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Interview: Director Andrew Niccol Talks Humor In ‘The Host,’ Franchise Expectations & Separating The Film From ‘Twilight’

Interview: Director Andrew Niccol Talks Humor In ‘The Host,’ Franchise Expectations & Separating The Film From ‘Twilight’

From 1997’s “Gattaca” to his more recent Justin Timberlake-led actioner “In Time,” director Andrew Niccol has made a habit of taking unique, conceptual sci-fi ideas and attempting them on a Hollywood stage. His latest film, an adaptation of author Stephenie Meyer’s “The Host” aims to do that as well; however, unlike those past efforts, he now has to deal with both a massive fanbase and a central love triangle.

Perhaps the dynamic is better described as a “love quadrangle” since the narrative follows Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), a young Louisiana teenager body-snatched by a sympathetic parasite, Wanda, and the two boys (played by Max Irons and Jake Abel) tearing the personalities in different romantic directions. When we chatted to Ronan (read the first part of our interview here), she described the scenes where “the entire cast is having a bit of a make-out” as ones that “you just can’t take too seriously,” so as we chatted to Niccol in Los Angeles recently, we first took the opportunity to ask him about the humor in the film.

I was surprised to find a good deal of humor injected throughout the film. Were those situations and lines all from the book originally?
I plucked moments from the book that I loved, and also created some of my own creation. There were beats that we hit in Saoirse’s scenes with Max and Jake, where we just found a sweet spot for the tone. You have to have some levity because the material is so bleak – it is the end of the world we’re talking about.

I specifically loved the “store” gag [where the alien Soul race shop at an ad-free, straightforward supermarket].
Yes, well, it goes back to the characters. The world that we’re showing, it’s absent of consumerism — the Souls are all equal on a societal level. They don’t lie, so what’s the point of advertising, and of persuading others into something? It did take care of the problem of product placement in the film pretty easily though.

All of your original films mix conceptual sci-fi with a personal bent. For your adaptation of Meyer’s material, what did you latch onto in that respect?
Well, I was most interested in the characters of Melanie and Wanda — the dichotomy of two unique women trapped in one body. It was that sort of Jekyll and Hyde personality in everyone that I was eager to explore.

Combine that with the Seekers [led by Diane Kruger], who — going back to the all-trusting Souls — are able to actually recognize facets of weakness and lie. It was a very diverse range of characters to depict.

Did you decide to do the “The Host” before or after “In Time,” and how did that film affect your decision to end up directing this one?
I wrote the ‘Host’ screenplay a little bit before “In Time,” and none of them really affected one another. With all of my films, I don’t think about what’s popular, or what’s going to bring in the biggest audience. “In Time” seemed marketable because I wanted to see it personally, so that was all I needed in order to make it.

On that note, audiences know – or think they know – what they’re getting when it comes to Stephanie Meyer’s work. To what extent did you keep audience expectation in mind while making the film?
Well, Stephanie writes love stories, and no matter what sci-fi narrative elements we place in front of all that, the love triangle still remains. I knew that when it came to Saoirse, Max, and Jake’s characters, people would react to it in a certain way.

So we took great care to make it different — the humor is a good part of that. Hopefully we’ve separated ourselves from “Twilight” enough, because it’s not that series, and that we made it so girlfriends can bring their boyfriends, and both will come out equally satisfied. That said, I’m definitely saying a Serenity prayer to myself through all of it. [laughs]

After directing adapted material here, are you going to continue down that route in the future?
I’m always open to a new project, original or adapted. It’s always good to have a good story brewing.

Is there one brewing at the moment?
I hope so, but it’s up to the movie gods to decide what’s next up for me.

“The Host” opens in theaters on Friday, March 29th.

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