‘Jonathan’ Director Embraces This ‘Black Mirror’ Theory

Bill Oliver makes his feature directorial debut with Jonathan. The sci-fi movie follows a brother who lives his life with a strict routine until his brother and his girlfriend, Elena, played by Suki Waterhouse, throws a wrench into it. But the movie is a lot more than that, given the sci-fi technology available in the world.

It also calls for the star, Ansel Elgort, to play two characters, John and Jonathan. The movie handles this high concept in a smart way, focusing on just one brother throughout the movie. So what was it like taking this original concept to the big screen?

The Cheat Sheet talked to director Bill Oliver the screening of the movie at Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11 Theater for the Tribeca Film Festival. Here are seven things we learned from him, including the Black Mirror theory he embraces (page 5).

1. Ansel Elgort got the role without auditioning

Ansel Elgort

Elgort got the part right away. | Christopher Polk/Getty Images

It turns out the leading man got the job without auditioning because the director liked his previous work and a few other things. “There was no audition process with him but I did meet him for breakfast when he had expressed interest in the role,” said Oliver.

He said of their meeting, “I met Ansel and he was just really charming and funny and smart about the script. He really understood it and was very enthusiastic about doing it. And so between that and studying his other work making sure that I felt like he could pull it off, then we offered him the role.”

Next: The movie tells one side of the story for this reason.

2. The movie focuses on the more unlikable brother for a reason

Ansel Elgort in Jonathan

Elgort actually portrays two seemingly different characters, but only one gets most of the screen time. | Manis Film

The movie is about two brothers, but only one takes up the majority of the screen time. Oliver explained this is for a reason.

“A lot of people ask that because they like John so much,” said Oliver. “He’s like the more easy-going character, the more kind of easy-to-like character, I guess. But we thought it would be interesting to do it from the point of view of the one who is not quite as easy to like. But you kind of gradually see a sweeter side to him.”

Next: This is why Oliver turned to a real scientist for the movie.

3. Oliver consulted a scientist about a specific kind of disorder

Suki Waterhouse and Angel Elgort in Jonathan

There was a scientific element to the film. | Manis Film

The movie isn’t about a character having a specific disorder, but what he goes through is similar to multiple personality disorder. Oliver said he did turn to a scientist to get this aspect of the story right.

“I did talk to two scientists,” Oliver told The Cheat Sheet. “One is an expert on dissociative identity disorder, which is multiple personalities… sort of like United States of Tara thing.”

He also added, “But we didn’t want it to be about that. But I wanted to be informed and maybe get some ideas from that. We always wanted it to be something more strange and supernatural and not really based in reality.”

Next: This is another consultant Oliver turned to.

4. He also consulted someone to create a medical device

Director Bill Oliver attends a screening of "Jonathan" during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival at SVA Theatre on April 21, 2018 in New York City.

Oliver did medical research for the film. | Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

The other expert that was consulted was more focused on the hardware aspect of the movie. “I talked to a medical device expert because we knew he had to have something concrete that would regulate these consciousness shifts,” said Oliver.

Next: This is the Black Mirror theory Oliver welcomes.

5. Oliver welcomes comparisons to Black Mirror

Douglas Hodge in the Black Mirror episode "Black Museum"

He doesn’t mind comparisons to this popular show. | Netflix

The movie interestingly shares several elements with Black Mirror — including actor Douglas Hodge who is in the episode, “Black Museum.” Plus, the technology in Jonathan looks pretty similar to technology seen in the show.

When asked how the director would react if people start theorizing the movie takes place in the same universe, he had a positive answer. “I mean I love Twilight Zone, and Black Mirror — I feel is like it’s the new Twilight Zone. I think it’s great and yeah, I mean, I would welcome that,” Oliver told The Cheat Sheet.

Next: This is the reason why the movie has a certain visual style.

6. The movie is visually stylized to express loneliness

Suki Waterhouse attends a screening of "Jonathan" during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival at SVA Theatre on April 21, 2018 in New York City.

Waterhouse’s character is along for the lonely ride. | Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

The movie is usually void of color, featuring a lot of white and steel furniture. The director explained this was to provide some kind of balance.

“In the writing of it, we took this concept that’s kind of a high concept but we wanted to subvert it a little bit and make it more low-key, more every day so we could feel Jonathan’s loneliness and kind of relate to him,” he said. “But then we also wanted to bring out the kind of sci-fi-ness, or the dreaminess, or the weirdness of it in the style of it.”

The movie also has very few sets, which is both a money choice and a creative choice. “It was a creative choice in order to make it budget-friendly,” said Oliver. “We deliberately kept it fairly contained and mostly confined to his apartment and I sort of like movies like that, like Rosemary’s Baby… like apartment movies because they’re just you get a feeling of claustrophobia and domesticity.”

Next: These are some of the director’s favorite sci-fi movies.

7. Sci-fi is one of Oliver’s favorite genres

Harrison Ford in Blade Runner

He’s a big fan of movies like Blade Runner. | The Ladd Company

The director said the sci-fi genre is dear to him. “I made a short that was sci-fi about cloning again, like twins and doublings,” Oliver said. “Some of my favorite movies are sci-fi like Alien, Blade Runner (2001), but I also like other kinds of movies mainly [those] that are dramatic.”

Despite his love for the genre, he went on to clarify, “I’m not only going to make sci-fi movies.”

Follow Nicole Weaver on Twitter @nikkibernice.

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