If you could live forever, hopping from superior hot body to superior hot body, would you? It would be the chance to undo past mistakes, right a few wrongs and experience things previously thought impossible. Director Tarsem Singh’s pulsating sci-fi SELF/LESS explores the physical, societal, moral and ethical ramifications of body swapping, or “shedding” as they like to call it. As you can imagine, this all comes at a high cost – both in the monetary and psychological sense. The high concept thriller is as thought-provoking as it is mind-bending.
At the recent Los Angeles press day, co-star Natalie Martinez, writers David and Alex Pastor and Singh sat down with a handful of reporters to discuss a few fascinating aspects of their stimulating film.
8. Steve Jobs is to thank for inspiring SELF/LESS. Ever the consummate showman and genius, Apple founder Steve Jobs inspired many – included the two writers behind SELF/LESS. David explained, “There were rumors and stories about his health. That got us thinking about this guy who’s really on top of the world, incredibly successful, but is running out of time. What if his money could buy him more time? What if there was someone who would trade places with him? We had also been reading about neo-technology that was being developed, trying to find a way to transcend death and continue living either without your body or in another person’s body. These two things came together.”
7. Once Ryan Reynolds was cast, the script changed. Just because this is a dramatic sci-fi, doesn’t mean Reynolds’ witty, sarcastic tone isn’t somehow infused into the film’s DNA. It is. Alex said, “The sarcasm was there already. We did work on the script based on him. Mainly he had notes about the script. They were really spot on and very much about story development, twists and surprises, story structure. His vision was more global and very insightful.”
6. Tarsem Singh had a few people believing body swapping was a reality. When it came to the search for the right apartment for Sir Ben Kingsley’s character, Singh has narrowed it down to three apartments. Of those choices, the owners inquired if the film’s concept was real. He stated, “They all asked ‘What is this movie about?’ These were very old and rich people, you have to understand. They said, ‘Is that possible?’ ‘Um. No it’s a pretend movie.’”
5. SELF/LESS doesn’t over-explain itself. These days, it seems rarer and rarer to find a film in the sci-fi genre that doesn’t feel the need to explain how “the science” works, leading to expository talk overload. Luckily, audiences will find SELF/LESS a breathe of fresh air, much in the way INCEPTION was. David stated that decision was made early on. “We could have written three pages of bullshit. That’s easy – read a bunch of books to get the jargon.” Alex added, “But the audience doesn’t really care. What the audience cares about is the consequences of that technology, the moral quandaries it creates, the story that unfolds afterwards. We didn’t want to bog the movie with technical explanations, which would be a lie and wouldn’t add to the narrative.”
4. SELF/LESS could work as a TV series. Though the film tells of one man’s journey, there are infinite other storylines to explore – men shedding into female bodies or vice versa. When I asked the Pastor’s if this was a commentary on the exclusivity of a male power trip, David stated, “There were a lot of different versions we wanted to explore that, had we done a TV show, we would have been able to explore it. But in a movie, you have to focus on one guy’s story. The sex thing was something we tried hard to find a way of putting it in there. In TV, you can explore a world and premise without being constrained to two hour storytelling.” Alex added, “We wanted to use it as the ultimate sex change operation. I think it just made more sense keeping it all male characters.”
3. The New York City apartment used is actually Donald Trump’s gold gilded apartment. Singh said, “My art director saw it and said, ‘This looks like Versailles in the sky!’ And Donald loved that nomenclature. Originally I wanted it to be much more clean. But when I saw this particular architecture I thought this could be the other side. I believe in either complete minimalistic or hedonistic. Both are okay – it’s comme ci comme ça that I’m scared about. It’s so beyond tacky that it’s okay. And it’s not tacky – it’s over-the-top. It’s like the Shaw of Iran wants a new body.”
2. Natalie Martinez enjoyed New Orleans’ cuisine. Martinez admitted to going on a strict diet and fitness routine while on this film. But it wasn’t long until she noticed she got herself a personal trainer and a bit of a snitch in her pint-sized cute co-star Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, who plays her young daughter. She shared, “She’s a fireball. She saw me eat a chocolate and told my trainer. She said, ‘Natalie but it’s for your best interest.’ We had to come to an agreement; on the weekends, I had my nights where I could go do things. And then I could go workout twice as hard. If you’re a foodie, [New Orleans] is dangerous.”
1. If you could switch bodies with someone… It’s only natural to wonder if it was possible to swap bodies, would you and who with? We posed that same question to the filmmakers. The Pastors both agreed they wouldn’t dare swap with each other but, as David stated, “Ryan Reynolds would be a good candidate. It would be a way of getting a six pack instantly without any work out. Then we would just ruin the body but eating burgers. I don’t think he’d appreciate that.” Singh stated that right now, he wouldn’t do it – but that doesn’t mean never. “At this particular age – no. Ask me when I’m 70/ 80. Right now, my answer is no, but I can’t answer to you as an 80-year-old guy. Would I pick the person I’d like to be? No, I like the randomness of the universe.” Martinez said this role made her think deeply about it. “A part of me thinks that we’re granted that already. We’re granted a lifetime to do things we have urges and passions to do. Why wait for a second chance to do it? You should live now.”