28 Days Later (2002) – Interview with Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, (director) Danny Boyle and (writer) Alex Garland

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Movie Interview by Kris Griffiths

PHASE9 chats to the stars behind 28 DAYS LATER: actors Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris, director Danny Boyle (TRAINSPOTTING) and writer Alex Garland (THE BEACH).


(To Cillian) What did you think of the script when you first read it?

I thought it was a great, smart script. I liked the scale and the ambition of it and I’m a big fan of Danny Boyle.

(To Naomie) Your character Selena is a very powerful female character. How was it playing someone so physical and on the edge of violence?

It was really, really hard because I have no experience of being violent other than scrapping in secondary school and stuff like that, so it was a real departure from myself. I had a personal trainer for a month before we started shooting who took me out kickboxing and circuit training and gave me a real physical boost. The whole point of it was to bulk me up but I actually lost weight instead of gaining any.

(To Cillian) How did you do the dawn shooting where you walk around deserted London landmarks?

We got up at about half three in the morning and finished by about eight. At the edge of the frame of every scene there were people fucking freaking out and rage properly kicking off, people commuting and casualties hanging around from the night before. It was all about sweet-talking the police and everyone else to stay out of the shot.

(To Naomie) What research did you do to prepare for your role?

We read a book called HOTZONE which was all about the Ebola virus and the panic it caused. Danny also showed us a lot of clips of crisis situations and some nasty nuts stuff like people smashing babies against walls and killing each other. Watching somebody who has seen and lived through all of that was really helpful to me.

(To Cillian) I saw you about a year ago in DISCO PIGS where you played a mad bloke in a normal world and this time you’re playing a normal bloke in a mad world. What did you learn from the experience?

The character of Jim, despite becoming what he becomes, wasn’t that hard to play really. I think that’s why Danny cast a sort of normal bloke that people can relate to and it was great to play someone who wasn’t a nutter although he goes a bit nuts at the end. It was a great journey and I learnt a lot about film acting, especially because we shot the whole film in chronological sequence.

(To both) How do you think you yourselves would have reacted in the situation your characters found themselves in? What would you have done differently?

CILLIAN MURPHY: My character was really just reacting to the madness of the situation and trying to process all this information, that there is nobody there and you don’t know anything. When you were a kid thinking about what you’d do if everyone just disappeared, all you’d think to do is rob loads of shops and stuff but you wouldn’t. You’d think about finding your family and the social animal would come out of you. Your instinct would be to find other people and a sense of community. I think it was very accurately written.

NAOMIE HARRIS: If it was me in that situation I’d be dead very quickly (laughs).

(To Danny & Alex) How do you react to the charge of making another zombie flick?

DANNY BOYLE: It’s a very sore point actually. I said right at the beginning that I didn’t want to make a zombie film and tried not to make a zombie film but it’s marketed like that because that’s what marketing people do – they look for an angle. You have to be absolutely respectful of the zombie genre because that was very much to do with nuclear paranoia, of what radiation might turn us into. It’s why zombie films work, but it seems to me to be over… things are different now. What I loved about the script was that it’s a psychological virus, not a clinical virus. They’re not zombies or monsters, they’re us, and I’m fighting a constant battle to prove this.

ALEX GARLAND: The film is a mixture of genres. In one way THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS is part of the same genre… you could broadly call it post-apocalyptic. With Danny’s anti-zombie campaign, it’s actually quite embarrassing because I’d written an article that’s gonna come out later where I actually referred to it as a zombie movie. Its roots are in zombie movies but its themes are concerned with other things.

(To Alex) Is writing for the screen something you want to pursue?

There are lots of good things about writing screenplays. I like films very much and watch more films than I read books. The actual act of writing a screenplay and then going through the film-making process and everything that happens afterwards, is just more enjoyable on a day to day basis than writing a novel, where you’re basically on your own and two years later you deliver a manuscript and that’s it.

(To Danny) How difficult were the dawn shoots?

There isn’t a window any more when London shuts down, partly because of club culture. Streets are populated at all hours nowadays… clubbers, street-cleaners, workers coming and going. We could only hold people back for about ninety seconds before they piled through again. You had to be really on the ball because if it didn’t work there was no alternative – we wouldn’t have enough money to go back and do it again. If it was a bigger film, fair enough, you could just come back another day and try again.

(To Alex) In the film are we meant to believe that it’s only Britain that’s infected and if so, there seems to be an anti-British thread running through it. In THE BEACH you had someone escaping Britain and in this film you have Britain quarantined…

While we were making it there was the foot and mouth crisis! A lot of Europe saw us like that anyway… “let’s just quarantine the whole island!” (laughs).

(To Alex) To what extent did you take into account how British and Irish people would react differently in that situation compared to, say, American people?

There were a couple of considerations. Broadly speaking, I would say that if you create a certain set of circumstances anywhere in the world, people will react to those circumstances in exactly the same way, and culture or history has almost no impact on that. That said, there were some changes – one of them being the availability of guns. This would have been a very different story had it been set in a country where there’s a guy sniping at people in petrol stations, otherwise it would be the same whether it was set in Angola or Paris.