Alfonso Cuarón is on top of the world. Granted, he’s not literally on top or above it like his characters in “Gravity,” but when I spoke to him after the Oscars luncheon a little over a week ago, he was awash in the moment. In many ways, the long journey of his Oscar-nominated blockbuster is finally coming to a close, and like a marathon runner nearing the finish line, he’s got his second wind.
Cuarón has been promoting “Gravity” either for its theatrical releases around the world or in the context of awards season since August. He’s experienced screenings in different corners of the world, and while many marvel at the film’s technical achievements, it’s the “the emotional and thematic experience” that he hears about the most.
“[It’s] the same thing in China, Japan, France or Mexico,” Cuarón says. “Those people talk about the film in those terms in those places. The color may change, but the human experience is the same everywhere.”
Before he began a journey that has found him honored with both the DGA Award for Best Director, the PGA Award for Best Film (historically tying with “12 Years A Slave”) and the recipient of three Oscar nominations, Cuarón spent over four years making what he thought at one time would be just a “little movie.” One part of the journey that has gone largely un-discussed (by movie journalists at least) was the two months he spent taking a break from “Gravity” to conceive, co-write and shoot the pilot for the new NBC series “Believe.”
Because of the CG animation process, Cuarón found himself with a window of two months waiting for shots to be finished. It was a conversation with none other than J.J. Abrams which spurred the show.
“I had a conversation with J.J. Abrams and said, ‘Let’s do a TV show,’ and what’s amazing is that in those two months you write the screenplay, you prepare the title and you shoot the pilot,” Cuarón recalls. “And the whole thing was done in two and a half months. From one day talking to J.J. [and] we started bantering back and forth and meeting with Mark Friedman, who is my co-creator. Coming up with the screenplay [and then] going forward.”
Debuting next month, “Believe” centers on a mysterious girl with strange powers, the secret agency in charge of protecting her and one specific man appointed as her 24/7 guardian (literally). Cuarón says once he finished the pilot he had to go back to finishing “Gravity” and the whirlwind previously mentioned. So while he wasn’t as involved in the rest of the series as he would have liked to be, he still has wonderful memories of the shoot itself.
“I was having so much fun having actors walking,” Cuarón says. “And the DP with a hand-held [camera] just walking around without weird technologies.” [Laughs.]
Moreover, once the Oscars are over, Cuarón has left the door open to more work on the show and in television in general.
“I’m learning,” he says. “I have never done TV before. I have partners in Bad Robot. They know what they are doing. It was an alien experience for me and it was interesting.”
Over the years, many filmmakers involved with the Oscar race have insisted to the media they don’t know what they are doing next (a common question with so many events to attend). Fast forward two years later and it turns out many of them were secretly working on a new project while they went from one red carpet event to another. Cuarón, who has been steady, but not prolific, insists all he’s ready for after Oscar Sunday is one long break.
“I know that I’m going to take a nap,” he jokes. “Remember that I don’t do many films. I’m very lazy. I’m very slow in going from film to film. I need to really empty the disc and see what happens. For me, what is important, whatever it is has to spring out of life.”
For more on Cuarón’s thoughts on “Gravity” and his awards season experience watch the complete interview at the top of this post.