I met Nacho Vigalondo at Fantastic Fest last year. He gave me a big, drunk, sweaty hug for agreeing with him that Lost was awesome. This year he was back with a new film. Extraterrestrial is about an alien invasion, but it focuses on a few people in an apartment building. I interviewed Vigalondo in the morning, when he was on his best, most courteous behavior, but still a totally sweet guy.
CraveOnline: Do you love movies where survivors have to figure out what’s going on?
Nacho Vigalondo: Yeah, my favorite movie ever is The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock. I think that’s a film where I have the feeling I understand everything that happens on the screen, but at the same time that movie’s so far from me. It’s like watching a UFO. You can admire the picture, you can be amazed but it’s so far from you. It’s an untouchable film for me. That movie is beyond words. At the same time I understand the film, what’s the film about and how it works, but it’s a mystery. It’s a mystery the fact that it’s such a complex and extraordinary strange film, but when it came to the theaters at the time in the ‘60s it was a huge success. It was a social phenomenon. How many times does such a weird film become a cultural phenomenon like The Birds? Hitchcock is the master.
I think about the Romero films where they’re stuck in the house, or ‘Signs’ where they’re also stuck in the house.
I love the energy when you put a few characters in a confined or limited space. Those stories don’t necessarily have to be a siege. For example, one of my favorite literary genres is the impossible room crimes, when you have to solve a crime inside a room for example. All those old tales from the 19th century, novels like The Mystery of the Yellow Room. I love when a mystery takes place in one room. I love comedy in a room. I even like video games in a room. There is a genre of games where you’re trapped in a room and you have to escape that room, and all you have in your hands as a tool to escape is inside the room. I love when you’re dealing with a confined space. I don’t know why but I love the energy that gets developed when you’re behind four walls and it has to happen there.
So what did you put in ‘Extraterrestrial’ that you always wanted to see in one of those movies?
I didn’t necessarily respond to those kinds of films doing the new film. In fact, the characters move away from the place. In fact they’re not specifically worried about what happens to the outside. They’re more worried about the neighbor. They’re worried about themselves somehow. Maybe what I wanted to do is try to put together this sense of urgency, this sense of apocalyptic urgency and on the other side, this feeling of the characters are not alarmed. They’re not disturbed. It’s like putting together those two emotions. For example when Julio comes out of the house with the peaches, he doesn’t feel scared of being in the street. There’s a siege feeling but at the same time, it’s the opposite because when he moves out, he’s so calm. When he’s in the streets, he’s not worried about what happens up there. It’s like when we were dealing with the World Trade Center on September 11th. It was such a frightening thing because anything could happen the next day when the towers came down. We didn’t know what was going to happen with our whole universe, with our countries and the international relationships so they’d have to go to war. So it was a terrifying thing but at the same time, in five minutes we were already doing the jokes via e-mail. So at the same time we were worried, at the same time we didn’t give a sh*t about the thing. That paradoxical way of acting when something terrible is happening outside was something I wanted to portray in this film. They are so worried and at the same time they don’t care what’s happening out there.
It’s always more interesting what happens within the group of people than whatever’s going on outside.
Totally, totally. The key is that his character is so interested in having something with Julia that the UFO is not that important at the time. Honestly, I think that that’s a realistic way of acting. For me it doesn’t feel like the character is crazy. If you wake up in the flat with Michelle Jenner, it’s totally understandable that you don’t care about the UFO. For example, when we have the sequence in which Julio’s changing the position of the camera. Instead of pointing at the UFO, he points it at her, so at the end you have this image of her on the TV mixed with this drawing of the UFO. I think that moment sells the whole movie. That’s the character, that’s the movie.
What do the Hollywood alien invasion movies get wrong?
I don’t know. Not all of them are wrong.
What are the frustrating ones?
For example which are the frustrating ones?
What do you think of ‘War of the Worlds’ or ‘Battle: Los Angeles?’
I think War of the Worlds, the movie and the novel, are interesting in the fact that there’s something global happening, but instead of following the actions of the hero, the guy that saves the human race or something, we’re with an average person. It’s like we are in a war film and we’re not following the soldiers, we’re just following the civilians that are in the middle of the whole mess. I think that’s the level of intimacy you can reach by telling these small tales in the middle of a big event. I think that’s what is important for me. War of the Worlds, the novel, is the first alien invasion film and you’re not following a hero, you’re not following a soldier. The main character doesn’t even know what’s happening around him. He’s just trying to find his wife throughout the film. In the second half of the book, he gets stuck with a priest in the rooms and they have a long conversation. The priest is totally crazy and it’s amazing because you’re reading an old tale about an alien invasion. It was written in the 19th century but at the same time it’s the most modern tale. It feels like somebody wrote it yesterday. So it’s amazing. That’s what I like about these kinds of stories.
‘V’ had a spaceship hovering over the city and it looked so fake. How did you make a better looking spaceship than ABC television?
