Peter White caught up with director George Nolfi, whose film The Adjustment Bureau is currently in cinemas.
How was it adapting Philip K. Dick’s short story for the screen?
I was taking this story as a jumping-off point. I wanted to tell it in a different tone and I was concerned with different themes. So I could turn the short story on its head thematically. For me the short story is mostly about paranoia and the questions as to what’s real and what’s not real – what’s in the mind. I wanted my character to have the seat behind the curtain. To see what the adjustment bureau are doing – adjusting fate, keeping a person on the path. And that the evidence is so overwhelming to him that he just has to accept it. And then to see how he confronts that… And then the love story wasn’t in the short story at all. So there was a lot to come up with and invent but huge credit to Philip K. Dick who created a story that you could take from and make a dark dystopic science fiction movie.
Was New York important to you as the setting?
Very important. I fell in love with the city when I first went there when I was 9 years old. So it has a personal resonance for me. Also the visual plan for the movie for me was essentially that I wanted to convey the theme of the film with the visuals that if the adjustment bureau controlled the world it would be more perfect, more beautiful, more ordered, more controlled and when they don’t it’s more chaotic, messy and dirty. But if they control the world we don’t have our freedom. So visually I needed to find an environment where I could have beautiful buildings and composed shots and move the camera smoothly in an ordered way but then I also needed when David Norris (the film’s protagonist) breaks through and thwarts their plan for him I needed to be able to have the chaos of the city.
Were you attracted to The Adjustment Bureau because of the questions of fate and free will that it explores?
Definitely. My producer partner pitched the short story to me about 8 years ago – the core of it which I had to use was that of fate personified… whether your life is determined by outside forces or can you actually freely choose the course of your life. I think the answer is both. Of course everyday you make your own little decisions, but if you step back from it can you really control whether you are going to be a footballer or a great violinist… Social class matters, the country you’re born in matters…
There’s great chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt…
I wrote the script for Matt so I was looking for someone who could work with him who could have that great chemistry… and it took a long time. We screen tested probably 8 people and with Emily – 15 seconds into the screen test I knew she was the one. Both on her own terms and with Matt she was magical.
People have described the film as Bourne meets Inception…
It’s more like Bourne meets Inception meets It’s a Wonderful Life meets North by Northwest. Bourne meets Inception suggests a tone and there’s very little humour in these movie. So I use the 2 old movies to describe it as they have tones that are a little more fanciful and fun.