The Big Interview: JJ Abrams and Julius Onah on the evolution and Easter eggs of ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’

The movie was surprise-released on Netflix earlier this week

The ending of The Cloverfield Paradox has been a topic of intense debate since the sci-fi film debuted on Netflix. The third film in what’s known as the ‘Cloververse’ contained suggestions of how the films are all connected – and reports say the fourth film, Overlord, is due to be released later this year. NME caught up with director Julius Onah and producer JJ Abrams to get the lowdown on the film’s creation and the secret messages fans may have missed.

The Cloverfield Paradox started out as a standalone film called God Particle – so when did it actually become a Cloverfield film?

JJ Abrams: “I can’t really remember it not being one. Oren Uziel’s original script was not, but we got it, started working on it early on, and thought it could be something that could be part of the [Cloverfield] collection. And as we started working on the movie we started realising that there was a natural fit.”

Did the cast know they were coming in for a Cloverfield film? 

JJ: “By the time we were done with the shoot they knew, but they didn’t go into it knowing.”

Julius Onah: “These things are all very organic. We had a great group of actors who were excited about what we were trying to do with this story and we tried to focus on that. David [Oyelowo] said a great thing recently: sometimes when you have too much information you start to feel beholden to what came before you and I think the spirit of what JJ and Bad Robot have tried to create with these stories are platforms where collaborators can all come in and do something new and unexpected, so if we give that away, or if it becomes that too soon, then it’s not going to be that thing that it could be.”

The Cloverfield Paradox

Courtesy of Netflix

How much Mandarin did they have to learn? 

Julius: “That was so much fun. Daniel Bruhl was incredible. They had an amazing dialect coach and really worked their butts off, it was all phonetically that they were learning it but there was a fair amount, and they did a great job.”

JJ – do you consider any project to be a potential Cloverfield film?

JJ: “No. For me the definition of a Cloverfield movie is less that it’s part of a linear narrative and more in a Twilight Zone way. Big ‘what if’s: contained movies that feel like there’s more of a DNA thread as opposed to being a literal sequel. It’s more of a spiritual sequel. Like, this feels the way it felt when we were doing Cloverfield, like a crazy ‘what if’ thing.

“In truth, a lot of people say this movie didn’t need to be a Cloverfield movie but the point of it is less that it’s telling the story of a particular creature or the characters that you knew before, and more that it’s a really weird, crazy, fun, scary, thrilling date movie. That’s how I imagine these movies and this, early on, felt like it could fit into that category.”

Julius: “It’s not a hyper-conscious thing, it’s more the spirit of it, the tone, the feel: does it organically feel like it captures that same energy? For me it always comes down to the unexpected. If you were expecting it to be a Cloverfield movie then it probably isn’t. But if it takes you on this wild ride in ways that you can’t quite see coming, then maybe it is. I think that’s a real part of the genesis of how this one came together and perhaps how the other ones have as well.”

The Cloverfield Paradox

Courtesy of Netflix

What about the next films – are they happening the same way?

Julius: “Maybe they’re happening right now…”

JJ: “We’re talking about a whole bunch of different things. Even the release of this movie – it didn’t really feel like it was any fun to release the movie with everyone knowing it was coming, and it just felt like the idea of ‘could we possibly do this and keep it a secret and release the thing in the way we did?’ That felt to me to be in the spirit of the series. So to talk about the next one is and what’s going to happen sort of feels counter-intuitive…”

We already know a bit about Bad Robot‘s forthcoming film Overlord though – is it in the Cloverfield universe?

JJ: “First of all, that’s something I can’t wait for you to see, because the director, Julius Avery, has done an amazing job on it. But the specifics? We should wait and see. But that’s a crazy movie.”

How many people actually knew about The Cloverfield Paradox‘s release on Netflix before it came out?

JJ: “It was really crazy secret. Even within Netflix not everyone knew what was happening – and at Paramount, because they were going to release the movie originally – this was something that they were incredibly quiet about. A lot of the departments there didn’t know. It was amazing to me that it was pulled off.

“I feel this way about Apple, for example: they’ll announce a product and be like ‘available now’ or ‘available next week’ and it’s like: ‘Wait a minute, they designed this thing, they manufactured it, they shipped it and no one knew?’ It literally doesn’t make sense how that can happen and it felt a little bit like that with this. It was amazing to me that they were able to keep this stuff secret.”

The Cloverfield Paradox

Courtesy of Netflix

Did you have any concerns releasing it the way you did? 

Julius: “No, it just felt like it was in the spirit of what we wanted to do, especially for me. The first movie was released without a title – it was just a date. There was a real sense of surprise and the unexpected with that. And with the second movie, dropping a trailer five or six weeks before the movie came out: the question was what could be done with this. Good luck to whatever the next one ends up being because they’ll have to find something else!”

