Press Conference Interview With The Cast, Writer And Director Of Transcendence
We Got This Covered
April 16, 2014
Transcendence marks the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, who is best known for being the longtime cinematographer of Christopher Nolan. The film stars Johnny Depp as Dr. Will Caster, an artificial intelligence observer who is looking to create a machine which possesses sentience and collective intelligence. But when he is targeted by an extremist group that opposes technological evolution, Will is forced to download his mind into a computer in order to save his life. The procedure works, but those closest to him are mixed on the outcome: Is it still Will Caster in there, or is it someone else? Whoever it is, he is gaining more and more power and putting the world in increasing peril.
It was a star studded event at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California last weekend when the cast, writer and director of Transcendence arrived for a press conference. Among those there were director Wally Pfister, screenwriter Jack Paglen, Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Kate Mara and Morgan Freeman.
Together, they spoke about what drew them to the project, the role that technology plays in this day and age, what it was like working with a first time director and more.
Check it out below and enjoy!
Johnny, when your character Will Caster becomes an image on a TV screen, did you think of the ‘80s MTV icon Max Headroom?
Johnny Depp: I did feel a little bit like Max Headroom. I guess the worst part is I liked it. I liked being in my little dark room, and they were on the other side. We couldn’t find each other sometimes. It’s all done through videotape and sound. I think this film is essentially about a man chosen by God to grow a long beard, grab a few insects, a couple of animals and know the rest of the world will be slaughtered, but the animals will come to him and follow through.
Wally Pfister: That was Noah.
Johnny Depp: That’s Noah? Oh No-ah! Sorry, I was in that one as well. I played Russell Crowe. That beard was a bitch too, seriously.
Your character seems to age backwards in this movie.
Johnny Depp: That’s (The Curious Case of) Benjamin Button. I was in that one too, as Brad Pitt.
What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence?
Johnny Depp: I thought there was something very beautiful to Wally Pfister’s idea of the sort of disintegration of the character, and to really watch him slowly kind of go out. That was well researched by Wally. It was pretty much the progression – to be uploaded and finally brought to this. Essentially, I suppose once he’s inside PINN, he could become anything. One of the things, hopefully, that came across as he became brighter, is that he became the version of Will that Evelyn wants to see, as opposed to the Will who can’t button his shirt correctly, and all that.
How did you enjoy your recent visit to China?
Johnny Depp: It was amazing. It really was an amazing experience on a cultural level. Just constant information and something new everywhere you look. Always something interesting, something different. I found a real warmth in the people. The people were very sweet and welcoming, too. It was quite a turnout.
Your character becomes both Dr. Frankenstein and the monster. Did Frankenstein inspire you when you were playing Dr. Will Caster?
Johnny Depp: It didn’t. I wish I had. It would have been brilliant to say, so I probably will say that for the rest of the day. But, no, I didn’t give it any thought at all. But in about an hour and a half, it will have been the whole basis for my character. Thanks for that.
Wally Pfister: I think the comparisons were there and were made. What I was doing in making the film was that I would throw ideas to Jack to see whether, as you’re crafting the screenplay, whether this was something you had in mind.
Jack Paglen: Frankenstein as an archetype? Yeah, it absolutely was there. We were very aware of that, and there are many stories like that. I looked at and re-read all of them.
This is your first screenplay.
Jack Paglen: It is my first screenplay.
How does this feel right now?
Jack Paglen: Unbelievably cool (laughs).
And Wally, this is your directorial debut. How does that feel?
Wally Pfister: Unbelievably cool (laughs). It’s thrilling.
Did you think of Will Caster as a good or a bad guy?
Johnny Depp: When we were doing the film, we were all very closely mapping everything out. We wanted to make sure everything came together in the right order. Especially for Will, in terms of that map, it should be a little vague. Is he losing it? Is it like any of us? I mean, you could make an analogy to a security guard guy who three weeks prior to, he was mowing lawns for a living, the second he puts on a uniform and a badge, boing, he’s like, a man. I’d imagine the majority of us all have felt the wrath of the overzealous security guard guy.
