Kodi Smit-McPhee in 2067

Interview: Kodi Smit-McPhee takes a trip to 2067

From Australian writer-director Seth Larney comes 2067, a unique and prescient sci-fi adventure starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (Dolemite is My Name, X-Men: Dark Phoenix), Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), and Deborah Mailman (The Sapphires).

Larney’s film finds Earth on the brink of the apocalypse after decades of ignoring climate change and its consequences. Manufactured oxygen has become the key to human survival but a fatal reaction to the synthetic product has begun to cull the population to the point of possible extinction. The world’s only hope lies with reclusive utility worker Ethan Whyte (Smit-McPhee)—the man chosen to travel 400 years into the future and into the unknown in search of a cure. No pressure, Ethan.

The world-ending events of 2067more Mad Max than Melancholiamay feel a little less fantastic and more worryingly possible to those who’ve experienced it first hand. Australiamore than almost anywhere elsehas felt the impact of the current climate crisis, so it seems fitting that a cinematic warning about the possible future of our planet would come from a team of Antipodean filmmakers.

That Shelf had a chance to catch up with the film’s star, Kodi Smit-McPhee, to talk about his new sci-fi spectacle, the power of Jane Campion, and how he’s coping with a world turned upside down.

Your director, Seth Larney, has talked about being hugely influenced by the sci-fi epics of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Which films had the biggest impact on you as a child? How do you think they influenced your worldview?

I know it’s ironic but I probably haven’t seen as many movies as most actors have. Of those I have seen, I’d probably say 2001: A Space Odyssey. It changed my perspective on how film could be expressed and used to tell stories. Mr. Nobody is another. And I know it’s cliche but I can’t deny it: The Matrix. Though I have started to watch my fair share of movies more recently, it’s the topics I value in my own lifephilosophy, spirituality, or the sciencesthat seem to inform what becomes a favourite.

The film clearly has its influences but there are moments that stick out as truly unique. In particular, the scene where you are sent to 2474. It was handled differently and was really quite intense.

Yes it was.

I loved how you conveyed Ethan’s terror in being thrown into the unknown. So many similar sci-fi moments see characters as quiet, calm and serene amid less than normal circumstances. But here Ethan reacts the way anyone would: in sheer terror. Can you talk a bit about filming that scene?

Absolutely. I’m very glad you sensed the energy I was trying to convey but weirdly, what I remember most is that we had a little hiccup with the spacesuit that we didn’t know about until I tried the suit on when we were filming. It would fog up so I had to constantly take it off, wipe it down, put it back on, and then we’d be rolling again. I tried to breathe as little as I could so you could see my reactions and in the end, I think I was still able to convey what was needed.

But really I just tried to put myself in [Ethan’s] situation. He never expected or thought he’d be the saviour of the world and he doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter, especially after being convinced to go the mission by his best friend.

Ethan has dealt with his fair share of trauma and fear over the years so you really can’t blame him for being slightly isolated and bitter or for being reticent to get involved in this time travel Hail Mary pass. In fact, he’s actively avoided getting involved with anyone except his wife, Xanthe, and his best friend, Jude. What is it that cracks that routine, do you think? What makes him start to believe in people again?

I really related to that jump in his confidence or in his faith. I got into this industry very young and experienced things that someone my age wouldn’t normally have to deal with. Most of it was amazing but when you go through tough things at a young agea time when you don’t have the answersyou can sometimes become bitter or cold and direct your resentment out at the world. I feel like that’s where we find Ethan initially. He’s just trudging along, going through the motions, and it’s only when his beliefs about himself and about the world are challenged that he actually has to reconsider the [passive] way he goes about his life. 

This movie touches on so many important messagesbut the one that stood out to me was the impact one person can make in the face of overwhelming odds or obstacles. And with that, the belief that change is possible. With the climate crisis, political unrest, pandemics, and more, 2020 has made us all want to go back to bed and hide. How do you motivate yourself to push on? To make the little changes that have an impact?

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but I do like to study things right down to their cores—to drill down to find the facts. So I feel like I saw a lot of this coming. I feel like so many people saw this coming. We’ve been trying to steer away from where we’ve ended up for some time but that’s hard to do when people in power or people who come from a place of ignorance don’t necessarily help. If we can’t do what’s best for ourselves and for the world now, then we’re always going to find an excuse not to do what’s needed.

In a time where a lot of us are bored and waiting for the interactive world to wake up again, I really think we need to take a moment to turn the camera on ourselves and think about all those things we procrastinate—the things we always put off or never accomplish. That’s what I’m trying to do, what I’m trying to put my energy towards. If you can’t save the world all at once, I think it’s most helpful to start with yourself. By doing that and building yourself up, you can better your ability to influence change.

And one last question: You recently finished shooting Jane Campion’s Power of the Dog in New Zealand. It’s an adaptation of a fantastic book and the cast looks exceptional. Is there anything you can share about your character and your filming experience?

That was an amazing film. It is definitely going in the books as one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had, working with Jane and that cast and crew. It’s also got to be one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had, given the COVID shutdown. We all went home and really didn’t know whether it was going to go ahead again or not. But the interruption and long break in shooting gave [Jane Campion] a chance to go over everything we’d already shot so it meant we didn’t have to add any re-shoots to the schedule. She had a bunch of notes for things we could work on when we got back and for moving forward that she wouldn’t have normally had time for, so it ended up being for the better.

But the project overall is something I feel I’ve never really done before. Jane worked with me on my process and on ways to break down the boundaries I’ve accumulated over the years. I’m usually very selfish in how I like to work with my characters and that’s the process I’ve become comfortable with. She took the time to show me how to break those walls down and it’s definitely changed how I’m going to approach everything in the future.

As for the film itself, it’s just got so many layers. Where one stops, another one starts. I hope a lot of people see it because I think it’s going to be something very special.

2067 is available to stream starting today. The Power of the Dog will likely be released sometime in 2021.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)