Ridley Scott first collaborated with Joe Carnahan 10 years ago, on Carnahan’s contribution to BMW’s groundbreaking series of digital short films The Hire. (You can watch it here.) Their latest project together, Carnahan’s bleak survival thriller The Grey, lit up the box office last week with an impressive $20 million opening and solidified star Liam Neeson as a genuine box-office draw. The filmmakers certainly welcomed that heat: The film shot largely near a remote town in British Columbia, Canada, in twenty-below-zero blizzards that Carnahan has said gave him frostbite.
So what drew Scott to want to collaborate with Carnahan on this story about a crew of oil riggers who find themselves hunted by a back of ruthless wolves after their plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness? Check out EW’s Q&A with Scott below, done via e-mail while the filmmaker — whose highly anticipated Prometheus is hitting theaters this June — does some location scouting himself.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What drew you to want to work on this particular story with Joe Carnahan? What about it resonated with you?
RIDLEY SCOTT: We were able to see [Carnahan’s first film] Narc in its early days and we were blown away by his talent. We have worked with Joe in many incarnations since. He defines everything we want to do as a production company with his multifaceted approach, extraordinary talent, and desires with regard to filmmaking. The Grey was a passion project for Joe, and once we read it, it became the same for us. The script at its first read was as outstanding as the film he brought to screen.
When you learned about how and where Joe wanted to shoot the film — that is, in sub-zero blizzard weather in British Columbia — what was your reaction?
Respect. He executed the visceral world he wrote, in the only way it should have been shot, in a brutal environment. If you know Joe, there was no other way. It was imperative to him that the actors felt the brutality in every way, spiritually and physically.
Did you visit the set yourself?
Thank God I was shooting another film in Europe, which prevented me from visiting the set!
I understand you’re currently scouting locations now — what do you look for in an exterior location for a film? How does one prepare to shoot in conditions like this, logistically and creatively?
Choosing location is integral to the film, in essence another character. Audiences are smarter than ever, they know if filmmakers cheat an environment. In Joe’s case with The Grey, he was adamant about shooting in sub-zero winter climate. If the actors were not on board with the conditions, this film was not for them. Nothing about shooting this film was for the fainthearted. Logistically, we had a support team that had the same attitude and that were familiar with shooting in the weather and terrain. Everyone embraced the pain.
Liam Neeson seems like a bona fide action star now. What do you think it is about him that makes him so compelling in these kinds of roles?
Liam is a man that has lived a soulful life. His performance in The Grey is painful, skilled and above all, real. Isn’t that what makes anyone compelling?