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‘The Matrix Resurrections’ Producer James McTeigue Explains Why the Action Is Different This Time Around

McTeigue also tells TheWrap if more ”Matrix“ stories are on the horizon

What does it take to produce “The Matrix Resurrections?”

This is the question that befell James McTeigue, a longtime collaborator of the Wachowskis who returns to produce “The Matrix Resurrections,” Lana’s solo feature directorial debut. McTeigue has been a close collaborator of the Wachowskis since the first “Matrix” film, where he served as first assistant director. He served in the same capacity on the two “Matrix” sequels in 2003 and directed “V for Vendetta” and “Ninja Assassin,” movies that the Wachowskis produced and wrote. He returned to work on “Speed Racer” and the Wachowskis’ Netflix series “Sense8,” where he directed episodes alongside Lana and Lily and another frequent collaborator, Tom Tykwer.

It was on the “Sense8” finale is where the idea of The Pit was formed, a kind of hive mind that includes Lana, novelist David Mitchell (who wrote “Cloud Atlas”), Aleksandar Harmon, and Tykwer. The Pit returned for “The Matrix Resurrections,” envisioning a tale where Neo was once again bored office drone Thomas Anderson (now a slightly famous video game designer), who must snap out of his rut, accept the truth that machines control humanity (an idea that is echoed in his video games), and reunite with the love of his life Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). It is a lot to keep track of for a producer, and that’s before you take into consideration intentionally looser action sequences, scenes set in the human world, and a half-dozen new characters. Whew.

McTeigue spoke to TheWrap about the Pit, how Lana Wachowski has evolved as a filmmaker, where he sees the franchise headed next (if anywhere) and how that Unreal Engine collaboration came about.

Mild spoilers follow.

Did you ever think that you would get a call from Lana saying we’re going to do another “Matrix” movie?

James McTeigue: I wouldn’t have thought so. Besides being friends we make films and TV series together, so really over all that time when we were doing “Sense8” or when I was doing stuff with them before “Sense8,” we never really had a discussion about doing another “Matrix” movie. That never came across the horizon.

What was it like working with The Pit? Was there a shift in dynamic from the earlier film to this one? Or what was that whole experience like for you?

You know, it felt natural. I mean, David and Aleksandar and Tom, we all did the same version of the Pit on “Sense8,” the series on Netflix. And so, by the time it came to do “The Matrix,” I think the core idea came to Lana pretty fully formed. And so then, when they started writing it, when Sasha [Editor’s note: Aleksandar goes by “Sasha”] and David came on, it was more like the way that “Sense8” was. It felt very easy and natural. There’s never any embarrassment of ideas inside the Pit. I think the great thing about it is you get all these like different perspectives and in the same way you always have a creator. There’s also room for outward expansion in the writing. And I think that’s what they bring to the process and great minds. They are all, David and Sasha and Tom, they are great minds. It’s a joy to listen to them. The ideas spin out.

I’d read that the action sequences were almost improvised this time around. Could just speak to that whole process?

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Photo by Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images

Well, I don’t know about improvised.

I think that the way we make movies is developed a little bit from the first movies. The trilogy was completely storyboarded, sometimes within an inch of its life, because it had to be in a way. There were big sequences we were trying to achieve, by the time we got to the second and third movie, and doing the second and third movies together, that’s just the way we made films then. And I think if you jump forward to 20 years and the intervening things that we’ve done in that amount of time, I think as filmmakers, hopefully we all moved ahead. There’s a lot more freedom in the way that we make movies now. There is some conceptual art that we always do, which always starts from this script.

So I think to read the script, you start to define what the action is. And then once you start to do the concept art, you define what the action is even more. And then, for all the heads of department that need to know how to make involved sequences like that, sometimes there’s some storyboard thumbnails. But a lot of it comes from a lot of the input from the creative people that we have around us. And then to mount large action sequences like we did here in San Francisco, and to shut down the whole of downtown for weeks at a time, you really have to know what you’re doing. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for being able to change things and being flexible on that. But I guess it’s not as buttoned up as it used to be. It’s still very planned.

Do you prefer that way of working or would you rather go back to having everything diagramed?

No. I prefer that way of working because it does leave space, and the people that we work with know that there might be things that we want to change or need to change, especially if something isn’t working. Then there’s the ability to change it. It’s not so pigeonholed that you can’t change it anymore. And we like to do that. I think part of it springs out of when Lana and Lily started working with John Toll, he really gave them both a love of natural light. Nearly all the other Matrix movies were made on the soundstage except for some of the freeway chase. So that informed the filmmaking this time. It gave the filmmaking a different aesthetic.

“The Matrix Resurrections” leaves things open for the further adventures of Neo and Trinity. What do you make of that ending? Are you pushing for future installments?

Well not at the moment. I think we just wanted to put this film out there and it is open to interpretation. I like the way it’s a piece of music, right? You can bring into it what you might, like, what are Neo and Trinity going to go through? When they said it changed a few things. What is that, like in the 60 years that no one could find Neo, what did happen there? You know what I mean? Obviously Niobe gives you a fair bit of background about what those intervening years look like. But for us at the moment, it’s just about this film. We were interested in making this film but we’re also cognizant that it’s a huge franchise. But for us, it’s just this movie at the moment.

Well, it’s not just this movie because you were involved in this crazy Unreal Engine demo, which is so perfectly “Matrix” because whether it’s the video game that you guys shot along the sequels or “The Animatrix,” there’s always some kind of peripheral material. Can you talk about that Unreal project and how that fits into the “Matrix” super-narrative?

Well, it’s always fun to play with what’s real and what’s not real or what the Unreal Engine is. And we thought it was a fun concept to do because some of the guys at Epic Games are “Matrix” alumni, they headed up our visual effects department.

John Gaeta being the originator of the whole bullet time sequence. And then on the second and third movies, really taking some of the effects to the next level. And then when we started talking to them about it, we said wouldn’t it be fun to do something? And those guys are really at the forefront of the technology with the Unreal Engine, and isn’t it fun to collide the real world with the digital world, like we do with “The Matrix”? And have a real Keanu, but also have a zeros and one Keanu, like a complete digital Keanu, complete digital Carrie-Anne.

It sort of plays also into the fact that Thomas Anderson works in a gaming company within the film. And then to branch that out into a game where we talk about, we thought it was a good twist.

“The Matrix Resurrections” is in theaters and on HBO Max right now.