Who Wants to Live Forever? Vlad Kozlov and the Cast of IMMORTALIST and the Fiction of Science

Director Vladislav Kozlov’s new film, Immortalist, tackles nothing short of the universal dread of mortality. The legendary Franco Nero plays Paolo, who is dying of terminal cancer. His grandson Max (Jeff DuJardin), an anti-aging company attorney, is determined to save his beloved “Papa” by means of cryonics—the low-temperature freezing of corpses in special canisters in the hope that advances in science will allow them to be resurrected in the future.

A devout transhumanist, Max believes that the next step of our evolution that will allow humans to become immortals is right around the corner, but can’t afford full-body suspension and is forced to go with the less expensive option of literally beheading his grandfather’s corpse and preserving his head only. Max’s mother (Sherilyn Fenn), a single, alcoholic and a wandering Catholic thinks Max’s plan is both immoral and barbaric and insists on a traditional funeral. The conflict that ensues is guaranteed to make your family’s Thanksgiving drama look restful in comparison.

Vlad Kozlov and much of the cast of Immortalist, including Jeff DuJardin and Paul Rodriguez, along with advisor Dr. Aubrey de Grey, who plays himself in the film, spoke exclusively with Film Inquiry about the movie and its controversial subject matter.

Who Wants to Live Forever? Vlad Kozlov and the Cast of IMMORTALIST and the Fiction of Science
Vladislav Kozlov, Courtesy Roberson PR

JIM DIXON FOR FILM INQUIRY: The last time we talked, it was about The Killers, a mid-length, shorter film version of your new film, Immortalist. The Killers won Best Director at the Rhode International Film Festival, in fact. Did you know then that you wanted to make a feature-length version of the story?

Vlad Kozlov: I was thinking about that because I wanted to tell the real story because there wasn’t room for that in the short film. The short film was very short term, period. I wanted to show still more to the audience, explain a little bit more of the character [Max, played by Jeff DuJardin], why he’s doing this, to show a little fragment, like a small episode from his childhood, his dreams—that was really important for the story.

The Universal Dread of Death

FILM INQUIRY: How would Vlad Kozlov describe Immortalist?

Vlad Kozlov: I think Immortalist revolves around the fear of death. The main character, Max, is afraid to die and he is preparing for it, trying to cure aging so he can save his grandpa, his family and himself from death. Why he is afraid of death? Why we are all afraid of it? Because we cannot imagine that one day we just disappear from this planet forever. I, personally, as the director and the creator of this film, have my own experience with it. I was filming another movie, about Rudolph Valentino, and was playing him at the hospital bed dying. Then in about one week I ended up on the surgery table myself and ended up bedridden for a while. When you meet death face to face it gives you real fear. First of all, the uncertainty. The unknown. I felt that I was too young to die—thirty-three at that time—and I felt sad that I hadn’t had a chance to achieve anything yet. The more I was thinking about it, the more I understood that we would never be ready for it. Also, the day I was filming scenes for Immortalist at the cemetery, I got a call from the county coroner who informed me that my friend, Christopher Dennis, the “Hollywood Superman,” tragically died and he was only 52. His death and his funeral affected me so deeply because I have never seen a dead person in real life before, and I had never buried anyone. That excavator clumping down on the dirt in the movie is the footage from the actual burial of my friend Chris.

FILM INQUIRY: In fact, Kozlov was instrumental in raising money for Dennis’ funeral and burial. Christopher Dennis’ tragic life is chronicled in Kozlov’s upcoming movie American Superman. Did you have a concrete sense of what you wanted to add to The Killers?

