Get ready for the understatement of the week: “We knew how to shoot an aerial sequence at this point.” That’s director Joseph Kosinski talking about making the new Netflix drama Spiderhead, which happens to feature a few scenes in which Dr. Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth) flies a small plane to his island hideaway, where patients played by Miles Teller and Jurnee Smollett experience some very unconventional treatments, all set to a bopping yacht rock soundtrack.
The above quote is an understatement because prior to Spiderhead, Kosinski directed Top Gun: Maverick, which also featured a scene or two involving planes. The flying sequences of Spiderhead, though, were just one aspect of what Kosinski calls a “mostly in-camera movie,” shot during the COVID-19 lockdown and just coincidentally making its way to Netflix a few weeks after Maverick‘s record-setting theatrical debut.
Kosinski tells Consequence in a phone interview that he realized about six months ago that his two films would be released closely together. “Top Gun was a movie that we kept pushing, waiting for theaters to reopen, and then there turned out to be three weeks [between them], which you’d think would be a little concerning. But, honestly, they’re such different films and in different mediums. It’s kind of fun to see how they compliment each other, and knock out all my press over an intense six weeks.”
Below, transcribed and edited for clarity, Kosinski explains his approach to tackling something small like Spiderhead in the wake of Maverick and what was involved in nudging actors like Hemsworth and Teller out of their comfort zones. He also reveals a big difference between the plane sequences in Maverick and the plane sequences in Spiderhead: For Spiderhead, he actually got to be in the plane… while Hemsworth flew it.
In general, what was the experience like going from something as big as Maverick to something as comparatively small as Spiderhead?
For me, it was refreshing. I like the rhythm of bigger to smaller. I like the different challenges. I like the constraints. Obviously they’re very different films, Spiderhead being essentially an ensemble piece about three people on this one set. So I liked the challenge of doing something completely different, and was honestly just really excited to be able to make something during that time in the pandemic when people were wondering if we could work at all. This was a film that I knew we could make given the restrictions, because of the nature of the story.
Yeah, what’s really exciting about this period of film right now is seeing what people were making during the pandemic, and how many different ways there are to tell a story with just a few people in a room.
Yeah, exactly. At the same time, you don’t want it to feel constrained by the pandemic, or that compromises were made. This was a story where it lends itself to this ensemble piece, but at the same time it was great to get outside and open it up, and shoot on Whitsunday Island, which is a place I’d probably never go to if it weren’t for this film.