It’s become something of a cliché to label British director Duncan Jones as one of “the nicest men in showbusiness” but it must be said that if the old adage required a promotional campaign, the Moon and Source Code director would serve as a perfect poster boy.
Open, self-effacing, articulate and deeply passionate about all things cinematic – interviewing Duncan Jones on everything from Quantum Leap to beard growth was an absolute pleasure. I hope you enjoy reading it too.
NME: How are you doing and what are you up to?
Duncan Jones: I’m really good. I’ve had a busy morning. I’ve been virtually travelling the whole of the United States doing call-ins for radio.
NME: Congratulations on Source Code, we really enjoyed the film. We’ve been telling people it’s the ‘nicest ever film about terrorism’.
DJ: It’s a feelgood terrorism film!
NME: Was your intention to make something joyous out of dark material?
DJ: It’s kind of funny. Actually Jake (Gyllenhaal) was the one who introduced me to the script and I think he thought off the back of Moon I might be the right guy for this script. I have to admit, when I first read it, I thought this takes itself very seriously so my big spin on it was to try and lighten the tone and inject it with some humour. It may seem a little counter-intuitive for a film about terrorism but I was just thinking the thing read like a classic thriller, like an old Hitchcock movie. An ordinary guy that finds himself in strange circumstances with a mysterious dame across from him on a train. It just felt like a Hitchock movie and Hitchcok used to always inject humour into his movies, it just kind of felt right.
NME: Film journalists have been having plenty of fun with tongue in cheek X meets Y descriptions for Source Code…
DJ: I’ve heard so many!
NME: Have you any favourites?
DJ: The one I kind of get a kick out of is Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap meets 12 Monkeys!
NME: The Quantum Leap connection. Are you a fan?
DJ: Oh absolutely! When I was reading the script it jumped out at me. I was a fan of the show, I’m sure you noticed we were able to get Scott Bakula to come in as a cameo.
NME: Dr Sam Beckett himself. Do you have any particular favourite episodes?
DJ: I just remember it getting really quite serious and sad towards the end of the show when it wound down. I remember thinking this is actually quite emotional now.
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NME: So Jake Gyllenhaal first handed you the script…
DJ: Yes, yes. He had seen Moon and I really wanted to work with him and I was doing my door-to-door salesman thing of pitching this script that I’d been trying to make forever. He said, “Yeah that sounds great but I have this script you should really read”. And he gave me Source Code.
NME: Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan have some frighteningly good chemistry in the film…
DJ: Well, after Jake and I agreed to do the film the first thing we tried to work out was who should play Christina, and I had seen this Shane Black film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. She was fantastic in that, acting opposite Robert Downey Jr and managing to, not just work on the same level, but give as good as she got. I thought if we can get that Michelle Monaghan in our film we’re onto a good thing.
NME: You have this other script, a passion project. Are you a fan of the Steven Soderbergh ‘one for you, one for me’ process when it comes to film-making?
DJ: I very much am, yes. I think it’s a very sensible way to approach the industry. I think there’s a number of those guys, not just Soderbergh, but also Chris Nolan, who have managed to create a path for themselves. I think every director finds their own path but you do have to look at those guys and try to learn from them where you can.
NME: There are still some nice parallels with Moon in Source Code…
DJ: I think Jake was the one who picked up on the aspects of Source Code that translated well from Moon. For me, when I was reading the script I was getting very excited about the differences and all the opportunities and the new things I could do. But you’re right, there is a kindred spirit between the two movies.
NME: Speaking of Moon, Clint Mansell’s score is a stunning contribution to the film…
DJ: It is. We were looking for an opportunity to see if Clint could work on the score for Source Code, but unfortunately timing wise it just didn’t work out. I’m sure we’ll work together in the future but I ended up working with a very talented young guy called Chris Bacon. His middle initial is P, so he’s Chris P. Bacon – talk about having difficult names growing up! Chris did a fantastic job.
NME: The Olly Moss poster (above) has a great Hitchock vibe too…
DJ: That’s fantastic! I love that poster. I’m still waiting to get my copy of that.
NME: In your BAFTA acceptance speech you were genuinely moved to get that honour…
DJ: That’s because I’m a good actor! No seriously that came right from the heart. I think you get a sense of how much that meant to me when that happened. It was 20 years of frustration, culminating in a realisation that I’m finally doing what I want to do. It was just a huge, huge moment in my life.
NME: You’ve made a name for yourself in science fiction, will your next project stick to the genre?
DJ: I’m going to do one more sci-fi film next. I’ve had the chance to write my own project work passionately on a vision that was my own, and with Source Code I’ve had the opportunity to work with some fantastic actors and bigger budgets through the Hollywood system. Ideally, the plan for film number 3, is to be a blend of those two things.
NME: Is all the funding set up?
DJ: Things are looking very good. I think as long as people turn up on April 1st for Source Code that should help a lot.
NME: Musically what are you listening to at the moment?
DJ: It’s funny, maybe it’s a weird kind of rebellion I had growing up [Duncan’s father is one David Bowie], I never really got that into music. My girlfriend is really into music she always has things on in the background. If I enter a room and there’s no music playing I tend to turn on the TV and put on the news. That’s my background sound. CNN and the Discovery channel are my music.
NME: And finally how crucial is a good beard to directing a good film?
DJ: You laugh but it’s essential. I do have a bit of a baby face and even though I’m gonna be 40 in a few months, which terrifies me, if I shave I just look like a kid and people don’t take me seriously. A good beard is the way to go!
Source Code is out on April 1st.