Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee is no stranger to dystopian action thrillers. One of his early roles was in the post-apocalyptic drama The Road, in which co-starred with Viggo Mortensen as a young boy trying to find some semblance of civilization following a global cataclysm. He also starred in a similarly themed fight-for-survival actioner Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and played a young mutant at war to save modern civilization in in the sci-fi epic X-Men: Apocalypse and subsequently X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
So, it may come as a somewhat of a surprise that the 24-year-old would opt to head into the future if he had access to a time machine.
The subject of time travel comes up as Smit-McPhee is relaxing in Melbourne, Australia, having recently completed production on the newest Jane Campion film, The Power of the Dog, in nearby New Zealand. He is eager to discuss his newest film—the sci-fi adventure 2067, in which he plays a lowly oxygen miner in a dystopian future where the air is too foul to breathe without masks and oxygen tanks who is called up to the surface by his corporate masters for an unexpected assignment—to try and save Mankind. Sure, no problem.
As Ethan Whyte, Smit-McPhee is called upon via a digital message from the future to embark on a mission through a largely untested time machine to hopefully find some resolution to the air quality conditions in the present. Ethan crash lands into 2474, landing in a reborn world where the rainforests are lush and the air is clean. Just one problem: there’s not a living soul around. So, who sent the message and why did they call for him? He is soon joined by a friend, Jude (Ryan Kwanten), who is sent as guardian/brother figure, but as the duo race to find a solution to save the human race, Ethan becomes skeptical of Jude’s true purpose on their mission. Ethan’s father, a scientist who disappeared years earlier and whom Ethan believes is responsible for his mother’s death, also figures prominently in the antihero’s quest to save the Mankind while also saving the planet from those same destructive humans who contributed to Earth’s demise. The cast also includes four-time AACTA-award winner Deborah Mailman and Aaron Glenane (TNT’s Snowpiercer).
Smit-McPhee, a philosophical and ecologically minded individual, says he was drawn to the cautionary themes of 2067 by writer/director Seth Larney. Coincidentally, during part of the production of the film in Australia last year, wildfires were raging, bringing home the urgency of protecting the planet from dangerous pollutants that are contributing to climate change.
RLJE Films’ 2067 arrives in theaters, On Demand and Digital Friday, Oct. 2.
Angela Dawson: Was production on 2067 impacted by the Australian wildfires?
Kodi Smit-McPhee: They were just starting to kick off really bad as we were finishing. The world started to go into a crazy paradigm. Luckily, we were on the outskirts of the city so we were safe, but I knew people who were affected by it. It was very scary.
Dawson: The film’s writer/director Seth Larney is very passionate about the environment. 2067 is a thrilling science-fiction adventure, but it also sounds the alarm on climate change. Was that part of the appeal of doing this film?
Smit-McPhee: Yes. I’m passionate about sci-fi films, especially ones that hold a message about how we treat Mother Earth. I’m very passionate about nature as is (co-star) Ryan Kwanten. For a portion of my life, when I awoke to certain things, I was always trying to correct them to the world in ways that I could but I’ve found that the best way for myself is to do that is through my industry. That’s kind of when the job came along and I think that’s the best way to (raise awareness), which is through my profession. Especially now, at a time when we’re all wearing mandatory masks, I think this will ring really true with audiences, and make them talk about it and think about it, which is really what needs to happen.
Dawson: You and Ryan Kwanten share most of your scenes together in this movie, and refer to each other as “brother.” Did you know him prior?
Smit-McPhee: I didn’t know him beforehand, but wished I had because, honestly, on the first day that we got together to read the script with Seth (Larney) in the room, we got along. Seth had taken a gamble in casting in this circumstance because he’d never seen us together but I guess he had cognitively done that. We discovered we had similar perspectives and beliefs and a similar passion towards nature so the bonding was very natural from there on out. We just started hanging out with each other, mediating together, and so forth. I’m very grateful that the bond was there off-screen, and it translates onscreen.
Dawson: You’ll be 71 in 2067. As a young man, do you think about what the world will be like then or even how it will be 10 years from now?
Smit-McPhee: Absolutely. I do think about that. I’m a lover of philosophy as well as science—quantum physics and stuff like that. I’ve studied religion and spirituality, which has caused me to think about my future, my end and my beginning, but, at the end of the day, I think about the now. Anything that I notice that I worry about, be it about the world or my place within it, I truly notice that I can only affect the now.
Most of the dystopian films that have been made and George Orwell’s 1984 give us a glimpse of where the world can go when a crisis hits. We see that it’s very similar to these dystopian kinds of movies and sheds light on the strangleholds that our governments have over us. Even though they’re doing what they think is the best for us right now, you can see there are so many different opinions between different countries and even different states are divided over what actually is best. It’s kind of scary.
Dawson: As Ethan Whyte, you go on an emotional roller coaster ride in 2067, and your character goes through so much turmoil in this. Do you find when you perform roles like this that it’s difficult to summon the intensity of those emotions or does it, in some way, allow you a form of release that you otherwise wouldn’t have?
Smit-McPhee: It’s really both. I feel like the dramatic stuff is quite a recurring theme in my career. So, I’m very used to doing it but at the same time, on some days, I can actually feel my body retreating from it. I don’t really want to go there sometimes because it can be hard. But, at the same time, it can actually be somewhat healing.
I’ve come across a lot of actors who choose certain roles to project emotions that they have suppressed within themselves, which would be rather radical to act out in their normal life. But they get to act it out in a movie and it kind of helps them so I believe in that. I believe there’s some form of healing that I get from doing these roles. At the same time, I try not to take too much from my personal life and build it into the character because then I’m emotional about things that are happening to myself, and I’m constantly dredging that up. It’s almost like using the character as an A.I. to get the emotions out.
Dawson: Ethan sees his destiny in front of him with the skeleton with a bullet hole in the head on this abandoned planet and grows doubtful that he can change it.
Smit-McPhee: It really is a terrifying thought.
Dawson: The production design on the film was incredible, with nods to classic dystopian films like Brazil and Blade Runner .
Smit-McPhee: I know. I never saw any of the special effects, of course, while we were making the film. That’s the gamble we take and the faith we have in Seth (whose background is in visual effects). That’s usually the case on these kinds of films. You wonder, “What is this going to look like after?” But, after seeing it, I’m absolutely blown away.
Dawson: If you had access to a time machine, would you want to travel forward or backward?
Smit-McPhee: I would love to go back because, like I said, I have a special love for philosophy and history, but I feel with the medical world and all the advances in science that have been made like surgical procedures have been made pretty effortless and painless, I would not trade that to go to medieval times or someplace like that. So, I think I’d be more inclined to go into the future.
Dawson: What’s happening with The Power of the Dog?
Smit-McPhee: I finished that. We shot it in New Zealand. It was briefly interrupted by the pandemic. We had a month off, maybe, and then returned to finish it. It’s directed by Jane Campion. It’s very special, very unique. It’s based on a book of the same name. It’s such a layered story and it’s changed my whole perspective on how I will approach characters that I play in the future. It was one of the jobs that will go down in the books for me as very special. I can’t wait for it to come out.
Dawson: What have you been doing since you finished production on that?
Smit-McPhee: I’m just taking the time to work on all the things I’ve been putting off or procrastinating about— like my health or mental health. All that good stuff. Simultaneously, as the world starts to tick slowly again, the industry’s starting to wake up, so I’m just trying to scan through jobs, auditions and stuff like that, and see where I’ll be taken next.