John Hillcoat has seen the apocalypse and knows what it feels like. It’s cold, mostly. And grey. And there are gangs of zombie-like cannibals. Hillcoat, an Australian director with just one major motion picture under his belt, was tasked with the extremely tall order of bringing of Cormac McCarthy’s bestselling, Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, The Road, to the big screen. Starring Viggo Mortensen and newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee, the book and the movie tell a powerfully simple story about a man and boy walking through the ashy remains of a desolate world, just trying to stay alive. We caught up with Hillcoat while he was still putting the finishing touches on the film, which will be released October 16.
This is McCarthy’s best known and most celebrated novel. Was he especially involved in the process?
I had lengthy conversations with him before we started filming. He’s has a close relationship with a lot of impressive scientists at the Santa Fe Institute and is interested in this idea that we are a species that will one day be gone. It’s not as simple as conquering nature and mastering the environment—in fact, it’s a great illusion that could one day prove fatal.
One of the great conceits of both the book and the movie is that the event is never actually depicted. Did you talk about that with him?
I did. I asked: “Just between us, Cormac, what was the event?” He won’t actually give away his answer. He did have certain things worked out in his mind, but one of the most brilliant aspects of the book is that it’s not explained. If it ever did happen, your priorities would change in a nanosecond. Working out what happened isn’t a part of that—everything becomes about your own survival and the survival of the people closest to you.