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Much of Cary Fukunaga’s career has been spent bouncing between genres and mediums, but expect less of that from the revolutionary director going forward, as he prepares to direct the 25th entry of the James Bond franchise.
“I was experimenting with genres as a way to educate myself while still being commercially viable,” he said of his early years as a director, when he moved from a thriller (“Sin Nombre”) to a period drama (“Jane Eyre”) to a Southern gothic detective tale (“True Detective”). “I knew I was gonna be jumping around in the beginning because I wanted to. You spend so much time doing a film, like two to three years sometimes or more, that afterwards there’s a desire to do something as different as possible.”
Fukunaga’s range of projects has helped prepare him for his most ambitious project to date. “You want to be able to master something,” he said. “I think it’s like a repeat study, to find that kind of mastery of a certain style of filmmaking, to find your voice.” But now, he said, “I feel like I have a sense of most of the genres and then which ones I think speak to me more easily, and which ones are not really the style I’ll pursue in the future. So I don’t think I’ll be jumping around as much as my career moves forward.”
But if this is the end of an era for Fukunaga, he’s going out on a high note, jumping into Bond mode immediately after directing all 10 episodes of “Maniac” for Netflix. The body-swapping sci-fi series allowed Fukunaga to indulge in more surreal proclivities. “Dreams are a way of tapping into your unconscious mind and that therein lies a lot of the structure for our choices in life, and motivations, and also traumas,” he said. “Using dreamlike logic for an exploration of the unconscious mind seemed appropriate.”
Needless to say, few directors have explored so many different kinds of stories in such a short period of time. In Fukunaga’s case, that versatility became a calling card for his biggest gig to date. The filmmaker wouldn’t choose a favorite classic Bond, though did say that the first film he ever watched was “A View to Kill” with Roger Moore. “I don’t think you can pick one though,” he said, “because every single one of them has brought their thing to it and its nice to have that difference, it’s nice to have the change of the character over time.”
Doing a Bond film represents a new genre for Fukunaga to explore, but its specificity is an advantage. “Over the years, you’ve seen a lot of different iterations not only of Bond, but of films that have mimicked it or copied it,” he said. “So I think the exciting part actually is going to the original source, and being able to play in a sandbox.”
That’s part of why he has liked working with specific genres over the course of his career. “Genres come with tropes and expectations and in the post-modern era, you can deliver exactly what’s expected of the genre, or you can try to twist it in an intelligent way which subverts the genre but still stays faithful to it,” he said. “So, when you’re drawing from a certain style, you can play with audience expectations while still surprising them — and the nature of creativity is that limitations are often times good things, because when you’re facing the overwhelming vastness of creative potential, to have defined routes to take for a story or style are helpful in determining how far you want to veer from it.”
Beyond Bond, Fukunaga is also on the record showing interest in developing sitcoms, undeniably a bit of a left turn. But it’s also rooted in another source of nostalgia for him: growing up watching shows like “Cheers,” “M.A.S.H,” “The Brady Bunch,” and “Three’s Company.”
“When I was a kid coming home from school, you’d watch cartoons for a couple hours, and then the news came on, and then you were watching sitcoms and you didn’t have to know what happened last week you didn’t have to wait till next week,” he said. “You just got 30 minutes of escapism with this group of people that you come to love over time.”
“Cheers,” he noted, was particularly his favorite. “Even though I was a kid growing up in the Bay Area, I also felt like part of myself grew up in Boston,” he said.
“So far I have only worked in television in the sense that we’re basically telling a longer form of a movie, which is great, because that’s the reason why I did in the first place — [with] ‘Jane Eyre,’ I felt we had to truncate that story so much that it felt so compromising of what the character really was to me.”
The comedy ideas he’s interested in are very different. “I know there are situational comedies on television, but there’s not many that I can think of on cable television, which is kind of the wheelhouse I have planned,” he said. “So I feel like that it’ll be fun to create a set of people that maybe one day other people would look back on the years and be like, this is the family that they got to know lost in their youth. This marks some period in their lives.”
Fukunaga has no shortage of things he wants to do as a director. But there’s one thing he doesn’t want: “To have a critical and box office failure,” he said. “I would say that’s the one thing I never want to have happen. I feel like you can have one or the other fail, and it’s okay, they’ll pass. But to have both fail, that’s the stuff of nightmares.”
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