At Sunday night’s Oscars ceremony, the best director category will include four familiar faces — Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”), Alejandro G. Inarritu (“Birdman”), Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”) and Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) — along with relative newcomer Morten Tyldum. The Norwegian director of “The Imitation Game” received critical praise for the 2011 Norwegian thriller “Headhunters” before he moved to Los Angeles.
Tyldum made “The Imitation Game,” which is nominated for eight Oscars and is considered a frontrunner in the adapted screenplay category, for about $15 million. After he read the script, he was taken by how much he didn’t know about World War II code breaker Alan Turing’s life, and he immediately thought of Benedict Cumberbatch for the role. On a recent afternoon in New York, he spoke to Variety about making “The Imitation Game,” addressed criticism about not giving Turing’s character a male lover and talked about his new project “Passengers,” expected to star Jennifer Lawrence.
Did you wake up early on the morning of Oscar nominations?
I was actually on a plane to Heathrow. I was the last one to find out. As soon as the wheel hit the ground, I turned on my cell and the phone exploded.
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How did you celebrate?
It was kind of weird. I had a two-hour layover, and the press was calling constantly. This is the first time a Scandinavian was nominated for best picture.
How did you first get involved with “The Imitation Game”?
I had done “Headhunters,” and because of the movie’s success, everybody said I should come to Hollywood. I had been sent a lot of scripts. I was meeting on a lot of projects. My agent called and said, “You should read this.” I had always been a history lover, and I was shocked there was so much here that I didn’t know.
Are you surprised that “The Imitation Game” has become a box office success?
Not really. It’s a movie that’s really relatable. It’s about loneliness. It’s about trying to fit in.
Was there a version of the script where Turing has a male lover?
First of all, the time period we’re all focusing on, he didn’t have one. He described it in his own words as a “sexual desert” in a letter. The whole thing is his relationship with Christopher [Turing’s male crush seen in flashbacks in grade school], about unfulfilled love.
But Turing did have relationships with men.
He had people he had sex with, yes — especially in the time after the war, when he’s living in Manchester. The break-in that happens in the film is a male lover, which is discussed. It was actually someone he paid to have sex with. It was more of a hustler.
But we never see Turing in a relationship with an adult man. Don’t you think that would have enriched the character?
Not really. The whole movie, the way it’s structured, we don’t know anything about this man. The whole investigation starts because he’s hiding something, but he’s not hiding what we think. It can’t start off with him having sex. It was not because we were afraid it would offend anybody. If I did the structure and had this thing about a straight character, I would never have a sex scene to prove that he’s heterosexual. If I have a gay character in a movie, I need to have a sex scene in it — just to prove that he’s gay? I’m not shying away from it. His whole relationship, how he falls in love and the importance of him being a gay man, was all about secrecy.
Some have criticized the movie for not including that.
During his time, the relationship that was important was the relationship with Joan Clarke [played by Keira Knightley]. They were engaged for six months. It’s all about a lost love. He didn’t have a male companion. He had some random people he had sex with. He also had, this was funny, he went to Norway to have sex in a gay sauna, a secret club. He had some sexual partners, but it was few and far between. The only reason to have a sex scene in the film would be to satisfy critics who feels that every gay character needs to have a gay sex scene.
What do you think of the Cumberbitches?
Benedict has a pretty intense fanbase. I find most of them being really cool. You find some that are a little intense. We had the opening at the Toronto Film Festival, where there was a Q&A, and some of the female fans made it impossible. One asked, “Can I have your yumminess? Do you want to eat my yumminess?” The whole thing became stupid.
Did they interrupt the shoot?
Sometimes. The biggest problem is the paparazzi. Benedict is really distracted by it. I don’t think hyper-fame comes easy to him. He’s an artist. He doesn’t want to be a star.
Your next project is likely to be “Passengers.” Is Jennifer Lawrence starring in it?
She wants to. We had a long dinner together. Both Chris Pratt and Jen are phenomenal. They really want to do this together. It will be starting in mid-to-late August or early September. The schedule is just Jen’s schedule. She has some promo commitments for “The Hunger Games.”
What’s the story about?
“Passengers” is about a spaceship on its way to one of the colonies. About 5,000 people are onboard, all asleep — it takes one of the pods 110 years to get there. After only 30 years, one of the pods malfunctions, and Chris’ character wakes up. He’s all alone on a spaceship, 90 years away from arriving. He will die of old age all alone, so he malfunctions another pod, so the second pod opens up. He awakes another passenger without telling her [Lawrence’s character] that he did it. It’s this very unique love story about two people trapped on a spaceship and they will both die there.
Have you been to the Oscars before?
This is my first time. My wife hasn’t found a dress yet. She’s panicking more.