[WATCH] Director J.A. Bayona on blending fantasy and reality in ‘A Monster Calls’

During our recent webcam chat (watch above), director J.A. Bayona admits to having, “a very immediate emotional response,” to the book upon which his new film, “A Monster Calls,” is based. “At the same time,” he adds, “it explores in a very interesting way what is storytelling, and what we do as filmmakers in trying to find truth and express it in the most effective possible way.” This Focus Features release stars Lewis MacDougall as a boy who seeks the help of a tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) to cope with his mother’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness. The monster tells the boy three stories that teach him valuable life lessons, and in the end, forces him to tell a truth about himself.

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Bayona, the Spanish auteur behind “The Orphanage” (2007) and “The Impossible” (2012), explains that the most daunting aspect of adapting Patrick Ness‘ novel to the screen was, “to find the architecture for the story.” The film, “has two layers of different levels of reality and fantasy, and at the same time, it has the stories inside the stories. So finding the right architecture for that was pretty challenging.”

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The other challenge was in creating the monster itself. Because the film is, “a story that tells us how we need fantasy to understand reality,” Bayona wanted the, “fantasy to be as grounded as possible. In that sense, we kept the design of the monster very simple.” As well, “it was very important always to have the actors playing against something, so we started the process with two weeks of shooting the motion-capture with Liam Neeson, always playing in front of Lewis MacDougall. Those two weeks became a very good rehearsal for Lewis.”

Bayona won Goya Awards for directing both “The Orphanage” and “The Impossible.” Will his first Oscar nomination be next?

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