“The Lost City of Z” director/writer James Gray knew exactly when the rain would fall every day while shooting in the jungles of Peru and Columbia.
“It would start at 3 (p.m.). It was oddly predictable,” Gray says. “There were some days when the rain was heavier and other days it was moderate. Some days we just continued to shoot.”
The rain helped Gray in his telling of the story of Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett, a British surveyor who claimed early in the 20th century to have found evidence of a complex civilization in an isolated region of Brazil. The film, starring Charlie Hunnam, opens in theaters Friday, April 21.
Gray found Hunnam, who’s best known for his starring role in “Sons of Anarchy,” to be the perfect casting.
“It’s a very hard role to play. The very stereotypical and hackneyed way to play it would be to have the character get crazier and crazier,” Gray says. “What I decided to do was have him maintain his sanity and for him to try to understand his own contradictions.
“What motivated him (Fawcett) and Charlie were weirdly similar. They both are the same age and both felt like they have not done work up to now of where they should be. Both felt incredibly motivated that way.”
There’s being motivated and then there’s being reckless.
One of the predictable afternoon rainstorms was particularly intense. Gray made the decision to pack up and leave because the water in the river was rising so swiftly. Hunnam stood on the bank arguing that the weather was perfect for the scene and the cameras should continue rolling.
At that moment, a lightning bolt hit a tree 90 feet from the actor. Gray recalls seeing his star being knocked off his feet. After Hunnam regained his footing, he agreed it was probably a good idea to leave.
Unlike “The Lost City of Z,” there weren’t any lightning strikes during the filming of Gray’s past movies that include “Little Odessa,” “The Yards,” “We Own the Night” and “The Immigrant.” Not only did Gray direct those projects, he was the writer.
He has been the writer and director on every film he’s made. Gray would certainly only direct if he found a great script, but most of those get grabbed up by other directors.
“I don’t mind working as a writer because it’s an easier way to stake a claim in Hollywood. It’s weird that the screenplay is so important to a movie that a writer’s name should be the last credit. But, this is a director’s medium,” Gray says.
Gray’s already writing the next project he will direct, “Ad Astra.” At least he won’t have to worry about losing an actor to lightning, as the film will be set in outer space.
A different country, same hatred
John Ridley has taken a long, serious look at racism through projects from “12 Years a Slave” to “American Crime.” Those examinations have been focused on the battles in the United States.
His latest project, “Guerrilla,” debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday, April 16, on Showtime. The production looks at 1970s London when Scotland Yard created its own Black Power Desk, an entire department dedicated to using any means necessary to thwart the burgeoning black rights movement.
The six-episode series is told through a young couple – played by Freida Pinto and Babou Ceesay – who move from idealistic activism into violent militancy in the face of the Black Power Desk’s abuses.
Ridley explains that while the story unfolds in another country, the racism is no different.
“When people are being marginalized or disenfranchised, it really doesn’t matter if it’s about race, religion, creed or color,” Ridley says.
The Oscar winner was surprised by what he discovered when he went to London four years ago while doing post-production on a film he did about Jimi Hendrix. He discovered that in America racism was born out of slavery, while in England the racism was felt by those invited to come to the country to live.
Once they arrived in England, the tone changed and many were seen as interlopers.
“One of the really wonderful things about the couple that Babou and Freida play is that even though, to a lot of people, they are just people of color and are lumped together, for the two of them, because Freida’s family immigrated and Babou’s family or the character that he plays was born in the U.K., how they are treated and what they face and who’s a patrial and a nonpatrial is very, very different,” Ridley says. (A patrial is a person who has the right to live in the United Kingdom because a parent or grandparent was British-born.) “Racism, disenfranchisement, it’s painful, it’s wrong wherever it is. But we as storytellers wanted to get more deeply into those differences and highlight those differences between the U.S. and the U.K.”
Play on: GSN – the Game Show Network – will begin airing the first four seasons of “Hollywood Game Night.” It will begin with a five-night event starting at 9 p.m. Monday, April 17.
Another year: CMT has ordered another season of “Nashville.” There will be 16 more episodes produced. The midseason debut of the current season will be at 9 p.m. Thursday, June 1.