Is there something lying dormant in the man that’s waiting to be pumped up with that kind of power? I don’t know. Does it reveal him? Don’t know. Does it change him? Don’t know. Does any bad person think they’re doing bad things? Historically, they all thought they had a pretty decent cause. A few were off by quite a lot, and they were dumb. I think Will is dedicated to the cause and maybe the power. When you realize you’re essentially God, there ain’t nothing on earth more powerful than you, you can do anything you want. You can transfer every cent from the Bank of England into an account in Syria. You can do anything you want. Will was just so focused on the cause. It’s sort of like (Argentine revolutionary) Che Guevara. You get into it, too far into it, maybe.
You’re starting a movie in a couple weeks called Black Mask ,in which you play the gangster Whitey Bulger. What’s the appeal in doing that role?
Johnny Depp: I find it difficult to call him “Whitey.” In Black Mass I play James “Whitey” Bulger. The reason to play it is obvious to me. (He’s a) fascinating character. I don’t think it’s like anything I’ve done before on that level. So I’m very excited to slide into that skin for a little bit.
Kate, what is your take on technology?
Kate Mara: Well, I’ve been without my phone for the past three hours and I’m sitting here thinking about it right now. I didn’t think I was that reliant on technology, so I can understand a little bit where Bree’s ideas come from in RIFT. I think a lot of other people rely a little bit too much on technology, but I’ve always been somewhere in between.
Rebecca, what is your feeling about this whole technology thing?
Rebecca Hall: It’s an interesting topic that the film raises. Technology is arguably the thing that’s going to get us out of a lot of problems. It’s probably our greatest hope in terms of solving everything that’s problematic now in terms of our environment. But equally it’s likely to throw up a whole world of problems that we have no perception or even imagination to anticipate what they could possibly be at this point. It’s complicated but, whether we like it or not, we’re becoming more and more closely integrated with it so we have to deal with these problems.
Will is so romantic and did what he could do to be with his wife forever. But did he go too far? Have you ever done anything that went too far?
Johnny Depp: (Laughs) So many things come into my mind. I could come up with a 45-minute doozy for you… We’d all go to jail. We’d all be implicated. Yes! Paul (Bettany) told me to say, “Yes.” I’ve done horrible things in my life.
What went wrong?
Johnny Depp: Things go wrong all the time, especially between me and technology. I’m not familiar with it and I’m too old school a brain and dumb to be able to figure it out. Anything I have to attack with my thumbs for any period of time makes me feel stupid. So I try to avoid it as much as possible—to protect my thumbs, of course.
Evelyn does everything she can to save the man she loves. Do you think you should do anything for the one you love, and is there a line you shouldn’t cross?
Rebecca Hall: There probably is a line. I’d like to think that, were I in Evelyn’s shoes, I would think about the moral ramifications of deciding to maintain my husband in cyberspace. But those decisions come out of a place of high emotion, denial and grief, so who knows? The line is a bit difficult to draw in that respect.
Johnny Depp: The technology we’re talking about in terms of uploading a human consciousness is probably not all that far away.
Rebecca Hall: It’s probably going to happen whether or not we think there are lines. They’re all agreed about it happening, they are just arguing about when it’s going to happen.
Johnny Depp: Indeed, it will happen. It’s pretty close.
Paul Bettany: I spoke to a professor at Cal Tech who is gratifyingly enough called Professor Christoph Koch. He’s a brilliant man, and when I walked into the room he was also gratifyingly enough looking at a slice of the human brain whilst listening to Wagner; I kid you not. I said, “Professor Koch?” And he put his hand up like this to finish the aria. I said, “I’m a blonde actor and I’m not a science guy. I deal with trying to make the unreal things seem real, so what is the truth of this? How far-fetched is this?” And he said, “30 years.” It was a terrifying thought that they unified in the opinion that we have always been on a collision course with technology. The next stage of our evolution will involve machinery, and that’s a hell of a thought.
