These are unusual times for everyone, including Matt Reeves. Best known as the director of sci-fi action films like “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and as a creator of TV’s “Felicity,” he’s returning to television as an executive producer of the Amazon series “Tales From the Loop.”
That show, which was created by Nathaniel Halpern and released on Friday, offers a blend of speculative fiction and character drama (featuring Jonathan Pryce) as it tells interlocking stories set in a town that is home to an immense and enigmatic science experiment. In an unconventional twist, “Tales From the Loop” is adapted from paintings by the Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag.
Reeves is also the director and a writer of “The Batman,” the latest reboot of that DC comic-book vigilante, with Robert Pattinson in the title role. As with numerous other film productions, work on “The Batman” was suspended last month amid the coronavirus outbreak. Reeves, 53, has remained with his family in London, where they are sheltering in place.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, he said he was eager to get back to work while remaining mindful of more immediate priorities: “There are certain moments where you realize, OK, what do we have to do to make our loved ones and the people that we care about safe?”
Reeves spoke further about the creation of “Tales From the Loop” and “The Batman” and the personal touch he tries to bring to his projects. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Why did you decide to adapt a collection of paintings?
There’s something incredibly cinematic about Simon’s vision. They’re filled with not only a sense of wonder but also a sense of melancholy. That’s exactly what we connected to.
How did you then turn those paintings into a TV series?
Nathaniel saw an opportunity to do something that was like a sci-fi “Winesburg, Ohio,” the Sherwood Anderson book, and that’s one of my favorite books. The whole idea that each chapter is a beautiful, stand-alone short story and when you read the whole thing together, there’s a sweep of ideas, of [the character] George Willard’s coming-of-age. We talked a lot about “Our Town.” Jonathan Pryce is like the Stage Manager in “Our Town,” and he’s introducing you to these tales.
Were you trying to avoid the tropes of other science-fiction shows that are more pessimistic about humanity and technology?
From the beginning, the intent was that it wouldn’t be dystopian. It was never meant to be like “The Twilight Zone” — “It’s a cookbook!” — where the big narrative twist is the thing. We don’t have twists. There’s narrative, but it provides opportunities to explore through a sci-fi lens the mysteries of our lives.
Did you always want to make science fiction and fantasy?
I came to genre kind of late. When I first began filmmaking, I thought I wanted to make humanist, Hal Ashby-type comedies. That opportunity didn’t really present itself for me. But then I discovered how the surface of genre can be a way to use metaphors to do very personal work.
Can you bring a Hal Ashby touch to your big-budget tentpole movies?
I’ve been incredibly lucky in each of the genre films I’ve done. The “Apes” films were very personal to me. When I came in on “Dawn,” my son was about 1 ½, and just starting to speak, and there was an urgency with which I could see that he had the intelligence to speak but not the actual facility yet. That was the way [Andy Serkis] played [Caesar, the intelligent chimpanzee], he was aching to speak. There was something there about human nature and animal nature and the war between them. That was the thing that I really connected to.
Is that really possible on a film like “The Batman,” where many masters have to be served?
Of course these things have to be mined in a way that can make these companies money. You never know whether the people in charge of those I.P.s [intellectual properties] are going to be open to your vision. But if they weren’t, I wouldn’t have done “Batman.” I was like, look, there have been some great “Batman” films and I don’t want to just make a “Batman” film. I want to do something that has some emotional stakes. My ambition is for it to be incredibly personal using the metaphors of that world. It feels like this really odd throwback to the movies I came up on from the ’70s, like “Klute” or “Chinatown.” I’m not saying we’re achieving anything like that. Those are masterpieces. But that’s the ambition.
What was it like to have a production of that size halted by a global pandemic?
The whole thing is quite surreal. As much as we wanted to proceed, we wanted to make sure we were safe. We didn’t want anyone on our crew to get sick. But there was a crew member who actually got it, an incredible dialect coach named Andrew Jack, and he passed away. We were all in utter shock and heartbroken. It’s been weeks since we shut down, so I don’t think it was passed among the crew. But it’s very, very upsetting.
When something like that happens, can you even begin to contemplate going back to work?
Of course, [I want] to come back when the time is right. I’ve worked on a few things where, for various reasons, you have to stop for a moment — a cast member gets sick, and you have to shut down for a week. You can take stock of what you’ve done and prepare for what’s coming. I don’t think it’s a moment where I’m going, “Why aren’t we shooting?” I’m thinking, “There are bigger things.”
Do you think the demand for this kind of escapism will be even greater when audiences are finally able to see it?
I hope so. With “Tales,” and what we’re trying to do with “Batman,” is create just enough distance so that you can have the fantasy of saying, wow, what if I could experience that one impossible thing? You have a level of wish fulfillment. But it connects to your life in a way that doesn’t feel entirely like an escape. It can really touch you, but it gives you just enough distance that you don’t have to feel the pain of it too much.