Vlad Kozlov: I thought I’d start from scratch—I’d set to the new movie with a proper budget and everything. But as it turned out [I found an investor] who wanted to do it, and he told me, what exactly he would like to add, and that was the RAADfest in Las Vegas. [the world’s largest gathering of radical life extension enthusiasts]. I went there. And I [met] James Strole, President of RAADfest. He wanted me to be on the stage and say a couple of words about the short film. I asked, “How about you let my star [Jeff DuJardin] do it?” I needed him on stage for the movie anyway, he will present [a trailer] The Killers. [British biomedical geronterologist] Aubrey de Grey was there. I had never met him, other than one time in San Francisco, but he was kind of unreachable there, so I wasn’t able to talk to him. But this time I saw him again, in the audience, and he said to me, “Oh, that’s a pretty good trailer, who made it?” I said [I did,] and he said, “Oh, really, I do want to be part of it.” I have an idea to put him in the film as a cameo I didn’t know what I will be doing with them. But I started researching his book and I found how they consider that humans are kind of like machines—you can just put the gas and do the maintenance, and then you can live longer—and I’m like, Wow, this is the key to the film. So, I put that together and it became a huge kind of peak arch with him. I never planned it that way. That’s why when you asked me about the script—there wasn’t any. [laughs] I mean, there were scenes, they are in there, I know what I’m doing but I never thought that, cutting together the movie, that his part would be so significant for the film.

What’s Paul Rodriguez Doing in a Movie About Death?

FILM INQUIRY: Paul Rodriguez, veteran of some sixty movies, and a charter member of Vlad Kozlov’s de facto repertory company, spoke exclusively with Film Inquiry. How did he get involved with Immortalist?

Who Wants to Live Forever? Vlad Kozlov and the Cast of IMMORTALIST and the Fiction of Science
source: Dreamer Pictures, LLC

Paul Rodriguez: I first was working with Vlad on another picture that he’s been doing for many years called Silent Life, about the life of Rudolph Valentino. He was the first screen idol, I don’t know, the Brad Pitt of his day, and I played a part in it. You know, like the old-time directors Vlad has a way of surrounding himself with a block of actors that he uses on his other projects. I just love his dedication and his passion for cinema. And he asked me to do this, and I was glad to do it.

Silent Life, which is currently in post-production, stars Academy Award® nominee Terry Moore as the mysterious Lady in Black, who claimed to be Valentino’s last lover. It also features Kozlov’s growing stock repertory company, including Rodriguez, Jeff DuJardin, and Franco Nero. Ms. Moore is also featured in American Superman.

FILM INQUIRY: How the viewer responds to the idea of cryonics and freezing dead bodies with the intent to revive them in a future with more advanced technology, is central to the movie’s main character is received. Jeff DuJardin, plays the movie’s central character, who it would not be unfair to say is obsessed with freezing his dying grandfather’s body with hopes of eventually reviving him. Did DuJardin feel any differently about his character or his quest in the extended version of the story?

Jeff DuJardin: In The Killers, the short version of the film, we only really saw the path that one could be cryogenically frozen and reanimated in the future. I think in the extended version of the film, we see [my character] Max as a true immortalist, who is exploring all angles, every possibility of how life might be extended in the future. He’s talking to scientists trying to develop pills—anti-aging pills. I have done a lot of research for this role and found that there are a lot of scientists who really are doing this.

Who Wants to Live Forever? Vlad Kozlov and the Cast of IMMORTALIST and the Fiction of Science
source: Dreamer Pictures, LLC

Working Without a Net – Or a Script

FILM INQUIRY: So were scenes from The Killers reshot for Immortalist? Or are those scenes incorporated into new footage?

Jeff DuJardin: There was no script to begin with. We created this movie basically scene by scene—We’ve got this part of the story, now, what’s another part of the story that we want to see, what’s another part of Max’s life that we want to see? What’s missing here?

FILM INQUIRY: So you were really developing the character as you worked?

Jeff DuJardin: I would say yes, to a large degree.

Who wants to live forever? Lots of people, apparently…

FILM INQUIRY: So so were there aspects of Max that were new to you doing the new scenes for Immortalist? Aspects that maybe had not been clear to you when you did The Killers?

