Last month, Neill Blomkamp premiered a new short film Zygote through its experimental features from Oats Studios. The fan community definitely wanted more.
The story for Zygote is fairly simple about two survivors in the near future at an underground mining facility–trapped with this hideous, most terrifying monster made out of human limbs. As a cross with The Thing and Alien, it is a face-paced, heart-pounding twenty-two minutes of non-stop action.
The short film stars Dakota Fanning and Jose Pablo Cantillo.
LRM caught up with Jose Pablo Cantillo last month about this short film project. He discussed with us over the phone about Neill Blomkamp’s approach, direction and set design to creating this project.
You can watch Zygote at Oats Studios’ YouTube channel by clicking here or at the end of the article.
Read our conversation with Jose Pablo Cantillo below:
LRM: Tell me on how you were brought on to this project, Zygote. I understand that you worked with Neill Blomkamp before?
Jose Pablo Cantillo: Yeah, I met Neill on Elysium and of course, Chappie. We have fun with these crazy characters. I think it was Mike [Blomkamp] who reached out to me. His brother [talked to me] a few months prior working on Zygote. He was working on a series of shorts. He didn’t really tell me a whole lot about it.
I spoke to Steven [St. Arnaud] as well. He asked, “Are you available?” I responded, “No, I’m not available. Sorry.” I’m dying to know on what he was working on. He said, “No, it’s okay. We’ll call you again.” I was like, “Argh!”
Then he called again to ask, “Are you available to go to Thailand, Brazil or wherever?” No, I’m still on this project, but what are you doing? He said, “That’s okay. We’ll call you back again.”
Now it’s seriously hitting me. Neill always create the best and most fun characters. Obviously, he takes you to the most crazy remote areas to shoot.
Finally, he called again two or three months prior to shooting Zygote. He proposed, “How about November!” Ding, ding, ding! Finally, what are we doing? I told him that I don’t care on what it is…I just wanted to do it. He said, “Whoa! Whoa! We’ll send you a script and we’ll go from there.”
I read it. I had to read it twice. The first time you read it, you’ll go, “Wow! It’s so much fun.” Then you’ll start to piece it altogether. Now I wanted to know on how we might do this. He has so many ideas. It was so big. I wanted to be a part of it. So I sent an e-mail one-liner that read, “This is rad.” [Laughs]
There’s not a lot of discussion. Like you said, we worked together before. I like to say it’s like two friends getting together and one asks, “Are you in?” Yeah, I’m in.
LRM: Well, this is like the third project with him. Are you now the go-to guy?
Jose Pablo Cantillo: [Laughs] I don’t know. It would be nice to be the go-to guy for Neill Blomkamp. We enjoy working together. He gives me a lot of room to play and be spontaneous. You do a couple of takes with the script. Then you do a couple of takes with improv. He embraces and encourages that spontaneity. You service the writers as much as you possibly can. I certainly we work more together for years to come and more many projects.
LRM: When he submitted you a script for Zygote, was it just for Volume One or was it the script for the entire storyline?
Jose Pablo Cantillo: I got just Zygote. It was the twenty pages worth of Zygote. Not until I arrived in Ottawa, he described on what they are doing. He explained on what the model was, distribution was and what the strategy was.
I was so intrigued by Zygote with its twists and turns. I was like, “Let’s bring this on!” I only read just that one chapter of Zygote.
LRM: What was your first impression when he finally showed you the artwork or the model of the monster?
Jose Pablo Cantillo: [Chuckles] I remembered on where we were [for a fitting]. I was wearing these boots with this leather onesie. I don’t feel like myself. The wardrobe has taken care of that already. Then he brings down the artwork.
It was…I don’t want to say it’s cool or it’s amazing. It’s terrifying! The idea of this thing can slink around like a giant centipede. The way on how he described it had this undulating wave of energy to it.
I had the luxury of being blindfolded for this project. It’s easier for me to understand these imaginary circumstances. Being blindfolded, you let your imagination come alive. You imagine the hands, the feet, and the body. How did this happen? How big can this get? You don’t want to hear the answers to those. Being blindfolded, your imagination takes over and you’re like, “Oh, my God! This thing is coming for us.”
LRM: Was it difficult to act blindfolded? You didn’t really get to see or act against anything. You just acted.
Jose Pablo Cantillo: That’s right. It was one of my favorite experiences. You get to be much more free. You’re blindfolded. You don’t have to act against that part of it. With the camera and the crew, you don’t see them now. It’s very easy to suspend the surroundings and just listen for Dakota [Fanning]’s voice. You just need to rely on her to help you. She’ll get me to the marks and help me with the adjustments. She can put the gun back in the holster.
That chemistry came off more essential. The difficulty was only just the drama.
