Luc Besson is back in the director’s chair (he’s one of our 17 directors who deliver) with Lucy. Scarlett Johansson is Lucy and she is a woman who is kidnapped and has drugs surgically implanted in her stomach to be a drug mule. When she gets where she is to deliver them, she is punched in the stomach and it sets off a chain reaction that allows her to access parts of her brain that only scientists have dreamed of. It’s like… she has superpowers.
We caught up with Besson recently for an exclusive chat about Lucy and how the writer-director of some of our favorite movies (The Professional and The Fifth Element) chose Lucy as the one that would get him wielding a camera again. He hasn’t directed much lately, and has instead focused on writing and producing such films as Liam Neeson’s Taken series, the Transporter series and Columbiana among many others. We start with, why now to direct and why Lucy?
Movie Fanatic: After writing and producing for so long, how did you decide that Lucy was going to be the next movie you’d direct?
Luc Besson: I always knew that this one I would do for sure. I’m very excited by the purpose of the film, the intelligence of the film -- the brain, our capacity. The Lucy, the pre-historical Lucy from three million years ago, her brain is 400 grams. Our brain today is 1.4 kilo. It takes us three million years to take one kilo of knowledge and that’s fascinating to me.
Movie Fanatic: Was the story in your head before you heard about the prehistoric Lucy?
Luc Besson: No, it’s a mix. I met a couple of professors who are great specialists of the brain, or the nerve cells and cells. These guys are geniuses. I talked with them non-stop because I am so fascinated to see what they discover and where they’re going. At the end of the day, that’s a great documentary [laughs]. I always tried for a long time to see how we can make it interesting enough, and find a story where we can have the legs and the brain. It’s not only the legs and the brain that kick ass, but you also have food to think about. I would love that people love the film and at the end people go on the internet because they want to know more about the brain. It will be a victory for me.
Movie Fanatic: I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that they only say we use ten percent of our brain. And you explore that in the Lucy trailer and the footage I saw of the film. If we could use more, what would that look like? What would that feel like? What would we do with it? Did you have fun imagining what that would be?
Luc Besson: Oh yeah [laughs], a lot of fun. What was fun was to take all the knowledge we have and to push the envelope a bit to see where we can go. For example one cell of your body is sending 1,000 messages per second per cell and you have 100,000 millions of cells in your body. And they exchange all those messages! The quantity of messages per second that you send within your body is bigger than the number of stars in the universe. And that is only one person -- look at all the people here in this room. And we have no access to these messages. There’s a part of the brain who has access to it. But no, you, you’re not allowed. It’s fascinating. Then you have the beginning of how we go from ten percent of using our brain to fifteen. The first level is the control of yourself, which is the most plausible. Some people can control their heartbeat. But, that’s all you can do. The second step is control of others. There are four steps.
Movie Fanatic: We haven’t seen anything about this in the movie footage or trailer, but I was curious if you address the fact of how Lucy can handle her using more of her brain than anyone in history and the effect on her physiologically? Can we handle it mentally the way we’re wired right now?
Luc Besson: When you follow the film and really get into it, you will need an aspirin at the end of the film [laughs]. Good question, just wait until the end of the film. You will say (expletive). The funny thing is the more you go in the film, you start to get crazy. When the end arrives, it’s so simple. You will say, “Of course.” But, you have to go through it to get there. It’s fun to watch because there’s action and humor, but it’s challenging. It’s almost like chess.
Movie Fanatic: One thing that struck me too is Scarlett Johansson is like a force of nature in this thing. What was it about her that she was your Lucy?
Luc Besson: It’s the meeting, the first one. When you meet an actress or actor, it’s because you like that person. Second, you think they can do it. But after, it’s about the chemistry. You need to feel comfortable. You’re going to spend six months together. You need to be sure that it’s not a job. She was really focused on me when I was telling her about the film. She was feeling it. I can feel she was at the right spot already. Then she read the script and called me. The way she talked about the script and the story, she understood it.