Based on a true story, The Impossible is the hreatbreaking story of a family separated during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Brogen Hayes sat down with director Juan Antonio Bayona find out more about the making of the film.
What drew you to the story?
Juan Antonio Bayona: I never planned to do a film about the tsunami, it was the fact that this story crossed my path and it turned into an obsession for me. I think there was a lot of emotion already in there from the very beginning and I wanted to try and see what that was exactly. It felt like one of those stories where everyone who listens to it has a sense of empathy, and it was a great way of telling the audience what happened in there, to make them feel right in the action and what it was like to be there.
This is an event that is still remembered – especially because it happened around Christmas. It is a very big story, but the film brings it down to a small, personal level. Was this part of your decision to make the film?
JAB: I think, as you said, the fact that it was Christmas makes the story even more symbolic. I think that in telling the story from the point of view of a Westerner, the whole film turns into a depiction of the end of our world, where materialistic things don’t have a value any more and we realise what reality is. You realise about your false sense of security, so for this family it’s not just a story of what they leave there, but also about how their world falls apart and how they will live after going through that experience.
The story is based on the experiences of a Spanish family, why did you decide to change the nationality of the family in the film?
JAB: It was the family who didn’t allow us to talk about nationalities. From the very beginning they wanted the family [in the film] to be kind of universal. They didn’t want to talk about nationalities because the water took that away. After the water arrived there were no more nationalities or class… The truth is that there is a comment about that at the end of the film because they felt privileged to survive, but they felt a lot of suffering that they had survived and I thought that was very interesting. It was not a disaster movie with a two dimensional answer – they live or they die – it is more complex than that, there is a lot of suffering to survive, it is not a victory. I thought that was very interesting because it told the reality of the emotion.
How much input did the family have into the film?
JAB: We worked very closely with them. From the very beginning I wanted to work very close to Maria because she was the one giving me the authority to tell the story. She was the one who was a reminder of what happened there, and not just her, but all the people I met, all the people I interviewed; survivors from Europe, Thailand. They were the ones giving me the authority; it was their story, it was not my story so all the big decisions were taken after conversations with them.
A tsunami hit Japan while you were in production on THE IMPOSSIBLE, did that have an impact on the film?
JAB: Every tsunami is very different, but the truth is that we were shooting our tsunami around 2 or 3 weeks after the tsunami in Japan, and the images were so horrific that we had to add more debris and more dangerous things in the water in our tsunami.
Was the fact that Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts had worked together on STAY part of your decision to cast them?
JAB: No. I had always thought about them from the very beginning. I was a huge fan and I felt they were very close to me; I never thought of them as ‘Hollywood Stars’, probably because they have been doing all these independent movies and European movies. The fact that they did a film together in the past was a great help though, because there is a bond already created.
Naomi Watts did her own stunts for THE IMPOSSIBLE, whose idea was that?
JAB: It had to be like that because we were shooting on 2 or 3 cameras at the same time and often there was a camera very close to the actors. She wanted to do everything; she wanted to feel what it was to be in the water. For her, it was a great help to understand the whole thing about it. You need to be with them, as a director, it is about distance, and I chose to be very, very close to the characters, not just for the water sequences, but for the whole film.
Tom Holland, who plays Lucas, is a remarkable young actor, how did you find him?
JAB: He was playing Billy Elliot at that time and the casting director told me about him. It’s funny because he didn’t look at all like Naomi or Ewan, but he is such an extraordinary actor that you don’t think about that when you see him portraying Lucas. He had to deal with very dark sequences, thinking about dark thoughts, having all this pressure, he had to collapse or cry every day and he dealt with that in such an extraordinary way; he was able to find the truth of the character, but at the same time, to enjoy the whole experience.
How did you create the horrific and powerful tsunami scene?
JAB: It was a long process. We were preparing that for around a year. It was a big challenge from the moment that we decided not to use CGI water, so everything had to be for real. We were very careful not to create a spectacular sequence, it was not about dazzling visual effects, it was more about the emotion.
You are arguably best known for THE ORPHANAGE, did your work on horror films help you with THE IMPOSSIBLE?
JAB: [laughs] The first time I told Guillermo Del Toro I was going to do a horror film he was very surprised, because he never thought I was going to turn into a horror film director. The truth is that I never think about the genre, I think about the emotions in the story and how to portray that as realistically as possible. Of course, in a film about a tsunami, there are moments of joy, there are moments of relief, but there are moments of horror and I wanted the audience to go through that and feel the same emotions as these people felt, in order to make them understand what it was to be there.
JAB: I need to rest. I have several things on the table right now and I need to choose carefully.
Words: Brogen Hayes
THE IMPOSSIBLE is in Irish cinemas from January 1st, 2013