SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The film "Reminiscence" is set in a Miami of rising waters and scorching heat, where people have now flipped the clock to work at night and sleep by day. Nick, a war vet who's now a private eye, uses a technology that floats people in a tank, so they can relive cherished memories.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "REMINISCENCE")
HUGH JACKMAN: (As Nick Bannister) You're going on a journey, a journey through memory. Your destination - a place and time you've been before. To reach it, all you have to do is follow my voice.
SIMON: Like, a man who lost his legs can once again play with a beloved dog who's long gone. But do you think this new technology can also be used for nefarious purposes? Haven't you ever seen a dystopian science-fiction film before? Hugh Jackman is Nick. The film also stars Thandiwe Newton and Rebecca Ferguson. It is the first film directed by Lisa Joy, one of the creators of the much-honored HBO series "Westworld." Lisa Joy joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.
LISA JOY: It's lovely to be here.
SIMON: You know, my first thought - Miami in the opening moments - rising water, heat scorching. People only go out at night. Dystopian science fiction is usually set, like, at least a generation away. But this could be September.
JOY: (Laughter) Yeah, unfortunately, it feels as though the world is outpacing our ability to imagine it. About a month ago, The New York Times had on its front page that Miami's building these walls to block...
JOY: ...The waves from coming in. And I was looking at it thinking, it looks like a scene from our film. We actually built those walls and slid them around block off streets in New Orleans to make it look like Miami.
SIMON: Look. Anybody who's ever read even short detective fiction knows you don't fall for a client.
SIMON: Doesn't Nick know that?
JOY: You know, it's funny because this film for me is - when I first started it, I was pregnant at the time. And my grandfather passed away. It really had me thinking a lot about memory and the importance of it in this kind of romantic way. And I was unemployed at the time. I'd had to leave a show because I was the only woman on the show for years. And, you know, this was before #MeToo. And it just got too hard.
Hearing the ways in which women and myself were talked about by a group of men who didn't fear any repercussions - it really undermined so much of my confidence in my voice and my ability to maneuver through the world. You know, so, in some ways, stepping away and getting to write something for myself was an incredible relief. You know, the film is about memory. But the thing that I said when I first met Hugh that I've never really talked about is - this film is an indictment of the male gaze.
SIMON: Of the male gaze.
JOY: Yeah. And the thing is, you know, I talked about it with Rebecca, too, when she...
SIMON: This is Rebecca Ferguson, one of the co-stars. Yeah.
JOY: Yeah. Exactly. And it was - this isn't the love story that you've seen in noirs, necessarily, because I'm trying to unpack something.
JOY: Whenever you walk in a room as a woman, you always have to calibrate, what are you going to wear? What are you going to say? Because you know the snapshot that is made of your personality is likely going to be a box that is very hard to get out of. And so even though this film stars Hugh, what we're trying to do is talk a little bit about how the blindness of the gaze - even a well-intentioned gaze of love can trap someone. And how liberating it would be to have someone desire you not for the person they want you to be but to be able to accept all the parts of you.
SIMON: You have what I think is safe to call a uncommon background for a filmmaker - went to law school, one near Boston. Isn't that what we usually say?
SIMON: A consultant at McKinsey & Company. And then, of course, you nearly threw away all professional prospects by being an intern at NPR.
SIMON: Thankfully, you were able to recover from that, probably...
SIMON: ...With a lot of work, right? You submitted a script for the series "Pushing Daisies." Why?
JOY: You know, for me, I have always used writing as a form of therapy. It's always been really personal to me. It's how I process the world. When I had the microphone and a little card that said I was with NPR, it didn't matter who I was at all. And I could go up and ask anybody anything, in some ways. And they would be happy to talk. I'd get to see parts of them. And they'd feel safe. And I'd feel safe. And...
JOY: ...I found that great. It was the same reason I like writing because writing is an inquiry into people and ourselves. You know, and working in criminal law, you have these people who have suffered. And their stories don't get told. They don't always get heard. For me, it's just about connecting with people and saying, I think we have to stand for something sometimes and be brave, even though people might not like what we have to say. And all of it just stems from the same impulse, which is to hold hands with people.
SIMON: Totally personal question here - you know, my familiarity with your work, which is a couple of "Westworlds" and this movie and now this interview - what are your dreams like? Are there storylines in there?
JOY: Oh, man. That's a good question. I do tend to dream in storylines that are quite dramatic. You know, I remember as a kid, I had this imaginary world called Hamper Land. So I grew up in New Jersey and had this little bathroom. But I wasn't - I was a bookworm. But my parents really wanted me to focus on passions that might lead to more economic security than reading fiction, which I understand.
SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah.
JOY: And so I would get these books from the library, pretend to go to sleep. And then in the middle of the night, I would sneak into the bathroom and put down the toilet lid and read them for hours and hours. And then I would hide the book at the bottom of the hamper under all the clothes.
When I would dream, I had this dream that I would go into the bathroom, and I would climb down into the bottom of the hamper. And there would be the false floor. And if I stepped through it, it would turn into a giant slide that took me into this underground world, like, a whole universe. There, I was like a princess, you know? I mean, I had no - nothing like that going on in my life then. You know, my parents - they sold belts. I was the Asian in a not very Asian community, you know? And I remembered I had a love interest, even. I had a love interest. And his name was Mr. Handsome.
SIMON: Well, it's not subtle, but (laughter)...
JOY: Not subtle. And Mr. Handsome was always getting in trouble. He was always getting, like...
JOY: ...Caught in giant spider webs and, like, trapped by bad guys. And I was always liberating Mr. Handsome from traps.
SIMON: Did he feel objectified with a name like that? I mean, Mr. Handsome as opposed to Mr. Sensitive, you know?
JOY: Yeah, he was a very gentle soul, you know, tender and sweet. And I was too young to know anything about, you know, sex or anything like this. This was purely romantic. But I wanted to cast myself, I suppose, as the guy rescuing this handsome damsel in distress (laughter).
SIMON: Lisa Joy - she's directed her first film, though it sounds like she's been warming up for years, "Reminiscence, in theaters and on HBOMax. Thank you so much for being with us.
JOY: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
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