Really stoked about Europa Report, which has been available for streaming in the U.S. and finally hit big screens last week. My friend, Hong Kong-based actor Daniel Wu and I had a short conversation about the indie sci-fi flick, which has been getting press for its slow-burning intensity and sound science, and this is how it went…
MW: You told me that you are especially proud of this movie. Why is that?
DW: I’ve always wanted to do a sci-fi flick but have never had a chance in Hong Kong or China. And the fact that this is “hard” sci-fi is even better. It was a really interesting film to make. Six of us actors from all over the world being thrown into a space capsule and shot via “on-board cameras” that didn’t move presented a lot of challenges. It was very experimental and after having done 50-something regular narrative films, this was fresh.
MW: What attracted you to the role in Europa Report?
DW: To play the ship’s commander amongst a group of well-seasoned actors stuck inside a space capsule seemed like it was going to fun. The fact that I was going to spend three months in New York didn’t hurt, either. I literally just came off The Last Supper, where I spent about eight months in rural China, and I was eager to get back to civilization.
MW: The thrust of the Comic-Con panel was that the movie’s science is realistic. Did you have to study up on it?
DW: Yes, lots. We had three weeks of rehearsal where we got to talk to actual astronauts and experts, and that proved vital to the project. The original script was a bit between hard science and Armageddon type sci-fi. It was through our research that we decided to keep it as real as possible and get rid of the Hollywood shit. We wanted the story to seem not only believable but possible, too, so the facts had to be spot on. Obviously, we did dramatize certain things but we kept it 90 percent real. Also, because my character is from the CNSA (Chinese National Space Administration), I had to do a lot of research on the history of their program and their future plans.
MW: What was it like working on an indie sci-fi flick in New York? Must have been very different than your Hong Kong and China gigs…
DW: Yeah, totally. A lot more comfortable and great food and culture was always all around us. We were located in a studio in Williamsburg and stayed in Manhattan, so every morning on the way to work we’d see hoodie-wearing hipsters mixed in with hardcore Hasidic Jews near the studio. It was also nice to be close to many useful museums and libraries for convenient access to research materials.
MW: Was it odd to act in English? You pretty much learned how to act speaking Chinese.
DW: Yes and no. It was incredibly freeing to be able to speak in my mother language, which allowed me to improvise much more than I’m usually able to in Chinese. And it was especially interesting because Michael Niquist and Anamaria Marinca, who are not native English speakers, sometimes had trouble with the scientific dialogue. I could totally feel for them from my experience working in Chinese. Because the cameras didn’t move, it allowed us to do really long takes and burn through three or four scenes all in one go. Having English dialogue made it so much easier to learn 18-20 pages of script quickly.
MW: Tell me about the cast and crew. Any stories? Anyone we need to watch out for?
DW: I know this is gonna sound PC, but they were all great. There were some issues in the beginning during rehearsals but we kind of slowly began to morph into our roles and once we got on that ship we really became a tight-knit crew.
We all came from very different places with very different experiences. Our cast consisted of Christian Camargo (Twilight, Dexter), who is American, Michael Nyquist (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, MI4), who is Swedish, Anamaria Marinca (4 months, 3weeks, 2 days), who is Romanian, Karolina Wydra (Crazy Stupid Love), who is Polish American, and Sharlto Copely (District 9), who is South African.
Our director Sebastian Cordero is from Ecuador, our DP Enrique Chediak is from Brazil, and our production designer Eugenio Caballero and costume designer Anna Terrazas are both from Mexico, so there there was this really strong Latin vibe going on. Lots of drinking, eating, and cheek kissing but I really liked that warmness. You don’t see too much of that here in Asia.
Sharlto Copely came in later because he was working on Elysium, so when he first arrived I think there was a bit of insecurity on his part because we had such great chemistry. It turns out Sharlto is a prankster, something that he must have learned from Matt Damon on Elysium. When we finished Europa, he recruited me and Anmaria to break into the producer of Elysium‘s NYC spot (the neighbors let us in). We took some fake blood from the set and then proceeded to do a photo shoot with a dead and bloody Anamaria lying in various places in the house. He then opened a fake email account and each day sent a new picture to him with crazy psychotic messages about how he’d be next, then the wife, then the kids… watch out for that guy.
MW: Speaking of family, how’s your and Lisa’s baby?
DW: Awesome! Raven is constantly changing everyday and it’s a pleasure to be able to witness that.
Stream Europa Report online NOW or watch it at a theater near you. Of course, I suggest the latter to maximize the heavy atmosphere of the movie.