The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Ex Machina.
How did you arrive at Nathan being this weightlifting, heavy drinking, bro-ish guy?
Garland: Nathan is just outmaneuvering this young guy [Caleb] every time. If the people you’re interacting with are physically intimidating and intellectually intimidating and also very rich, it doesn’t leave you much room to maneuver.
It feels like Nathan wins every conversation they have.
Isaac: Which makes it all the more enjoyable when the table starts to turn.
Garland: There’s a scene in the middle of the film where Caleb tries to assert himself. He asks “Why did you give this machine an apparent gender?” And Nathan’s character lets him argue and have his lead for a moment. And then he totally demolishes him.
“To sexualize her, we had her put on clothes.”
There’s an extended scene where Ava both puts on clothes and takes them off, and it seems to change the audience’s relationship to her completely.
Garland: It’s overtly seductive. You’ve been seeing this machine which you are now starting to feel does have a gender or maybe some human-like qualities, in the act of taking off clothes and reverting back to the form she’s been in up to that point. Suddenly the moment is sexualized, but why is it sexualized? What has happened? The weird thing is that to sexualize her in some respect, we had her put ON clothes. She’s on the front foot there. She’s putting Caleb on the back foot by rather innocently but also sort of bluntly saying “Are you attracted to me?”
Can you talk about Nathan’s relationship with the other two characters and how he presents himself to them?
Isaac: We had one read through with the four of us – Alex, Domhnall [Gleeson], and Alicia [Vikander] – where we read the whole thing out loud. On set we’d talk. The nature of the scenes, we don’t have to be in agreement of what’s happening. In some ways it’s better if we’re not. I have a friend, a brilliant astrophysicist. He’s a heavy drinker as well. He has a tendency of interrupting everyone’s sentences, because he’s so smart he knows where you’re going and gets bored and wants to move on to the next thing. I liked that and thought it would be a cool thing to try for Nathan. So I did that in the first week and it was uncomfortable for Domhnall. I know because we’ve talked about it since, but it put Nathan on the front foot and Caleb on the back foot.
What influenced the dance scene? It’s unexpected but also amazing.
Isaac: The disco non-sequitur? That was there in the script and it’s a “what the hell?” moment, but then you go through it and you realize that it says so much about what Nathan has been doing . . . that he’s been there alone and the fact that he’s choreographed the whole thing. It’s very sad as well. We had Mr. Disco – he won the title in 1979 – choreograph it.
Garland: The whole thing about it was aggression. We wanted to have a spike in the film. And just as people are starting to dig it, you cut out, to be aggressive and have a spike in the tone.
Isaac: It’s one of those things where you have no idea if it’s going to work – privately I was feeling this! Is this going to be super goofy? And it kind of is, but that’s the point and why it works so well.
Garland: Everyone on the set loved that day.