Luc Besson mashes sci-fi with thriller action

Luc Besson on why in Lucy the bad guys, led by Oldboy actor Choi Min Sik, are Koreans. Besson is seen here with the film’s lead Scarlett Johansson (both above). -- PHOTO: UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Luc Besson on why in Lucy the bad guys, led by Oldboy actor Choi Min Sik, are Koreans. Besson is seen here with the film’s lead Scarlett Johansson (both above). -- PHOTO: UNIVERSAL PICTURESPHOTO: UNIVERSAL PICTURES

How does Scarlett Johansson, twice named the Sexiest Woman Alive by Esquire magazine, audition for a role?

Writer-director Luc Besson says of his first meeting with the actress for the new thriller Lucy: "She was on time, she comes without make-up, she was very interested in the part and she asked a lot of questions.

"So she was serious about it. It was not like some stars coming to the meeting with lots of make-up and two hours late."

And so, Johansson landed the titular role of a woman who is able to tap into her brain's full potential after an accidental drug overdose.

Besson, 55, was speaking to Life! over the telephone from Taipei, where Lucy was partly set. The film opens here tomorrow.

It asks: What could happen if the full powers of a human brain were unleashed, instead of only 10 per cent of it being used?

As if aware that the film has drawn some flak for its shaky science, Besson is quick to say he knows the truth is more complex than that. "But it was too complicated to explain in the film, so I chose something simpler," he adds.

His main aim was to deliver a thriller that was "fun and intelligent at the same time". Rather than a straightforward philosophical sci-fi flick, he has essentially made a mash-up of the sci-fi and action thriller genres with Lucy.

"As a moviegoer, I see action films and most of the time, the content is not satisfying. And I see intelligent films where I fall asleep. So I try to put two films in one," he says with a laugh.

In the film, Lucy does not know what to do with the powers she possesses, courtesy of a fully maximised brain.

Besson notes: "Every villain wants power to conquer, for the money, to kill, to use it in a bad way. Here is this girl who has the ultimate power that anyone could dream of - she's at 100 per cent, Superman is at 12, Batman is at 15 - and she does not know what to do with it.

"The philosophy of the film starts to get interesting here. And the only good reason that she finds is: Pass it on. The entire film is in the first shot when we see one cell divide into two and give everything she knows to the other one."

Besson made his name with action flicks such as Nikita (1990) and Taxi (1998) and he has also made films centred on strong female characters, including The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc (1999) and The Lady (2011), about Myanmar's democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi.

What he is drawn to is the idea of opposites and the upending of traditional gender roles.

He says: "Imagine Terminator who picks up his phone because he's missing his mum, I would start to get interested. On the other hand, you have Aung San Suu Kyi without weapons in front of 200,000 soldiers and she's still winning. I love to see how femininity can be strong and how masculinity can be weak sometimes."

Ironically for a man who is all too familiar with featuring weapons in his films, he says he "would put to sleep people who are building weapons and using weapons" if he had Lucy's powers.

"I would say to them, 'Take a nap, leave us alone and let us enjoy our kids and the planet.'"

Besson has a son with his film producer wife and four daughters from his previous marriages and relationships.

At this point, the US$40-million (S$50-million) Lucy is already a hit with US$168.7 million earned worldwide.

But the way the film ends, he admits: "I don't have a clue where we can go, so I honestly didn't think about a sequel."

In any case, he already has his hands full. Be it as producer, writer or director, he is involved in several projects a year and he attributes it to a fear of getting bored.

"I was raised in Greece and Yugoslavia, near the sea, and there was no TV, no toys, no music. So my imagination - it's a muscle - was very developed because I had to imagine everything as I had nothing."

And now, he cannot stop himself from creating stories. "I keep myself busy and I'm very lucky to be in this position. So I'm just enjoying it."