Debuting more than six months before its scheduled release with an extremely minimal amount of information present, the press screening for “The Lost City Of Z” was one of the New York Film Festival’s most anticipated. The film is based on the true story of Percy Fawcett, the legendary British explorer who disappeared with his son without a trace while in search of an ancient, El Dorado-esque city in the Amazon, and is adapted from David Grann‘s non-fiction book of the same name.
Following the screening, director James Gray and actors Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, and Angus Macfadyen sat down with NYFF Festival Director Kent Jones in a hilarious, aloof press conference (of which Gray mostly dominated, proving to be a real character himself) to discuss matters such as character motivation, the grueling shoot, and the film distribution process.
On delineating from the book
“The book is quite good, actually, it’s excellent — which is why you shouldn’t read it, actually, because then you’ll say ‘it’s good but it’s not as good as the book’,” Gray said. “Half the book is basically a version of me, writer David Grann going into the jungle, and the other half is Fawcett’s life. I didn’t want to do a thing where we’re basically following me in the jungle, because I’m not all that interesting, so I decided to stick to the simple thing.
“I didn’t want it to be a biopic. I didn’t want it to only be about Fawcett… What I wanted it to be was a comment on an age. Not only on who we were then and who we are now, but also on how we fight the same battles. The front page of the newspaper easily tells you that the patriarchy is at full force. I thought that Sienna’s character [the wife that Fawcett leaves behind to explore] was extremely important. The extension of our sympathies is crucial to make something that makes a lasting impact, so I tried to give her character as much importance and humanity in the story as Fawcett — and Robert’s character and Angus’ character.”
On shooting in the jungle
Holland immediately responded: “I don’t miss the jungle. It was pretty but I don’t miss it.”
“It was horrible, of course you shouldn’t miss it!” Gray responded, before continuing: “Speaking for myself — Rob did great, by the way — I’m genetically engineered to be an accountant in the shtetl, so when you put me in 100 degrees at 100% humidity and gloves and the whole thing, with snakes and crocodiles… it was ridiculous!”
Gray then went on to continue a story in which he learned firsthand the difference between a crocodile and a black caiman (larger crocodile) while filming a scene in a river, as well as an anecdote on star Charlie Hunnam. “He was late two hours to set one day and he was never late, so I asked him what was wrong. I hear that he had an insect crawl into his ear and eat part of his eardrum. That was week two. It all went downhill from there.”
More anecdotes on shooting in the jungle arose throughout the press conference. Gray related one about the water in the river rising and flooding the set and sending everyone in a hectic rush for dry land, but was interrupted by Holland breaking his chair. He finished the story, but not before goading Holland to relate another one about how the actor was goaded into attempting a backflip in leather boots prior to filming his final scene, and breaking his nose in the process. “It was the craziest end to any movie I’ve ever made in my whole life, or ever will make,” Gray said.