LRM: Was being blindfolded the biggest attraction to this character? Tell us more about your character, and why you really loved this guy.
Jose Pablo Cantillo: Thanks, Gig. That’s a good question. I loved playing Quinn, because he’s carrying a tremendous amount of guilt. He had to make this choice. At which point, you have to decide to drop this bomb. Quinn is being this security officer at this remote station. He has this superiority over Dakota’s character, Barklay. She actually believed that she is simply a synthetic. Now he’s fiddling around the dark trying to survive. It’s not just against hunger and dangerous elements, but trying to escape from someone. It’s playing this cat and mouse game against this monster.
What I loved about this character is with him–the stakes are so high right off the get-go. There are so many externals, and as I said earlier, there is this confession. He didn’t want to turn a blind eye towards the synthetic is just so disposable. It’s just heartbreaking. To me, I can’t believe someone could be taken advantage in that way. I wanted to treat her like a daughter to me.
LRM: How was it working opposite with Dakota Fanny? I’ve never her in an action movie before. You were in a lot of action TV shows and movies. Did you give her some good advice?
Jose Pablo Cantillo: She is so comfortable. You can tell the minute you meet her. I didn’t have to give her any advice. She has so much confidence and poise. You know you’re in good hands. She is literally the one leading the blind here. You can tell that she is very efficient. She is always present.
Since you’re blindfolded, you have to come alive and listen. She is a lot of fun to play with and work with. On the surface, you think Dakota as this sweet little girl. She now has to carry this huge weapon and this fumbling, blind man. I was a lot of weight on her. She also had to carry the guns and ammo.
She never complained. She let the difficulty of the drama unfold. We had a lot of fun on set. She’s a strong kid, for sure.
LRM: One of the things I love about Neill’s films is his elaborate detailed sets. Could you tell me more about stepping into that world?
Jose Pablo Cantillo: It’s such a cool bunker in Ottawa. It was a Cold War fallout shelter. I don’t know if you remembered Dan Ackroyd and Chevy Chase film where they filmed in this huge facility. They go down into the building and it was like the size of the Pentagon. It was exactly like that.
We drove up on set. I was looking around and there was this shed on the side of a hill. A day before shooting, this garage door opens and it’s almost like you’re in some Star Wars place. There was this really long tunnel. It already looked high-tech in many ways. Neill’s guys were there already. There were lights dancing around. It was just so cool.
We walked down this long tunnel. I remembered on the outside it was this tiny shed and now we’re going down this flight of stairs. It was walking through a hull of a huge tanker. There could be a whole town down there. There were classrooms, gyms, dormitories and offices. There was just steel, steel and more steel. Every door we turned to, there were all these series of cranks and bolts. Oh, boy. The place was so amazing that there was no acting required.
Just the bones of the structure were so profound. It blends itself. There were so many dark corners around the place on where people can hide. It’s the Neill Blomkamp effect–you don’t know what was Oats and what was there before.
They had these red lights flashing. They threw on these huge stickers and logos. On one hand, it’s really cool to be around. Then again, it was a terrifying structure. It’s well below underground. Then you come up for air, or the hole as you will, and you go back in.
I keep coming back to saying, “There’s no acting required.” He always give you these fantastical locations. Like in Chappie, the power station there had this beautiful Earth decay. In Elysium, he built this civilization at this landfill. You don’t have to act. He never disappoints. We got to go into this deep underground town. It was amazing.
LRM: Let me wrap it up with one last question with you, Jose. This being a short film, do you find this more difficult than the full length feature films or television shows you were involved in before? Or was it much easier?
Jose Pablo Cantillo: That’s a good question. I never really thought of it. In those terms, I would guess it would be easier. There are always long hours on the set. You just know you’ll gung-ho on the four to five days on the set. You don’t have to pace yourself. For longer projects like a TV show or movie, you have to have the mindset and preparation you’ll be there for up to six months.
In this shotgun version, you can say, “Hey, let’s do this!” Before you know it, it’s over. Quinn had a lot to say and I think there were a couple of pages omitted from the version you guys saw. I learned about the character on all two weeks prior. There were 15-20 pages of dialogue. The idea of running it altogether, pretty much chronological, is a dream. You rarely get to do something like that. Most of my work is out of sequence. That’s the best part of it on shooting everything in four to five days.
LRM: That’s a great answer. Thank you very much Jose. I love you Chappie.
Jose Pablo Cantillo: That’s very nice. I appreciate you on saying that. Neill always give me the best characters to play with. He’s known for creating these environments. Hopefully, we’ll get to do this again.
The short film and other Neill Blomkamp’s work is available on Oats Studios YouTube site by clicking here. Or you can watch the following Zygote video starring Jose Pablor Cantillo and Dakota Fanning below.