Brazilian writer and director Fernando Meirelles brings a unique look and feel to films like "Blindness," "The Constant Gardener" and "City of God." In his latest project, "360," Meirelles takes on an entirely different kind of challenge by weaving together multiple stories from around the globe to create a unique relationship drama. We recently spoke with Meirelles about the difficulty of shooting in so many places, his style of directing and the role of music in his work.
This is such a sprawling project, spanning several continents and many countries. How did you decide to take it on?
What made me want to shoot it was the characters. I liked Peter Morgan a lot, the writer, and then I liked the characters. There's no antagonist in the story. They're all good people trying to do their best but always being challenged by their own impulses and desires. In some way, I identified myself with the situation. Sometimes, for some of us, we think or do things that we regret later in life, and we ask ourselves, "Why am I doing this? This is not what I wanted for myself." There was the same situation among all the stories, and that's why I liked it.
How did you prepare to shoot so many different stories in so many different places?
Actually shooting in different places is not a big problem for the director, because I'm taken to the location and there's a camera, there's an actor [and] we just shoot. It's more a problem for production, but I think the big challenge in this project was really shooting so many stories. The problem is that you don't have time enough to develop the stories. Usually when you watch a film, the first six or seven minutes in the film are scenes that are created for you to identify with the character and start liking the character. Then you present the conflict. Everything has its own style here. We had to present the character immediately in their conflict, and everything must be developed and solved in about ten minutes maximum. That's hard if you don't have time to develop, so this I thought would be very challenging, and it was, dealing with so many stories in one hour and a half.
How did the experience of this film differ from your previous work?
They're very different. My previous work, "Blindness," was the opposite. It was just following two characters from the beginning to the end of the film so it was really just one big event happening. The whole film had just one tone that was getting darker and darker as it went. Here is very different, because every segment of the film had a different cast, different location and even different tone, so sometimes the film was very romantic and sometimes [it was] a sad story, so this was very interesting, changing gears every week. For a director, this was really a big, big pleasure.
What are some of the challenges of directing such high-powered actors?
The challenge was really putting together this cast, because most of them are really busy and are always very busy. They're stars [so] they want to put their own conditions on the film. We had to move locations [and] the dates of shooting several times. The first one was to accommodate the dates for Jamel Debbouze. The second time we changed completely our schedule for Vladimir Vdovichenkov, the Russian guy in the film. This was a bit tricky, because all of them work too much and are quite busy [so] I couldn't rehearse with them. I had some time with the Brazilian actors who came to London 10 days before to get the British accent down. And I had some time with Ben Foster, but all the others I met the day before the shoot. They'd come to fittings and test the makeup and I'd talk with them and that was it. Then the next day we were shooting. I like to be able to rehearse at least once so I can experiment [with] things, but they're very trained actors and did well.
Music plays a very active role in the film as well. Can you talk a little bit about that?
The music is almost an accident in this film. The music had been chosen by my wife; she usually helps me with music in films but as a reference. Usually she chooses the music, I use what I like, [and] after the film's cut, I replace the music. I have it composed. That's what I've done in the past three or four films; in this case that was the idea. But in the process I started really liking the soundtrack so I decided not to create the music, just buy the rights. I think it's a very inspired soundtrack, I really like it a lot. I just decided to do it at the end of the process.
This film has a lot of star power -- Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Anthony Hopkins and many more. Why hasn't it been released yet?
It opened the London Film Festival, and then in the contract there was a clause that the release in most of the countries should happen after the American release, because the American distributors paid the most for the film since it's the biggest market. So they made this clause that they would be the first to release it to avoid the piracy. When Magnolia [Pictures] decided to release it in August, all the other countries did the same.
Do you believe all people are as connected as the people in the story, or is this just a special circumstance?
I think we're really all connected, in different ways of course. Here we're talking about connections from the relationship point of view, but I think we're connected in a million ways: economic, [the] environment. I think environments really connect us, because [when] you drive to your work every day, you're helping global warming which is melting the Himalayas, so there's people who won't have water to plant in Asia and people will starve because we use cars. We are becoming more connected, especially because of [the] environment.
You handle a lot of delicate subject matter very compassionately, especially sexuality. Is there a favorite scene of yours in the film?
I liked very much all of the Ben Foster sequence, especially because he came to London two weeks before shooting and he'd spoken to lots of sexual offenders and psychiatrists and went into jails, and he was really well prepared. He knew everything about sex offenders, and so we met several times and he taught me what the problems were with the character. I was really interested in that story because I knew exactly what I was doing, thanks to Ben Foster.
The problem with sex offenders when they come out of jail is they're paranoid, they think everyone's looking at them [and] knows how they are, and they feel very guilty and that's a very terrifying feeling. So in his case, his character needed to touch people to have some human contact because he was feeling so lonely at the airport with people staring at him, so that's why he touches people, he needed some human contact. There's a lot of little details like this that he brought that were really brilliant.
What's coming up next for you?
I'm working on a project called "Nemesis" which is based on a book [by Peter Evans] about [Aristotle] Onassis, about the conflict between Onassis and Bob Kennedy. That will be shot in November and released next year. It's a very, very interesting story.
"360" is currently available on demand and will open in select theaters in August 3.