Lisa Joy hardly needs an introduction. Having entered television as a writer on Bryan Fuller’s beloved series “Pushing Daisies,” Joy went on to write a whopping 19 episodes of “Burn Notice” before, in 2016, co-creating HBO’s “Westworld” with her husband, Jonathan Nolan. Having now guided the dystopian sci-fi series through three critically acclaimed seasons, Joy found herself in the director’s chair for the first time, directing the season two episode “The Riddle of the Sphinx.” “I learned a lot about my directorial style,” said Joy about her work on the episode, “which is, before I even start prep, I normally have the whole [episode/movie] cut together in my head. When I walk the crew through a location, I act out and pre-block everything, and I also tend to talk about, not the technical aspects, but the emotional feeling and intent behind the scene.”
It was only a matter of time before Joy’s talents saw her at the helm of a feature film, and she got to do just that with this year’s “Reminiscence,” from a Blacklist-certified screenplay written by Joy, and purchased all the way back in 2013. Placed firmly in Joy’s established wheelhouse of science fiction, “Reminiscence” stars Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister, a private investigator of the mind in Miami, who helps clients recover lost memories using a machine that brings the memories themselves to life. With an eight-year gap from the screenplay’s purchase to the release of the final product, there’s potential for the script to radically change, but in the case of “Reminiscence,” it was “not that much, except some of the worldbuilding,” according to Joy.
“When I was writing it, it was set in New York [instead of Miami]. I’d never sold a feature before, and I was just trying to make it manageable, [but] when I attached myself as director, I went for it. The way I’d seen the film was to have greater scope.” Elaborating on the film’s setting, Joy added, “I’d always wanted to shoot a noir in Miami, and to deal with the idea of water encroaching upon land. Much in the way memory is effaced by time, natural forces undo all the edifices we try so hard to construct.” “Reminiscence” happens to come to us at the same time that theaters – and our world – are finally beginning to reopen, which makes its emphasis on memory even more potent. “I think one of the things that [COVID] did was make people take stock,” said Joy. “‘How have I been spending my days, and have they been well spent? What do I miss the most?’ Those are all themes of the film as well, dealing with the things we want to hold on to.”
“Memory is lovely, it’s a way of time travel that we can all experience, but we can’t live there, the spaceship does not hold,” said Joy. “Maybe that’s a good reason why memory does organically fade, why the machine does not exist. We cannot hold ourselves in a perfect simulation of the past. And I think that if you are experiencing a perfect simulation of [your] past, it’s probably a sign that you are making something up. That you have overly idealized a moment so much that you have turned it into a story.”
“Reminiscence” will also provide “Westworld” fans with more thought-provoking sci-fi as they eagerly await the fourth season of the hit HBO series, the latter of which Joy was able to provide a brief, but encouraging update on. “[Jonathan] isn’t here and he’s always like ‘don’t say this or say that,’ so I have to be very careful,” said Joy. “I will say we know how ‘Westworld’ ends, but right now I’m focusing on the fourth season, and there will be some new world situations coming on that I’m very excited about. I might get in trouble , but I’m married to the person who would be mad at me, so there’s really not much he can do.”
During our insightful conversation with Lisa Joy, we get into the philosophy and making of “Reminiscence,” her directorial debut on “Westworld,” how she taught herself guitar and became pen pals with some of her favorite writers during the lockdown, which cut of “Blade Runner” she may or may not prefer, and much more!
“Reminiscence” arrives in theaters on August 20th, and will make its one-month streaming debut on HBO Max on the same day.