Breathe Director Stefon Bristol Talks Incredible Cast, Difficulties Filming Apocalypse Movie
(Photo Credit: Capstone)

Breathe Director Stefon Bristol Talks Incredible Cast, Difficulties Filming Apocalypse Movie

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to Breathe director Stefon Bristol about the intense thriller, which takes place on an Earth with an uninhabitable amount of oxygen. Directed by Bristol from a script by Doug Simon, the film features a terrific cast, including Jennifer HudsonMilla Jovovich, Quvenzhané Wallis, Raúl Castillo with Common, and Sam Worthington. It is now available in theaters and on digital.

“Breathe is a heart-pounding thriller set in the future. After Earth is left uninhabitable due to lack of oxygen, a mother Maya (Hudson), and her daughter Zora (Wallis) are forced to live underground, with short trips to the surface only made possible by a coveted state-of-the-art oxygen suit made by Maya’s husband, Darius, whom she presumes to be dead,” says the synopsis. “When a mysterious couple arrives claiming to know Darius and his fate, Maya tentatively agrees to let them into their bunker, but these visitors are not who they claim to be ensuing in mother and daughter fighting for survival.”

Tyler Treese: You have such an incredible cast here. How did it feel assembling the cast and knowing that all these talented actors wanted to work with you and liked the vision?

Stefon Bristol: It was a dream come true. It’s very much a dream come true to work with EGOT winner Jennifer Hudson, legend Milla Jovovich, Sam Worthington, Common… It’s such a dream come true. I’d never thought in a million years I’d be able to work with such a cast, especially this early in my own career. This is only my second feature film, and I’m humbled. I’m really humbled by that. They wanted to work with me and took the risk of giving me a chance. You know what I’m saying? For a director that was not proven yet, and I am still trying to prove myself in a way. So I’m very, very, very blessed and lucky.

You mentioned Sam Worthington. I really wanted to ask you about working with him because you seem to have really unlocked an incredible performance out of him. I’ve never seen him this intense. Usually, he’s playing these very stoic characters. How was it getting this performance outta him? It was awesome to watch.

I let him do what he wants to do. He came in, he had his own ideas. It was very, very, very, very unique ideas. I think he’s one of those actors that wanted a space where he is able to try things out for himself without somebody to tell him exactly what to do. So I was like, all right, cool, man, if you have an idea, go ahead, take it.

Because he gave a really brilliant idea about the script. When he looked at his character, because on the script, his character’s progression and transition was predictable. He flipped it. Made it unpredictable, meaning that you don’t know exactly what the hell’s gonna happen until towards the end of the film. He’s actually a very intelligent person instead of this wild gun. So I thought that was a very, very insightful way of using his instinct to do something completely different.

One element that really impressed me about the film was how tense it stayed throughout. As the viewer, you’re always questioning the character’s motivations. It’s very unclear, especially with Milla and Sam’s characters. How was it finding that balance of keeping it unknown and not showing too much of your hand there?

Well, it’s all about the script. We had a great writer, Doug Simon, it’s his brainchild. Doug really had a great idea to mold the characters in such ways that we never figure out who’s telling the truth and why not. That’s really what hangs on the balance for the film to work is that the question of if anybody’s telling the truth or not. Even [Jennifer Hudson’s] Maya character, is she telling the truth about the father as well? I thought that was very intriguing. It’s all in the name of I’m just trying to survive.

I want to ask about Jennifer. She gives a really strong performance here. Obviously her resume speaks for itself, but what about her just made her the perfect choice for the lead here?

Think about it. You got Jennifer Hudson, the princess of soul, holding a shotgun in a movie. Man, the answer was yes from the get-go for me. Because if Jennifer Hudson has to shoot you, you deserve to get shot.

You’re not wrong there.

The thing is, for the movie, I needed an actress that evoked a sense of normalcy. I don’t want a regular action hero for this movie. It wouldn’t work. This is all about normal people trying to survive an apocalypse like this. When people see Jennifer Hudson on screen, I want the [normalcy] because who she is very familiar. That’s what I want to evoke. That’s my auntie down the block, that’s my cousin from around the way, you know what I’m saying? So that’s why she’s perfect for the role.

The breathing apparatus, these masks that they’re all wearing, they look really cool. Was that challenging the film? What did that add to the production?

Oh, man, those masks you saw were rinky-dink, taped up, very expensive to mold. Those masks were custom-made to fit each [actor], and each one of them is different for each character, as you see. But the problem is, man, like once we start shooting, those masks are falling off midtake, the actors couldn’t hear each other. It was bad, man. It was difficult to shoot. Plus, it was like 98 degrees outside. It was bad. So it was definitely challenging for sure.

The whole time I was watching the film, I was like, these masks look great, but I could just see this being a nightmare to film

It was absolutely a nightmare. Those masks kept breaking off. Like we was down to I think one mask for the last day. If that mask broke, we would’ve been in trouble. We weren’t able to finish shooting.

Spike Lee is a mentor to you and has been very helpful. What would you sum up as kind of the biggest lesson that you learned from him that you’ve been applying to your own films?

Don’t fuck up.

Thanks to Stefon Bristol for taking the time for ComingSoon’s Breathe Interview.

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