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FAN FEST EXCLUSIVE: ‘The Walking Dead’ Alum Jose Pablo Cantillo talks ‘Zygote’ and collaborating with Neill Blomkamp

As I’ve previously said, if you’re not focusing your attention on Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studios…you should be. The recent short film released, ‘Zygote,’ stars Dakota Fanning and ‘The Walking Dead‘ fan favorite, Jose Pablo Cantillo. Neill has successfully put ‘fear’ back into science fiction by crafting an incredibly horrifying short film that MUST be seen.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Jose Pablo Cantillo, who plays Quinn in the short, to discuss the creative process behind ‘Zygote,’ what it takes to pull off such a raw and astounding performance as Quinn and what it’s like to continue collaborating with true visionary, Neill Blomkamp.

NICK: Tell me a bit about how Zygote varies in its storytelling from the other shorts in Volume 1.

JOSE: So, with the first two, this is my observations, Rakka and Firebase, he shows such great glimpses of what these worlds could be like. It’s almost very video game-esque. Let me show you what the environments are and what these worlds are. And the rules of the world and they’re so out there, but still rooted in a science fiction that makes you compelled to want to see that world, but specific stories go through them.

 

That’s what’s so cool about Rakka. Rakka you can have..its almost like V which I used to love, the first one, the original. Since youcan have all kinds of revolutionary rebel stories, but Rakka, it involved the visa vie characters that you saw already or I don’t want to say an infinite number but you can go to any part of the world and they’re going to be figuring out how to fight these aliens. Those aliens are really cool, very reptilian and draconian and all that kind of stuff. And then with Firebase that was such a cooler trip. This film stock that he used, it felt period-y. And same thing there, it’s like, what are the possibilities that you have?

What’s cool about Zygote and what you just said about being fantastic Akillian horror is that, it does, to me it accomplishes both. It shows the rules of this world. There is a really cool high concept for not just the alien monster and how it forms and how its delivered to earth and of course, ultimately how it uses its body in humans as a vessel to try to start to bring together and stich and morph itself together and keep growing. But also this really perverse idea that again something consistent I think with Boykin, which I love, is sort of this class and social order. Flipping it on its head and saying you have this idea synthetics and orphans having been exploited and used for labor. That alone you could use a story with.

Anyway I just want say, I really love what he’s done and he’s left it up to Zygote to say we can do a liner cool story and make it very economical and efficient with the amount that a short allows. It still accomplished all of those rules of those worlds. But, I didn’t get out with those other two because I want to show, I want to hear from you the fans. Fans, first and foremost, what you love about those worlds and what you want to see occur in those worlds.

So that’s what I really tip my hat to Neill and much of my experience as an actor is that way as well. He want to know what you’re… he really creates the world all the stimulus, the sets, right? The sets for an actor, the best jobs are the ones where you don’t really have to act. You just have to show up. Just react. He gives so much stimulus around props of course, that alone. The wardrobe is so specific. Obviously the language and the weapons and all the stuff. And of course, there’s monsters. You have so much stimulus just to react to that you start to make choices that are very spontaneous. Even though he has a very specific vision, he wants to see what occurs in the moment from actors he trusts in a world he’s really set up. He want to hear and make sure that, now I shouldn’t say be surprised, but he gives enough room to wiggle to where if an impulse were to find you, you have the freedom to really explore it.

NICK: One of the coolest things to me is exactly what you said where it’s a linear story, but it kind of leaves it open for whatever you would want to follow? For me, I would kill to see a movie that shows the relationship between Quinn and Dakota Fanning’s character, the synthetic. I would love to see that building of the relationship and why he has this kind of hardened care for her. But then you have the flip side where -I want to see her get out. I want to see that be the opening in the movie and then follow her telling the story of this corrupt company. This economic crisis and why this is an issue and show the response, the reaction, and all that. So, its such a cool middle ground and to see that and to see how dialogue driven with Quinn, with your character. That was incredible to me and how much was said and how much was kind of delved into. Just how well it was played and how dark it was.