Jeff DuJardin: That’s a good question. The way I work as an actor is I let the director guide the way and if Vlad wanted to shoot a specific scene, I would find a way to get myself there emotionally. You know, whatever it takes. For instance, we went to Las Vegas in this new version of Immortalist and we, we were actually there at [RAADFest], which is the real festival for anti-aging enthusiasts. across the country, even across the world, and they actually let me get on stage during the actual event. And just kind of immersing myself in that little world for a little bit, trying to pretend like I actually would be the guy who would go to this festival, fully believing in it, getting myself as enthusiastic as all the people there about this cause. We even had the opportunity to meet with Aubrey de Grey, who is famous in this world and a legend in his own right.

FILM INQUIRY: Aubrey de Grey, author of The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging and Ending Aging, is one of the foremost authorities on the subject of anti-aging, and plays himself in Immortalist. Dr. de Grey also spoke exclusively with Film Inquiry, and talked about his work into the science of aging, and reversing aging. Does he think that the premise at the core of Immortalist, that human remains can be frozen at the time of death, and potentially revived at some time in the future, is realistic?

Aubrey de Grey: So that is certainly a realistic possibility, in principle. The reason that it is realistic is because when we say that somebody is dead, we are really making an approximation…Every biologist and every medic knows that death is not some kind of instantaneous process where you’re alive, and then a microsecond, later, you’re dead, and some person with a doctor’s name is able to pronounce your dead. Rather, death is very much a process that takes place over time, where certainly after your heart stops, things start to go from bad to worse rather quickly, but only rather quickly, not instantaneously. So, over the past decade, there have had to be changes to the official legal definition of death. In other words, the criteria that a medical professional has to ascertain before they can say that you’re legally dead. And the reason there had to be changes, was because it became a bit embarrassing, the people who had been declared legally dead, were recovering quite often, and were walking around perfectly happily. And, of course, the definition of death is that once you’re actually dead, you stay dead, which means that if you’re not dead now, then you have never been dead, no matter what letters come after the name of anyone who said that you were…[W]hat that means is that if we take someone who has only just become dead enough to be declared legally dead today, and if we can somehow stop and arrest the subsequent decay of that body [and minimize the] accumulation of additional damage, then yeah, absolutely, it’s perfectly possible, in principle that advances in the future in the sophistication of our medical technology will allow us to revive certain people, at least some times. There’s only one that thing I want to say enough to your question, the only one catch, which is that the current process that we have today for arresting that decay, namely rapidly freezing somebody, creates additional damage to the body over and above the damage that got them into a state where they were declared legally dead in the first place. And the amount of that damage historically has been [such] that’s there’s absolutely no way that we could revive someone because at least not just by warming them up and doing nothing [else] on them. We would have to do something like uploading, you know, striping and scanning their brains and trying to figure out what they were. Without, that’s not really revival at all. That’s going to look better over the years. We now do much, much less damage in the process of cryo-preserving somebody than we used to. And there’s plenty of research going on right now, that could further greatly reduce the amount of additional damage. So that means that in principle, cryonics is an absolutely reasonable idea. And indeed, it becoming increasingly reasonable and practical.

FILM INQUIRY: Immortalist depicts a powerful conflict between faith in science and faith in God, or religion. How does that factor into the public debate?

Aubrey de Grey: I certainly feel that the opposition to cryonics on the basis of religion comes down ultimately, to the confusion about what actually constitutes death. There are extreme versions of letting nature take its course, that would oppose other types of medical care…Now, if one is taking that view in relation to cryonics, then one must necessarily be in favor of cryonics because we don’t know whether someone’s actually dead when they’re declared dead—we know that they are in a very bad way, but if they could be revived, which, of course, is the whole point of doing it in the first place—if we knew we couldn’t, we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place—then that means they’re not dead, period. So it’s just like being in a persistent vegetative state, or a long term coma or whatever. And I believe most religious people would say that the duty is to preserve that person. Let God decide whether to wake them up again.

Science vs. Religion

How does the movie’s director feel about that conflict?

