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If there’s one thing that we do know definitively about Blade Runner 2049 — the top secret sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic — it’s that the filmmakers seriously sweat the small stuff. “Here’s a perfect example of working on this film,” says star Ryan Gosling of the scene pictured below. “In the script, my character walks up to a guy sitting at a desk, and we have a very small exchange. It’s probably a quarter of a page of the screenplay. I show up at set that day and that is what they built.” He laughs. “I said to [director Denis Villeneuve], ‘You built all this for just one scene? It takes up an entire stage!’ And he said, ‘Yes, well, the scene is in the movie, right?’ It didn’t matter if it was a quarter of a page or an important set piece — everything was treated with the same level of detail and importance.”
For Villeneuve, doing it any other way was never an option. “It’s not the amount of time [on screen] but the impact of the moment,” he says. Every background player, even if seen only briefly, mattered. “This film had the longest and toughest casting I’ve ever done,” the director says. “Each extra had to be chosen specifically for their look—we had to get the right faces to bring the right atmosphere to the right scene. Everything — the sets, the lights, the props, the vehicles — they are all saying something about our future.”
The future in 2049 — 30 years after the events depicted in the original Blade Runner — has not gotten any less grim. Gosling plays an LAPD officer named K, who unearths a secret that has the potential to unravel what’s left of society and leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who used to hunt down replicants and has been missing for three decades. And that’s nothing compared with what’s happening to planet Earth. “The climate has gone berserk and the ecosystem has collapsed and the ocean has risen,” Villeneuve says. “There are a lot of refugees trying to survive on the West Coast.”
This change in weather has nudged the cool blue and pink tones of Scott’s original into a wider and more golden palette. “The presence of the winter brings more charcoal and there’s sparks of color,” says Villeneuve. “The yellow is something I can’t talk about, but…it’s a very important color.”
Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins, who previously teamed up on Prisoners and Sicario, have similar tastes and aesthetics. “It’s important when you work with a director that you see things in a similar way,” says Deakins, who’s been nominated 13 times for an Oscar but has yet to win. While Villeneuve has a recent sci-fi credit (Arrival), this is Deakins’ first trip to a vastly different world. “I love science fiction; I don’t like science fantasy, and there’s a big difference,” Deakins says. “I like the futurism of science fiction and the idea that maybe this world could exist.”
Villeneuve, for his part, gives the lion’s share of credit for 2049’s harmonious atmosphere to Gosling, who steps into some Ford-size shoes as leading man. “Ryan was my muse,” Villeneuve says. “He has the movie on his shoulders. He’s in almost every single frame. To see his smile in the morning — and when Ryan Gosling smiles, the camera melts — and his goodwill and strength just meant the world to me. I owe him a lot. This movie owes him a lot.”
As for Gosling himself, the experience of being on the film and working with Villeneuve, Deakins, Ford, and executive producer Scott is one that continues to wow him. “I still can’t believe it happened,” he says. “I’m still not sure I’m not on some incredibly elaborate episode of Punk’d.”