Norway-born helmer Tommy Wirkola moves into new territory with the upcoming sci-fi film What Happened to Monday?, starring Noomi Rapace as seven identical twins in a futuristic world where families are limited to one child because of overpopulation.
The director, 36, is known for his action-heavy work, including the zombie comedy-horror cult hit Dead Snow and its sequel and Paramount’s 2013 Jeremy Renner-starrer Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. But Monday, which SND Groupe M6 has at AFM, allows Wirkola to dive into a gritty futuristic world, not to mention deal with the challenge of having his lead actress play seven characters.
The L.A.-based filmmaker spoke to THR about how he juggled septuplets, what he thinks about Netflix and the latest on the Hansel & Gretel sequel.
How did you end up on What Happened on Monday?
My friend, Morten Tyldum, was on it before I was, and I heard about the story through him. He left it to go do The Imitation Game, and I read the script after that. I felt it had a similar feel to Children of Men, Looper and Blade Runner — all those sci-fi films with a limited budget — but with a really cool high-concept idea. When I met with them, the script that was written was for a man, it was about these seven brothers. But I always wanted to work with Noomi, whom I knew from way back. So I met with producer Raffaella De Laurentiis and pitched the story with a woman, starring Noomi. She loved the idea.
What was inspiring to you about sci-fi films like Children of Men, Looper and Blade Runner?
Those films were the main inspiration because we wanted to create — not a glossy, perfect, neat super-futuristic future — but this gritty, overpopulated, troubled one filled with garbage. So those films, with good realism to them and the world-building, were especially inspiring.
What were the challenges of directing a film where one actress is playing seven characters?
There were many challenges technically and also with story: How can you do this without it being a gimmick? Shooting it would take very long. We ended up shooting in Romania, where we could get the most for our money, and we had a budget of about $20 million. We shot in 94 days, which is an extremely long shoot. The first two months, almost, it was just Noomi alone playing against herself. We had to hire seven doubles, seven good actors from Europe, so we could rehearse with them and could basically block out all the scenes with them.
When we shot it, I had a rule that I’d shoot it like any other scene. I didn’t focus on the fact that it was the same actress playing different roles. I didn’t want the audience pulled out of the film. Of course, the technical side is one side of it, but the other is Noomi’s performance — the nuances and differences that she added to the different characters.
The film is already with Netflix for distribution. What is your take on the way streaming has become a major part of moviegoing?
It actually is a little bit more complicated because our film had pre-sold in many territories around the world, so in Europe we will have a normal cinematic release when it plays there. But yes, it’s a brand new world out there when it comes to Netflix. We are all happy that it is sold and that it is going to be seen by so many people, but when you make a movie, especially this one, we maybe thought we were going to have a normal cinematic release in New York as well. But times are changing, and when the offer came, it was clear this was the one we wanted to go with.
What did you learn working on a studio project like Hansel & Gretel?
I had only done two movies before Hansel & Gretel, and the biggest budget was $2 million with Dead Snow. Obviously, when I shot Hansel & Gretel, it was a huge departure for me in many ways. I had a great experience working with my producers and the cast, but it was a massive undertaking compared to … it just has a bigger system around it, many more voices involved, a lot more money and a lot more at stake. It was a big learning curve, and it was challenging at times. I had the idea for that film for a long time, and I wrote a script that was very much its own thing, and to see how its changed during the process was not easy. But at the same time, you understand the business side of it and you understand when there is so much money at stake, you need to do things a little differently than you imagine.
What’s the latest update on the Hansel & Gretel sequel?
I wrote a script for that, but I was never going to direct it. Now, Paramount and MGM changed their minds and they want to turn it into a TV show. So I’m co-writing a pilot for that.
After the superhero movie Deadpool lost its director, your name was listed on a lot of fan sites, suggesting you should come on. Would you do a big superhero movie?
Yes, of course. Deadpool is amazing, I loved it a lot. But I think David Leitch is the frontrunner; he’s a good friend of mine and would be perfect for it. But I’m actually writing a big superhero film now for Adam McKay to direct called Irredeemable. It’s based on the Boom comic book series, and it’s very R-rated, fun, crazy and out there. So, I am dipping my toe into that now as well, as a writer.
What else would you like to do?
I’ve always wanted to make a Viking film, having grown up with that and learning so much about it. I’ve always felt that there has never been a good, realistic, true Viking film. There are so many amazing stories to tell within that world. It feels like the timing is right for it these days.