Idris Elba and director Baltasar Kormákur discuss “Beast,” a survival story in which the actor is up against a man-eating lion. And they return in particular to the shooting in Africa.
ofEverest to the aptly named To survivePassing by Adriftthe theme of survival has very often been one of the spearheads of Icelandic cinema Baltasar Kormakur, who travels back and forth between his native country and the United States. And it’s not with Beast that this will change, since he confronts it Idris Elbaas a bereaved husband, to a man-eating lion in South Africa.
A feature film which earned him a change of scenery to set up his cameras in Africa, and on which he returns with us in the company of his main actor.
AlloCiné: Where does this desire come from, Baltasar, to tell this story of survival? That of a man facing the beast, and facing himself as well?
Baltasar Kormakur : I have always felt a fascination for wild animals and especially lions. When I was little, I collected pictures of lions that I cut out from various magazines. I have also always been fascinated by Africa, with its gigantic and bewitching landscapes. I wanted to find a film about survival, about a man alone in the face of unleashed nature. A little like Jaws or the documentary The hanging deathtwo films that I adore.
So I was lucky to find this project, especially since Idris wanted to be part of it. He is the perfect actor for this role which requires a good dose of emotions and big muscles. We had talked for a long time about making a film together. This story of a man having to protect his family against this wild animal fascinated me. For me, it’s a metaphor for the various challenges that we face in life.
Is it this desire to work with Baltasar Kormákur that especially pushed you to make this film Idris?
Idris Elba : We wanted to work together for a long time. The theme of survival is something that has always fascinated us both. If you look closely, many of our films are about survival. It was the perfect movie [pour le faire ensemble], especially since here, it is really a question of physical survival at all costs. It was a real challenge to make this film in Africa, with a large number of scenes in computer graphics for the lions. But I’m really satisfied with the result.
Courage is knowing how to face your inner fears and tame them
The fact of playing a more vulnerable character, to which we are less accustomed concerning you, did it also play in your motivation?
Idris Elba: Yes, I was interested in playing someone who isn’t a real action hero, but rather someone who doesn’t know how to use a weapon. Playing a man almost like the others, without pretension, was different for me. I also love that Nate is such a vulnerable and sensitive father. Once again, it takes me away from the very macho roles that I usually play.
Beyond my character, which is not cliché and one-dimensional, we also wanted to show a lion that is not really a wild beast. He is what he is because of the circumstances in which he evolves: he reacts to an environment that has been hostile to him. The lion is not the villain of our story: it is rather the man who ransacks his territory, his habitat.
What can you tell us about the shooting in South Africa?
Idris Elba: The geography of the film is capital, because it is about a wild and untamed nature. Africa is also the home of the mother of my character’s daughters, who recently passed away. [lorsque le récit commence]. It was really important to find majestic and pristine natural settings. I think that if you see the film on a big screen, you can only feel the strength and grandeur of the landscapes. The light was also amazing and it makes for such surreal colors on the screen. It really feels like being in Africa when you see our film, it seems more real than life.
Baltasar Kormakur: I was surprised how cold it is in South Africa in the evening and at night. I’m from Iceland, so I know about cold, but it took me by surprise that it was cold in Africa. And it was not easy to film at night, because it was necessary to light up all the scenes in the African bush. Not to mention that we sometimes had to film far from any big city, and adapt to the comfort and joys of camping.
What is the heart of the film for you, its real subject behind this story of man facing nature?
Idris Elba: It really is a film about the loss of a loved one. On pain, the separation of beings. It also takes a look at anger and despair: that of a father who is helpless in the face of the loss of his wife and the estrangement created by this loss with his daughters. Somehow, the story of my character is that of the lion he faces. One can wonder who is the beast and who the human. We all have a beast within us that can come to the surface, depending on the events we face in life. Nothing is simple, nothing is all black or all white in life.
Baltasar Kormakur: For me, it’s really a film about the difficulty of keeping your family united and strong, especially when you lose a loved one, like the mother in the case of these young girls. Family is the most important thing in my life and I can totally identify with Nate Samuels’ journey. I would have done the same in his place, especially since, for me, the ultimate fear is losing my family. This film is a metaphor for the obstacle course that is life.
Nothing is simple and we always face a ferocious beast at every major stage of our existence. The ultimate difficulty is not to succumb to your inner fears and to know how to manage your emotions. Little by little, we can see how the character of Idris manages to get back on his feet and become the hero and the father his daughters need. Courage is knowing how to face your inner fears and tame them.
Interview by Emmanuel Itier in Los Angeles on August 8, 2022