JOSE: Yeah, by the way, I can tell you have been around a lot of actors for a while because its funny like ‘I would love to see this relationship while your character still alive.’

I’m kidding, because yes it is, I think, I agree its really compelling to see what she does with this information right? I don’t see there’s a conspiracy against her, but she has to go fight the machine just to be heard because she’s going to be defeated. It’s a great travesty that she has been treated like a synthetic. Now she has to go with the burden of proving that she is a human, is still on her. It’s almost like a great sci-fi legal drama. In this fantastic revelation that she gets to go and claim upon whatever order sits at the top of this version of this version or whatever civilization we have; A, but, then there’s B. She also happened to be the only probably survivor at least of this station that has any knowledge or intelligence about the monster their facing. The only one to have an encounter and to have survived, which gives her such fantastic leverage into getting what she wants.

Anyway, I agree, I would love to see what happens to Barklay.  Quinn, in many ways sacrificed himself even though he was responsible for…He’s security, he’s a security officer, but a security officer in what sense, right? So I used to always think about this. Okay well, he’s keeping the synthetics in order and he didn’t necessarily enslave them and he necessarily go and buy this huge, bid for a stock of orphans and then pass them off as synthetics. But he knew it was happening. That makes him guilty and so when he realizes the end is near he tries to do the right thing.

I think he tries to do the right thing because his own finger didn’t even help her. Its hilarious. He cuts his finger off and it’s just denied. Even in this world Quinn has been bamboozled. He’s been made to believe that he has a security clearance to go into the highly fortified vaults for the executives and that’s not true. It’s really that top one percent right that going to be the ones that are cleared. Everybody else is lied to and so he tries to do the right thing, but would he have done the right thing–why did it take this for him to do the right thing?

Anyway, for having sacrificed really invested a lot in that character. As much as I would love to go and do all of this again with Neill, I’m with you. I would love to see what happens to her and see that a man didn’t do what he did in vain. All of these revelation to say were all guilty for what we did and now its almost like a reckoning. It’s almost like this light is really here in some ways as a record we’ve upset some balance. I love that there’s an innocence there with Dakota’s character of Barkley to go on and hopefully use it to overcome. Right?

NICK: Oh it is, that’s the, that’s the, that’s what was different as I think with Firebase and Rakka is that they did…it felt like a splice. Whereas this was going strong at 17 minutes, I’m like, this is covering more ground than a feature can cover. Its so impressive.  A lot of that I think comes off to the characters and that’s why completely with unbiased, I say that for me it was like seeing how guilty Quinn was its like–why? Was he guilty before this? Was this the breaking point. Has it gotten this bad that this is where he breaks? That’s why my mind goes and I think of the perspective of a soldier watching all of this stuff happen sitting on the sidelines and finally itself destructs. He has to essentially become a vessel in a different sense where he’s like -who’s more important here? He goes against the value of what he’s supposed to basically- he’s supposed to keep order, but he’s creating chaos by sacrificing himself and giving his own finger to protect Barkley. It’s crazy. It covers so much, which is so impressive.

JOSE: Yeah, I always, it was so rich and didn’t really have to dig far into back story for Quinn. If I did, in leading up to the work, it was more that I couldn’t help myself but not think about the circumstance and what may have just occurred. Oh I should say, excuse me, to go even beyond that to say okay what’s been leading up to this point and then it becomes just fun to fantasize about– oh I wonder if these thing happened.

I do think that Quinn knowingly has been sending, as they call it, canary class down into these caverns to see if there’s any poisonous gasses. They are the canaries, if they survive then we know its safe. They were innocent lives that have been tricked into thinking they’re synthetics. I think that’s- just saying it makes me emotional thinking about it. It was so ripe, the work, and the circumstance that Neill built here or set up here. With, like with something you said, the revelation of feeling this of why he did it.

