Q&A: Director Andrew Niccol on Adapting Stephenie Meyer's "The Host"

Q&A: Director Andrew Niccol on Adapting Stephenie Meyer's "The Host"
Andrew Niccol attends the premiere of "The Host" on March 19 in Hollywood
(Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Andrew Niccol is one of the rare filmmakers who can integrate grandiose science fiction ideas with a deep emotional subplot. He accomplished this successfully in films like “Gattaca,” his directorial debut starring Uma Thurman and Jude Law, and “In Time,” with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.

The Oscar-nominated writer and director has returned to his sci-fi roots for his latest project, “The Host,” starring Diane Kruger, Max Irons, and Saoirse Ronan, and based on Stephenie Meyer’s (“Twilight”) New York Times bestseller. The film, which opens today, may seem like an odd choice for Niccol, considering that up until this point he has only directed pieces he’s written himself. But he told BLOUIN ARTINFO that he didn’t hesitate to become involved with the project because he loved the concept of alien invaders called the Souls taking over Earth.

 

The Souls, which are small silver parasites with long thin squiggly legs, displace humans from their bodies by nesting in their brains and erasing their memories. They have transformed the planet into a peaceful, clean, and safe world, but at the cost of eradicating the human race.

Only a few people who have gone into hiding have avoided being caught, but when Melanie Stryder (Ronan) is captured trying to save her younger brother, she miraculously survives, unlike most, but finds herself trapped inside her mind with the host Wanderer/Wanda, who tries to help her.

Niccol infuses the story with humor and romance while exploring universal themes of love and survival. BLOUIN ARTINFO spoke with the director about the project and why this genre is his passion.

There was a human element in this film that we normally don’t see in sci-fi movies. Can you talk about that aspect of the story?

Yeah, Stephenie Meyer is crazy like a fox I think because she’s made vampire movies for people who ordinarily like vampire movies and now she’s made a science fiction movie for people who normally don’t like science fiction. The thing I loved about the initial idea is having these two sorts of spirits in a body, in this tug of war controlling this body. Initially they hate each other or at least the human hates the alien, but they gradually form this understanding and friendship and then a love for each other. Even though it’s a science fiction concept, there is a lot of humanity to it. You can see the inner conflict you might have with yourself or some other person, so it’s very human.

Wanderer/Wanda begins to sympathize with Melanie, while other hosts don’t seem to have that problem. Why do you think she wants to help out a human?

The reason she has this particular problem is because most of the humans just fade away. As soon as a soul enters the body they just basically disappear. Melanie had such a strength of will and was fighting back from within.

The souls are supposed to be peaceful and harmonic, but at the same time they were killing humans. They were causing the extinction of an entire race, which goes against what they believe.

They wouldn’t see it like that. They would say they live in harmony. They’ve been all over the universe. Wherever they’ve gone, the other species they have inhabited would welcome them sort of the way certain creatures on Earth live in harmony with others. You see these whales with creatures attached to them and they live peacefully. Even you and I right now have more bacteria in us – more bacteria cells than we have human cells. You are more something else than you are human and the great thing about that is that it’s really great for your immune system and it’s keeping you alive. You’re already occupied by another species and you’re fine with it.

What is it about this genre of film that you really love?

What I like about it I think is that it’s easy to say something about today by going to tomorrow, because people think if it’s tomorrow it has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with you. So it’s easy to comment on today from the future.

I read that you describe sci-fi as a Trojan horse. Can you elaborate on that?

A Trojan horse philosophy is that you don’t really see these ideas coming. They’re hidden from you and then they jump out. You don’t expect it and that’s a useful way of telling a story.

What was one of the challenges of adapting a 600-page book into a 120-page script?

It wasn’t just what to leave out. The real problem was in the book they describe conversations, which are two sets of thoughts. Even if you have a face that’s compelling like Saoirse Ronan’s, it’s not very cinematic to hear two sets of thoughts while I photograph your face. I had to make a decision where you would hear the thoughts of Melanie and always see Wanderer speaking even if she was turned away so that no one else could see if she was having a conversation with the voice in her head. That was the hardest part to wrap my head around.

The end of the movie sets up the story for a sequel. Would you be on board to do another one?

I would. It would be fun to keep exploring this world and the characters.

Where would you like to see the story go?

Well, it’s a closely guarded secret. Stephenie Meyer won’t even tell me. She gives me information on a need to know basis. It’s supposed to be a trilogy. It’s supposed to be “The Host,” “The Seeker,” “The Soul.”