“We live in a day and age where there is such an information overload with how these kinds of movies come out: you see the teaser and then you see the trailer and all the blogs, and by the time you actually go see the movie you feel like: ‘Wow I feel like I already saw the movie’. To not know what’s actually coming is such a rare experience for audiences now.”

Can you tell us about the tie-ins to the other films? Someone’s already matched up the 18-minute 20-second thing… 

Julius: “The thing that really excited me was the way the monster appears at the end. When that idea first came up, it was just nutty and really cool and I thought that was really fun, to end on a note you wouldn’t quite expect and to find a way to tie it back to the other stories yet still create a sense of possibility. It wasn’t like ‘Oh my god now everything’s resolved’. It was more like ‘Ooh, what could come next?'”

JJ: “There are little things in the movie like the Slusho bobblehead [above] and things that are just kind of fun. What I liked was the idea that a future story could be the origin for something in the past and be a catch-all for a bunch of weirdness. But the thing that I think is for me the connective piece isn’t even literally an Easter egg, and more that kind of crazy feeling of ‘What would happen if’ which was literally the complete inspiration for the first movie. What if there was essentially a Godzilla movie but through the point of view of a Handycam? What if someone kidnapped you and was insane but they were also right about something that was happening outside? Just things like that. So this idea of ‘What if people turned on a machine that just broke reality and things became irrational and bonkers?’: the Easter egg is less a literal thing and more that feeling that these movies have a kind of connection.

“I know that some people love them and some people hate them, and some people are like ‘I love that until that part’ or ‘I hated that but I gotta watch it a couple more times to see why’. Everyone has their own reaction to it but to me the fun of these movies is they all feel like – if I stumbled upon this movie at night, I wouldn’t stop watching it just because there’s something to it that’s a spiritual connection to the other films.”

Was the 18-minute 20-second thing a coincidence then?

JJ: “From my point of view it was not intentional. Julius might have had other secret plans but that was not intentional. There are future things we’re thinking about that we were going to set up [in The Cloverfield Paradox] – and a couple of those things we did. But the 18-minute thing – that is a bizarre coincidence.”

The Cloverfield Paradox

Courtesy of Netflix

Is the idea that the films are all in the same ‘timeline’ or is each film in its own timeline?

JJ: “Now that we’ve done this crazy movie, it opens up the possibility of alternate everythings. But obviously if you say there are no rules then that’s not good either. So you want to figure out what it means. What I liked about the future story affecting the past is it does allow for things to – including 10 Cloverfield Lane – for things to be explained because of this event that happened. But I think every movie itself needs to have its own set of rules within it.”

Are there any Easter eggs that people haven’t spotted?

JJ: “There are two that I can think of that I don’t think have been found but that are cool, and actually weirdly [they’re] something that we’re doing with Netflix – but we’ll see if that gets found out. My guess is by the time I’m done with this sentence people will have found it. It’s incredible how quickly find people find the things you think will take days or weeks or months.”

Will there be more ARG updates?

JJ: “There will be more things coming, yeah. It’s been really fun doing that – there’s some people at Bad Robot and in this case there were some great people at Netflix who were helping us out. It’s for a very niche group of people – but I love them and their involvement in this thing has been as much fun for us as I hope it has been for them.”

The Cloverfield Paradox

Courtesy of Netflix

JJ, you’ve been able to reboot Star Trek, Star Wars – if you could pick anything else to reboot, what would you pick?

JJ: “I’ve got to say – and I’m saying this being as grateful as I’ve ever been to be involved in Episode 9, and I couldn’t be more excited about what we’re doing – but having worked in this reboot world for a while, with Mission Impossible and Star Trek and Star Wars, I’ve written some things in the last year or so. One of them is a show we just set up with HBO, and there’s something else. These were original storylines and things I was really excited about getting to because I was looking to not reboot anything.

“There was a time when filmmakers would be inspired by things and then go off and tell their stories, and the business [now] is such that we get inspired by things and then remake those things, literally. It works and there’s huge business sometimes – and we’ve all seen versions where it didn’t – but I feel like one of the reasons why I love Cloverfield is it allows new filmmakers, and original storylines that connect, but not in a way that makes it a remake or a literal sequel, where you feel like ‘I’ve seen that and this is another version of that thing’. It keeps it unexpected and keeps it fun. So if I could do anything it probably wouldn’t be to reboot something.”

Are you looking forward to getting back into the Star Wars hotseat? 

JJ: “Yeah!”

Will Episode 9 be much different from The Force Awakens? 

JJ: “I can’t wait for you to see what we’re doing.”

Ok, thanks JJ!

The Cloverfield Paradox is on Netflix now