I feel like very important, I made the choice, it was very important for Quinn to be… When the story’s told, he has a family, he has kids that he sends the money back to. That when the truth comes out at least there was this one soldier to the end that was doing something for her. Maybe the only one, that told of the truth and in many ways helped her, I don’t want to say set her free, but in many ways allowed her to go back and tell the truth about what’s happening. Not so much I think for Quinn, as much as it was for his kids, to know that he was the one. So when they think of the memory of their father, that he did something right. I think there was a lot of shame there, which is such a strong emotion to work with and play with, that notion of shame.

Shame it can occur in a vacuum if you’re the only one that knows it of course it can get to you. But the innocence of your children when you think of them and them knowing the truth and what you may or may not have done or what you did to rectify it, I think that when that emotion -shame can really be used so strongly.

There was, like you said, so much is covered in a short, but as an actor, its like we shot that in like four days. The range and rainbows of emotions that we experienced was so rich and I would say, from an actor’s perspective, I felt and went through a range of emotions that I would say that I rarely do in a full feature.

NICK: Right, and it showed. I mean to play that guilt and to play the hardened soldier at the same time and for that to emotionally connect and hit the way that it did was just…hats off man.

JOSE: Thank you. You know and there was, there was, I gotta go back on the script, I think there were a few things that maybe for time that got dropped that Quinn says when the asteroids first fell and some memories that he has with his father. He really gets to go into what the light does inside you and nervous systems coming out your nose. There was, he was really starting to crack up and go crazy. Before you’ve seen this monster, you start to say, boy is this guy just losing it. Who knows if that stuff will ever… those dailies will ever make their way to the outside. That arc and those places that I got to go because of it was very freeing and you got to go to some really dark places.

Its cool that Neill, he just let the cameras run and we got to do some really long takes. Whatever emotions by product will start to settle and shape. You really got the uncomfortable comfortable part of dealing with them and seeing where they go take to take ,because it wasn’t a lot of cut, cut, cut. It was a lot of just let them play.

NICK: That’s great. That is awesome. And last question and then I’ll hit stop here. One of the things that was really intriguing to me and I think its maybe its just the way my brain works, but I saw this set as sort of a playground. Like it was, it was almost like walking through a haunted house. All of it was there. It was tangible. It was practical. What was it like coming to set for those four days and walking through as a man with no eyes.

JOSE: Great question. Well that’s a great question and your – I’m glad that you observed that this is not only a unique set, but to go outside and say I wonder what its like to go to work there every day. Have you seen the movie Spies Like Us?

NICK: Yeah.

JOSE: Dan Ackroyd and Chevy Chase? So, they go in the middle of nowhere, which is the way- its called the Diefenbunker up in Canada, in Ottawa. You come to what looks like a shed, its just like a shed you go in and there’s these big bay doors and there’s this little side entrance. You go in and there’s aluminum siding looking thing. Then you walk down this long tunnel. It feels like this hall of stainless steel very heavy ship. You start walking down these steps. Holy cow there’s like a pentagon under the ground here. There’s sick bays and then there’s like a little kitchen, not actually little, there’s a big kitchen and dormitories. So, this Diefenbunker was built as a cold war fall out shelter that could sustain life for not just officials and their families, but for quite a long time. There were classrooms down there. That’s what reminded me of Spies Like Us. I remember when go in there and say you want a Pepsi. Then they get into this elevator, and it shoots them down like a rabbit hole.

Which is a lot what it felt like to show up to work. Well Neill’s department had set designers, they’d already had a day or two before I got there. So you start to walk down this hunk corridor and it felt like Star Wars. It had these really cool lights that would follow you or shoot ahead of you. They had service, station, and all these warning stickers all over the place.

They had taken what was already a pretty profound building or structure and made it Blomkampian right? There was a long tunnel of cold air that would shoot at you through this really long tunnel that you see when Dakota’s character, when Barklay’s firing at the monster, the first time we encounter it. That long tunnel. We would just hang out there. I would just always hang out in that tunnel because even though you’re freezing, it was just so cool.