Vlad Kozlov: It depends on what you believe in. When I did the research for this movie and talked to priests and pastors of different Christian confessions about cryogenics, most of them said that they were fine with it. They explained they believe they would be getting a new body anyway. That is why in the movie the character of Sherilyn Fenn softens after the initial opposition and agrees to Max’s plan after she visits the church and talks to the priest. By the way, it was a real priest, as you know I love blending real characters with their real opinions into the fabric of the story. I found more tension among regular people who weren’t even really religious, but when presented with an opportunity of cryogenics firmly denied it and considered it as something sacrilegious. In regards to evolution, again, some believe in the literal reading of the book of Genesis, and others do not. Even if they do not, it is very rare that their faith translates into actual tension science. You would have to be consistent, and that is rare. And then, there are cultures, which are not based on the Bible, and do not have the tradition of solemn burial of full bodies into the ground.

FILM INQUIRY: Not to mention the fact that the possibility of the consciousness, memories, and/or personality of the frozen individual being somehow uploaded into a new body or vehicle at some point in the future, is something that’s referenced in the film, and which Aubrey de Grey seems to feel is possible.           

Vlad Kozlov: That’s why I put so much of evolution up there because I think if they will be able to do something like that, and preserve the brain, and preserve the information and resurrect people, later on, it will be another evolution from what we have. And that to me was that was striking. And also a surprise with a conversation Father Donald [Woznicki] had with me. He told me he actually believed that evolution existed. I was shocked because when I asked him what he thought Adam and Eve looked like he says, they were probably monkeys. But then why does God need to wait for so long instead of just creating man right away, why does he need to give the nature to do all of that. I was surprised that when I asked people like, how do you imagine Adam and Eve, and everybody describes beautiful people. And then if you say they were more like apes or something, people start having confusion—they’re like, I don’t know, I believe in beautiful people. If you say they were kind of half-monkey, half something else, I mean, it’s hard. But it was interesting to me because he was very surprising.

Who Wants to Live Forever? Vlad Kozlov and the Cast of IMMORTALIST and the Fiction of Science
source: Dreamer Pictures, LLC

Directing Franco Nero

FILM INQUIRY: I was just reminded the other day that Franco Nero’s first big role in a movie was playing Adam and Eve’s son, Abel in John Huston’s movie The Bible.

Vlad Kozlov: Wow.

FILM INQUIRY: Franco Nero was apparently working as a set photographer on the shoot and Huston saw him, and of course, Franco Nero is one of the most strikingly beautiful men that ever lived, and he was very young at the time, but that’s kind of come full circle.

Vlad Kozlov: We had such a small script right from the beginning of The Killers, and it didn’t have anything like Franco being in the grave. But there was a ditch already there at the location, and it looked like a grave. We were about to wrap up shooting that night, I saw that ditch and I asked Franco to climb inside of that ditch. And he says, “All right.” And that was the key—that he’s in the grave, and asking Jeff [DuJardin] “Save me, save me.” It was not in the script before—I just came up with that idea when I saw that detail, and this is the beginning of the movie. And this is the dream.

FILM INQUIRY: And one of the things that works so well in both The Killers and Immortalist, is that opening scene—it grabs you by the throat. It’s like the first sentence in a novel where you know you’re going to turn the page.

Vlad Kozlov: Thank you.

FILM INQUIRY: It’s clear that Franco Nero just is such a consummate professional, a committed artist. The man’s made nearly 240 movies.

Vlad Kozlov: Yes, he’s made so many movies…

FILM INQUIRY: Franco Nero also clearly made a powerful impression on Jeff DuJardin, who plays Nero’s grandson in Immortalist. What was it like for the young actor to be working with one of the most experienced living actors in film?

Jeff DuJardin: It’s amazing to act with someone who has so accomplished so much and been in so many films throughout the years. [Franco’s] passion for acting—like it’s his first day on a set. You can sense his hunger and his passion for his craft. He’s very, very particular. He cares about each moment, the slightest blink of an eye, he wants to redo the take. And I could sense, from my point of view, playing his grandson, I could sense a real love coming from his character. As an actor, I could feel that that chemistry, that sense of love.

