Director Stephen Daldry is not a name you would associate with action- thrillers. His resume runs to critically acclaimed dramas of the brainy sort, such as The Hours (2002) and The Reader (2008), both of which earned their stars Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet Oscars for Best Actress.
His latest film, Trash, opening this week, features shootouts, manhunts and breathless parkour chases through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro - setpieces as far removed from the parlours of The Hours or the English domesticity of the hit coming-of-age story Billy Elliot (2000), the film that turned Daldry, a veteran of the British stage, into a sought-after film director.
Trash is the most physical film he has made, he tells Life! during a telephone interview from London. "The reason I wanted to do it is because it was such a change for me. It's such a new departure. It's a fable for young people and I wanted to fill it with as much energy, life, hope and optimism as I could find," says Daldry, 54.
The film is based on the 2010 young- adult novel of the same name by Andy Mulligan. The story is set in a fictional country, based on Mulligan's research in Mumbai, Manila and Rio.
The film, however, takes the book's three boys and places them in Rio, where they make a living picking recyclables in the city's largest dumps.
They find a wallet with contents that bring down the wrath of one of the city's most powerful and dangerous politicians. His henchmen, who include the police, comb the city. To survive, the children must find out the secret contained in the wallet and make it known to the rest of the city.
The trash dump kids Rafael (Rickson Tevez), Gardo (Eduardo Luis) and Rato (Gabriel Weinstein) make wild roof-to-roof leaps and falls.
"They had extensive parkour training," he says, so most of the stunts are done by the actors themselves. But the crew did try to make it as safe as possible, by making sure the roofs were structurally sound, for example.
The film has been likened to a young-adult version of City Of God (2002), the Oscar- nominated crime saga also set in Rio's favelas.
Fernando Meirelles, the director of that violent coming-of-age story, was roped in to help with getting the locations and casting for Trash, and earns an executive producer credit.
In spite of how the film trains its focus on Rio's slums, sewers and trash mountains, rather than its more touristy beaches and chic cafes, the crew faced no opposition from the city government.
"We had a huge amount of support from the city to explore the, if you like, less than picture- postcard side of it.
"We explored the underbelly, the secret side of the city that the kids would find refuge in," he says.
American actor Martin Sheen plays a priest, Father Juilliard, and actress Rooney Mara is Olivia, an aid worker. Sheen was cast partly because of his experience with working alongside workers in Manila's notorious Smokey Mountain trash pile, while Mara has also done aid work in Africa.
All the actors work in and around a hill-sized pile of fake rubbish created by their props department. Using the real thing would be out of the question, says Daldry. "Real landfills are dangerous. There are hospital waste, needles, blood, methane and other gases there. Pickers have skin diseases and short-life expectancies."
Trash opens in Singapore tomorrow.