(Release Info London schedule; March 1st, 2018, Empire-Haymarket, 11:45)
When 'Red Sparrow' author Jason Matthews completed his thirty-three year tenure with the CIA, he found that he was not content to remain idle in his retirement. Flush with time, Matthews took up writing for his second act. The longtime fan of John le Carré and Ian Fleming began work on 'Red Sparrow', which was published in 2013 and became a best-seller and the foundation for a trilogy; 'Palace Of Treason' was the second in the series and upcoming is 'The Kremlin’s Candidate'. While the world of "Red Sparrow" is familiar to Matthews, the novel’s central character is a product of invention. Following a terrible accident, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence), leaves her career with the Bolshoi and is forced into a state-run school that trains her in sexual manipulation.
Unlike the other characters in the book, Dominika is primarily imaginary. She had a career in the ballet, until it was taken away from her. And then she was forced to go to 'Sparrow School'. 'Honeypot' school was indeed part of Soviet intelligence training. In 'The Soviet Union', they had a school that taught young women the art of entrapment, the art of seduction, for blackmailing intelligence targets. They had a 'Sparrow School' in the city of Kazan, on the banks of 'The Volga River', where young women were taught how to be courtesans. They're called ‘Sparrows'. Dominka’s training ultimately leads her to CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). Inevitably, they fall in love, which is dangerous and forbidden for him. Like Romeo and Juliet, it’s a love affair that can’t end well.
"Red Sparrow" is a spy story about a character who's not a Bourne, not a Bond, not a le Carré character. Dominika is actually a civilian who's forced into a spy plot, and whose training in spy craft is a means to survive, and to protect her mother. Her body has been used by 'The Government' from the time that she was young. What with Ballet, being an athlete, being paid by 'The Government' and then ultimately forced into 'The Sparrow' program. As with Dominika, we meet Nate at a crossroads, when a botched hand-off gets him removed from his assignment. He’s fallen from grace early in his career, and he gets a second chance to come back. He's the only person that an operative, Marble, will speak to. He’s valuable in that regard, and so he makes contact with her. In turn, Nate engages Dominika as a potential informant. Dominika and Nate have a really interesting relationship. Because they both been assigned to one another to get information and in this process of manipulating each other they fall for each other. Their relationship is constantly changing because how can you trust somebody not to be tricking you when you're trying to trick them? So they’re constantly balancing this inherent trust that they both have in each other with the basic paranoia that goes with living in a life of international espionage.
The character of Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) changes from book to film. In the book he's quite a bit older and the film skews Vanya's age down a little bit and have him be a much younger brother to Dominika's deceased father. And part of the reason for that's that there's a bit of a perverse dynamic between Dominika and Uncle Vanya, that they're both relatively similar in age, sort of close enough in age that, if they weren't related there actually could be kind of a relationship. That's a bit twisted, of the kind of handsome young uncle that Dominika may have actually even been attracted to and that he has been attracted to her. Uncle Vanya always thought of Dominika as a bit of a comrade, that they've some sort of similarities and some of the similarities that ma9 her so disciplined and successful in ballet, which is a very tough world, are sort of facets of his personality that he sees in himself and he sees in her and he thinks they share. He has some protective feelings towards Dominika. But his also not blind to her femininity. At the same time, he needs her but he knows that she needs him as well. So there's a power component in the relationship between them that opens the door to certain level of abuse. There’s a very thin line between sincerity and manipulation with them and it bounces back and forth all the time, and it's fun to play with.
Matron (Charlotte Rampling) is someone very committed to the state, committed to what Communism means. She's very much about discipline, about order, and about having faith in a higher purpose rather than just oneself and one’s little life, but to actually give over your life to a higher purpose. She began very early on in the spy school, and so in a sense when she meets Dominika, she’s seeing her younger self. She began early in the school, worked up through the school, and became a teacher. Then she was recruited by Korchnoi (Jeremy Irons), a decorated general of 'The SVR'. Bill Camp plays Marty Gable (Bill Camp), Nate’s colleague at the CIA, is sort of a grumpy guy, who's a little bit resentful. He’s two exits down the highway past where he wishes he were. And there aren’t many exits left.
The idea is never to make an erotic thriller, never to titillate in any kind of way, but to ensure that the content feels really organic to the story and to the dilemma of the character and so the film really carefully modulates anything that's sexual or involved nudity or involved violence, to find that right tone. There's definitely sexuality in the book. There's definitely violence in the book. There's kind of an audacity to it and the film captures that. It’s really about a single character’s journey, someone who finds herself manipulated by powers much larger than herself. Dominika suffers an injury and is pulled into this world of espionage. And it’s a world where her sexuality is weaponized, as it were, in the sense that she's trained as a seductress. But she's too big and too complicated a person to be a seductress, and she changes the rules on the people that forced her into this world.
'The Sparrow School' scenes are terrifying. But as you can see in the movie it’s this moment where she gains power, where she turns the tables on the people that are trying to control her and you fee that power. Because the truth is Dominika’s trained to use her body but, ultimately, prevails by using her mind. She seems like a complex modern heroine, she uses her own rules, and has a tenacity to succeed. The film is about survival and seduction. And the balance between the two is crucial. It’s survival that drives Dominika into 'The Sparrow World', and once she’s there, she needs to master seduction and intelligence skills in order to survive. The film explores seduction in a psychological, scientific way. We see a character figure out how much of herself she can give in order to survive, and if she's able to hold something back and come out of this journey intact. We never quite know what Dominika feels. What she’s thinking, or how close shed to crumbling, or lashing out. There's a certain resilience and stoicism to her as a character, that keeps us guessing. We always suspect that there's a strength in her that the men in her life have underestimated. There has never been a spy movie like this! It's a gripping and emotional ride, full of twists and turns, you will be immersed in it and leave talking about it.