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Having made a name for himself with macho, male-driven action titles such as 2 Guns, Contraband and Everest, actor-turned-filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur has ventured into previously unchartered waters with his most recent film.
Adrift, starring Shailene Woodley as a young sailor who heroically defies the odds while shipwrecked on the Pacific Ocean, marks the Icelandic director’s first female-fronted movie, an opportunity he welcomed with open arms. Making the film also saw him come to appreciate the gender issues facing the industry, where even men who assumed they were totally open notice “little glass ceilings all around you.”
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Adrift’s U.K. release on Friday (it landed in the U.S. on June 1), Kormakur discusses bringing Woodley into the writing room to ensure the film had a woman’s voice, why the male-dominated critic’s world needs to change, the problem with Hollywood’s recent drive to cast women in the lead of previously male-driven franchises and how his hit Icelandic show Trapped – now onto its second season – emerged from the embers of an HBO pilot.
Adrift is your first time making something with a female heroine, right? Was it a conscious decision?
I thought it was about time that I faced my inner woman. And when I read it I thought it was great. I couldn’t remember many films that are about a woman against nature and, as we both know, they’ve been here as long as us in nature. For me, I thought this would be a great opportunity to do that.
Did you change your approach to making the film?
I really liked this thing about having a female heroine, which is why I brought Shailene into the writing room. So we had her voice in there for weeks, to make sure we had the right details. Like most men my age I’m a bit of a dinosaur. I had a very feminist mother, but it’s the whole system. And it takes time to adjust, because you think you’re totally open but you realize there are things you start seeing that you didn’t notice before, and therefore there are little barriers, little glass ceilings all around you. For example, I read a book written by a woman about a man and I just couldn’t connect with the guy, and I thought, that’s what they’ve been talking about all the time! There are some details that they don’t connect with. I’m not saying a man can’t write about a woman or woman can’t write about a man, but I just felt in that moment: OK, I understand. And that inspired me to get Shailene, so women wouldn’t feel that way when they saw this movie. Even if it’s just a small detail that wouldn’t connect with their own experience.
Did you experience any difference in the response to Adrift that your other films?
One thing I noticed when making a female-driven movie is that every critic in the world is a man. It’s like 80 percent. How are we going to fix this gender issue if the people writing up [films] are all middle-aged men? I would suggest that Rotten Tomatoes has two ratings, women and men, until this is adjusted. At least make it visible. The same for IMDB. It’s all men, and mostly fanboys. By making it visible, then people will notice and look at differently.
So did you see a contrast in how female-fronted films are reviewed compared to male-driven ones?
There is an absolute difference. Of course I’ve noticed it before but never really looked into it. I can see that things that a woman likes about the movie are some things that some men dislike. So in this there is a romantic story and you will have a lot of nerdy guys who maybe have no interest. I’m not saying this to disregard their opinion, but you need to have the other side, more balance.
What do you think of the recent move in Hollywood to adapt franchises that were previously male-driven franchises into female-driven?
I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done, but changing male-driven action franchises into female-driven franchises … they’re fine that they do it, but it’s not solving the problem. It’s dressing up the problem. It’s like putting a skirt on a man. Deep down, in the DNA of that franchise, it is male. What you have to do and what we tried to do with Adrift is to shed a light on a story of a woman and I think that’s one way of approaching it. Of course we have to get women into more directing chairs and that’s happening in my country really fast. We already had a female director in Trapped.
Speaking of Trapped, season two is on the way soon, right? Are you already working on season three?
I was actually editing season two over the weekend. As for season three, we’re starting to develop storylines so we can hopefully start shooting in 2019. But we need to see whether the second series will be a success. Most shows in Scandinavia are paid by local TV station, about 50/60 percent [of the budget]. And then they sell it. Trapped is produced by my company [RVK Studios]. Iceland TV buys it but they don’t own it. So we need to pre-sell it, to the likes of the BBC and TV2 in France. That’s how we meet the budget.
In the U.S., Trapped was picked up by The Weinstein Company. What’s happening there?
That’s the tricky part and we’re dealing with the situation right now. They do have the second season, because that was part of the deal. So we’re trying to figure out a way how we can deal with that. But we’ve decided to cool it down and let things mull over, and deal with it when it comes to it. But it’s a big deal for us because it’s a big part of our financing.
Didn’t Trapped come about after you made a U.S. pilot that was never picked up?
I did a TV series for HBO that Mark Wahlberg was in and Charles Randolph, who got the Oscar for The Big Short, wrote. It was about the Berlin Wall. I thought it was a really interesting show, but for some reason they didn’t decide to go for it. They didn’t even ask for any changes. After that I was like, ok, if I do TV I’d just rather do it by myself. I don’t like to do pilots. I don’t understand, we don’t make pilots for movies, we just make movies. It’s almost like making the first act of your film, seeing how the audience reacts and then deciding whether you make the film or not – I don’t like that ideology.
Wasn’t Trapped also picked up for an English-language adaptation?
Yeah, we sold the remake rights to, I think, TNT. Then they didn’t go further with it. I can’t be bothered with it to be honest. I’d much rather go home and make a second series. It’s just wasting everybody’s time.. waiting for some TV station to decided whether they’re going to decide to decide. Do I really care so much, no? In the end it’s not worse to make it in my own language. It’s just that game, that system is not interesting to me. I’m not angry or anything, it’s just not interesting making a pilot. It’s almost half the work of making a film. Why would I do that if the thing is going to be judged by half a room of people.
With Adrift, you’ve added yet another real-life disaster story to your resume.
Ha, I’ve been called “The Master of Disaster.” But that’s just coincidence. I like true stories, but I don’t like them any more than fictional stories. And I’ve made everything in between – it just happens that there’s been quite a few of them lately. I’ve said no to a few lately. But if it’s character driven and the obstacle is nature, then I love that. I was offered Deepwater Horizon, but it’s not me. I don’t like to blow things up.
What else have you got coming up? You’ve been talking for a while about your big Viking epic, Vikingr…
Yeah, that’s something I really want to make and am working on that. Actually, touching on what we were speaking about before, I’m giving it a female lead. It was more male-driven and I wanted it more even and then realized that there’s much more in the story from the female point of view to be explored.
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