Fernando Meirelles never intended to be an international sensation, but that’s what happened after his film “City of God” took the world by storm. The epic drama about growing up in the heart of organized crime in Rio de Janeiro, netted Meirelles an Oscar nomination for Best Director. He followed that up with “The Constant Gardener,” which earned Academy gold for its star Rachel Weisz. And now he’s attempting his own take on “light material” with the global romantic-drama “360.”
The film, which opens this weekend, stars a cast of international unknowns alongside names like Weisz, Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins. Characters from around the world — including a prostitute, a gangster, a cheating spouse and a father looking for his missing daughter — share ironic connections in locations from Vienna to Denver, Colorado. Perhaps the most talked about character is that of Tyler (played by Ben Foster), a recently released sex offender, who is trapped in a snowed-out airport while trying to resist his criminal urges and unwittingly becomes the affection of a beautiful, heartbroken photographer.
Moviefone spoke with the acclaimed Brazilian filmmaker about his new direction away from violent movies, the challenges of making a sex offender a sympathetic character and the impact of “City of God,” ten years later.
Compared to past work like “City of God,” “Blindness” and “Constant Gardener” this is a more intimate change of pace. What drew you to that?
That’s exactly what I was looking for because my last films were quite heavy, you know? They’re very serious issues and I really wanted to make a much lighter film about relationships, about people, about love, about lust. Much smaller and much more intimate. When I read the script I was immediately interested because that’s exactly what I was looking for.
It’s funny because even though “360” is a small story about character relationships, it still has a global scale.
I can’t help myself. [Laughs]
And that seems to be a recurring motif in your work. What prompts you to tell stories on that level?
I was thinking about that the other day and maybe it’s because I’m not working in Brazil. If I was shooting something in Brazil it would be something about our culture, about my personal experience and about the country. But once I’m outside, my mindframe is really global. Much more than telling a story about something from the American culture or from some country in Europe. When I’m outside, I’m a world citizen, so that’s where my interests go.
Out of all the character arcs, the one that I was the most intrigued by was Ben Foster’s character. A sympathetic sex offender is a tough character; why did you choose to tackle that issue and that perspective?
What I like about this character, from all the other characters, is that even with this character being a rapist and coming out of jail, he’s a good guy who wants to do the right thing and that’s what I like about him. You really want him to do the right thing. That’s the conflict that I liked in the film. Almost all the characters for me, they’re all good people trying to do their best, trying to be good husbands, good wives, good citizens, but there is something inside us that takes us to a different place and so we’re struggling with ourselves. I identified with this; I’ve done some stupid things in my life that I regretted later and then I would ask myself “Why did I do that?“
There are people that will always morally condemn the character of Tyler based on his past, but you got an amazing performance out of Ben Foster. What kind of challenges did you see in getting that depiction out of him?
Working with him was really a joy. I met all the other actors the day before we shot and we just had a chat, where we discussed the parts, and then the next day we were shooting. But Ben wanted to come to London fifteen days before the shooting so he could talk to some sex offenders and psychologists, and he went to some prisons in the U.S. before he came. He was so well prepared and we’d met several times to talk about the character. He told me everything about Tyler.
I’ve seen it in a lot of your work from “City of God” to now, but you’re really good at humanizing people in the criminal world. How do you go about doing that?
[Laughs] It’s just a matter of trying to see their point of view.
Another great moment for me is Anthony Hopkins’ final scene where he delivers a monologue during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. How intimidating is it to try and direct an actor with as much command and presence as Anthony Hopkins?
Before I met him I was a bit intimidated. But then the first minute after I met him he was like my uncle. There’s something very interesting about that scene. When I first met Tony, I asked why he said “yes” for such a small part, and he said that he was interested in playing that part because that part is a lot of himself. He was actually an alcoholic, but he’s [been] sober for thirty years now. I’m telling you that because he says that openly so. And he said that he experienced something really close to what his character in the film is experiencing: problems with family.
When he was in that scene, he starts his scene with the lines from the script, and suddenly he starts talking about his own experience. So that story, that’s his personal story that happened to him 30 years ago. That was Anthony Hopkins talking, not the character. And then he managed to come back to the script and finish the scene. It was really like watching a brilliant jazz musician go for a solo.
Moving away from “360,” I wanted to ask about “City of God.” That movie really became a phenomenon among a lot of young filmmakers. Now that it’s been ten years, how do you look back on the impact that it’s had?
It was not a huge film for all of the audiences, but people who watched it at the cinema and students know the film. And this is really unexpected for me because when I started the film it was supposed to be seen by a Brazilian audience. Then it worked outside of Brazil and it got much bigger. Something went wrong. [Laughs] It wasn’t planned, it just happened.
After “City of God” there was a lot of other films on favelas. So in some way it helped with the country because now this was a very known situation in Brazil. And after so many films and soap operas on favelas, we Brazilians have accepted that there is a different society within the country, and we need to incorporate this society into our country. So in the end it worked out quite well.