One of the many intriguing aspects of the Sony e-mail leak was the news that Warner Bros. was in talks with Jeff Nichols (the upcoming Midnight Special) to direct the Aquaman spinoff. We know now, over a year later, that Warner Bros. eventually hired James Wan to direct Aquaman, but I caught up with Nichols today to get the full story on what happened to his version of the film, and why he eventually decided to walk away.

Nichols admits that he was in talks to direct Aquaman, but joked, “If you were a director working on the Warner Bros. lot over the past few years, someone is going to ask you about a DC character at some point.” While working primarily on indie movies like Mud and Take Shelter over the past few years, Nichols had been eager to work at the studio level, primarily with Warner Bros., a studio he felt was particularly artist friendly. He was equally as eager to work on a larger budget, but despite some “fun conversations,” never felt fully comfortable working within the confines of the DC Cinematic Universe.

But, you now [sighs] the trick with ‘Midnight Special’ is even though it was made at the studio, they gave me a lot of control over the process. And I don’t just mean control over final cut, but it felt like we were making one of my movies. I had my team. I had my family there. My crew. We made the movie we all wanted to make. With the DC universe, so many parts of it had been activated and so many decisions had already been made that it felt more and more — and Warner Bros. agreed — that it was me trying to jump on a moving train. That’s not so much what I’m good at. I’m more of a ground up kinda guy.

Aquaman had already been cast at this point (Jason Momoa), his costume designed and there had been at least one script in development, so it’s not surprising Nichols was at least weary of joining a project so far along. But, there is certainly no shortage of characters in the DC universe that are getting their own movie, would he want to return and develop one of those characters?

Not really. Because, it’s all a connected universe. And it should be. And I was an advocate of that. The decisions that Zack (Snyder) is going to make in Batman vs. Superman, those all connect to things that are going to happen in Justice League and all that. And I was a huge comic book nerd, so I know all these characters and they all need to be beautifully webbed together. I was just far enough on the outside that I could develop things in a vacuum all day long but it wasn’t going to line up with everything they had planned.

It’s a common complaint among superhero directors: much of the movie is laid out for you when you sign on to direct. Joss Whedon has famously said that entire scenes were storyboarded before he even wrote his script for the first Avengers (he had considerably more input in Age of Ultron). Even Wan, who replaced Nichols on Aquaman, has said that some of his work on Fast and Furious 7 was dictated by existing stunts/set pieces the studio wanted in the film. It’s impressive to know that a director, who also happens to be a huge comic fan, had the foresight to realize this would be a problem and the temerity to turn down a highly lucrative job.

Nichols said he hasn’t yet written his next script, but don’t expect it to star any superheroes. We’ll have much more from Nichols on Midnight Special after the film makes its premiere at SXSW later this week.

Aquaman is set to open in theaters on July 27, 2018.

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