Proving what can be achieved with one set and six actors, Canadian born director Vincenzo Natali's 1998 debut "Cube" leapt straight onto the shortlist of classic low-budget sci-fi movies. Ferociously scary and inventive, it gained cult acclaim, as well as an unexpected sequel. Now Natali has returned with the futuristic mind-bender "Cypher", starring Jeremy Northam and Lucy Liu.
Four years on, how do you feel about the success of "Cube"?
Everything went wrong while we were shooting it. I literally thought we were making a disaster. I'd keep telling myself, "If I just keep on time and on budget, somebody might let me make another one." So I had no expectations, and when the film went on to be massively successful - in places like France and Japan - it was a surprise. But a very gradual one, like a slow punch. If you'd told me "Cube" would be getting an international release and a sequel while I was making it, I would have fallen out of my chair.
Why did you choose "Cypher" as your next project?
The script kind of landed in my lap. It wasn't even offered to me. I just called the screenwriter Brian King and said, "I want to do this!" At the time, I pitched it as, "What if Franz Kafka wrote a James Bond movie?" - looking at it as a head-tripping psychedelic spy story. It's very densely written, referencing Hitchcock and sci-fi author Philip K Dick. What mainly appealed was the main character's story: Morgan's journey of self-discovery, and his desire to be someone greater than he is.
It's a much bigger movie than "Cube", with a larger cast and new locations in every scene. Was it difficult coping with the change of scale?
It was actually very liberating. You'd think filming on one set would be easier, being a controlled environment, but it's psychologically difficult coping with being in the same place all day - as well as coming up with enough energy to keep things fresh. On "Cypher", I was just like a kid in a candy store. We were in a different place every day, and it's a much less intense story than "Cube". So despite being bigger, it was a little easier to make.
Lucy Liu has developed a reputation for being difficult. How did you find directing her?
I was terrified of working with Lucy. I'd heard all the stories, like her punching Bill Murray while working on "Charlie's Angels". And the truth is, she's the sweetest, smartest, most unpretentious lady I've ever worked with. Most actors want as much dialogue as possible, but Lucy actually pared her lines down. She was there to make the movie as good as possible, not just to raise her profile. Both she and Jeremy [Northam] did a great job, and directing them wasn't different from any of the other actors I've worked with. They're just normal people. As normal as actors can be, anyway.