After directing the final three installments to The Hunger Games franchise Francis Lawrence wanted his next project to be something of a departure from the crowd-pleasing series.
He didn’t realize just how different his follow-up would be, though, because “Red Sparrow” is a violent, intense and numbing spy thriller that lures you in before then unleashing uncomfortable scenes of brutality.
Things were so different that one of Lawrence’s crew, who worked on both “Hunger Games” and “Red Sparrow,” told him during production, “We’re certainly not in Panem anymore.”
Francis Lawrence recalled the above anecdote to me earlier this month when we sat down to talk about “Red Sparrow,” moving away from “The Hunger Games” franchise, and the bravery of Jennifer Lawrence all of which you can read about below.
This is a huge departure after directing the last 3 “Hunger Games” films.
This is definitely a different kind of world, with a new tone and it is much more intense. I did 3 of those movies in 5 years, and I definitely wanted to do something different.
I didn’t know it was going to be this. But I knew it would be fun doing something completely different. Because 3 movies of Katniss every day is a little tiring for both me and Jen.
What were your discussions with Jennifer Lawrence about the film?
As we were developing it I remembered her saying that she wasn’t interested in doing something with nudity and sexuality. That made me nervous that she didn’t want to do it.
So I started to dole out information in little bits and bobs. Because I didn’t want her to say no without knowing what I wanted her to make. I didn’t even want her to read the book. Because, in some ways, the book is more graphic than the movie.
But after we finished the script, and she agreed to it, then began a series of conversations primarily about the content of the movie. Because I wanted to make sure that we were partners and collaborators, and make sure that these scenes and sequences truly stayed married to the narrative, themes, tones and characters of the story.
Because none of us went into it wanting to make an erotic thriller. We didn’t want to titillate in any way. We weren’t making anything sexy. It was about this brutal world and the survival of the world.
She has talked about how empowering it was to do this. Because she felt like it was taking back control. I don’t want to misquote her. But again it was all about the character. Because she is outsmarting everyone, and sometimes doing that requires acts of courage, rawness and nakedness.
It is a very brave performance.
Not everyone is going to be comfortable doing a movie like this. But there are some people that just do it, like Scarlett Johansson in “Under The Skin.” You just do it.
Also, at some point, you just don’t talk about it anymore. Because we all have naked bodies. There’s a point where an actor has to decide how they feel about that, because it is going to be overly scrutinized. I guarantee that some people will find it unnecessary.
Were you setting out to make a controversial film?
Not controversial. I certainly wanted it to be intense. That’s why I wanted to be so careful about the content itself. I didn’t think it would be controversial, but I knew it would be polarizing.
My mum isn’t a fan of intense movies, and she will have a hard time watching it. Not because of the nudity, but because of the violence. I am not trying to shock. I am not trying to do Irreversible or something.
But I definitely wanted elements of it to be uncomfortable. I take it back, there should be some scenes that are a bit shocking, not controversial. I think there’s a boldness to some of the scenes. This character is capable of extreme things, and Jen is constantly surprising us throughout it.
“Red Sparrow” is in cinemas on March 2.