Exclusive Interview with Fido Director Andrew Currie
by Alex Billington
June 14, 2007
Way back in January at the Sundance Film Festival I saw Fido for the first time and fell in love with it (you can read my review from Sundance here). It's a zombie comedy in the likes of Shaun of the Dead and just as good, but set in the 1950's with a story about a young boy named Timmy who befriends a zombie named Fido (played by Billy Connolly) - watch the trailer. Fido opens in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, June 15th, and expands wider in early July.
While out in Park City, Utah I also spent a few minutes talking with director Andrew Currie. Hailing from Canada, Andrew co-wrote the film and this is his first big screen debut. One of the nicest filmmakers I've ever met and have continued to keep in touch with, Andrew shared with us plenty about his own zombie inspirations and much more about Fido. Read on!
Alex Billington (FS.net): Is this your first time to Sundance?
Andrew Currie: It is, yes.
Alex: How's your experience so far?
Andrew: It's been great. What's cool about Sundance is… our world premiere for Fido was at Toronto, which is fantastic, like the red carpet and the glitz and all that. What's interesting about Sundance is, I guess I came in thinking it was going to be about the business of film and what it's really about is the spirit of independent film. All the filmmaker's I've talked to, they're all off going to different movies and having a good time. I mean, Fido has been already picked up, so we're not looking for distribution, so that may steer my perception of it a little bit, but it really does seem to be about focusing on movies and especially independent film.
Alex: Were you excited when you first heard that you had the chance to premiere Fido here as well as in Toronto?
Andrew: Yea that was great for me, because usually they take only world premieres and for them to take Fido although we had already premiered in Toronto was a real honor for me.
Alex: Have you heard anything from anyone so far who's seen it here or what has the buzz been like?
Andrew: Everyone I've talked to has said… I think people who don't like it probably just don't talk to me. So the people who have seen it that have come up to me said they loved it and were really excited about it. It seemed to go over well last night, I don't know, how did you feel?
Alex: I thought it went really well, the crowd there was great. I'm always a bit worried at screenings when people who don't know what they're going to, go to a movie and don't know what to expect; they don't know if it's horror or comedy or anything when they go and usually they walk out or hate it. I thought the crowd there knew exactly what it was and were way excited for it… I thought it was a great showing.
Andrew: Yea that's been my kind of feeling in terms of, hopefully its got some good buzz and… I think whenever you're in a midnight section, the midnight section has some of the coolest films I think personally. But the competition section always gets most of the attention, so it's kind of nice to be the kid at the back of the class, I guess you could call us, right. Because there's no real pressure, you're just there to have fun, meet other filmmakers, meet fans of the movies and talk about film.
Alex: Jumping into the story, what made you decide to set this in the 50s era?
Andrew: Really, I wanted to set it in the 50s era because for me, there's - the politics that are going on today are all about building more fear, building the bigger fences, like [President] Bush is talking about building the fence between Mexico and the States. Always keeping people afraid, as a way of justifying military spending, as a way of controlling the masses. Historically that's gone on for centuries all over the world. Why I wanted to set it in the 50s is because I think there's this yearning by all of us in North America, Canada included, for that kind of simpler, sweeter time when everything was just right. I think it's a fallacy, it wasn't just right back then, but by setting it in that era it could have more of a fable-like quality, but also through the satirical moments in the film really reflect our modern world more clearly. For example, the father giving the son the handgun, or the fences being built bigger - all of those issues.
Alex: There's the world of the zombies who are alive, that's the premise, what was the inspiration for the idea of the actual story with Timmy and Fido and their connection.
Andrew: Well in 1994 I had two writing partners who we wanted to write a feature together and we all threw in different ideas. And one of my co-writers, Dennis Heaton, had this really cool story about a kid who fed his zombie raw flesh as a way of stopping him from craving human flesh. And it was just such a cool story idea that we decided to write from that and that's what we started with and we built the world of Fido from there.
Alex: What were your primary zombie movie inspirations?
Andrew: Really, I guess, the biggest one would probably be Night of the Living Dead just simply because of the sort of movement and the history of them and how they need to be killed, all of that. I sort of used Romero's mythology of zombie-ism. I Walked with a Zombie, the Jacques Tourneur film, I thought was fantastic. Is it in terms of inspiration or just my favorite ones?
Alex: Actually both.
Andrew: Because the most inspiration from me came more from the melodramas of the 50s - Douglas Sirk films, but also Peyton Place. Peyton Place was pretty cool because it had that idyllic kind of rural setting where all the ugliness was underneath. And what I wanted to do with Fido was show that idyllic world, but juxtapose it very sharply with the violence and what is really going on.
Alex: Were you looking to make a film that had a bit of a wider appeal or something that just zombie lovers would love in the end?
Andrew: To me, I love zombie movies and I think that what's great about films like 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead… what they have done is they're expanding the concept of what a zombie movie is. And I hope Fido does that in its own way as well. Because I think it's a very rich kind of world to play in as a filmmaker and it's a lot of fun because zombies have very human like qualities, but they're slow and they're stupid so they make for good humor. I think most zombie fans I know, I hope they'll like Fido because they're not necessarily looking for the same setup that zombies suddenly come alive in the world, everyone barricades them into a building, there's a huge battle, it ends either nihilistically or the human beings win. So I think pushing into different areas of what a zombie movie can be is a lot of fun. Hopefully it will bridge into audiences that don't normally watch zombie movies at all.
Alex: You were talking about how most zombie movies just go into a huge battle, and I felt that you focused more on the story and less on just mass zombie killings - is that what you were going for?