It felt like you were on the Space Station. You’re inside one of the toys you used to play with when you’re a kid you’d try to imagine what it would look like. That’s what it felt like going to work every day. Even the sound your boot made on the metal grate was so specific and how it would echo all the way down. You have this feeling you’re not on a set. You’re in a real place that a had I think you said almost like a haunted house. It had so many crevices and turns and twists and stairs that sounds- I think that is where I would focus most of my attention because I was blindfolded, right. It had so many places to fool you as to where the source was or where the next turn was going to come.

I certainly think the terrifying part for me was being blindfolded and really having to trust Dakota to take me the right way, “Oh there’s a step there.” There’s so many doors we have to go through and weird like cone like structures that would come out of the floor. I don’t even know what the point of them were, half the time tripping over them. And again, there’s those challenges. There was this guy on stilts. There was this stunt man on stilts in this gray motion capture suit that had a way of walking around and chasing us. It was terrifying in itself. He’s up on stilts just like, you know, hulking around always. He was very graceful on it, which made it feel like well he really is chasing us. So he’d have to crouch down to get through doors a few times that I did peek. I said, “boy.”. You’d listen for the metal clicking and again figure out where its coming from. It would be a great place to have an escape room for sure or a haunted house.

NICK: Super immersed the whole time, that’s amazing.

JOSE: Every time you step on a set with Blomkamp. Like, in Elysium, we were in a raw garbage land fill. There was something to react to, always. You couldn’t deny where you were and being in tie moment for sure. The smell was so pungent and strong at the time. The idea that a whole civilization lived amongst this rock garbage in a very organized fashion. You couldn’t wrap your brain around it for the entire time you’re there.

When your brain just kinda stops, can’t compute, its easy. Its like a gray, I mean, I don’t know if it by his design or not or its-you can almost like introduce the story of the character because now your brain sort of been hacked, right. Because, you just cannot believe that there’s kids playing on these mounds of garbage. Then when you’re in South Africa, on Chappie, we’re in this giant power station. Again the size is like pentagon that was having these incredible cave ins. It was beautiful. It was urban decay. It was actually really pretty.

Of course Die Antwoord were doing their crazy graffiti all over the place, and it was a juxtaposition is a place I haven’t been before and your brain again kind of got hacked and you introduce a new circumstance and easily trans pond to it. Well here again in this short, this incredible set allowed for in fact there’s a whole town knocked to the ground of this frozen tundra on the surface which looks like a little shed. Your mind just cannot compute why people are living down here. People would be living down here. If the zombie apocalypse were to come, this would be the perfect shelter. Its impenetrable. There’s this kitchen fill a civilization down there for days. But what if there was a breech.  There are so many corridors and stairwells and lonely dark hallways to go down. If there was a breech it would literally become like the worst place to be stuck in a zombie apocalypse.

NICK: That’s amazing. Well one of the last things I’ll say is one of my favorite things is that when you and Neill work together, I know, and I have been programmed to expect, just such an amazing array of character portrayals on your end and to see from Elysium to Chappie to Zygote. It’s just so cool to see Neill utilize you in this magical way with these characters you’re portraying and how unique and different they all are. Its awesome.

JOSE: Thank you. I hope that it lands, Oats lands and gives runway for a volume two and I hope that Neill continues to introduce me to these crazy worlds and use me that way as well. Thank you for saying that.

You can watch ‘Zygote’ RIGHT NOW on oatsstudios.com!

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Nick Floyd

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Beauty and the Beast was the first film he can remember seeing as a child. He used to listen to film scores in his front yard and recreate full scenes using only his "imagination." The Goonies is a film he can quote from the opening credits to the end credits. He’s patiently awaiting the day when someone actually captures Sasquatch just so he can prove his parents wrong about what he really saw run across the street one dark and stormy night years ago. In 2008, he had a near death experience/encounter with a moose on the Stampede Trail in Alaska. To this day, he’s trying to adapt it into a full length film.