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“I’m in a groove now,” venerated director Ridley Scott said of his career as we sat down to record this podcast last Friday, the day on which his latest film, the space-set dramedy The Martian, opened nationwide and was greeted with rave reviews en route to topping the box office with a weekend gross of $54.3 million.
The 77-year-old Brit has been making acclaimed and popular films for 38 years — films as eclectic as 1979’s Alien, 1982’s Blade Runner, 1991’s Thelma & Louise, 2000’s Gladiator and 2001’s Black Hawk Down. He’s been nominated for the best director Oscar three times, coming closest to winning 15 years ago, on the night Gladiator won best picture.
But it’s been some time since Scott had a bona fide hit. Many were disappointed by his more recent works, such as 2008’s Body of Lies, 2010’s Robin Hood, 2012’s Prometheus, 2013’s The Counselor and 2014’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. Some even began writing him off as an aging filmmaker losing touch with what once made him great. That must make the phenomenal reception for The Martian, which stars Matt Damon, all the sweeter.
(You can play the full conversation below or download it — and past episodes with the likes of Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Danny Boyle, Eddie Redmayne, Jason Segel, Ramin Bahrani and Michael Shannon — on iTunes.)
Over the course of our conversation, we discussed Scott’s late start to directing features, his background in commercial advertising, his late brother Tony, his transition from a small feature debut to Alien, his fascination with space, Blade Runner, his history of getting great performances out of actresses, the uptick in his output that started around the turn of the century, coming to The Martian and working with Damon, the film’s production scope and attitude toward science, his process of casting and working with actors, how he balances the limitless possibilities of VFX with his desire to keep his sets grounded in reality, and his feelings about the future of the world (he expects mankind to survive for only a few more decades) and his career (upcoming projects include sequels to Blade Runner and Prometheus, as well as an El Chapo biopic).
The Martian, which is being distributed in the U.S. by Fox, now is playing nationwide. Awards voters are being asked to consider the film for best picture and Scott for best director.