Narcopolis: Interview: James Callis

Callis Narcopolis posterThe first person that you see in the new dystopian movie Narcopolis is former Battlestar Galactica star James Callis. His character has a pivotal role in Justin Trefgarne’s film mostly set in 2022 when the manufacture and use of all recreational drugs is now legal but controlled and exploited by licensed drug companies. When a new, unlicensed drug appears on the streets, one cop is forced to protect it from corrupt colleagues and a mysterious gang desperate to get it back. Callis spoke to Paul Simpson earlier in September about the film…



Narcopolis seems a very British sort of sci-fi movie. What did you think of the script when you read it?

I thought it was quite brilliant, because, for me, of the twist in the story. You think the story is about one thing and it’s actually about something else that has been woven into the story. I thought it was very smart.

And you actually open the movie!

Yes. I think that scene, like so much of the film, was elegantly shot and really helped to establish the world of the film, which I think is no mean feat. The idea of Todd Ambro being projected on what to me looked like Piccadilly Circus by Eros, or at least in that town, sells an image and a vision of the future.

It’s a very dystopian view of the world…

These things are mirrors: there are a lot of people with ideas about this, something that collects in our consciousness or subconscious. I was just reading yesterday about this idea that the world that we live in is pretty dystopian, depending on where you are in it.

I don’t think the film is about that. When I was doing Battlestar Galactica, there was all this stuff about the central tenet of the programme being these hundreds of millions of people wiped out almost before the story begins. Is this a story about war and death? Then we’d speak to the writers and they’d say it was a story about hope, always about hope.

Narcopolis is driven by science fiction elements, and set in a science fiction future, or the future, yet actually the story is a very human one. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but that really appealed to me and really moved me in the film – sometimes I think you’re not necessarily going to be touched by something that’s in science fiction. I thought it was quite remarkable.

It’s not a spoiler to say that a key element is the love between a parent and a child.

That’s what I mean. Isn’t that fantastic? I thought that was really wonderful and beautifully acted in the film.

Callis NarcopolisWhen a project comes to you – whether it’s film, TV or stage – what do you look for?

I look for something that interests me, and there can be so many different things. I think that the writing, the concept, the world, the idea. The character, obviously. Some actors might say that first! You’re part of something, you’re making a world with other people and that world can be anything – having done romantic comedies and science fiction, rules apply to each. “That’s going to be very funny and a lot of fun”, or “this is fascinating, I haven’t read things like this.” A lot of it is down to reading the script and how that plays out for me.

Are you one of those people who reads a script and visualises the look of the world in your head or do you hear your own voice playing the part?

A little bit of both. Maybe not initially, in that you’re finding a character through time and investigation, but whenever you read a script it really is the imagination kicking in because say there’s something which says “INTERIOR: WAREHOUSE”, your mind runs riot. How big is that warehouse? Where is that warehouse? Are there any windows in that warehouse?

I say that because one of the scenes we shot for Narcopolis was in a warehouse, and the scale of that place was really tremendous, and far more enormous than I could have possibly imagined! It was a huge space. I think that was really brilliant production design – some place in a big city that nobody knows about in the middle of nowhere and you totally buy it as well… and it totally was. I’m not even sure where we shot it. It was in London, and I couldn’t believe that a space that enormous was unoccupied and almost derelict.

How long were you shooting for?

I shot it over about a week – not every day. Three or four days over a week. We shot more than is in the film, as you usually do.

What are you currently working on?

Several things but I can’t talk about them! I’m making a short film, a feature film, and likely to be involved in other stuff – it’s just a timing issue so I can’t talk about it.



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