At Comic-Con International in San Diego, writer and first-time director Joe Cornish and star John Boyega spoke with the press about their darkly funny alien-invasion flick Attack the Block.
Cornish began the roundtable discussion by speaking about the extraordinary young cast he discovered after auditioning more than 1,500 kids for the film. “I thought there was an opportunity there to offer fresh faces and discover some fresh talent,” he said. “We have 11 kids in this movie who are between the ages of 10 and 17.”
After seeing the performances Cornish extracts from his cast of young scene, it’s shocking to learn that none of them had any on-camera experience before Attack the Block.
“I was just blown away by their talent and commitment and passion and enthusiasm and sense of humor,” Cornish said. “We ended up involving them in the costume decisions. I wrote the last two drafts of the script with their collaboration.”
Newcomer Boyega, who plays Moses, the tough leader of the gang of miscreants charged with protecting their South London turf from alien invaders, spoke about participating in the project on that level. “Joe gave us a lot of, you know, a lot of responsibility to tweak the scripts once we were far in rehearsals, and he just wanted to make it sound authentic,” he explained.
But even with all of that freedom, Boyega made it clear that the script did not need too much input from the cast. “We worked closely with Joe, but I must say… it’s the closest urban script I’ve ever read that is close in terms of language. It’s so close.”
A Fangoria reader from childhood, Cornish admitted to being a fan of old-school genre gore, and the evidence of this can be seen throughout the film. “I love a bit of splatter,” he said. “You know, and again, this connects back to the ’80s movies I liked. Things these days are very — they call it four-quadrant-y, don’t they? They have to appeal very broadly and people are terrified about alienating any dollar. They want every single dollar.”
While admitting that he understood the necessity of a movie making a return on its investment, Cornish is clearly nostalgic for the risks movies took more readily while he was growing up. “There used to be a slight, you know in Spielberg stuff, it was slightly transgressive. Kids were in genuine jeopardy and you cared and the stakes were real,” he said. “I remember when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. I knew nothing about it. I had no idea that guy’s face was going to melt and it was just so impactful.”
The music and score of Attack the Block, created by Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe (a.k.a. Basement Jaxx) working together with Steven Price (Scott Pilgrim), is also a nod to the iconic genre films of the ’70s and ’80s.
“The pitch was to combine the Hollywood sort of fantasy feel of John Williams with that kind of gritty lo-fi electronic spirit of John Carpenter,” Cornish explained. “And I also wanted a proper score. I didn’t want to cover this with pop hits or urban tracks. I wanted the music to follow the shape of the action — to be elastic.”
As Cornish explained to the press, the Carpenter-esque riff that haunts the score actually came together rather quickly. “Basement Jaxx came in for a meeting. They saw about 20 minutes of the film and we talked for about half an hour. The next day they sent me four demos, and like the second demo was that riff.”
Asked what it was like to share the screen with Nick Frost, Boyega became animated: “Uncle Nick! We call him Uncle Nick,” he laughed. Working with Edgar Wright was also something the actor enjoyed a great deal, but there was another reason this project resonated with him particularly. “Normally with urban films that have these sorts of characters back in the U.K., you don’t have that kind of sci-fi feel… based in, you know, where I basically live, where I go past every day, and I was just so happy to be a part of, you know, that kind of movement.”
Boyega, who just signed with Creative Artists Agency, was asked which actors he enjoys watching, to which he quickly listed Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and another who made his Comic-Con debut this year: “I remember walking through downstairs — the lobby — and I saw Andrew Garfield in the Spider-Man suit and I just felt so proud, and I haven’t even met the guy!”
Attack the Block invades theaters Friday.