It's February 2011 and Red Lights, Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés' much-anticipated follow-up to Buried, is about to wrap in Barcelona. That movie managed to attract Ryan Reynolds, but the cast this new one has achieved, with its plot about two investigators dedicated to debunking (supposedly) paranormal phenomena, can only be classified as extraordinary: Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, Joely Richardson, Toby Jones, and the cherry on the cake, Robert De Niro.
"To have Robert De Niro is fantastic, but a film shoot is a battle and demands absolute concentration, so you focus on what you want to transmit and not on the name of the person in front of the camera," says Cortés, talking slowly and deliberately after the crew has departed for lunch.
"It all starts with something like, 'This script is something that might interest Bob [De Niro].' Then you get it and send him the script. After a while they tell you: 'Bob wants to meet you.' So you go and meet him. The thing is Bob wants to see you in Sicily, which seems pretty suitable [laughs]. So Adrián [Guerra, the producer] and I take a plane to Rome. From there we get a plane to Catania. From Catania, a taxi to Taormina. There we go to a hotel where Bob is staying under a false name, because, of course, he is not going to stay there as Robert De Niro.
"The meeting was almost the easiest part: he was excited about the script, the story, the character... And right there he said yes, that he wanted to do it, that we will find a way of making it work. [...] Was I euphoric? Well, let's just say I wasn't sad, but even with that response, in every film you have to walk up 100 steps and you can fall at every one, even at the 99th. Some projects collapse two weeks before they begin, and others, two weeks after."
To have Robert De Niro is fantastic, but a film shoot is a battle and demands absolute concentration,
A year after the set visit, someone clears their throat on the other end of the line until a female voice says: "Hello, I'm putting Bob on line." De Niro is getting ready to speak to EL PAÍS from New York. The actor is known by some journalists as the sphinx because of his stone face and monosyllabic answers during interviews. Today, though, the Taxi Driver star seems interested in talking about Red Lights: "I've been making films for 40 years, but I have to say my character in Red Lights is unique. That's why I accepted it, and I think the secret of the character is that he is indefinable and credit for that goes to Rodrigo, an extraordinary director."
It's high praise from a man who has worked with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Michael Mann and, over lunch back on set, Cillian Murphy, one of Christopher Nolan's favorite actors, agrees.
"My agent spoke to me about Red Lights and told me: 'You should go to see Buried'," he recalls. "Afterward I met Rodrigo in London and when I finally read the script I thought it was wonderful. One of the best I have read in a long time. What's more Rodrigo seemed to be a special director. Later Sigourney Weaver and Robert De Niro came on board and I saw I hadn't been wrong."
The comments amply show that Cortés, alongside the likes of Alejandro Amenábar and J. A. Bayona, has joined the list of Spanish directors capable of attracting A-list stars. Moreover, they also prove that with an interesting script and decent résumé, any actor can be a phone call away from working on a Spanish film.