JA Bayona: “Like Tolkien, I only understand creation through wonder, through the extraordinary”

JA Bayona was just over 10 years old when he discovered JRR Tolkien and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ through that amazing rotoscopic animated film directed by Ralph Bakshi in 1978 that condensed the narrative arcs of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and ‘The Two Towers’ into just over hours. Unfortunately, the conclusion of the original triptych was never shot and Bayona, like so many other kids of the time fascinated by the almost lysergic images of Bakshi’s film and that universe of sorcerers, dragons and elves, ended up plunging into the novels of Tolkien. “I should have known more about all that amazing stuff & rdquor ;, the director of, among other milestones, ‘The Orphanage’ and ‘The Impossible’ evokes today.

Several decades after those avid readings of youth, Bayona has returned to Tolkien in style. The Barcelona filmmaker attends this newspaper just one week after the premiere on Prime Video of the first two episodes of the monumental series ‘The Lord of the Rings. The rings of power’, for whose direction he has been responsible. A spectacular fresco set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, long before the events recounted in Peter Jackson’s films, which carries with it two slabs of considerable weight: being the most expensive series in history and being sensitive material for the dogmatic ‘fandom’ of Tolkien’s work.

Q- Did working with Tolkien’s legacy give you a lot of respect? Fans don’t usually like their stuff touched.

R-(Long pause) The Tolkien fan behaves as if he were almost part of a religion. He created a very complete mythology, very exhaustive, and, in short, it is normal that his great followers are very purist people. I have read Tolkien’s work and it is full of great humanist values. So a person who is a true fan of Tolkien is assumed to be a good person (laughs). I like genuine fans, those who know how to appreciate his work not only for the story he tells, but for the ideas he conveys.

P-Are you, I understand, aware of the racist attacks that the series has received due to the presence of black actors by the most intolerant faction of Tolkien’s ‘fandom’.

R-I would separate the Tolkien fan who expects, and demands, that the adaptation lives up to expectations, from those guys who are racist first and Tolkien reader second. In addition, the author himself always defended inclusion and left the tools for any other person to give his vision and make Middle-earth bigger. In any case, I am very happy with the general reaction. Before the premiere, they only talked about money, their budget, and now, after the premiere of the first two episodes, they have finally begun to talk about the quality of the series.laugh.

Q-How did you come to the ‘Rings of Power’ project?

R-Apparently, Patrick McKay and JD Payne (the ‘showrunners’ of the series) liked ‘The Impossible’ a lot and they thought that in my films there were quite a few things that could be transferred to their vision of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ ‘. They invited us to Los Angeles to Bethlehem [Atienza, su productora habitual] and me, and they explained the project to us over a wonderful dinner. They are enthusiastic people, university students, literature graduates, and they have a good command of Tolkien. The level impresses you. We read the scripts and we thought they were great. Three days later, before we left Los Angeles, they made us the offer. It was impossible to say no.

“I didn’t want to repeat what was seen in other films. I was attracted to creating a new universe, with other situations and characters”

Q-Would you have accepted if the narrative arc of the series was the same as that of the Peter Jackson trilogy?

R-That was the fear. I was not interested in repeating what was seen in other films. What attracted me was the concept of taking Tolkien’s appendices, just a chronology without a narrative thread, and creating a new universe, with other situations and characters, based on the author’s guidelines. .

P-This new universe is full of powerful women. It is not canon to either Tolkien’s work or the Jackson trilogy.

R-The truth is that it is something very common in my films. ‘The Orphanage’, ‘The Impossible’, even ‘Jurassic World. The Fallen Kingdom’, are full of powerful female characters. When I read the scripts, I thought it was great that the main actions of the series were carried out by women.

“In just seven months we had to build a monumental project from scratch. Peter Jackson spent years of his life”

Q-I understand that the explosion of the covid forced to stop the filming of the series in New Zealand just shortly after it began.

R-That’s right. At Christmas 2019 we were traveling to New Zealand and in February we were already shooting. But after five weeks the covid broke out. A six-month break was established which, to tell you the truth, was good for us.

R-Why?

