Director Andrew Niccol has lucked into the exact right time to release his new Netflix film Anon — or as he calls it, “Cambridge Analytica on crack.”
The week after Mark Zuckerberg was on Capitol Hill to testify about the private information of 50 million Facebook users being accessed, EW has the exclusive first trailer for Niccol’s sci-fi thriller, which is set in a world with no privacy.
Written and directed by the Gattaca filmmaker, Clive Owen stars as Sal Frieland, a detective who doesn’t need to solve crimes since everyone’s lives are transparent, traceable, and recorded by the authorities. But when tasked with investigating a series of murders, he encounters a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) who has no identity or history and is invisible to the police.
In addition to the release of the trailer, EW chatted with Niccol about why he was intrigued by this world and what he saw in Owen and Seyfried that made them the perfect Anon stars.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There literally isn’t a person better equipped to explain Anon‘s plot than you, so I’m going to let you have the floor here.
ANDREW NICCOL: Oh, that’s tough. The reason I made the film is because I always wanted to do a movie about privacy and the fact that there was never a war for privacy, because we already lost — we gave away our privacy without a fight, all for convenience. And Anon kind of takes that conflict to its logical conclusion. We are already lifelogging in our own way and becoming slightly biotech or syn-bio, because we’ve all got these phones in our hands and basically documenting our lives. Amanda Seyfried’s character is trying to go off-grid in a world where that shouldn’t be. And Clive Owen’s character is trying to track her down, tracking down a woman who basically doesn’t exist.
You couldn’t have picked a more relevant time for an anti-privacy movie!
I actually invented that whole Cambridge Analytica scandal myself. [Laughs] No, but it is, it’s like Cambridge Analytica on crack. This is the ultimate hack in a way, where in this world you’re able to hack a human being, and so, we have our whole lives documented. And then, of course, there are measures and countermeasures where people can be hacked and their memories can be hacked or removed, which is also kind of scary.
You clearly have a passion for these futuristic films, beginning your career with Gattaca or more recently with In Time. Why is that the place where your mind keeps heading?
In some ways, this one and all of them are futuristic, but they’re commenting on the present. It’s sort of a Trojan horse kind of way of slipping ideas into people, because they can emotionally wash their hands of it and go, “Oh, well, it’s in the future, this has nothing to do with me.” But of course, it hopefully has something to do with them. And I’ve always been interested in how we balance humanity with our technology, and I guess I return to it because it never goes away, it keeps coming back because it keeps coming at me.
Speaking of In Time, Amanda was also your leading lady in that one. What was it like to work with her again? This seems like a very different role for her than usual, a little darker and more mysterious.
She’s playing a very different character. A lot of the story is told through the eyes and if you want expressive eyes then you don’t need to go much further than Amanda, because she has these incredible eyes. And I also needed kind of a “go to hell girl” quality that Amanda has. Despite her frailty, when she’s waving a gun around, it gets your attention.
In the trailer, we see Clive take quite a bit of physical abuse — how did he hold up with all those falls and crashes? And why was he the right guy for this role?
That’s when he’s being hacked. I always wanted to work with Clive because there’s a noir quality to him that perfectly fits my character and the world that I was constructing. He has this sort of been there, done that quality to him that I kind of needed. When all crimes are basically recorded, no one can really get away with anything, or that’s the theory. And what I like is that being a detective is now clerical work because all you have to do is play back the last few seconds of the victim’s life and you can see what happened.
Anon is your first film to get the streaming release treatment, so what appeals to you about going that route?
The world is changing and I’d be a fool not to change with it. I think a story has to work no matter what format or platform or device you have. And in the world of Anon, there are no screens at all, it’s in your head, so it was intriguing for me to go a different way. Also, technically, many people have better home theaters than your local multiplex. You can’t really be a purist anymore. And for me, it all comes down to story and getting the film seen — and Netflix has a lot of eyeballs.
Watch the exclusive trailer above. Anon starts streaming May 4 on Netflix.