FILM INQUIRY: The scenes you have together with Franco Nero, are very poignant, very moving. I thought there was a real chemistry between the two of you. Your director of Vlad Kozlov tells me that when you were shooting The Killers—it’s hard to call a movie that’s like nearly 40 minutes long, a short—but the shorter version of it—that the night before you and Franco Nero had a major scene together he stayed up all night and wrote poetry that Vlad ended up shooting some of.

Jeff DuJardin: I didn’t know that. I didn’t know he had written it that night. And actually, that scene was mostly improvised. We kind of got a rough sketch of the scene that morning, and Franco had already had it memorized on the car ride over…We started doing the scene—I had just gotten this scene—and he was like, “Oh, no, it’s supposed to be that line.” I said, “Well, I just got the scene,” and he was like, “So what?” [laughs] We implemented what Vlad had written along with some improvised moments as well.

FILM INQUIRY: Apparently, he did that day’s shooting, it sounds to me, on very little sleep.

Jeff DuJardin: His character is dying of cancer so I guess it makes sense. But his dedication to the craft just awes me.

Working with Living Legends

FILM INQUIRY: You’re forming quite an interesting partnership with Vlad Kozlov, who I think is one of the most interesting young directors on the scene right now. He recently posted on Facebook a little behind the scenes clip of you and Terry Moore on location for Silent Life.

Jeff DuJardin: That’s right.

FILM INQUIRY: So that that’s another living legend you’ve gotten to work with recently. In fact, Franco Nero and Terry Moore are both former Academy Award® nominees.

Jeff DuJardin: Definitely, yeah. Terry Moore. She’s fantastic to work with. She, like Franco Nero—another legend—she really is an unselfish actor. She really gives herself to the roles. And just like Franco Nero was willing to lay in the ditch at the drop of a hat when Vlad asked him to, in the middle of the night up in freezing, Santa Clarita, California. Just like that Terry Moore was willing to sit in an unconditioned mausoleum for hours on end in the hot summer…But you know, to sit there, and take after take, give herself as an actress—and—just be there. Whenever I needed someone to deliver my lines to, even though she technically didn’t even need to sit there, she insisted that she be there so that I could give it as emotional a performance as possible.

Who Wants to Live Forever? Vlad Kozlov and the Cast of IMMORTALIST and the Fiction of Science
source: Dreamer Pictures, LLC

FILM INQUIRY: Immortalist doesn’t just touch on the common human dread of mortality, it’s the movie’s central theme, and few movies ever dealt with it in such a raw and unflinching way. Paul Rodriquez has some thoughts on that:

Paul Rodriguez: The pursuit that, that that everybody has been looking for since the beginning of time, I guess, is to extend one’s life. You know, many years ago, I did Shelly Duvall’s “The Legend of Ponce de Leon”—[it was part of “Tall Tales and Legends” series] on HBO—with Michael York. And it deals with that, with wanting to live forever. The model was that when Ponce de Leon tells his servant, which is me to go ahead and drink from the fountain First, the servant says “Oh, no, senõr, I wouldn’t want to drink that, because I think it’s the worst thing that could happen. Imagine living forever, seeing all your loved ones die before you—I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.” So that was one way of looking at that. But the [dramatic core], as I see it, is basically about a young man that was raised by a neglectful mother, and was raised by a grandfather. And he feels that this man is so important in his life, that he’s trying to do everything to keep him alive for as long as he can. And that’s what leads him to the pursuit of immortality. And of course, at the end, he finds that we’re all mortal, including him.

