen no matter what. It is a long process and every movie can take years. Some movies I have made took seven years in development and for some other filmmakers it can be even more. You need to have this starting point where you fall in love with the story and know that, no matter what happens, you have to tell that story. I think that is the most important thing to seek out.

Thank you for your time today, Alexandre. You are truly an inspiration and “Horns” is definitely a film to be proud of!

Thank you, Jason! Thank you very much!

‘Horns’ hits theaters on October 31st, 2014 and is available via VOD.

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