Andrew: Yea, I really wanted to… I tend to write from character and what kind of pleased me is when you think about Fido, when he first comes into the family, he's kind of dead. And through his relationship with Timmy and then with Helen the mom, you see him actually turning and becoming more of a human being. And subversively, I think, replacing Bill as first the father and then finally the husband.
Alex: Can you give a little explanation behind the casting process and how you got Billy Connolly and Carrie-Anne Moss? And I'd love to know how you got Connolly to play Fido, because I that was just phenomenal even though he didn't have a single line of dialogue.
Andrew: Truthfully I guess one of the best ways I've always found is, when you have a script that you believe is ready to shop is get a really good casting director attached. We had Heidi Levitt from LA who's just fantastic. Casting directors tend to have relationships with a lot of the stars, a lot of the agents, and she started getting it into the agencies and they started reading it and really digging the script. I made up a wish list of actors that I really, really wanted to be Fido and Helen and Bill and all of that. And so we started pinpointing those specific actors and going after them.
Billy Connolly was… his whole thing was, I think because he's just such an easy-going guy and he's kind of instinctual, he chose to do the role of Fido because he hadn't done anything like that before. He's a stand-up comic who's talking all the time and usually he has long hair and a bushy beard. I think he saw it as a real challenge, and I think he really rose to the challenge wonderfully. And a lot of people don't even believe it's him.
Alex: Did you allow for any improvisation?
Andrew: A little bit, probably mainly around Tim Blake Nelson, who brought a wonderful sense of sort of anarchy to his character. And Tim is a wonderful actor who will always play within the world he's given, but the things he does within that world can be pretty special. Just even in the way he uses a pipe, he can make his character bigger than life, and that's really what I wanted for that character.
Alex: How did you encourage the actors to really get into the comedy?
Andrew: Well, what we did initially, my role in terms of performance, was very much about… I mean directing, especially with a comedy where you've got to set a certain tone, and initially some actors might be up here and some down there in terms of energy or tone. As a director, you're kind of watching the big picture, so you can see where people are going too far or not far enough. So what we did is a major read through and then I had a discussion with each actor, then I'd pair off actors and work with them, and set the tone that way.
As we were shooting it: adjust performance as we went through. And in terms of further improv, there wasn't a huge amount of improv because I had storyboarded the whole film so we were staying within a fairly tight range, but that said I always try to stay open to that because sometimes the funniest things can happen when you allow improv in.
Alex: Is there anything that you had to cut that we could see on the director's cut or in the deleted scenes?
Andrew: There's a huge sequence that's been cut that no one knows about. And that is when Mr. Bottoms finds the bloody ball. In the original cut of the film, Timmy is watching him, he bites back and says ‘Fido, we gotta go'. They escape and they go to the wild zone, or they head across these meadows, and they hide in a barn overnight. And there's this scene that's an homage to Day of the Dead where Fido, Timmy's asleep in the barn, and Fido goes up and finds this old razor and he looks in a mirror and he starts shaving himself. And you really see the humanity again in Fido. And then it cuts forward in time and Timmy's waking up and he can't find Fido anymore, and you hear this sound of a tractor in the background and Timmy runs over and he sees Fido just ripping the throat out of a farmer and he's killed him and the tractor's just kind of going round and round in circles and you can see a ZomCon van in the distance with the alarm coming. So Timmy and Fido run and they get to the river and basically Timmy says you've got to go across the river, if you get over there you'll be in the wild zone and you'll be free. Fido doesn't want to go, Timmy pushes him in, pushes him in, and a stick hits Timmy and knocks him underwater and Fido saves him. So it's another Lassie moment, right, and he pulls him out soaking wet and he takes him back home to his parents even though he knows he's going to die. So that was a pretty big scene. Whether it would end up in the director's cut I'm not sure, because I don't know if it helped really that much. It actually really felt like a big turd in the middle of it. The narrative drive was really affected by having that in.
Alex: Are you doing anymore editing before its release or is this the final cut you've had since Toronto.
Andrew: Yea, this is the final cut. I might, it's possible if we have to go after a different rating in the States or something. But…
Alex: It's not rated yet?
Andrew: It's rated R in America, and we were hoping for PG-13.
Alex: Are you working on any future projects at the moment?
Andrew: Yea, I'm writing another script right now called The Truth About Lying. I'm hoping to have that done in a couple of months.
Alex: What sort of genre and what's the background story?
Andrew: Truth About Lying is more of a kind of Royal Tenenbaums world. It's a comedy about a guy in his 20's who's a compulsive liar and kind of a Walter Mitty daydreamer who's basically… He kinda lives under the paralyzing pressure of his father who is this great man. The irony is that his father died when he was a year old. His father was a fighter pilot, royal philharmonic conductor, neurosurgeon, he lived in England, and he died in a parachuting accident. So all Gregory knows about his father is through his mom - who's this really hard-driven, 50-something, kind of Helen Mirren English mom who is quite wealthy and just pushing, and pushing, and pushing. The crux of the whole thing is that he finds out she's actually been lying to him his whole life and the man that he thought was his father isn't. And that she went to a sperm bank and had an anonymous sperm bank donor and she created this fictitious father as a way of kind of motivating him to do more in life. So it's a comedy.
Alex: Would you ever go back to the horror genre?
Andrew: Oh yea, I think so, I love horror. I don't know how you feel, but my feeling is Fido's not really a horror film, but it plays with the genre of horror than actually goes there.
Thanks to Andrew Currie for taking the time to chat with us back at Sundance. Make sure you go see Fido in theaters - it is definitely worth it!