By Eliana Dockterman and Diane Tsai
February 13, 2015

Few knew who Norwegian director Morten Tyldum was before he took on the Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. But the film about the inventor of computer science, who broke the Nazi code and helped win World War II, has earned Tyldum a Oscar nomination for best director (along with nods for Cumberbatch, Knightley and Best Picture). Even if Tyldum doesn’t win, his star is on the rise: He’s set to film a space romance called Passengers next with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in talks to star.

Still, The Imitation Game — like every other biopic this Oscar season — hasn’t been without controversy. Tyldum talks his decisions not to delve deeper into Turing’s sexuality and not show his suicide with TIME.

How much did you know about Alan Turing before the film?

I’ve always been interested in history, so it shocked me when I read the script how little I knew about Turing. It’s sort of like if Albert Einstein was a little-known mathematician. Alan Turing was one of the most important individuals in the last century, and he’d been living in the shadows of history far too long. I think it’s impossible to not be fascinated or intrigued or outraged when you hear the story for the first time.

How much do you think historical accuracy matters in a biopic?

I think it matters a lot. It’s a huge responsibility when you’re dealing with real-life persons and real-life events to do it accurately. Of course, you have to compress a lot into two hours, and there’s no way you can be totally accurate. You have to convey the emotional accuracy—how did Alan Turing feel at this time?—and to do that, you sort of have to dramatize events.

That’s why I wanted it to feel like a thriller. He was 27 years old when he came to Bletchley. Here was this man plucked straight out of Cambridge. And he ends up with all these incredible secrets being dumped on his shoulders and all this incredible pressure. It would be as if he was living in the middle of this wartime spy thriller, so that’s what we wanted to convey.

One criticism of the film has been that you didn’t delve deeply enough into Alan Turing’s sexuality.

First of all, it’s very accurate the way it is in the film. His words about his time at Bletchley, he called it a sexual desert—he wrote that in a letter to a friend. He didn’t have any sexual encounters during all that time. His most important relationship he had was his relationship with Joan. They were engaged for six months. He even wanted children with her at that time.

We’re not shying away from Alan being gay. To me, the movie is about lost love, unfulfilled love. The computer came out of the loss of Christopher and the idea to try to recreate a consciousness. To create another love interest for him would be completely meaningless and also not true. It would be sort of like having a random, unnecessary sex scene with him and another man. You would never do that, even with a straight character. It’s kind of prejudiced to say that if you have a gay character in a movie, you need to show explicit gay sex.

Why did you decide not to show Alan Turing’s suicide?

We shot Benedict being dead, and in many ways it felt melodramatic and unnecessary. To me, it’s all about his relationship to Christopher. So him turning off the light on the machine and saying goodbye to Christopher, then the movie is over.

At first, we were fascinated by the apple. Alan killed himself by taking a bite of this cyanide apple, and the rumor was that that’s where the Apple logo came from. It was this great link from the inventor of computer science to this device we all carry around in our pockets now. But I shot the apple and Benedict lying there and all that. But the whole thing turned into a sort of Apple commercial. The other thing is, it turns out it’s not really true. Steve Jobs said he wished Alan Turing had been the inspiration for the Apple logo, but it was a coincidence.

The apple did come from Alan Turing’s fascination with Snow White, which we tried to get in but there wasn’t room for it. It was too hard to explain. The true story is actually that he watched Snow White when he was waiting for the interview with Commander Denniston at Bletchley Park—the one that you see in the beginning of the film. He took the train from London, and he was early and went to the village cinema to see a movie while he was waiting. He saw Snow White, and from then on, he was a little obsessed with the story of Snow White. That’s why he decided to kill himself with the bite of an apple—which is in many ways poetic, but it felt like too much to explain.

I wanted to show the last night they had together, which is also a true story, they made this huge bonfire and burned everything. I wanted to go from his goodbye to Christopher to that ending with the fire. It just felt right.

Benedict Cumberbatch seems like a very charismatic person, but he was playing this characters who was a bit socially awkward.

We don’t think he had autism. Some people believed that at the time because he had some of the traits. But when you see his writing, he’s very insightful when he writes about himself and his own situation. He just had this mind that went in five different directions at all times. In the middle of a conversation, he could just leave if he felt you weren’t smart or interesting.

He was an odd man. He was allergic to pollen, so he used to wear a gas mask sometimes. He just would come to a meeting and have gas masks on without telling anybody and would just sit there and talk. He had this mug that he drank tea from. And he was paralyzed that someone would take it, so he chained it to his radiator. He did some odd things.

An overlooked part of Bletchley’s history and the history of computer programming is the role women played. Why was it important to develop Joan (Keira Knightley) as a character?

She started up as a clerk, or a “big room girl,” as they called it. Bletchley was mostly women, but they were doing the legwork, the paperwork, translations. In the whole history of Bletchley, there was only two women that ever got to work on that level, and Joan Clark was the first.

She was this brilliant mathematician, but she lived in a time when intellect wasn’t really valued in women. And that was the beauty of Alan is that he didn’t have this prejudice. He really saw what she was, and they fell in love—this kind of odd friendship love—because they were both incredibly smart people. They worked together for six months, and it was a very fulfilling time for her because she was allowed to finally do something which was really meaningful and important. She continued to work for the government after the war at Bletchley.

The celebration of the outsider seems to be at the heart of the film.

They were both outsiders: she being a woman, he being this socially awkward gay man. Alan Turing was able to come up with this extraordinary idea because he looked at the world from a different point of view. It wasn’t just that he was a closeted gay man — he was also a man who had a mind that worked differently. And Joan was this woman who had to struggle to be recognized for being brilliant. It is trying to celebrate that and show how important that is.

Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com and Diane Tsai at diane.tsai@time.com.

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