Feature Image

Guillermo Arriaga Interview

Mexican writer and director Guillermo Arriaga first broke onto the film scene as the writer for Amores Perros, and he followed that up with 21 Grams and Babel. The Burning Plain is his latest film, in which he directs a cast that includes Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger. Here, he talks to View London’s Matthew Turner about wandering in the desert, the weather in Oregon and how Charlize Theron is the best actress in the world.

Could you briefly explain the premise of the film?
Guillermo Arriaga (GA): This is a film that wants to explore the mystery of a very damaged woman. Charlize Theron plays a woman who you can see has something growing inside her, something very intense and strong. And through several other stories, you begin to understand this woman. It's a movie about love and the hope that love can bring with it.

Where did the idea for the film come from?
GA: It comes from several ideas and moments. It's not like there's only one idea. There were several stories that I couldn't see as a whole, until I got the concept of the four elements and giving each story one element: the element of water, the element of fire and then earth and wind. So that allowed me to unify the different stories and make the story as a whole.

I read that you used two different cinematographers for the scenes in Portland with Charlize and the scenes in the desert. How did that come about?
GA: First of all, the photographer of the film is Robert Elswit, because I planned the whole film with him. We planned the concept of the film and the kind of compositions we wanted and I can tell you that I admire Robert Elswit like no one else, because he's a great talent and a great worker. But unfortunately, he had to go and work on another movie – he thought it was going to be pushed, but it wasn't pushed – so he said, ‘I have this contractual problem, I have to leave, but I have a great substitute, who is John Toll.’ And, as you know, John Toll won two Oscars, back to back. So Robert, John and I prepped the whole Oregon sequence and John photographed all of the water story. And I think I was blessed to work with two of the greatest cinematographers of history.

I think it really pays off, the contrast between the two.
GA: Yeah, absolutely. And that's what Robert said, you know? ‘First of all, I think I'm bringing someone who is a legend, John Toll. Second, I think this is another story that will benefit from having another view.’

Can you say a little about the casting? How did Charlize Theron get involved?
GA: I come from Mexico, so you never imagine you'll get to work with the best actress in the world. It's always a dream. So when the producers asked me who I would like, I said Charlize. They said, ‘Well, let's see. Let's send her the script.’ So we sent it to her and they called me and said she wanted to have lunch with me. I was like, 'Wow! Really?' So we had lunch and we got along very well immediately, we were making jokes and we were spending hours at lunch. And finally I said ‘Okay, girl, you will not leave this table until you say yes to the project.’ And she said ‘I can't – I have other projects,’ so I said, ‘Okay, let's stay here.’ And she said, ‘I have to go to work, I have an ADR...’ I said, ‘Say yes and you can go.’ So she said, 'Okay, Mexican! Yes!' So it was great. She's a very nice, intelligent woman.

And when she got involved, everything became much easier, the financing and everything. The difficult thing is that she's so talented that I needed to surround her with talented people. And she also raised the beauty bar. We had to have a beautiful mother and a beautiful daughter.

Was it Charlize that suggested Kim Basinger for the mother?
GA: Yes, we were talking about several actresses that could play the role, who were talented and who could really become the flesh and bone of the character. And Charlize said, ‘What do you think about Kim?’ And I said, ‘Great, let me talk to her to see if she's interested.’ And Kim said, ‘If you want me in, I'm in’ and I said, ‘Of course I want you in!’ and so she came on board.

I thought she was fantastic, actually – possibly the best performance she's ever given.
GA: I think that she's like a precision machine. She delivers wonderfully and she was very patient and very committed to the character. It wasn't easy to do what she did. For example, it's not easy to repeat a scene over and over again because the little kids in the family were failing to deliver their lines. And she was like, ‘Okay, no problem’ and then that important scene, it was a very delicate moment. It's not easy.

How did you find the child actors, particularly the teenagers?
GA: You know, this is something that I'm very happy that I found. First of all, I must acknowledge that I have one of the best casting directors in the world, Debra Zane. Debbie Zane has great taste and she sent me the tapes of the first day. She said, ‘This is what I think is the cream of the crop of the first day’ – she sent three girls and three guys. And it was funny – the second girl and the second guy, on the very first day I said, ‘I want her and I want him.’ ‘Do you want to see them?’ ‘No. They're going to be in the movie.’ ‘This is your first day! Guillermo, are you crazy? There are many other actors you have to see.’ ‘No, no, no, no. This one and this one.’

And the producers were like, ‘No, no, no, Guillermo. This is not the way it works. You have to see several people.’ And I kept saying, ‘No, no, no. This and this.’ And Debbie said, ‘You must meet them in person’, so I brought both actors together, they played the scene, they improvised and Debbie Zane was crying and I said, ‘Look, if they made you cry in a casting session, imagine them in the cinema!’

To read part two of the Guillermo Arriaga interview, click the link below.

Most Read Today

Content updated: 22/04/2019 06:29

Related Features

Feature Image
Take a stand at the Human Rights Film Festival.
Feature Image
The best films to watch for the 2014 Christmas season
Feature Image
Director Richard Ayoade and actor Jesse Eisenberg talk about creating their doppleganger comedy horror
Feature Image
The writer and co-star of The Stag talks about filming his all male comedy in rural Ireland

Film of the Week

Foxcatcher (15)

Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum star in this real life inspired story of Olympic talent, fierce competition and murder.

UK Box Office Top 5 Films