Q&A: John Hillcoat, director of The Road

December 3, 2009

John Hillcoat’s directorial career is filled with dark, critically acclaimed films like the gritty Australian Western The Proposition. Leisure Editor Chris Heller sat down with him last month to talk about his newest film, The Road, which stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee. But before we got to the film, Hillcoat launched into a conversation with cannibals on his mind.

Apparently human meat is very, very good. Once people get a taste of it, it’s hard to give it up. Crocodiles, when they eat in Australia—if they taste human meat, they go after just humans after that … There’s no limit to how quickly debased human activity can become.

Was it difficult shooting outdoors?

We had to shoot through all of [the weather] … if the sun was out, tough luck. Of course, there was a lot of black humor … and we encouraged Kodi [Smit-McPhee] to be a kid as much as possible … The locals thought we were insane because whenever there was a clear sky, we’d be miserable. Beautiful sunshine would be despairing and frustrating … if it was overcast and raining sideways, we’d all be big smiles.

How did the cast respond to Kodi Smit-McPhee?

Everyone—Viggo [Mortensen], [Robert] Duvall, all of them—would come up and ask, ‘Where did you get the kid?’ Guy [Pierce] came up to me and said, ‘This kid is unbelievable!’ … He’s just a total natural. I had two great gifts: being given the manuscript before it was published and getting Kodi. He was mature beyond his years and totally got it. He’s very instinctual.

How involved was Cormac McCarthy?

He actually helped because he said, ‘I’ve written my book. A book’s a book, a movie’s a movie. They’re totally different things. You’ve got to do your thing, I’ll answer whatever questions you want.’ He never asked to see a script, I never volunteered … It unloaded a lot of the burden.

Do you think The Road is a bleak film?

The word bleak, I don’t know. It’s so multidimensional, but some people look at the background scenery. They’re kind of missing the point … It’s a personal thing, which I think is the missing ingredient in most post-apocalyptic films … there’s no human dimension … It’s a roller-coaster ride. It’s just eye-candy.

Like 2012?

(Laughter) Well, I didn’t want to say anything. But, uh, it’s a different thing. It’s all about spectacle. We’re all mortal and we all will face our own apocalypse … the film is just a projection of those fears.

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