The era of peak TV has enabled those behind the camera to become as famous as the stars — and no director is bigger right now than Cary Fukunaga.
He first rose to prominence helming the first season of HBO’s “True Detective” (for which he won an Emmy) and he’ll soon bring his eye to the James Bond franchise, directing the 25th movie in the series.
Fukunaga also directed and co-wrote the 10-episode Netflix series “Maniac,” which premiered on Friday.
“[‘Maniac’] was really fun to conceive and a pain in the ass to shoot because we basically had $12 and no time,” says Fukunaga, 41, who notes that he even made a prop, himself, for the show’s fifth episode — which he had just four days to shoot. “I did the pen work for [a prop involving pages from ‘Don Quixote’],” he says. “Because there just wasn’t time to have [the props department] find someone and turn it around.”
“Maniac” revolves around Annie (Emma Stone) and Owen (Jonah Hill), two lost souls living in an alternate version of New York as they undergo a mysterious pharmaceutical trial helmed by an insecure doctor (Justin Theroux, clearly having fun wearing a bad toupee).
The viewer is taken inside their minds as they experience various alternate realities. Think the Jim Carrey movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” as a TV show, and you’ve got a picture of what “Maniac” is all about.
Visually, it’s a trip, which isn’t surprising for those familiar with Fukunaga’s work. In the much-lauded “True Detective” episode “Who Goes There?” the camera followed Matthew McConaughey for a six-minute tracking shot with no cuts. Fukunaga uses the same technique in “Maniac,” albeit for not as long a time. His artistic secret? It’s more efficient.
“If you look at the best classic cinema it’s all over the place,” says Fukunaga of the technique. “Now it’s like ‘They’re showboating.’ Back in the day it was efficient filmmaking. The one we did in [‘Maniac’], which is not that long, and the one we did in ‘True Detective,’ was based on efficiency. In ‘True Detective’ we had so little time to shoot that scene. If we had shot that traditionally, as an action thing, we would have been there for weeks. It was just not possible.”
As different as each Fukunaga project is, he sees a connective tissue in their themes.
“If you take [my first film] ‘Sin Nombre’ and [2011 film] ‘Jane Eyre,’ they’re quite similar actually, even though one was written by Charlotte Bronte in the 1840s and one is a contemporary story taking place now,” he says. “Really it’s about being an orphan in the world and composite families, that’s the line there. I wasn’t an orphan, but exploring this idea of composite families was interesting to me at that time period.”
Fukunaga’s own family is multicultural —the California-born director is the son of a Japanese-American father and a Swedish-American mother. After they divorced, his father remarried an Argentine while his mother remarried a Mexican-American.
“For me, the exploration of self — the exploration of the multiple versions of yourself inside you — have been part of my process as a writer and as a director to figure out what it is that’s driving me creatively,” he says. “I think this show is the next step in the evolution of my creative process.”