Okja interview: Lily Collins says Netflix should be 'applauded' for supporting auteurs

Tom Butler
UK Movies Editor

‘Okja’ star Lily Collins has weighed in on the Netflix debate saying the streaming services commitment to supporting directors should be cherished by the industry, not attacked.

The 28-year-old’s comments come off the back of the film’s controversial Cannes debut in May. Jury member Pedro Almodovar said “I personally don’t perceive the Palme d’Or [should be] given to a film that is then not seen on the big screen” after two Netflix Originals, ‘Okja’ and ‘The Meyorowitz Stories’, played in competition.

Collins, who plays animal rights activist Red in Bong Joon-ho’s idiosyncratic comedic thriller, says only Netflix would have allowed her South Korean director to make this movie.

“Netflix was on board with Bong from the get go,” Collins explained to Yahoo Movies.

Bong Joon-ho & Paul Dano behind the scenes in ‘OKJA’ (Jae Hyuk Lee / Netflix)

“Bong has been very vocal about the fact that they never interfered, and that really allowed him to expand on his own ideas and his imagery, and they took a risk. This movie – in a nutshell – about a young girl saving her pig, and then you add on the amazing cast of characters, and this world that he creates, it would be easy to want to tone it down, or change it. But Netflix took a risk, and I think it’s to be applauded.”

“Everything is taking a risk with them, and I think it’s really great.”

Bong Joon-ho is no stranger to studio interference either. His last film ‘Snowpiercer’ was never released theatrically in the UK, and its initial US release in 2014 was botched by The Weinstein Company.

Lily Collins as Red in ‘OKJA’ (Barry Wetcher / Netflix)

It opened on just a handful of screens after the studio demanded 20 minutes of changes, which the director refused to make. It was eventually put out on 100 or so arthouse screens, by which time its moment had passed, despite widespread critical acclaim.

With Netflix rapidly closing in on 100m subscribers, ‘Okja’ has the potential to reach a much wider audience than the director’s previous film could ever have dreamed of when it launches globally on 28 June.

The film is set in the near future and tells the story of Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) a young Korean farm girl who has a close bond with gentle giant Okja, a genetically engineered hippo-pig. The animal was raised by Mija’s grandfather from birth, but now the Mirando Corporation wants her back, much to Mija’s distress.

Ahn Seo-hyun as Mija with Okja (Netflix)

The nefarious multinational is raising the animals for slaughter in a bid to solve a global food crisis, and Red’s animal rights group intervenes to help Okja and Mija.

In a week that saw Phil Lord and Chris Miller fired from the latest ‘Star Wars’ film over “creative differences” with Lucasfilm, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate Netflix for giving distinctive filmmakers like Bong Joon-ho the freedom to make films without interference.

Packed with larger-than-life characters (Jake Gyllenhaal’s Steve Irwin-meets-Borat Dr. Johnny Wilcox is quite extraordinary), hyperreal settings, and brutal scenes of industrial meat farming, it’s ‘E.T.’ but everyone wants to EAT the little guy, and it’s definitely something you wouldn’t see on a Disney slate any time soon.

Jake Gyllenhaal as Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. Johnny Wilcox, a zealous zoologist and TV personality in ‘Okja’ (Barry Wetcher / Netflix)

“The world of cinema, and the way we get our movies and see our movies is evolving,” adds Collins whose next movie ‘To The Bone’, which tackles anorexia, was recently snapped up by Netflix.

“I just commend Netflix for taking risks, and it’s exciting that – especially for ‘To The Bone’ which is a subject matter that is very taboo to talk about but yet so prevalent – to have it be able to be in people’s homes, where it can be discussed as a family is really important. I think there’s room for everyone.”

‘Okja’, which also stars Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Giancarlo Esposito is available to stream on Netflix globally from 28 June.

Watch the trailer for ‘Okja’ below…

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