Q-They offered us to do the series in July 2019 and in just seven months we had to build a monumental project from scratch. Peter Jackson spent years of his life. The fact is that it was planned to take a break of six months between the filming of episodes two and three. But with covid, the planned break was brought forward and those six months were great for us to develop the series a little better. We had the feeling of arriving a little with our tongues hanging out. I locked myself in a house in the mountains in New Zealand, working, and when everything was back to normal, I returned to Auckland, which is where it was filmed.

P-He returns to work with his usual team: Belén Atianza, Oscar Faura, Jaume Martí, Bernat Vilaplana… To what extent is it important for you to be surrounded by your friends?

R-For me it has always been key to work with your trusted people. And in this case, it helped more than ever to work with trustworthy people, having so little preparation time. It gives you a lot of security. We work almost without speaking.

Q-You have shot the first two episodes. Not one more?

R-No. I have thrown the ball to keep it rolling.

Q- Mr. Bayona, do you ever see yourself making small, intimate films, or is your great sense of entertainment inseparable from your creative vision?

R-The creation is established by the director independently of the budget.

“Yesterday I saw ‘Pacifiction’ and Albert Serra manages to take something almost supernatural out of the ordinary. That’s the kind of narrative that interests me”

P-I’m not referring so much to the money, but to the idea of ​​doing something far from the great display that his cinema always exudes.

R-I understand you. Hum… Somehow ‘The Orphanage’ was an intimate and claustrophobic film. And my ‘Jurassic world’ started from a very large base to end up being something gothic inside a house. I’ll tell you one thing: for Tolkien, the extraordinary, the fabulous, is something indivisible from his way of narrating. In my case, like him, I cannot conceive of creation without pouring all the sense of wonder into it, without finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Yesterday I saw ‘Pacifiction’ and Albert Serra manages to bring something almost supernatural out of the ordinary. That is the kind of narrative that interests me, regardless of its size.

Q-Last Friday you arrived in Barcelona from the Andes, where you have filmed ‘The Snow Society’, inspired by that atrocious accident involving a Chilean rugby team in 1972. What attracted you to that story to take it to the cinema? ?

R-The book that inspired it, by Pablo Vierci, has been stuck in my head since I read it in 2008, while I was preparing ‘The Impossible’. It collects the testimonies of the 16 survivors of the accident, 30 years later, and explores the repercussions that those episodes had for them. As Vierci himself says, ‘They live!’ [libro de Piers Paul Read que inspiró el filme homónimo de Frank Marshall] was what happened and ‘Snow Society’ is what happened to them. It has been a monumental challenge to bring all of that to the screen.

Q-It’s your first job for Netflix. Do you know if it will be released in theaters before on the platform itself?

R-I don’t know. It is not Netflix’s policy to report these things in advance. We only have the commitment that it will be released in the best possible conditions. It is scheduled to be released in late 2023.

“Death of the cinemas? The only decadence is that the studios only bet on the ‘blockbusters’ and the most commercial cinema, and not on an adult cinema”

Q-You see life in ‘scope’ but your latest works are for ‘streaming’ platforms. Is it the swan song of movie theaters?

R-I don’t think so. There is a new element that is the platforms, but in the end everything will be balanced as in its day it happened with television or video. The only decline is that the studios only bet on the ‘blockbusters’ and the most commercial cinema, and not on adult cinema. There is no decline in consumption: more cinema is seen than ever. And there is a trend throughout the world, except in Spain at the moment, to return to theaters as before the pandemic.

Q- 23 years ago you shot your first short film, ‘My Holidays’. Today he is a hyperconsecrated director, who works in large international productions and whose films are measured by great critical and box office success. What remains today of that Jota of 1999?

R-I look quite similar. The worst thing about getting old is that you’re still young inside. I notice more experience, more boards, but I’m still just as nervous every time I face a shoot or a project. I think I’d do a lot like ‘The Orphanage’ now. And I’m glad because you say, look, it turned out pretty well for me to be the first.

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JA Bayona: “Like Tolkien, I only understand creation through wonder, through the extraordinary”