John Washington (Mark Strong) is a detective with a very unique skill — he can enter people’s memories in order to help solve difficult cases. It’s a tricky business, though, and there are some big risks to using this unusual ability. But despite some misgivings, Washington agrees to take on the case of a privileged but troubled girl named Anna (Taissa Farmiga) who is a suspect in a grisly triple homicide. To uncover the mystery surrounding Anna and her story, Washington plans to enter her mind and try to find out the truth. Is the brilliant teenager capable of murder, or are there other things hidden in her memories that may shed light on what happened? Can her memories be taken at face value or are they somehow being manipulated? Anna is Spanish director Jorge Dorado’s first feature-length film. He brings a style to the proceedings that evokes his work with master directors Guillermo del Toro and Pedro Almodóvar. Taissa Farmiga brings the perfect combination of innocence and creepiness to her role as Anna. The film also stars Brian Cox and Noah Taylor. I spoke to Jorge Dorado by phone from his home in Spain.
Danny Miller: Congratulations on your first feature! I think Taissa Farmiga brings such a great combination of innocence and creepiness to the role as Anna. How did she end up getting cast?
Jorge Dorado: It was because of her sister, actress Vera Farmiga. One of our producers, Peter Safran, was working on The Conjuring when we were in pre-production for this film. We were trying very hard to find a teenager who could pull off this role — and believe me, it’s not an easy part! It was Vera who suggested her little sister. I had remembered her from the first season of American Horror Story, but to be honest, I didn’t know if she could do it. We talked to Sofia Coppola, who was shooting The Bling Ring at the time and asked her if we could see some of Taissa’s dailies from that film. She sent them over and we were just blown away. We all fell in love with her.
I can see how tricky the role is but I think Taissa is perfect because she projects this kind of innocence but always with the possibility that there is a lot more going on beneath the surface.
Yes. Taissa and I worked a long time on the character. We decided that to keep the audience guessing she would change from scene to scene. One moment she comes off as the sweetest girl in the world, the next moment a little menacing, and the next one downright creepy.
Wait, aren’t you describing every teenager on the planet?
(Laughs.) One thing that I told her to do was to never blink. So if you watch closely you’ll see these incredibly big eyes always staring at people without any break.
Oh wow, I didn’t notice that. I need to see the film again just to watch the lack of blinking! I know the film was released in Europe under the title Mindscape. Why the change?
That was basically a marketing decision made by our distributor. They wanted to stress the fact that the movie centers on this teenaged girl.
You’ve done a lot of work with two directors I really admire, Pedro Almodóvar and Guillermo del Toro. Do you think you picked up specific things from them that helped you as you were making your first feature?
Oh, for sure. From Pedro, I think I mostly learned how to work with actors. No matter what film he’s working on, Almodóvar has this amazing style of working with actors. He loves them and he’s able to create such a great set. From Guillermo, I learned a lot about the technical side of filmmaking. He was always so great with me on set whenever I had a question. He’d show me his original storyboards and explain everything he was doing in detail. So I guess I could say that from Guillermo I learned how to tell a story with a camera and from Pedro I learned how to work really well with people!
You couldn’t ask for two better teachers. The visual look of this film is just stunning. I imagine you didn’t have the biggest budget in the world?
I had $5 million which was great for my first movie but pretty low for a film that involves traveling into people’s memories! I was very worried about that at the beginning which is why I sort of approached it more as a film noir than a typical sci-fi film. It’s funny that we keep getting compared to Inception, which I understand and am flattered by, but they had something like $160 million! But I like the fact that we considered our movie more of a psychological thriller. Those are the kinds of movies that inspired me when I was young. Another reason for the look of the film is that I shot it completely in 35 mm which is getting increasingly rare these days. I love working in 35 — it just gives you so many more options. And we had a great cinematographer, Oscar Faura, who did movies like The Impossible and The Orphanage.
Can you see yourself working inside the American film industry at some point?
Of course, I would love to! I don’t really have the ambition to work on big superhero movies or anything like that, but I love American cinema and some of my biggest influences were directors like Alan Pakula, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.
Do you think there are big differences between working here and in the film industry in Spain?
But that’s the thing, I don’t think we really have a film industry in Spain. Oh, we have great directors and actors and other people making wonderful movies, but we don’t really have a solid industry like you do in the States. There’s not a lot of support. I would love to work in your country. I’m working on several more English-language projects right now.