Wired has written a fascinating, sprawling piece on South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, who burst onto the Hollywood scene in 2009 with his debut film, District 9. The feature covers his career as a whole, following how he got his start in Johannesburg, to how he and Sharlto Copley met in high school, to how their little movie about aliens living in a government slum blindsided everyone and proved original, high-concept science fiction could still be done on a smart budget. Of course, it also covers Blomkamp's next sci-fi film Elysium, and while it doesn't get into any spoilery details, it does contain one amusing detail: Matt Damon wasn't the director's first show for the film. He wasn't even his second choice.
Those first two spots actually belong to two very different rappers. The first person Blomkamp offered the role to was Ninja of Die Antwoord, but he passed on it because he didn't want his first acting role to be with an American accent. The director then turned to Eminem, only to be once again get rejected. Eminem would only do the movie if it took place in his hometown, Detroit, and that wasn't in the cards. It was at this point that Blomkamp gave up on the idea of following his District 9 model -- a restrained budget with no stars -- and decided to upgrade things a bit.
He then met with Damon in a diner and showed him a copy of a graphic novel he'd made with the aid of conceptual artists at Weta. From the Wired piece:
“I talked to Jim Cameron about Avatar early on,” Damon says, “and what struck me about Neill was the same thing that struck me about Cameron: the world had already been created. It existed in their minds.”
Not a bad benchmark to be compared to. As for the design of Elysium's world, there's also another cool tidbit in the Wired piece about how, as a kid, Blomkamp came across a book featuring the artwork of Syd Mead (who did work on Aliens and Blade Runner). The young film geek fell in love with the imagery, so it must have been a dream come true to have Mead actually design some of the sets for Elysium.