Q&A: “ANNA” Director Jorge Dorado on Frightening Memories and Days With Del Toro
If it’s true about memories, as Barbra Streisand once sang, that what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget, ANNA is about the disturbing stuff that gets uncovered when one goes looking for them. FANGORIA spoke with the director of the new psychological thriller, Jorge Dorado, a one-time assistant to Guillermo Del Toro.
On VOD and in select theaters today from Vertical Entertainment, ANNA (formerly titled MINDSCAPE) stars Mark Strong as John Washington, a sort of cerebral detective with the ability to psychically enter people’s memories. Two years after a tragedy in his own life left him emotionally unable to continue the practice, he returns to his old boss, Sebastian (Brian Cox), desperate for work. Sebastian gives him what seems to be a simple case: a teenaged girl named Anna (Taissa Farmiga of AMERICAN HORROR STORY) from a wealthy family who has gone on a hunger strike. As John wins Anna’s trust and ventures into her mind, he uncovers disturbing layers of her past that unfold in ways that may threaten John’s own life…
FANGORIA: After making a number of short films for the last decade or so, how did you make the jump to your first feature?
JORGE DORADO: Actually, I had been working as an assistant director for a while, with directors like Guillermo Del Toro and Pedro Almodóvar, on THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, TALK TO HER, BAD EDUCATION and other films. I was also directing commercials in Spain and trying to make my first feature, but in Spain we have a really weak industry, so it was really difficult, and I decided to move to LA about six years ago. I met Peter Safran, who’s one of ANNA’s producers and became my manager at the time, and he introduced me to Guy Holmes, the writer of ANNA; that’s how I found the script. And then, Jaume Collet-Serra, the director of ORPHAN, UNKNOWN and NON-STOP, wanted to build a bridge between Spanish filmmakers and Hollywood, so he created a company called Ombra Films, and became kind of a mentor to me [and one of ANNA’s producers].
FANG: Did you do a lot of work on Holmes’ script once you came on as director of ANNA?
DORADO: We collaborated very closely, Guy and I, for about a year developing the story. Guy had the idea of somebody who could enter people’s memories, and we worked together to tailor the movie to my approach, to make the movie more psychological. We tried to bring in the idea that everybody’s hiding something. I like the idea that everyone has two sides, you know? Like two faces: the private one and the social one. There are no good guys and bad guys; everybody has a dark side, and we explored that idea in different versions of the script until we came up with the right one.
I also wanted to suggest things to the audience rather than to soak them in everything, you know? There are so many points of view in the story and everything had to pay off in the end, and I decided not to do it with flashbacks, because that’s something I hate in this kind of thriller: the big flashback where everything’s explained to the audience at the end and everybody is happy. I wanted to leave some questions open, just to make the audience think about the movie, and find their own answers.
FANG: How did you tackle the visual transitions into and out of the characters’ memories?
DORADO: I decided to use different styles of camerawork and lighting, ranging from reality to what we call John’s world to Anna’s world—her memories from school and when she was a child. I created different ways to shoot each one of them, with colors and lenses, and the DP—Óscar Faura, who did THE IMPOSSIBLE—and I determined to shoot in 35mm, because we wanted to put a film-noir style all through the story, and to do a kind of contemporary classic. That was one of the biggest decisions we made, visually.
FANG: While ANNA has supernatural/paranormal themes, it’s played largely as a drama; can you talk about your approach in that respect?
DORADO: Well, you know, all stories have drama—there’s not a movie without the drama of characters dealing with problems, you know? I tried to make this more like a psychological thriller, the kind of genre I usually work in, and also, as I mentioned, a film noir, because at the end of the day, John is the classic detective who is drinking and haunted by his past. Anna is a kind of femme fatale, and there’s a tricky game that looks really simple but gets more and more difficult, so there are the building blocks of film noir there.
FANG: You got a great cast for your first feature. How did you land your actors?
DORADO: I’ve always loved Mark Strong; I’ve watched him in so many American big-budget movies, always playing the bad guy, and I thought it was thrilling, the idea to offer him this project where he’s playing the antihero. It was a big challenge for him, and it was my first feature so it was a big challenge for me, and the first time we met in London, we were both really excited about that idea. It was a big, new thing for both of us, and we became a close team on it. Then Brian Cox came on board really quickly, because he and Mark had worked together in many movies and also in theater.
The hardest part was finding Anna; at the beginning, we weren’t sure what kind of actress could play her, because it was a very tricky and difficult character. It was actually Vera Farmiga, Taissa’s older sister, who brought her up during the shooting of THE CONJURING. Peter Safran was one of the producers of that film and was talking to Vera about the role, and she suggested Taissa, and I saw her in AMERICAN HORROR STORY and thought she was great. Also, Sofia Coppola was shooting THE BLING RING at the time, and she was nice enough to send me some rushes of Taissa from that film, and the producers and I and everybody agreed she was fantastic. She turned out to be a great choice.
FANG: Where did you film ANNA?
DORADO: We shot 90 percent of the movie in Barcelona, Spain, and then we moved to Montreal for five days and did the bigger shots, like the bridge and driving into the city and all that, and then we found the main house for the exteriors in France. It was a Spanish/U.S. co-production, and we decided to do it in Barcelona because that’s a city you can kind of transform as you wish. The movie is set in the States, but I didn’t want to show the States like you usually see them in the movies. It takes place in the characters’ memories; you can look at it and say, “OK, this is America,” but it doesn’t look 100 percent like America. That’s also why I decided to do certain parts in Montreal, because it has a heavy influence from America—it’s quite close in the architecture and the atmosphere—but also from Europe.
FANG: Did you have a sizable budget to go with that big scope of production?
DORADO: Well, it was $5 million, which was big for a first-time director but not big enough for this movie, so it was a challenge to work at that cost while trying to be very ambitious it terms of how the movie looked. It was a big concept, a high concept—a guy who can travel in people’s memories—and you could imagine a lot of visual effects and different worlds. I had to do something different, because I didn’t have the budget of INCEPTION or something like that, so I had to do it in a more artistic way, and create a sci-fi world with limited elements.
FANG: Can you talk about your experience on THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, and what you learned from Guillermo Del Toro on that production?
DORADO: Guillermo was amazing; he was kind of a mentor to me on that film, and I learned a lot from him—the way he told the story without dialogue, just visually. He was always really nice about showing me the storyboards, explaining to me how he was going to shoot the scene, how he was going to edit it later, why he was choosing this or that angle or camera, and technically teaching me about visual storytelling. He’s kind of like my grandfather in that sense.