Joby Harold is an up and coming talent in Hollywood. His first movie, Awake was a tense shocker that dealt with a rather unusual situation so we though it was the right time to catch up with him and see what things scare him the most.
ZH: Did you know from an early age that you wanted to be a director?
JH: When I was a kid I was obsessed with the idea of working in special effects and I would devour books on ILM and Harryhausen and anything that was to do with creating the illusion. That turned into staring at posters of The Thing and An American Werewolf in London outside cinemas, imagining what watching those movies would be like if I were old enough to get in. Movies served as a good place to ground my rather overactive imagination as a kid.
ZH: Which writers or directors did you admire whilst growing up?
JH: It pretty much ran the gamut. William Goldman, Shane Black, Paddy Chayefsky - all sorts, all kinds of styles. For some reason the Jacob’s Ladder script was a big deal for me. As was Marathon Man. I was a Spielberg kid, and then I got very into Polanski and Kubrick like everyone else. Loved Aliens too. I would obsess over the structure of James Cameron scripts. To this day, no one structures an action film like James Cameron.
ZH: Where did the idea come from for Awake and is it true 700 people a year suffer from “anaesthetic awareness”?
JH: I had a kidney stone which is famously painful and was really screwing with my head. Felt like I’d been shot in the back, it was nasty. The idea for Awake came after around the third hour of screaming like a little girl in hospital. Statistically, it is true that there are that many occurrences of anaesthetic awareness. We consulted with dozens of doctors as well as patients who has experienced it. Of course, there are all different kinds of “anaesthetic awareness.” This film represents the worst case scenario. It could just as easily be Hayden’s character having heard the doctors speaking, or having a faint recollection. There is a pretty significant spectrum.
ZH: Did the script change much from your first draft till you arrived at the shooting script?
JH: The script changed dramatically. It started out as a much more surreal story about illusion versus reality. It had a twilight zone style narrator who was on the screen for half the movie, walking around the scenes, watching everything. It was a trip, and much more lyrical. That version got swallowed up the process. As the money and cast came together it got diluted, and I realized that we were making a different kind of film – something a little more conventional. So we embraced it as more of popcorn Friday night movie.
ZH: Awake is your first major directing job, how nervous were you on the first few days of shooting?
JH: I actually wasn’t that nervous. It’s a real sink or swim feeling, you just kind of get on with it. If I were dropped into the middle of the I imagine the feeling would be somewhat similar. I wouldn’t spend too long treading water and worrying about it, I’d just get to the business of swimming home. It was a fun shoot. 38 days.
ZH: Was it a hard movie to cast?
JH: We were casting for a long time, there were many stops and starts, and there were many different variations of the cast through the years. Casting is a very tricky process.
ZH: Is it true Helen Mirren was connected with the project at one time?
JH: Yes, Helen was attached for a while. As was Sigourney Weaver. Both of whom would have been terrific and both of whom had to drop out for various reasons not related to the movie. It was frustrating. But I was incredibly lucky when Lena Olin agree to sign on at the last minute. I think she did a phenomenal job.
ZH: Jessica Alba really shines in this movie and is given more to do than she normally would as her character of Sam is really complex, do you think it’s helped casting agents to see her in a different light?
JH: I certainly hope so. Jessica is a very talented, very capable actress and she deserves it. She is fiercely ambitious. She’s also, incidentally, one of the most generous people you’ll ever meet. I like her very much.
ZH: How did you decide on the amount of surgery on show? Did you censor yourself at all?
JH: Pretty much we showed as much as we could without it looking too fake. We were restricted by the authenticity (or lack thereof) of our rubber prosthetic. I didn’t worry about censoring it for the ratings board or anything, I knew from the beginning the kind of film we were making.
ZH: Awake, to me, is the kind of movie Alfred Hitchcock would be directing if he was alive today, is this the kind of atmosphere you were aiming for?
JH: I don’t know. His films have such weight and psychological complexity. I knew pretty early on that we were just trying to be a good night at the movies.
ZH: Is this your greatest fear then, being awake during surgery or do you have a greater dread?
JH: Helplessness is a pretty big one. Any of the primal fears are good ones when it comes to dread. That’s why Jaws works. Or Rosemary’s Baby. They’re all to do with penetration. Violation. Helplessness.
ZH: What’s next for you then?
JH: Looking hard for the right project to direct next. Trying to be really picky, which is hard to do, while also taking advantage of opportunities that have arisen. I have been writing an action/horror zombie film for Zack Snyder called Vegas Rising. I’m also adapting Frank Miller’s Ronin for Warner Brothers right now.
ZH: Joby Harold, thank you very much.
Awake directed by Joby Harold and starring Jessica Alba and Hayden Christensen is released on DVD by Icon Home Entertainment on Monday 25th August 2008.