Seeing is believing for Star Wars: Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow

As he gets ready to direct the next Star Wars, Colin Trevorrow must first battle the bad reviews for his current film, writes Esther McCarthy

Director Colin Trevorrow with Dean Norris at the premiere of The Book of Henry.

COLIN Trevorrow is already enjoying a very successful directorial career but it could soon be about to go stratospheric — to a galaxy far, far away, in fact.

As the filmmaker entrusted with bringing Star Wars: Episode IX to the big screen when the cameras start rolling next year, Trevorrow has bagged one of the most respected — and most challenging — jobs in Hollywood.

To say he is excited is an understatement, and he is already working closely with the team at Lucasfilm. “My core group is a pretty amazing collection of perspectives who put out this film.

“To be able to surround myself with so many people who care about it so much and are so focused on telling a truly emotionally satisfying story, that’s very rich,” he said of the prospect.

Ireland, of course, has become a focal point of the current trilogy. The Skelligs featured in dramatic final, cliffhanger scenes in The Force Awakens, while film fans are keen to spot further locations when The Last Jedi is released at Christmas.

As well as Kerry, footage for that film was shot in West Cork’s beautiful Brow Head and in Donegal. The director feels that Ireland’s “otherworldliness” is one of the factors that make it so special to shoot in.

“I think what’s most important about the locations in Star Wars is that they connect us to something on our planet that is elemental and deeply recognisable as a space that humans have set foot on and feels real, and yet has a little bit of the element of the other-worldly, and has an almost-spiritual connection to the earth,” he says.

“And I think that Ireland, especially the island that we used in the film, has that. It’s slightly hyper-real, yet we know it’s really there.”

Meanwhile, his latest movie, The Book of Henry, opens in cinemas this week. The ambitious film — starring Naomi Watts and Room’s young star Jacob Tremblay — centres on a mother who sets out to rescue a young girl from abuse using a carefully crafted plan made by her gifted son. The story’s dramatic twists and turns are challenging to bring to screen and the film has drawn decidedly mixed reviews. Audiences, Trevorrow maintains, have responded to it positively.

“This film is being perceived by many as too jarring in narrative terms, but it’s something I know audiences have responded to very well,” he says.

“I think you can see it with this film, this film feels like an opera in three acts. It takes those turns that operas do, a lot of modern-day television shows do, but films tend not to.”

The opera reference is no coincidence. As a child, the director sang at the opera, performing on the stage in his native California.

“I was in the opera when I was really young boy, a singer, being surrounded by adult professionals in San Francisco. It was one of the best, if not the best, opera companies in the world at the time,” he said.

“Being surrounded by professional actors and understanding their life and what they need in a moment was helpful, and also not being afraid of those big emotions that audiences really need and connect to when they happen.”

As well as directing lead actress Naomi Watts in The Book of Henry, he got to work with child actor Jacob Tremblay, the little boy from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson’s Room.

“I’d seen an audition but I hadn’t seen the movie yet. I had the same instinct that Lenny did, that the boy was special.” He’s since seen Room, “and it only reinforced what I felt to be true”.

Just a few days ago, he saw the young actor’s expressive face come to life when he got to meet Star Wars actor Mark Hamill at the film’s premiere.

“I had the pleasure of watching that face meet Luke Skywalker for the first time last week! It was at a premiere, and his reaction… if they were ever going to make a Christmas commercial out of a boy meeting Luke Skywalker you would want him in that moment.”

Trevorrow grew up in a very creative environment, which encouraged him to seek out a career in the arts.

“My mother was a photographer and my father was a musician in a country rock band. I would go and see him perform because he would open for Willie Nelson, really big country acts, in front of tens of thousands of people. That was a pretty amazing experience and then likewise my mum in her darkroom, being able to touch film and have that tactile experience.”

His breakthrough came with Safety Not Guaranteed, the much-admired comedy/drama about three magazine employees who see a wacky personal ad and try to track down its originator.

He and screenwriter Derek Connolly built the movie around the real-life ad that Connolly had spotted online. It read: “Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.”

The duo were looking for ideas to develop and thought the ad was an irresistible concept to base a movie on. “That’s true, it was a strange moment in Derek and I’s career,” he laughed. “Derek said: ‘Well there’s this classified ad I’ve seen on the internet that is hilarious’. It was such a brilliant little instinct that he had and it all went from there.”

After that, he got to helm the highly successful Jurassic World, and is currently filming the movie’s anticipated sequel.

Dinosaurs are a big deal, but they don’t come much bigger than Star Wars, and Trevorrow will get the cameras rolling on Episode IX next year.

A self-confessed collaborator who loves working with writers throughout his career, he enjoys this approach and the sense that the Star Wars directors work together.

Indeed, he revealed that The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson did a little bit of filming to be used in his following film.

“Not even a whole scene, just a tiny little moment. But it’s amazing how tiny moments can be… I think that’s almost become a right of passage now, for each director to ask for just one little thing.

“What that is to me is representative of how collaborative the Lucasfilm environment is. Now that Rian is finishing his film I definitely check in with him as much as I can.”

  • The Book of Henry is in cinemas on Friday


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