Dialogue: Joe Cornish and John Boyega talk 'Attack the Block,' The Most Kick-Ass Movie of the Year

Dialogue: Joe Cornish and John Boyega talk 'Attack the Block,' The Most Kick-Ass Movie of the Year

Jul 28, 2011

Attack the BlockAttack the Block, Attack the Block, Attack the Block.  It's the movie all the geek friendly film sites won't shut up about.  There's a damned good reason we won't shut up about it, though.  It's just flat out an incredible film about a gang of hoodies who fight off aliens trying to invade their South London estate.  It's been over four months since I caught its world premiere at SXSW and I still haven't had a better time in a movie theater this year, and I frankly doubt I'm going to.

And very soon you too will be able to see what all the "Believe, bruv," and "Allow it," fuss is all about.  Attack the Block opens in limited release tomorrow, June 29th, and I cannot stress enough how much it needs to be seen.  I know that we are all collectively approaching an alien invasion saturation point, but I guarantee beyond a shadow of a doubt that Attack the Block is unlike any other alien invasion movie you've seen recently.  For starters, it's rated R and is filled with all the profanity and bloodshed you should expect from a film that takes more cues from The Evil Dead than it does Independence Day.  It's got an alien design so simple and yet so badass it'll make creature designers everywhere do a, "Why didn't I think of that?" facepalm.  It's got an original score from Basement Jaxx (yes, that Basement Jaxx), and if that's not enough, it's produced by the ladies and gents who made Shaun of the Dead.  

If that's still not enough for you, just take a look at how funny and charming first time writer-director Joe Cornish and first time actor (and star of the film) John Boyega are.  If you still don't want to support Attack the Block by the end of reading this, something inside you need repairing.

John Boyega, Attack the Block

Movies.com: Last time we talked the film was still looking for a distributor and there were a lot of concerns about what a US distributor would do with or even to the film, and were particularly surprised when Screen Gems stepped in and picked it up. Have you been happy with how they've handled it here in the US?

Joe Cornish: Yes, really happy. It's amazing to be picked up by Screen Gems. Clint Culpepper, who saw the film and picked it up, has a really good track record of picking up genre films and giving them a good push, and he's really passionate about the film.

Movies.com: Seems like it, they've been screening the hell out of it.

Cornish: Yeah, but here's the deal: it's a limited release of seven screens in seven major cities. If people come see it, if people dig it, they will expand it. It doesn't have a huge marketing budget. You're not going to see non-stop TV adverts and I don't even think there's a poster campaign. So if this film takes off, it will be an honest success and because people dig it and talk about it.

Movies.com: I think it will. Even though it's a delicate matter of how you cut the trailer together without giving away too much--

Cornish: Right, right.

Movies.com: Even without the trailer, it's an easy word of mouth sell. For example, I was at a dentist appointment before this interview, my hygienist asked what movies she should be excited about. She hadn't heard of Attack the Block, but as soon as I said it was inner city kids fighting off an alien invasion, she was sold. And I think there will be a lot more people just like that.

Cornish: Right. I hope so, because it's kind of frightening that we'll live our day based on that one weekend.

John Boyega: You won't live or die based on that weekend!

Cornish: [Laughs] The film, the film. I think we'll be okay.

Boyega: We should be.

Cornish: It's funny our little film opening the same weekend as Cowboys & Aliens and having a similar, superficial bit.

Boyega: Would it be bad if I saw Cowboys & Aliens this weekend?

Cornish: Here? The night it comes out? Yes! That would be bad karma. You might as well stab yourself in the eye with a fork. You've gotta support yourself! In fact, not only do you have to go see it, but you have to go up to everyone in the queue for Cowboys & Aliens, point to you then point to yourself on the poster and physically drag them into the other theater.

Boyega: I'll do that, I'll do that.

Movies.com: That'll get you some word of mouth.

Cornish: You can see Cowboys & Aliens the following weekend. Or, how about this? I'll get it for you on Blu-ray.

Boyega: Deal.

Joe Cornish

Movies.com: Now that it's opened in England months ago and has sort of spread virally across America ahead of its limited release, how has the reaction been for you? Have you paid attention to the online buzz building at all?

Boyega: You get things still, but there was a certain time I was paying so much attention to it and I got a lot of response to it. Now I don't really care, just put it out there. We've done a good job, we've told a good story, hopefully the audience gets it, and if that happens, I'm happy. To me it's not really about how much it makes at the box office, it's about knowing it's a genuine kind of honesty. It's not the fact that it's a sequel with loads of followers already, it's that people honestly want to go see it. That's enough for me. They get the story, they get the characters. I know Attack the Block is just going to live forever, and I'm cool with that, ya' know what I mean?

Cornish: Good answer.

Movies.com: One of the things people were worried about back after the SXSW premiere was that distributors would think us dumb Yanks couldn't understand the accents.

Boyega: We heard that and were like, [instantly switching into the tone of his character, Moses] “What, bruv?! Aw, shiet, man!” [Laughs] We were like, you just gotta take it, man. Because we've been listening to the accents in The Wire, we had to listen to three hours of Na'vi, and various different languages in Star Wars. I think you guys can take it.

