The creative process at work
Like most Blade Runner fans, Lennie James had his reservations about a sequel. But Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve put the actor at ease when the two hopped on the phone, James told GameSpot in an interview leading up to the movie's release.
"He was already a director that I was very keen to work with, and after our conversation I was very keen to work with him," James said.
The actor, who also plays Morgan on The Walking Dead and voices Lord Shaxx in Destiny, portrays a character by the name of Mister Cotton in Blade Runner 2049. He runs what is essentially a sweatshop for gadgetry in a part of California we haven't seen before in the Blade Runner universe. You can watch a clip from one of his scenes, released last month, below.
James explained that one moment in particular made him certain he wanted to join the project--and that changed the shape of the movie as a whole.
"I'll tell you what it was: Denis asked me what I thought of the character, and somewhere he heard kind of a moment's pause. And I wasn't being blasé or anything like that; I just took a moment to think about it. And he asked me what that reticence was," he said. "I said it wasn't necessarily reticence; it was just that the character's written in a particular way. He was written more in a warlordy type way, and I just thought it might be interesting to make him a weaker man. And Denis just jumped on that, and we started, you know, riffing on that back and forth, on what he could be."
James said that change affected everything about his scenes, from the way the character looks to "the shape of all those scenes." The new take on the character also affected the script, which James and Blade Runner 2049 star Ryan Gosling wound up using only as a jumping-off point for much of those scenes, improvising their lines instead.
"The fact that Denis was up for that, and the fact that it wasn't just me going in there, standing in the right place and saying the lines, but actually contributing to the shape of that sequence with Ryan, meant getting on the plane, I was very excited, and really looking forward to landing and getting on with it," he continued.
In a separate interview following a screening of the film, Villeneuve told GameSpot that he appreciates that kind of creativity as part of the filmmaking process. "I love when actors are finding ideas in the working process," he said. "When there's suddenly a burst, an idea that comes that was not planned--that creates the spark of pure cinema in front of the camera."
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James joined the Blade Runner 2049 crew in Budapest for around two weeks, taking a quick break from shooting The Walking Dead Season 7 at the same time. He said that tight schedule--he resumed shooting on TWD again the day after returning from Budapest--was a huge challenge, but worth it for him to be involved.
"I was not necessarily in the camp of 'Blade Runner doesn't need a sequel,' but as a fan of the first one, I did have questions about why was it absolutely necessary to make another Blade Runner film," James said. "But I have to say, having read the script and having spoken with Denis, I wanted to be a part of this project, and I wanted to tell this particular story."
Blade Runner 2049 hits theaters Friday, Oct. 6. Check out GameSpot's Blade Runner 2049 review, and don't miss Blade Runner Blackout 2022, the anime short film that bridges the story between 2049 and the original. Speaking of the original, if you've never seen it, here's a breakdown on exactly which version of Blade Runner to watch.
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