Juan Antonio Bayona’s latest film, “A Monster Calls,” is already a massive hit in his native Spain (the no. 1 movie of the year there) and finally hits American screens over the next few weeks. In the meantime, the director of “The Orphanage,” “The Impossible” (one of the best films of 2012) and the creative eye behind the “Penny Dreadful” pilot is getting ready to take a less serious journey, to a park full of living and breathing dinosaurs.
“After doing ‘The Impossible’ and ‘A Monster Calls’ I said, ‘I want to have fun now’,” Bayona says, laughing. “So, let’s do a dinosaur film with Spielberg. It’s great, but at the same time it’s massive and way bigger than [the last] one. “
Whatever the follow-up to Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World” is called, Bayona knows that taking the reins of the popular franchise will make the global spotlight on him brighter than ever before.
“I think what is tricky about doing the fifth movie of a franchise is how will you bring in new stuff and still pay tribute to what we all know and the legacy of the film,” Bayona says. “So, it’s the balance between the new stuff and the old stuff. I think Colin did a great job in the first one finding the balance between what people are expecting and what people are being again. I was kind of surprised when he pitched me the story because it leads the story to a place that we’ve never seen before and it brings some of the most important elements from the other films and makes something with them. I thought that was very interesting. It’s the second chapter of a trilogy so it gets the story to a place that [leaves you wanting] more and more.”
That’s a big jump from “A Monster Calls,” which is an adaptation of Patrick Ness’ 2011 children’s book about Conor (played in the movie by newcomer Lewis MacDougall), a boy who is trying to adjust to his mother’s failing battle with cancer (an understated performance by Felicity Jones) while living under the supervision of his emotionally cold grandmother (an already underrated turn by Sigourney Weaver). At his lowest moment, Conor is visited by a tree-like “monster” (voiced by Liam Neeson) that tells him stories meant to teach him lessons during this difficult time. Bayona became interested in the project after trying to figure the “storytelling” success of his two previous films.
“I found myself digging into the question of why the stories worked. I started [to] read Joseph Campbell, people like that,” Bayona says. “I remember I was preparing ‘Penny Dreadful’ and I read a book called [‘The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning And Importance Of Fairy Tales’] from Bruno Bettelheim. So, suddenly I found it very fascinating how to articulate stories and how they work.”
Bayona continues, “Normally you work in a very instinct way. You follow your instincts. Then I thought it was very interesting to find out why we do what we do, and then I read ‘A Monster Calls’ and it’s about that. And I thought, ‘This is great. I’m going to do a movie about storytelling and how we need the stories to deal with reality.’ Y’know, in ‘The Orphanage,’ Belén Rueda, the actress who plays Laura? She had to invent a fantasy to deal with reality at the end of the story. ‘The Impossible’ is sort of these people living in a fantasy world because they are white and from a Western country, and suddenly they experience life in the most brutal way. And at the end, they need to go back to that fantasy world and end that suffering that means to deal with the meaning and uncertainty of life. Somehow I’ve been talking about this subject mater and [‘A Monster Calls’] is a movie about that.”
It also ended up being the perfect bookend to a thematic trilogy Bayona wasn’t even aware he was making until ‘Monster’ fell into his lap.