I won’t say the new V series had a bad spaceship, but the reference we got for a spaceship was the first V series. The mothership in V the original series for me was the perfect iconic mothership. That’s the icon on the screen. We just wanted to make the icon. We didn’t want to design a spaceship or anything. When I was talking to the art people, I said, “Okay, let’s make the average figure for back there. That’s all we want. We don’t want a clever design.”
Is part of the trick also to only show half of it?
Yeah, that’s right. You only see one part of the UFO until the end. At the end moment you get the whole thing. That’s important.
Are you doing Supercrooks next?
I’m involved in Supercrooks and Windows. Those are my next projects and it really depends on them what comes first. Those are two projects are in a really advanced situation. I didn’t write them. The scripts are already made so I hope they happen. Supercrooks is not a superhero film. It’s a supervillain film. Mark Millar explained to me that when you watch The Godfather, it’s about criminals all the time. You don’t get to see the cops in those films. It’s always about the mafia. In this case it’s the same. We’re going to show only supervillains and not superheroes. Superheroes are in the background.
Did you get an early copy of the comic, since it’s not published yet?
So far the comic book is being made. In fact, it’s like what happened in Kick-Ass. The comic book was written at the same time the movie was made. The movie’s an adaptation of the comic book because Mark Millar is the author of everything, but it’s a tricky situation. It’s more complex than it seems. It’s not an explicit average adaptation.
Would either of those be bigger films for you?
Yeah, because my budget so far is so low. An average budget for me is a big budget. If you give me $3 million, for me it’s a big budget. That’s the thing.
Are you going to do ‘Supercrooks’ for only three million?
No, no, no, no, no. Supercrooks is going to be more expensive than that. I don’t know, maybe I discover that I’m not able to make movies with a big budget. I don’t know, who knows?
Could you have a role for your ‘Extraterrestrial’ stars in those movies?
The only problem is the movie’s going to be in English. That’s the only obstacle. I’m going to work with Julian again, you can be sure of that, as soon as I can. I’m not going to jump into the U.S. making English films. I’m not going to make that kind of jump because I want to be able to always make small films in Spanish with the size of Extraterrestrial. I think the experience of doing Extraterrestrial couldn’t be more satisfying. It was charming shooting, we were happy throughout, we loved the results so what can be better than that? I want to come back to that formula again and again.
Have you done ‘The ABCs of Death’ yet?
I already wrote the story and I’m about to shoot it. We have to make it pretty fast, before the year ends. So as soon as I go back to Spain I’ll try to shoot it.
Is it fun to go back to making shorts?
I never abandoned short films. I’ve been involved with short films all my life. I want to still do short films because you fall in love with the story. If that story only takes 10 minutes of your life, why not do that? The problem is finding time and energy and of course money. In this case, ABCs of Death is providing these things.
What can you tell us about your segment?
All I can say is that I have the pressure of doing the first of all the stories, so it has to be awesome because the movie needs to start really high.
What would ‘Windows’ be?
Windows is going to be a thriller in the tradition of the Brian DePalma films from the ‘80s, Body Double, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out. But in this case, we’re following the whole plot through the screen of a computer which means it’s going to be real time, which means it’s going to be a single shot in front of the screen. We are focusing on the different windows that open and close but the story is a roller coaster. We have this tense element at the beginning that goes through the whole film. It’s pure suspense.
Will you have to have the characters read their typing out loud like all the other cybermovies do?
That’s one of the millions of questions entered myself into making this film. I promise the character never says what he reads, never says what he writes. He’s just there. We can read it. We’re the audience. There’s a little part of this movie that’s going to be read but only a few things.
Last year you were very outspoken about political matters. Do you have any political thoughts this year with the American election season?
That’s because I had these confrontations in the debate. I came into some rude jokes about Americans but they were just awful jokes on the stage. I’m sorry.
I was hoping you’d go with that. Do you think the Republicans would really nominate a Tea Partier for their candidate?
That would be so terrifying. I hope it doesn’t happen because the Tea Party is like in Spain the Tierra Comunera. I won’t dare to make any complex statement about politics in the U.S. because somehow, sometimes in Spain what we receive is a very basic description of what happens here. I think the situation is much more complex. I don’t think it’s as simple as Obama was great and now he isn’t. I think it’s not that simple so I really want to be cautious about talking about this.
You also defended ‘Lost’ last year. Are there any other shows you’re passionate about?
Oh my God, I’m so into Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad is amazing. I also discovered old shows like The Wire. I should have seen The Wire at the time but now we see the whole series these days. It’s amazing. It’s something beyond words. Breaking Bad is something that when I watch these shows, Breaking Bad is a show that really makes me feel envy about people involved in that series because that’s exactly the story I want to tell someday. An average character who is at the same time the good guy and the bad guy. He’s guilty of everything. That’s the kind of story I want to make. In Extraterrestrial and Timecrimes, everything happens because of the character’s guilt. In Breaking Bad, everything is related to the attraction the main character feels with evil.