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Neill Blomkamp, the acclaimed director of District 9, was joined at Comic-Con International by stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley and producer Simon Kinberg to talk with journalists about their upcoming sci-fi film Elysium.
Even with huge stars like Damon and Foster, Blomkamp and Sony Pictures have been able to maintain a veil of secrecy over the director’s sophomore feature. But now that he was seated only inches away reporters, the first question on everybody’s lips was, “What is Elysium about?”
“That’s what we want you to say after you see it,” Damon joked.
“It’s a film about an orbital space station which has the rich living on it,” Blomkamp revealed. “Earth is diseased and being left behind with money and resources running out.”
The director’s use of social commentary in District 9 had many wondering whether the synopsis for Elysium is a reflection of today’s headlines in regard to economic class. “The film definitely has elements of the ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-Nots,’ and the discrepancy involved which seems to be a widening gap,” he confirmed. “But it hopefully is a film where that’s sort of woven into the tapestry of the story in a way that feels like an organic science fiction thrill ride.”
Citing Blomkamp’s ability to touch and move audiences while presenting social commentary, Foster said, “I think this film is very different than District 9, and it addresses some of those issues in a very different way, but I think it shares that mixture of sensibilities.”
“The whole terminology of the 99 percent and the 1 percent wasn’t even there when we started this,” Damon added, explaining that his character Max is trying to immigrate to Elysium, the space station of the rich and powerful, for a specific reason. “My character is trying desperately to get to the space station because he’s dying and he wants to get there because they have healthcare.”
Longtime collaborators, Blomkamp and Copley were asked what it was like to work with stars like Damon and Foster. “You mean, like how scared I was of Matt Damon for the first week?” Copley joked.
The South African actor then explained that the character he plays is a dark enforcer.
“He’s a Special Forces kind of black-ops guy that hides out on Earth and essentially works for Jodie’s organization, and when Jodie and the other politicians can’t solve problems by peaceful negotiations then they call my guy and he deals with problems,” he said.
For Copley, the role was an opportunity to play something very different. “The last time I’d seen a really entertaining villain was Heath Ledger’s Joker, and so I felt with this character there was more of an opportunity to do something that wasn’t – that didn’t take itself too seriously.”
Foster is also treading fairly new territory portraying Secretary Rhodes, the antagonist to Damon’s hero. “I play a political figure who gets very interested in keeping the habitat pure and trying to save it from those pesky Earthlings,” she said.
When asked about projecting what life will be like in the future, Blomkamp explained that at its core, science fiction is always about science, and his approach is to use imagery for the extrapolation of ideas.
“That’s the great thing about science fiction,” Foster said, bringing up the groundbreaking themes the Wachowskis explored with The Matrix almost 15 years ago. “They took it to an extreme, but we are plugged in and living virtual lives,” she explained. “And I thought that was amazing that they came up with that before any of this stuff was going on.”
Blomkamp told reporters that he began writing the treatment for Elysium at the end of 2009, and worked on it solidly for three years. “It’s not a $200 million film or a $300 million film, but it seems to be exponentially prohibitive in terms of just how much stuff there is involved.” The director said he was also writing a sci-fi comedy called Chappie at the same time with his wife Terri Tatchell, who also co-wrote District 9. Blomkamp was asked whether he begins the writing process with the story concept or the visuals, to which he replied, “District 9, Elysium and Chappie were all born out of a visual concept first.”
Damon said he was interested in working with Blomkamp after he saw the director’s first feature film. “After I saw D9 I just – Neill immediately went to the top of the list of people I wanted to work with, and I feel lucky that it came around so quickly to me.”
The Academy Award-winning writer also told reporters how much he learned working with Blomkamp, and that he appreciated how much preparation went into every level of the production. “The level of detail that got me into it was just really great,” Damon said. “I mean, the first time I met him he gave me this whole graphic novel and a whole different coded weapon systems and vehicle. I looked at that stuff and I went home and told my wife, ‘There’s no way I’m going to let this get away. I have to do this.’ And we planned our whole life around it.”
The role also demanded a physical transformation for Damon, who shaved his head in order to play the ex-convict. “In that graphic novel that he gave me, there was a picture of the Max character, and he had a very specific look,” the actor said. “I’m sure if you look back at that graphic novel, it’s going to look a lot like the movie, except the movie will obviously be rendered in a lot greater detail.”
Elysium opens March 1, 2013.