Simon Kinberg’s second directorial effort “The 355”This week’s release in theaters, he has done it all. He is a screenwriter and producer who has worked alongside Ridley Scott. “The Martian,”Shepherded the Fox iteration “X-Men” franchise (his first film as a director was 2019’s “Dark Phoenix”), and assisted on everything from Robert Downey, Jr.’s “Sherlock Holmes” to Disney’s “Cinderella.”But with “The 355,” he’s embarking on an original property (scripted by Theresa Rebeck), one that could potentially be as long running and successful as any of the preexisting series that he’s been a part of.
“The 355” concerns a CIA agent (Jessica Chastain), who teams with a British agent (Lupita Nyong’o), a German agent (Diane Kruger), a Chinese agent (Fan Bingbing) and a Spanish agent and psychologist (Penelope Cruz). This group of rouge spy spies aims to eliminate corruption and stop the spread of a deadly new technology that could kill countless civilians.
Kinberg recently spoke to us about the experience of putting together this all-star ensemble. “The 355,”His time was spent working on the “Star Wars” movies, and got updates on his version of Stephen King’s “The Running Man” (co-written and potentially directed by Edgar Wright) and Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton’s live-action sci-fi drama “Chairman Spaceman.”
Last time we spoke, it was at the Disney lot. [animated series] “Star Wars: Rebels.”How was your time at Lucasfilm? What were the highlights?
Simon Kinberg: I don’t know how much liberty I’m able to say, but I will say that I think I’m allowed to say this and I have said it before and, and no snipers taken me out yet. I came onto “Star Wars”It was not sold to Disney until I joined. When George Lucas hired Kathy Kennedy to lead the company in a new direction, it was me, Larry Kasdan, and Michael Arndt who came on board. Skywalker Ranch was a magical place where we spent a lot time together. I met George and I met Dave Filoni and I’d been a huge fan of “Clone Wars.”
You can be sure that I am a big fan of the original. “Star Wars,”All the “Star Wars”Over the years, I have created and written many episodes of The Simpsons. “Star Wars: Rebels,”As the executive producer, I was very proud of that show. I would sometimes come in from time to time to look at cuts, read scripts, give notes, or just to have my thoughts. I was the first. “Star Wars” with JJ, we were in a little TV writer’s room, Michael, Larry and I. And Michael wrote the script and Larry ultimately rewrote it and I think I’m thanked at the end of that film. So, I was part the process. It was a whole family, Pablo Hidalgo, and many others whom I know.
It was great fun. It was great fun. Kathy Kennedy, and all those who were part of the process, I have a lot of affection.
With “The Book of Boba Fett”You can now talk on Disney+ about your plans for the Boba Fett film.
That is something I cannot share.
What about where? “The 355”Where did it come from? You’re obviously so used to these franchise productions or adaptations, did you approach this any differently?
It came about in a simple way, and it came about from a franchise context, which is… Jessica Chastain and I are very close friends. When I was producing, we became very close. “The Martian”It was a film she had starred in and it brought us closer together. We are now very close. That’s part of how I convinced her to come do an “X-Men”Movie and she was in “Dark Phoenix,” and while we were on the set of that, she approached me… I think we were having dinner and she said, “Look, I have this idea of doing a female ensemble spy movie.” And I got really excited by every element, which is, I got excited about working with Jessica again, because I adore her and think she’s one of the greatest living actors we have and I got excited about doing something in the spy genre, which I hadn’t done since “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,”This is my first film and it was also the first one I made. It was also an original movie that I wrote while in film school. It was five million years ago.
They were female spies, which got me excited. I also got excited about the idea of making an ensemble spy film. It’s just not something you see, it’s weird, but when you think about the genres, even “Mission: Impossible” has really become the Ethan Hunt franchise and then there’s Bond and Bourne and “Kingsman.” I’d have to go back to like “Ronin”For a true ensemble spy movie, people will be coming from different parts of the world. So, I just got really stoked about that and it’s different. It is different writing, creating, directing, whatever you’re doing something original versus something that’s adapted from a massive piece of IP.
I’ve really spent the better part of 20 years working on IP, whether it’s “X-Men,” “Deadpool,” “Logan,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “Cinderella,” “Star Wars.”Even “The Martian”Based on a book. Couldn’t think of better IP obviously, that’s the dream, the creme de la creme, there’s nothing better if you’re going to be working off of someone else’s original ideas. It can be liberating to be able create something without any predetermined boundaries or expectations. This film was very exciting to me. I feel like we were able make some decisions that were completely unrestricted.
Is this part of your brain still functioning? Are you open to the possibility of new adventures?
