Beast with Idris Elba: “Life itself is survival”

Meeting with the survival film specialist, director Baltasar Kormákur.

A widower (Idris Elba) and her two daughters, a trip to South Africa and a lion who wants to eat them. Here is the simple and effective pitch of Beastthe new survival film from Baltasar Kormakur. While the trailer has just been unveiled, the director tells us how to raise the viewer’s anxiety with a creature capable of tearing your head off with a blow of its jaw.

You made several survival films where nature itself was the danger. What difference does it make to use an animal as a threat?

It’s a challenge, because you have to create a character from scratch. Well, obviously, what I did on Everest and Adrift was complicated, but a 100% digital special effects lion is something completely different! Already, I had to find a lion that I liked, with a specific look. And then afterwards, you get into the hard part. I chose to make long shots – well, it’s not birdman neither, huh, but you get the idea – to keep the viewer captive. I wanted to create the feeling of being stuck with that damn lion. Besides, my editor wanted to cut the shots to energize everything, but I managed to get him to admit that the film needed the opposite. But the real complicated thing was to be ultra precise all the time on set: where is the lion exactly? What does it look like ? How does he move? Timing is key, because the camera has to capture it all down to the second. Great challenge. So to answer you: it changes everything to use an animal, but I embrace the change because that’s the only way to learn.

Survival with an animal inevitably plays with the collective imagination and the idea that the public has of the said creature. This is also why the cinema often uses the shark, since Jaws makes him a movie villain. But at first glance, the lion is a bit light, isn’t it?

Yeah, well I’d a thousand times rather be locked up with 60 sharks than with 60 lions! Lions are always a danger, even well trained. Sometimes they kill their trainer by attacking them, even though they have known each other for years. They keep a wild part that never goes away. Once I walked into a lion’s cage. I wanted to see it up close, understand the beast, feel what it’s like to be next to him. After thirty seconds, the lion begins to roar and the trainer tells me to get out of there quickly. But above all without looking back, because afterwards you are easy prey. So I walk out shaking, and the guy says, “ I don’t think he likes you. Sometimes it happens, we don’t know why. I replied that I must have had a little too much testosterone, that the lion must have felt threatened (Laughter.) Anyway, all this to say that to make a lion really terrifying, there’s not much to do except be realistic. And then shoot as much as possible in natural settings, it would have seemed crazy to me to do that in the studio.

Isn’t being an American part of the secret to making a good survival in the United States?

In any case, it sure gives me another point of view on the genre. The Americans surely offer me survivals because I have a different culture, perhaps a more direct approach than them. But basically, for me, life itself is a survival: we are born and we die, and in between we do what we can to stay alive. We try not to catch the Covid and we avoid being run over at a red light. In the cinema, we just reduce the temporality and add a more visible threat.

Beast, with Idris Elba, Sharlto Copley, Iyana Halley… Released on August 24 at the cinema.

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