Lucy: Luc Besson on Philosophy, Action and the Real CPH4
Luc Besson’s got another hit on his hands. The director of Leon the Professional, La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element dominated the box office this weekend with Lucy, a film that stars Scarlett Johansson as the title character, a drug mule who winds up with superpowers after an experimental drug called CPH4 overloads her brain. We spoke to Luc Besson about the wild concepts on display in Lucy, the unlikely action sequences of the movie, and the film’s foundation in real science. Enjoy!
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CraveOnline: I’m fascinated by this movie. You seem to be trying some very interesting things cinematically, but you’re also going after something thematically that I haven’t seen you touch in a long time. The larger questions about life and the universe and consciousness.
Luc Besson: Yeah, it was about time! [Laughs.]
Were these topics you were eager to get back to, or did it come together in a different way?
No, I think the way to grow in your life… I think if I was doing my whole life Leon or Nikita, I wouldn’t learn so much. I love to go left and right and try yellow and try red and blue. I love once in a while to do a French black and white film, or do something n Burma with Aung Sang Suu Kyi and I think I needed to do all that, like a patchwork. I need to have all this sensitivity […] so when I want to do something important I have all this strength. I’m always very careful. I’m fearing inside to do the same film over and over, so that’s why I’m trying everything.
Despite the film’s sci-fi trappings and headier notions, you do have a lot of action in this movie. Would this movie exist without an action element, or was that always part of the original concept?
I worked on the scientific part for a couple of years first before I go to even think about the script. I want to have a knowledge first. I want to know what I was talking about first. And then after that I don’t want to do a documentary about the brain capacity. I wanted to do something entertaining, a thriller. And then I start to think, can we do a thriller with a philosophical content? Is it possible? Let’s try. Let’s try to do both. You can see one or you can see the other, but what about making a film where you have both? That was my goal.
The powers that Lucy has seem to give you freedom to go in different directions with the action.
There’s one scene in particular which I thought was very funny where she’s confronted with a hallway full of bad guys, and she just sends them floating away, like we’re not even going to get that fight scene.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I have this idea since the beginning. I like that she’s not fighting at all. She never touches anyone in the film. She just moves her hand and that’s it.
There’s a really cool car chase in the movie in which she’s so acute that the car never hits anything. That struck me as very novel. Tell me about filming that.
Yeah, I dreamed about this car chase since a long time. You know what’s amazing is suddenly we are not with her, we are with the cop. This girl is just insane, she says it’s the first time she drives a car, and she says that we never really die. That’s it. And she goes backward in the worst place in Paris […] which has the worst traffic in town, and we don’t cheat. It’s full day and we go through it. And yes, the thing is she’s not here to hit anyone. She’s just here to control everything. So she just takes the shortcut. That’s it.
Tell me about the drug that makes Lucy superhuman. Is that based on anything real or is that entirely a fiction?
It’s totally real. It’s not a real name. CPH4 is a name that I invented, but it’s a molecule that the pregnant woman is making it after six weeks of pregnancy in very, very tiny quantities. But it’s totally real, and it’s true that the power of this product for a baby is the power of an atomic bomb. It’s real. It’s totally real. So it’s not a drug in fact, it’s a natural molecule that pregnant women produce.
It occurs to me that there must be more CPH4 in the world. Is there room to go there in a sequel. Like, “It worked for her, let’s just eat as much of this as possible?
To be honest, today, if you have an idea for a sequel, tell me, because I’m lost. [Laughs.] To me I don’t see how we can make a sequel with that because it’s a kind of unique story. Maybe one day I find an idea, but day… maybe one day I will need some CPH4 to write the sequel.
You use some very interesting cross-cutting in this movie, almost conceptual cross-cutting. We see Lucy before she has powers being threatened and then we see a gazelle in the wilderness being stalked. Was that in the script or was that something you came up with later?
No, it was in the script since day one. The film starts with a cell, and the funny thing is if you see the film again the first image is a cell dividing in two, and passing on to the next one, which is in fact the entire purpose of the film right there on the first image. And then after, we see Lucy prehistorical, and then we see a cheetah, and we some some gazelles, and then we see a mouse. All this is the structure, the purpose. I wanted people from the beginning to be aware that it could go left or right at any moment. I need to prep the audience for the end. So the movie is very structured since the beginning.