Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto has little to prove, having won almost nothing but acclaim over two decades for his collaborations with the very biggest names in filmmaking.
Since moving to Hollywood in 2000 he has worked on numerous occasions with Oliver Stone, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Ang Lee and Martin Scorsese, and shot movies for Cameron Crowe and Pedro Almodovar.
Nominated only once for an Oscar — for Lee’s 2006 cowboy love story “Brokeback Mountain” — Prieto has his biggest chance yet to go one better in February.
He is among the early favorites to win a cinematography statuette for his work on Scorsese’s religious historical epic “Silence,” which features sweeping panoramas of Taiwan’s rugged, mist-shrouded coastline.
“It’s something I’d enjoy, for sure. It’s not something I strive for when I’m shooting or when I’m designing a movie,” he tells AFP.
The 51-year-old, who also filmed Morten Tyldum’s 2016 sci-fi movie “Passengers” with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, has a reputation for versatility and his unconventional use of lighting and color.
But he insists he is never “flashy,” bringing what the film demands rather than what will make him look clever.
“I don’t know if awards and all that recognize that stuff,” he says, playing down his chances of an Oscar nomination.
– Sin and sacrifice –
From his adoptive home of Los Angeles, Prieto has helped lead a renaissance in Mexican cinema alongside Inarritu through films like “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams,” “Babel” and “Biutiful” (2000-2010).
Among his other movies are Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winner “Argo,” Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” and Curtis Hanson’s acclaimed “8 Mile.”
“Silence” is Prieto’s second collaboration with Scorsese since the pair scandalized Hollywood with the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll story of infamous financier Jordan Belfort in 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
“Here we are — this man from New York City and this guy from Mexico City doing a movie about Portuguese priests in Japan,” he recalls.
“It was very foreign for both of us but really amazing, quite a journey.”
With its high-minded meditations on loyalty, faith, sin and sacrifice, “Silence” is tonally the diametric opposite of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which served up three hours of profanity, lawbreaking and nudity.
Prieto said filming the love scenes between Lawrence and Pratt in “Passengers” was challenging, especially given it was her first sex scene.
“The most important thing is that the actors feel comfortable, and I know that Jennifer was… a little nervous about it,” he recalls.
“Chris Pratt obviously is a gentleman and all of us were very respectful. But it’s tricky, it’s not easy.”
– ‘Opposite styles’ –
Prieto developed a love of filmmaking as a child in Mexico City, where he and his older brother would make monster movies with their father’s 8mm camera, learning stop-motion animation by watching 1960s fantasy film “Jason and the Argonauts.”
It whet his appetite for the movie business and he enrolled in film school, setting him on a path that would see him working with some of his heroes.
Asked what kind of director he prefers — collaborative or dictatorial, meticulous or freeform, a planner or an improviser — Prieto says he appreciates the diversity more than any particular style.
“Ang Lee and Oliver Stone are kind of almost opposite styles and I really enjoy both. Ang is a very precise director, very meticulous. Oliver likes to be surprised,” Prieto says.
“He thrived on a little bit of chaos on set and you have to be on your toes with Oliver all the time. I think Scorsese is a mixture of both. Same with Inarritu. They both are precise but also let things just happen.”