It was during the making of Gattaca that writer-director Andrew Niccol first got the idea of In Time. In the highly regarded thriller, the question of identity lies at the forefront of the storyline. Niccol had a thought at the time about what would happen if we could alter the age gene and people would stop aging at twenty-five. That inspiration which proved too much exposition for Gattaca has produced Niccol’s next film, In Time, which stars Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried as two people at either end of the time-as-money spectrum.
Niccol sat down with Movie Fanatic for an exclusive interview about the finer points of In Time and also his thoughts on getting the gig as the writer-director who will bring Twilight author Stephenie Meyer’s expansive and mind-blowing The Host to screens.
Movie Fanatic: In Time is such a mind-blowing idea. What was the genesis of the movie for you?
Andrew Niccol: It was very simple. I wanted to create the ultimate metaphor for living in the present. If you could actually watch your seconds ticking away, you might be more conscious of how you’re spending your time [laughs]. It all spun out of that.
Movie Fanatic: A lot of people are saying In Time is very timely. But, I think it’s a timeless idea. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “Time is money.”
Andrew Niccol: Yes, I think it is. Shakespeare said, “I wasted time, now time wastes me.” [Laughs] Carl Sandburg said, “Time is the coin of life.”
Movie Fanatic: It permeates all over.
Andrew Niccol: I agree. I hope it’s more timeless than timely.
Movie Fanatic: When you sat down to put pen to paper, what was the biggest challenge in crafting this world for you?
Andrew Niccol: I thought of it as a beautiful thing that I could constantly evolve -- every decision came out of the clock. How we dress, if you’re poor you have to dress quickly, having zips and snaps, and all food is fast food. Rich zone, you have buttons, like 20 of them, almost flaunting your wealth, and buttons are slow. It was just fun to riff on that. I can repurpose the language. Don’t waste my time suddenly takes on a huge implication.
Movie Fanatic: Even what seems like a throw-away line like, “I don’t have time,” now it carries so much weight.
Andrew Niccol: Yeah, when that little girl asks Justin, “Do you got a minute?” [Laughs]
Movie Fanatic: Was the writing process on this screenplay any different than your others?
Andrew Niccol: No. Once you have an idea, it just keeps evolving.
Movie Fanatic: As the creator of the words that the actors are saying, what did it mean to you when you got this great cast together?
Andrew Niccol: It’s wonderful. There’s a scene when Cillian Murphy’s character is interrogating Justin Timberlake and Cillian is one of the best young actors we have, and I found myself just watching and I was supposed to be directing. It was entrancing. It was such a fair fight between them that I was mesmerized. He brought such life to it. And the entire cast, I was very fortunate to have the cast I had.
Movie Fanatic: So much of what Cillian does in this film is in his eyes.
Andrew Niccol: Oh, he’s brilliant. I don’t say much to Cillian [laughs]. I just tell him where to stand.
Movie Fanatic: There are a lot of electric action scenes in In Time as well. How do you think Justin took to the role of an action hero?
Andrew Niccol: Like a duck to water. As a performer, he’s already got that physicality that he’s so adept with. Fight scenes, running, he was a natural at that. He can handle a gun. He really took to the fast driving sequences. You might find yourself saying, “Justin Timberlake: Action star.”
Movie Fanatic: You chose L.A. to set In Time. It’s the town of eternal youth. But there’s also esthetically a lot of parts of the city that worked really well with your vision. I noticed Avenue of the Stars was a locale, what was it about the parts of this city that spoke to you for the futuristic world you created?
Andrew Niccol: There is an amazing contrast to this city. I’m talking economically too. We couldn’t get over one night we’d be shooting downtown on Skid Row and then the next night we were in Bel Air shooting at a mansion the size of Versailles. It’s impossible not to see the gulf between rich and poor in this city. It’s not just the youth obsessed city, it also has the enormous gulf. The thing we did visually, I tried to make the poor zone more colorful, more vibrant than the rich zone. If you go to slums around the world, they’re often more colorful. There’s a reason there’s a joy, life is short and paint is cheap.
Movie Fanatic: What Amanda Seyfried said in the film is so profound and fits into that. The rich live forever, but have stopped living.
Andrew Niccol: It’s a very beautiful line.
Movie Fanatic: Where did that thought come from? It seems to play to human nature that you would live cautiously because you can live forever.
Andrew Niccol: That’s why I love Matt Bomer’s character so much, he’s immortal, but he wants to die. I have a feeling that if we could switch off the aging gene, I’m not sure our psychology could keep up with our biology. He has this line he says, “Your mind could be spent even if your body’s not.” I feel that that is a real possibility. Imagine if you could live for 1,000 years, it seems like [sigh] it would be a real effort. Think of the déjà vu you would experience [laughs]. It’s scary to think about it. Also you would stop feeling. If you’re so worried about dying, we would become very insulated from each other. We would never take risks. We’d drive around in armored cars.
Movie Fanatic: Lastly, I interviewed Stephenie Meyer when she released The Host. I told her I would really love to see this as a movie and she said, “I don’t know how it would be done. It would have to be one special filmmaker.” What are your thoughts as you’re diving into adapting it and bringing it to the screen?
Andrew Niccol: I love the subversive nature of this movie. I don’t know why aliens are always portrayed as the enemy. I love that in her book maybe they could be better for our planet. They could co-exist with us. Do you realize right now, there is more bacteria in you and me than there is us. We already co-exist with other species. So, from their point of view, they would ask, “Why are you so individualistic? Why are you all about self?” We can co-exist.