FILM INQUIRY: Rodriquez also noted the importance of Kozlov’s penchant for casting non-actors in his movies, encouraging improvisation in a largely non-scripted movie, and shared his thoughts on the science behind the fiction of Immortalist:

Paul Rodriquez: [Vlad] would tell me what the situation was, and I would improvise…But I’m sure it wasn’t the only one. There were other scenes where as you said, non-actors did a terrific job. I understand the guy who plays the cryonics guy is an actual cryonics guy. And the priest [Father Donald Woznicki], he’s my priest. He’s an actual priest. And how he explains the view on the Bible on immortality, all of those things do come together. But, you know, when you go to Vegas, and you stand there, and you join one of these conventions, a lot of us think of those people as a whacko, and they’re selling the snakeskin oil, you know, but these groups actually do exist. The actual Aubrey de Grey, he truly is a guy that believes in the possibilities of immortality. I don’t know if science will get to the point where will you live forever, but he also touches on the fact that the brain is like a computer and that it can be downloaded. And I’m a fanatic science fiction fan, and that sounds true, does ring true, because after all, the brain is nothing more than an electrical, electronic database, and I believe that science will reach a point where, where you can live inside a computer, but what kind of life there will be, I have no wish to be a part of a machine. But I think the day will come when you will more or less be a prisoner of your thoughts in a machine. And I hope I’m not around for that.

Who Wants to Live Forever? Vlad Kozlov and the Cast of IMMORTALIST and the Fiction of Science
source: Dreamer Pictures, LLC

FILM INQUIRY: What is Vlad Kozlov’s secret to attracting heavy hitters like Franco Nero, Paul Rodriquez, Sherilyn Fenn, and Terry Moore to his projects?

Vlad Kozlov: People, especially creative people, like it when you are passionate about your project, and that spark transfers. I think you must love what you are doing and believe in it.

Post-Production during a Pandemic

Film Inquiry: How has the stress of this past year, which has affected just about everyone, impacted you and your creative output?

Vlad Kozlov: That’s a hard question. It may have informed it. It was during the first lockdown when I was cutting Immortalist, and I was completely alone. It was when it happened for the first time, and people were especially scared and the streets were dead. I think that atmosphere had a great effect on me and on the movie and infused it with that energy, and that fear of death.

Who Wants to Live Forever? Vlad Kozlov and the Cast of IMMORTALIST and the Fiction of Science
source: Dreamer Pictures, LLC

Film Inquiry: What’s next for the stars of Immortalist?

Paul Rodriguez: Very fortunate because in a time of dry, scarce jobs job because of the COVID, I have been very fortunate that I’ve gotten some good roles. And I was really looking forward to Clifford the Big Red Dog. I think it’s going to surprise everyone. I just did some voiceover there—all the actors are real—you have John Cleese, you have some members of Saturday Night Live. You have David Alan Grier, you’ve got great comedians like Russell Peters, and we’re all live and the dog is the one that’s, what do you call it—computer-generated—but you’re gonna believe that there’s a living dog that’s 10 feet tall. There’s a scene there where the little girl sees this dog that’s been kidnapped and is being killed, and there’s not gonna be a dry eye in the house. I’m telling you, I was there, and I knew it was a movie, and they got to me. I’m very, very proud that to see being a movie that I can take my granddaughter and my grandma—she’s not alive—a movie that will truly satisfy all ages. Paramount spent a lot of money—$200 million, and this movie is really going to make waves. Netflix made an offer to the producers, but they held back—they want this to have a wide theatrical release because they want people to see it in a theater. It’s that powerful. And I hope that that gives me a boost. But in the meantime, I’m doing independents, I would work every day if possible. You know, the older you get the more precious every day is. And it’s sad that those of us are cooped up. To the young people, this thing will blow over, but to take a whole year of captivity for from someone of our age…I think you could relate to that.

FILM INQUIRY: That I can. And what’s coming up for Jeff DuJardin?

Jeff DuJardin: Well, we’ve got Silent Life hopefully around the bend coming up soon. And we’ll see what else my agent has in store. I know my agent, Mark Chancer at Activity, is a fan of period pieces as well, and he sees me in period pieces. When I met him for the first time, he said, “You remind me of a young Jimmy Stewart,” and I think he’s excited about these roles as well.


Immortalist is currently making the rounds of the major international film festivals, including the Berlin International Film Festival and Sundance. Vlad Kozlov’s other upcoming features, Silent Life and American Superman, are both in post-production.

What do you think about the premise of freezing dead bodies to be revived in the future? Is it purely science fiction, or is it the science of the future?

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