Cinematographer Greig Fraser’s resume over the past eight years has been enviably varied. In 2010, Let Me In was released, a romantic-horror film based on the novel Let the Right One In by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist. In 2011, Fraser’s 35mm and 65mm film work graced the fantasy Snow White and the Hunstman, which was followed by his first digital movie, the intensely realistic historical account Zero Dark Thirty. In 2012, Fraser turned his eye to Foxcatcher, the true-crime tale of a DuPont heir’s pathological obsession with two Olympic wrestlers. In 2014, The Gambler was a character study of a risk-taking English prof, and in 2015 his Oscar-nominated work on the unique international hit Lion was widely praised. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came next, followed by the forthcoming Mary Magdalene, about the biblical acolyte of Jesus Christ.
I asked Greig if his multifarious collection of credits was due to careful career planning, or just luck.
“I do deliberately take films that are very different from each other,” he says. “But it’s not strategic or planned as much as it’s just my interest level. If I’ve just done a big sci-fi type of movie, the last thing I want to do straight after that is make a similar sort of movie. I want to do something very, very different. It exercises different muscles. At the same time, underlying it all, I hope that strong drama runs through as a kid of thread in the projects I choose. I like to think that I’m supportive of great actors doing their thing, regardless of the project.
“After I did Bright Star  with Jane Campion, I got offered a number of period films set in London in the 1800s,” he says. “It’s natural for people to see that and think of me as someone who can shoot that. And I don’t mean to say that those films I was offered weren’t valid – that would be disrespectful. We’re all humbled by the offer of a great film. But maybe at that point in time, that particular project didn’t stretch my skill range. They didn’t intrigue me enough. Making a movie is hard. You’re away from your loved ones. It’s like camping — at first we love it, but you can get too much of it. So when I take a film it has to be something that absolutely inspires me or pushes me to another level.”
The next feature after Bright Star for Greig was Let Me In, with director Matt Reeves. “Funnily enough, Matt had seen Bright Star and said that he loved the way I shot these two people in love. I thought it was cool that he wasn’t seeing the period — he was seeing the way I dealt with two people in a relationship, and he wanted to transpose that to a dark thriller. That was intriguing for me in a big way.”
Our conversation turned to other modes of inspiration, with Greig saying that his most useful influence is not always visual.
“If you’re ingesting the wrong images or even images that are appropriate, subconsciously it can affect you in a negative way.”
“I read as much as I can about the subject,” he says. “In the case of Lion, there was a documentary about this guy’s story, and I very deliberately avoided watching that documentary because I feel like as visualists, consciously or subconsciously, we are sponges for every image that we see around us. And if you’re ingesting the wrong images or even images that are appropriate, subconsciously it can affect you in a negative way. Of course, I do reference films to a certain point, but I try to exclude films as well. By reading, whether you’re reading the source material or information about it, you make it visual — it creates image in your mind. And it’s those images from my imagination that I’ll try and translate when I’m standing on the set, and making a decision about a lens, a location, or a blocking. But in general, for me, that process is about exclusion as much as inclusion.”
True to form, Greig’s next project is unlike anything he’s previously done. It’s Backseat, a feature film directed by Adam McKay about former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and how his policies shaped today’s world.