Movies.com: The Wire is actually an interesting comparison because it touches on one of the things I wanted to bring up. There's a genuineness of character in The Wire because they cast local and first time actors who grew up where the show was filmed, which is kind of a fluke thing in American film and TV. It seems that UK productions are more open to that idea, that they have a better understanding of youth culture.

Boyega: Some of them, some of them. You have to know that Joe did a lot of research. I've read a lot of scripts from the British industry that are trying to portray hood culture, the urbanized South London that haven't got it down to a T. I won't mention which ones I've read and watched that haven't got it down to a T, but when I read Attack the Block it was the closest I've ever seen to life in South London. And I've lived there, I'm more than capable to say whether it's authentic or not. And it's got aliens in it! So how the flip do you make a film that is so close to home and so authentic and yet put aliens in it and still keep that fine balance?

Attack the Block Kids

Movies.com: What exactly was your first reaction to reading the script?

Boyega: My first reaction was, “Oh, God, my eyes!” because it was red pages! [laughs] Those red pages are...ahhhhh! But the first thing I read was a crane shot going into the sky and you see a little shooting star and I just thought that was perfect. Normally you'd hear Chipmunk on the radio nearby [mocks doing a gibberish rap] and you'd see drug dealers.

Cornish: Do you know who Chipmunk is over here? He's a young rapper big back home.

Boyega: Yeah, and you'd see people swapping weed and stuff and that's how I expected it to open. But for them to start as if it were Star Wars...I went to all my friends and was like, “This is on, man!” It was good, it was good. I fell in love with it.

Movies.com: I know that the script evolved once roles and actors started getting cast, and you guys brought a new layer of authenticity to it, but are there any things that you thought it got wrong about life in South London?

Boyega: Well...no, not really. Except aliens. We don't get those in London, unless you go to the East side. No, no, I thought it was right on. It's easy to get lost in the social commentary and forget that there are actually aliens in it, and that's huge since 85% of the narrative is about aliens invading South London. There are times it has to be over the top, that we have to be over the top with the accents, but even that's natural in a way because I've seen things like a car crash at a bus station where I'm with friends and they're like, “Aww, shiet, I gotta text someone man!” It's got that heightened energy and to me it's on point.

Movies.com: Joe, is there anything that you originally had in the script that the cast was like, “No, you can't do that, that's stupid, there's no way we'd react like that.”

Cornish: It was interesting, their responses to the deaths. I thought about this a lot and I watched a lot of movies to what extent filmmakers show mourning and grieving. I watched a lot of slasher movies and realizing that usually they have a device that most characters don't know the other characters have been killed, so they don't have to bother with that. And in fact, that was one of the keys to making it work – if it works – was to show everyone's response to [name redacted] dying, because that's when they realize it's real and they're losing friends.

That's something that's very exciting as a first time director. You write these parts and actors inhabit the parts and see things, they see holes and ask you questions that you never even thought of before. But that for me was an opportunity to make it better and strengthen the script and the characters. The whole thing was collaborative. Once these guys came on, we worked on the script together, we worked on the costumes together. We would listen to everything everybody said, really.

Attack the Block

Movies.com: I actually haven't seen the movie since its world premiere--

Boyega: It's much better now. [laughs]

Cornish: Oh yeah, we made a lot of changes. Big CGI budget now, Jar Jar Binks is in it. It's all good. Moses doesn't use a knife, we've taken that out, all the swearing is gone, it's much more upbeat.

Movies.com: You joke, but most of the time that's what you've got to do to release a sci-fi movie in America. But what I wanted to say was that all these months later, it's still my favorite film of the year.

Cornish: Is it the only film you've seen this year?

Movies.com: It is.

Cornish: Oh, well that makes sense then.

Movies.com: I'm very fascinated by films that almost were, is there anything in the months since that premiere that you've almost dove into but just didn't for one reason or another?

Cornish: Not really, for me. It's almost too soon. We finished it in March and it opened in May, so personally I'm just really excited and flattered to be sent scripts and offered stuff, but for me I feel that I have an opportunity to be a writer-director and I'd like to keep doing that.

Boyega: For me, definitely. There's a lot that you just want to say yes to, but you can't because it's not really the right time to do it.

Cornish: We feel like kids in a candy store but you don't really want to grab any candy until we've thought about our diet and the future.

Attack the Block Alien

Movies.com: So what are the projects that are actually in your future?

Boyega: I've got a feature film called Junkhearts, which is coming out in the UK, but right now I'm looking for my first thing in the US.

Cornish: Was that done before or after Attack the Block?

Boyega: After. I had a two week break before I went off to do Junkhearts. I don't know how I did it.

Cornish: I've got a writing credit on Tintin, which I'm really excited about.

Movies.com: That, by the way, has the greatest trio of writers attached to it. It's ridiculous.

Boyega: Right?

Cornish: Well that's nice of you to say. I'm as excited as anyone to see it because I finished my work on it before Attack the Block.

Boyega: [whispering] He just wants to see his name on the screen in 3-D, then he'll walk out.

Cornish: I was trying to go see Harry Potter in 3-D so I could see my name and then I was going to walk out. But no, seriously, there's no way I'd walk out of Tintin. I'll be there around the clock at every screening like a tramp, with litter around me and a bottle of cider.

Categories: Interviews, Horror, Sci-Fi
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