Fernando Meirelles

All about The Constant Gardener.

Appropriate to a globe-trotting conspiracy thriller with a firm foot in the Third World, Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles was thoroughly international in his outlook while discussing The Constant Gardener (see review) during a recent visit to Seattle. Speaking in fluent, idiomatic English, he described how he was interested in Africa even before Gardener was brought to him. "Visually, you see the country and you want to shoot there—because they use really strong colors," he says. "Even the slum, Kibera, visually it's very interesting because all of the houses are built out of mud. So it's all the same color: the ground, the houses, and then the rusted metal roofs. People wear very colorful clothes. But when you walk inside Kibera, and this is what really affected me, everybody is so friendly. There's such a spirit. My interest in shooting in Kenya was really trying to capture this spirit in the middle of such poverty. I tried as much as I could to go inside these places." Though the John le Carré source novel is mostly set in Kenya, more of the drama was indoors, according to Meirelles. "Not only in the book, but in the first script I got, all the scenes used to happen inside the [British] High Commission, clubs, pubs—it was really a protected environment. This was something that I tried to [change], to bring the film to the streets. I even created a couple scenes inside the slum, just to use it." Was he surprised at le Carré, the old Cold War espionage writer, turning to antiestablishment politics? "I think now he's only writing about this. After this book, he wrote something on Iraq, and now he's writing something on the Congo. I think it's a new start for John le Carré. But I had never read him before. I knew that John le Carré used to write about spies and such. What attracted me to this project was because the story was set in Kenya. And also, the pharmaceutical industry as villains I thought was a very interesting point. They do good. They spend a lot on research. But on the other hand, they have a product that everybody needs, and they can charge what they want." Since le Carré has reinvented himself after the Cold War, does Meirelles think that American audiences are also willing to assume a more internationalist outlook? "I hope so. And now you've got terrorism. But my feeling about the U.S. is that it's a country that turns to the inside. Sometimes I feel this country is almost like a huge cocoon—a cocoon that runs the world, of course!" bmiller@seattleweekly.com

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