Interview: Alex Proyas, Director of ‘Knowing’ With Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne

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CHICAGO – “I want to make movies that touch people in unique ways and affect people in unique ways. And, you know, that’s what I’ve tried to do with this film.”

Knowing” director Alex Proyas has defied categorization throughout his career. Sure, all of his movies are what could be called “dark” and there’s a sci-fi edge to most of them but there’s such a variety of scope in his films. From the massive budget of a film like “I, Robot” to a more personal project like “Garage Days” to the beloved cult flicks “The Crow” and “Dark City”. His newest work is “Knowing,” starring Nicolas Cage and Rose Byrne, opening on Friday, March 20th, 2009.

Proyas recently sat down for a conference call to talk about his new blockbuster film, why he chose to write it, the trend of disaster-driven films, the spiritual side of his work, casting Nicolas Cage, and much more.

Director Alex Proyas on the set of Knowing, a Summit Entertainment release.
Director Alex Proyas on the set of Knowing, a Summit Entertainment release.
Image credit: Summit/Vince Valitutti

Getting an Oscar-winning actor in Nicolas Cage and a rising star like “Damages“‘s Rose Byrne for your film instantly raises its profile. Proyas revealed that he had always wanted to work with Cage and that they almost had several times in the past but schedules couldn’t be worked out. Nick reportedly read the script for “Knowing” and loved it, making this the perfect match.

“I think [Nick is] an incredibly versatile actor,” says Proyas. “That’s really why I’m such a fan of his work because he’s always different. He really embraces his characters and runs with them. And this is no different in that respect. I mean he’s created a very strong character, I think. And it’s not about Nick Cage, it’s about the character. And that’s really important I think. It’s an incredibly important thing for a director to know also that your leading actor understands what you’re trying to do in terms of the movie and is a collaborator with you. And we’re telling a story together which I think Nick was so great at.

“From a very early point when he first read the script he embraced this story and he really made it his own. He really felt it spoke to him as an individual. Just as I felt. We felt compelled to tell the story together and I think that really shows in the movie.”

“With Rose Byrne, Rosie is someone that I’ve known a very long time. We’re quite good friends and we’ve - because we both come from Sydney in Australia so we’ve known each other for awhile now. And she’s, again, someone that I’ve wanted to work with. And, you know, the character seemed perfect for her. And I was delighted that she was also available.”

Proyas wrote “Knowing,” something he likes doing because it makes him a deeper part of the process. “I like going into a movie with something that I feel is as well crafted as we can make it,” Proyas said. “And that’s often a result of ripping it apart and putting it back together again repeatedly. Because it’s much easier to work stuff out at the script stage obviously than in the cutting room when you realize you’ve got, you know, structural problems or character issues or whatever can come up at that stage.”

Director Alex Proyas on the set of Knowing, a Summit Entertainment release.
Director Alex Proyas on the set of Knowing, a Summit Entertainment release.
Image credit: Summit/Vince Valitutti

“So I get as involved as I possibly can. I mean, the process is always different every film. Some projects I initiate, others I come in at a later stage, like in the case of Knowing, and rewrite substantially. So it really every time is different. But I do certainly like to have as much involvement with the script as possible. I like to have as much involvement with every aspect of the movie process really. I think I wanted to have a sort of unique voice and it’s got to come from someone so it might as well be me.”

“Knowing” is about past and future tragedies and disasters. Naturally, the subject of 9/11 came up pretty quickly, but Proyas says that this script was written before those tragic events occurred.

But “Knowing” does follow a post-9/11 trend of disaster-driven movies, something that Proyas is keenly aware of with this project. He says, “I think when people live in uncertain times I guess it’s something that we dwell upon and there’s obviously something. We all know what the current potential doom scenarios are for our civilization. And I think everyone’s genuinely concerned and movies are a reflection of that - a way of analyzing the situation in whatever dramatic form and helping us perhaps find a solution. Or at worse, prepare ourselves. So I think it really is a sign of the times.”

Science fiction cinema has come a long way in just the time that Proyas has been making movies. The technology of special effects improves with each project. With “Knowing,” it was the first time that Proyas shot a movie digitally. He had always tested the latest digital cameras but always went back to film.

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