Cary Joji Fukunaga was unsure about making his follow-up to ‘Beasts of No Nation.’
“I wasn’t sure about it in the beginning,” he says. “I don’t know if I was intimidated by the box-office phenomenon of ‘Beasts of No Nation,’ I just didn’t know if I’d make another film that would be equal or more profitable.”
For Fukunaga, 30, directing the 13-episode Netflix drama was both an achievement and a relief. “Making a film is all about who you can attract to a project and who you can get excited about making a film with,” says Fukunaga, “so at the beginning when ‘Beasts of No Nation’ was done, there was that anxiety when I thought, ‘Well, I’m in that position now that I’m like: Who am I going to make a film with?’ And there was that.
And then, what a relief because I decided, “Okay, I’m going to make this small little film. I’m just going to do this, we’re going to do this and do it.” And it just ended up working. It just sort of fell into place, and it was amazing. It was just a dream come true.”
Commented Fukunaga: “When I made ‘Beasts of No Nation,’ I had no idea what to expect. I was not in competition. I wasn’t doing Sundance or the Toronto International Film Festival. I was going it alone, doing it on my own. I think it’s harder to make films when you’re not in competition. No matter what, you have the same organization to deal with. So, I think I might have been intimidated going into it, but in the end, what a relief to me to end up with that same approach.”
Fukunaga is still unsure what he plans to next do, but he’s confident in his decision to make his next movie for a streaming service. “I have to find out why why, but I think in my own mind, making a film that I made for myself and for the pure sense of wanting to make the film that I wanted to make, is what got me back into it,” he says. “And I feel like it’s a lot less cumbersome to make a film for Netflix than it is to make a film for a studio with no restrictions. It just happens to be a film that I’m excited about and that I feel that Netflix was a safe place to make this film.”
In the film, Idris Elba plays Agu, a child soldier in northern Nigeria. “I had read a lot of books and music and things about northern Nigeria and Nigeria in general,” Fukunaga explains. “I liked the idea of capturing the infrastructure of the Northern Nigeria and the visuals that you could do in that world, the way it was structured, the fact that these places that you would never think you would be in would be in [the film]. And I was like, “That sounds like something that could be exciting and would be different.”
Netflix acquired the film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was one of the most buzzed-about movies at the festival. “You could see from the reaction that people liked the film,” Fukunaga says. “And in the industry world, I’m always on the edge. You’re always always looking to how people talk about the film and look at it. You’re always looking at what the public’s reaction is and how the word-of-mouth is.”
And the reviews were kind. “As I was driving home after Sundance and I thought about it, people were giving it a positive reaction. All the reviews were like ‘a must-see’ or ‘a must-watch,'” Fukunaga says. “And I was like, ‘Huh. Really? Good.’ So it was something that was to my mind, a testament of the way that Netflix has approached these films. I’m not sure that that made me a lot more confident, just a validation of the way they approach this film in a very positive way.”
Elba, who Fukunaga felt confident could capture the complexities of Agu, the child soldier, welcomed the opportunity to create a nuanced portrait of a human being who was torn between two different worlds: his childhood in Nigeria, and his loyalties towards his family.
“He was able to take a dramatic story and come up with an exciting character,” Fukunaga says. “I think he created a real sense of malevolence in Agu. That you would see in Idris as well, the ability to change from a young boy into a man.
“So I really felt like he created a human that I