As an actor, when you’re working on these bigger projects as opposed to the more independently budgeted films; does it make a difference to you?
I wanted to understand the perspective of the people who do that every day, who have a sensitivity to that kind of work but also have the scientific rigor. They can actually deconstruct a body and [determine] the cause of death. These are the people we depend on in our society, and if someone falls dead in the middle of the street, the forensic pathologist will cut them open and tell us why.
He used to say it’s as if he was standing roadside with a warning [sign] saying “dangerous bend ahead,” because the human race is progressing at such a velocity. We are hurtling towards progress and the future. He predicted our attachment to technology. He saw it coming.
There’s an interview of him in 1978 saying that we’re going to take a lot more pictures, we’ll all have access to video footage, we’re going to become the stars of our own films, photographs will become much easier to reproduce, we’ll take pictures of our food, we’ll take pictures of each other, and we’ll take pictures of ourselves in our bedroom. He’s basically predicting Instagram, social media, and YouTube 30 years before they were conceived. So I think he understood that there was a marriage between psychology and technology, which was coming around.
It’s a very obvious metaphor. There’s unequal access to the resources in the building, depending on where you live. The people on the lower floors are furious that in the penthouse they still have electricity [while] the lights go out in the basement, or that the swimming pool is closed to children from the lower floors. There’s a righteous moral anger about inequality that’s being told there. And perhaps Ballard is saying that it’s inevitable. He’s saying that it’s part of the human condition, some sort of striving for status.
It’s interesting that as soon as people go for their inner wishes, their animal desires, if you will, once all structure is taken away, their inclination is to do all these horrible things…
Perhaps Ballard is saying: Who are we really? Who are we in extremity? If no one is watching and no one is there to stop us, what will we do?
Well, he seems to think that we would do very bad things…do you agree?
[Laughs] We would do different things. And what your definition of “bad” is where you stand.
True. But I’m not sure if everything is quite so morally ambivalent.
I don’t think so either, but our moral compass is conditioned by society. For example, I’m sort of playing devil’s advocate. We think it’s OK to eat beef and lamb and chicken, but we think it’s wrong to eat dog. It’s societally not problematic to eat steak, but it is problematic to eat a piece of dog. And it’s only because someone decided that hundreds of years ago. If that was the only access to food you had, you might have to do it? And that’s what Ballard is interested in: When you’re really pushed, when it comes down to a matter of life or death, what are you prepared to do?
When you’re doing a role like this—or any role really, you’re sort of putting yourself on the line, while at the same time saying, “I can do this.” So where do you find that confidence as an actor?
I honestly don’t know. I think it’s a desire to challenge myself. It comes back to that thing I was saying about expansion and wanting to stretch and grow. It’s the same reason people travel, you know? When you’re born, you get used to your cot and your crib. And then you get used to your bedroom. Then you get used to your family home, and your school and your town. And then eventually you want to get out of that—you want to broaden your horizons, and the process of being an actor is that. I feel like I want to travel far and wide, and that’s why I choose to do different projects. I don’t know where the confidence comes from. I think it comes more from curiosity than confidence.