I think when you’re working in a genre, you always to some extent are thinking about Is there any chance that this could be extended? This is not the end of this film? When you fall in love with characters, the way that we really fall in love with these characters, making the movie, you’re like, I’d love to make another movie with these characters. I’d love to make another movie with these actresses. Maybe there’re more actresses that could be added, but we became this little family making this movie and the characters became this little family in the context of the movie. Although it was kept open, it felt like they were all on the same mission together.
Let’s talk about the casting and the decision to, in certain cases, cast the cast against the type.
Jessica Chastain is the reason we created a wishlist for our actors and actresses. We wanted the movie to feel international. Not just in terms the locations they visit, but also in terms the cast. You often see more often than not, you see white US, UK men as the spy and they go around the world and they’re sort of tourists in a travel log and we really wanted the cast to be international. We also wanted to reflect the world in which we live, which is not a predominantly white world, and it’s not a predominantly white cast. If you look at the five women, you will see that two of them are white, Jessica and Diane. Then you have Lupita and Fan Bingbing and Penelope Cruz. With those criteria in mind, we created a wishlist to be able to see different perspectives from different parts. Jessica, with her determination and people willing to work alongside her, managed to get pretty much everyone that we wanted to agree to.
Jess was the American we wanted. We wanted someone from Europe, which was Diane from Germany. We wanted somebody who felt like they could kind of float, which was Lupita who’s UK, but the character has who knows background, like Lupita herself has African background, but also was born in Mexico. Penelope is a Spanish-speaking actress who plays Columbian while Fan Bingbing is Chinese. It was a truly collaborative process. They all brought something special to their roles and many played very differently. I would say Lupita playing the nerd or the computer hacker type character that’s usually someone like Simon Pegg and not somebody that’s been on the cover of Vogue. She didn’t like being a typical person, but she loved it. It was amazing. She’s an incredibly prepared actress, like all of these actresses and she just spent so much time studying hacking, computer language, literally became fluent in it so much so that she would correct me on set, if I was doing something that would betray the reality of it.
And then obviously Penelope, you don’t think of as the sort of nerdy or uncomfortable fish out of water mom and that was something that Penelope said from the very beginning, she was like, “I don’t want to play the fiery Latina character. I don’t want to conform to stereotypes. I want to actually do something that’s going to feel nuanced and complex and challenged and shake up the genre a little bit.” Also, I think she knew from the beginning… Penelope’s funny, we’re seeing it in some of her movies now and we’ve seen it before, but she brings, I think much needed comic relief humor to moments of this movie. So, that was something else that was very much again, I’m not sure the world sees Penelope as a comedic actress. It’s not like it’s a curse to be one of the most beautiful people in the world, but it does typecast you in a certain way.
Do you have any updates on Edgar Wright’s “The Running Man?”
Yeah, Edgar is co-writing it with Michael Bacall and they’ve been working on it. I’m as excited as anybody else in the world. It will be amazing to see the script come in. I’ve known Edgar a very long time, actually about 20 years, goes back to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”And when he was about to promote “Shaun of the Dead.” So, the hope would be that all goes well and we’d be filming that movie in the next couple of years.
What about Andrew Stanton’s “Chairman Spaceman?”
Andrew oversaw the creation of this great script. It is not surprising that he is a great storyteller. It’s been really cool to see the sort of Pixar process put on something that’s not in an animated movie. We have a really great script and we’re very optimistic that we’ll be able to shoot that movie this year.
Is there a genre or a property that you haven’t touched that you’re dying to try out? You haven’t really done a straight up horror movie yet.
I love psychological horror movies. “Get Out”Or “The Shining.”Pop up horror movies that scare me are not my thing. It’s not something that I think that I’m yearning to do, and I’m not somebody that could ever really write a straight up drama. I’d say “Chairman Spaceman”It is very close to a drama, but it also has science fiction elements. I don’t know. I think there’s sub genres within science fiction, and within the action genre that I haven’t done. In many ways, I haven’t done just a straight up action movie.
They’re often spy movies or superhero movies or “Sherlock Holmes”Or something similar. I like the idea of doing things like “Die Hard”Or “Lethal Weapon”Or “48 Hours”That muscular look, just straight ahead. “John Wick”-style action movie, that’s interesting to me to try to figure out in a way that “John Wick”How to invent. How to create a modern version. Like just a fastball, down the middle kind of movie, that’s just adrenalized from start to finish. It seems intriguing to me.
Is that something that you’re actively sort of thinking about?
Not until right now.
“The 355”It is currently playing in cinemas all over the world.