Of all the stories told in this year’s Academy Award-nominated films, the most amazing may be the true tale of English cryptoanalyst and computer scientist Alan Turing. For in 2015 it’s almost impossible to believe that the father of artificial intelligence, and one of the individuals directly responsible for helping the Allies defeat the Nazis in World War II, was, in 1951, prosecuted by the British government simply for being gay. Yet as Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game (based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges) illustrates, Turing, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was a man who confronted the impossible on an almost daily basis. I spoke with Tyldum (who, like his star, is an Oscar nominee for his work on the film) at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, where he received the Outstanding Director Award, and he shared his thoughts on the mystery of Alan Turing…
NERDIST: You clearly did quite a bit of research in making The Imitation Game. On a personal level, what did you find most compelling about Alan Turing’s story?
MORTEN TYLDUM: One of the things was that this man was so awkward, weird, and arrogant, socially, but the way he wrote was so clever and so insightful and so beautiful. This man who could just walk away from you in the middle of a sentence because he didn’t think you were interesting enough, or who could say the most rude, thoughtless thing, who lacked that social interaction, has this humor and self-awareness. His writing is actually extremely elegant and almost poetic. I find that very interesting. It says a lot about how his mind worked, that way of interacting came from a mind that literally went twice as fast as anybody else’s.
N: Why do you think Benedict Cumberbatch was able to get under the skin of this particular man so well?
MT: Benedict is an incredible actor who is so smart… We went back to [Turing’s] childhood in analyzing him. We really wanted to follow how his mind worked, the psychology behind everything. There’s no recording of him, there’s no way to know how he talked. We sort of had to piece him together. We talked to some women who remembered him. The oldest woman was eighteen when he died. So there were vague memories. It’s been extraordinarily fascinating, to piece this complicated, fascinating, awkward, weird, strong-willed, arrogant man together. I think everybody who worked on it fell in love with it.
N: What can you tell us about your next film?
MT: There are two [possibilities]. One of them is actually a true story. Either I’m exploring a political thriller or I’m going to space to do a sci-fi thing.
N: Have you long been a fan of science fiction?
MT: To me genre isn’t important. To me it’s the story and the characters and something in it that I need to explore.
N: Thank you for your time, Morten.
MT: Thank you!
Find out how The Imitation Game fares with its eight Oscar nominations at this year’s Academy Awards telecast, live on ABC on Sunday, February 22nd at 7 EST/4 PST. And before watching, check out the winners of the just-as-prestigious 5th Annual Nerdist Movie Awards!