Would you make the same choice as Evelyn to upload her husband’s consciousness to a computer?
Johnny Depp: Technology is moving and reshaping itself every day, radically. If her character was in that situation and the technology/intelligence existed right this second and given a split second to decide, we’re all capable of answering that question ourselves with the person you love: would you do it? Would you be married to a hard drive? Think about how technology is moving so rapidly. Things become obsolete very, very quickly. So let’s say, Will Caster, in 15 years time, is going to be in some weird room in Vegas, and people are plugging quarters into him. Right? Who has a minidisc or laser disc player? It’s over.
Wally Pfister: In each character there’s a point of desperation. In Evelyn’s character she’s desperate to have some part of her husband who’s dying remain, and that drives her, along with the science in medical applications, to do what she does. It then becomes desperation with Will: we don’t know if this machine’s sentient or not, but he measures her hormones, which he thinks is making some sort of connection. But I think to us as an audience, certainly to Evelyn, it is quite a desperate level to reach and that’s what changes the course of her character’s direction. So there are a lot of things to think about in the question as to whether this machine is sentient or not.
Johnny, one of your trademarks of your performances has been the physicality of the characters and the look of your characters. This character undergoes a transformation but essentially keeps the same look. Does that make it harder or easier for you take on this role because you don’t have a facade?
Johnny Depp: It’s always more difficult and slightly exposing to play something that’s close to the surface, something that’s close to yourself. I always try to hide because I can’t stand the way I look. I think it’s important to change every time, and come up with something that’s as interesting as you can for your characters. In any case, it really depends on what the screenplay is asking of you and what your responsibility is to that character. You have the author’s intent to deal with and the filmmaker’s vision and then you have your own wants, needs and desires for the character. It’s collaborative, but I knew right off the bat that certainly there was no need to go into pink-haired, clown nose, Ronald McDonald shoes at the same time.
What was it like working with a first time director?
Morgan Freeman: I’ve known Wally for many years and worked with him on three other projects. His mindset is one that I’m familiar with. I think that his tutoring was of the highest order, and I wanted to be there for his first outing with the idea that he’ll be doing many more. You have to ask yourself what it takes for a first-time director to get this kind of budget for a movie. Somebody believed in him.
Rebecca Hall: I worked with Wally when he was a DP, and he was incredibly warm and kind to me in a moment when I was particularly frightened and didn’t know what I was doing, so I would’ve done anything for him anyway. I would argue that a DP observes an actor’s work far closer than a lot of people on a set. He gets it; he knew when to stand off, when to be there for you. He knows what’s he’s doing.
And Mr. Depp?
Johnny Depp: I met Wally, ironically, on a video clip for Paul McCartney. I was, of course, aware of his work as a director of photography. It’s legendary. He’s a legend. So I was very familiar with that. When the idea of this film arrived, I was beyond thrilled. Wally has such a drive and he worked nonstop. As Morgan (Freeman) says, you step into the ring with the guy and he snaps his finger and it’s just there. He’s definitely got enough years on set to sponge up the good bedside manner of a filmmaker and the bad ones, and recognize that. He came in like a champ, with the crew he’s been with for years supporting him, and it’s one of the greatest experiences I’ve had with a filmmaker, bar none.
He’s one of those guys who, if he wanted to film me staring at this (an empty can of Red Bull), I’d be more than happy to do it. In terms of a first screenplay, literally (he picks up his fedora hat from the table) my hat is off to writer Jack Paglen. I didn’t see any sort of virgin blather in screen direction or anything like that. It was just a beautifully executed piece and a complicated one. The mathematics involved in putting this film together and the great support of (the production company behind the film) Alcon, it was not an easy little operetta.
That concludes the press conference but we’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to participate. Be sure to check out Transcendence when it hits theatres this Friday!