Cannes: 'Sicario' Editor Joe Walker on His First Collaboration With Denis Villeneuve (Q&A)

Sicario — the drug cartel thriller starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Bencio del Toro that makes its world premiere Tuesday in competition at Cannes — is director Denis Villeneuve’s first collaboration with Oscar nominated editor Joe Walker.

The approachable British editor is perhaps best known for his Academy Award-nominated work on Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. He has actually cut all of McQueen’s movies to date, including Shame and 2008 Camera d'Or winner Hunger.

Walker's enthusiasm about Lionsgate's Sicario — which will get a limited release on Sept. 18 before expanding to a wide release on Sept. 25 — was evident while he was working on the film. Prior to the Cannes premiere, he talked with The Hollywood Reporter about collaborating with Villeneuve, working with veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins — and even playing in a band with a then-unknown Andy Serkis.

Read more Cannes: 'Sicario' Director Denis Villeneuve on Exploring the "Reality of Women in the World Today" (Q&A)

How did you meet Denis, and what attracted you to Sicario?

I’ve been tracking Denis since Incendies, which is a knockout movie on every front. And Prisoners had my heart bursting out of my chest. So I was very glad to get into a room with him to discuss Sicario. It’s a very smart script about a covert op, something I imagine that goes on in our name in many places around the world. The way the characters veer ever closer to acts of utter darkness, for truly sympathetic reasons, is the kind of moral tale I love. Plus, Denis is a true master, he ticks every box for me both as a filmmaker and human being.

Sicario was also your first film working with director of photography Roger Deakins. What was that experience like?

I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to cut Roger’s footage, it just makes my editing look really good. I’ve wanted to work on a Roger shoot ever since gawping at Barton Fink back in London's Lumière Cinema 25 years ago. I’ve long wanted to handle a Benicio Del Toro performance, too. Really hard to cut to anyone else, he kind of magnetizes you.

You’re originally from London and during high school played in a band with Andy Serkis.

Yes, that’s true! I’d played keyboards in various punk and prog rock bands as a teenager but got gripped by a love of Dave Brubeck which, honestly, was swimming in entirely the wrong direction in 1978. Andy, playing tenor sax, managed to make it all look a lot cooler than it might. I remember Andy taking to the stage during a revue show we were accompanying — he performed a sketch as a fabulously articulate gorilla called Gerald. So I was witness to the genesis of Andy’s incredible career.

What are you editing next?

I’ll be continuing my relationship with Denis on Story of Your Life, but of course I’ve kept in close contact with Steve. Last week, I cut his art piece ASHES for the Venice Biennale. I suppose it all gets a bit wife-swappy, but the timing has worked out well enough to avoid moments of bedroom farce.