I remember when this was first announced; you had everyone and their mother complaining about it.
Yeah, it was really… I have to say, I got involved before the Swedish film was released, and I had communicated with [John] Lindqvist and he had given me his support, but when the movie came out - I mean, I loved the Swedish film – but when the movie came out, I suddenly thought, ‘My gosh, what am I embarking on here?’ because I wrote a first draft of a screenplay and was finished with that about the time that the Swedish film came out to universal acclaim. And I suddenly though, ‘Oh my gosh, will anyone even give us a chance to try and do our version of this story?’ And I just kind of put my head down.
People had asked me, did you try and make the movie with fans in mind? And to be honest, I didn’t because I knew that I was a fan and felt a kind of responsibility to Lindqvist story, which I knew was about his childhood especially after I wrote to him and he told me that. So it was really important to me that I related to it on that level. It reminded me of my childhood which is why I wanted to do the story. So I just figured if we make it as a labor of love then we have a chance, but looking back at it now, it seems crazy. It seems like madness to think about undertaking that because that film is so beautiful, but so loved.
One of the great things that happened today was, I woke up – we’re in New York, we came back to do press here – and the New York Times review from A.O. Scott was so cool, and he saw all these things like E.T., and all these references that were definitely things that I thought about, and I was just really excited that he was talking about the loneliness of the character and all this stuff that was really very, very sincerely felt. But the other thing that I woke up to, I got an e-mail from John Lindqvist who – we’ve been in touch throughout this process – had not seen the movie and they showed it to him and his wife in a very, very private screening. He was very effusive and very kind. It means, probably to be honest with you, more than anything. Because I felt such a responsibility for his story and I was so touched and excited that he responded to the film.
That is amazing.
To me that was the most amazing thing, because to me if everybody had loved it and Lindqvist would have said you made the worst piece of crap of all time – I’m sure I would’ve been happy that people liked it but I would’ve been devastated because to me. I was so inspired by his story that, like I said, I felt a kind of responsibility and I was making it from a very personal place. And he was very kind; he wrote in the e-mail essentially, that he felt very lucky to be a writer who has two excellent versions of his story to make it to the screen. And he felt that that was very surreal. It was really neat! I was very touched. And I knew that it was real because he told me even the things that he didn’t like [Laughing]. He told me everything, so I was very excited, it was great!
Wow! It really is hard to imagine the undertaking of this. You are the bravest guy…
I don’t know… it’s so funny… to be honest with you; it wasn’t about bravery as much as it was about personal connection. I usually do everything on an instinctual level and if I feel that there is a way that I can do something that I connect to, then I let that guide me and you know, certainly there were moments that I was inside my head once I realized his reaction, I would be like, uh oh, what are we doing? And then I would just say, okay that’s not productive, just go back to what inspires you about this, what you’re connected to about this, the way in which you want to make it personal, the ways in which you relate to it. So that is what I used as sort of my guide. But looking back, it seems a lot scarier looking back then it even did as we were doing it.
It seems as if you are taking more from the novel than the Swedish film, correct?
In terms of the content, absolutely! The Swedish film, in terms of the formal aspects of it, I tried not to evoke at all. And by that what I mean is my director of photography hadn’t seen it, and I asked him not to. And my cast hadn’t seen it. And I knew that if we were going to try and make a personal, passionate version of this story, that we couldn’t be sitting there trying to copy any of those formal elements. So anyway, my approach would have been different anyway, which was, they shot it in the most amazing way with those incredibly gorgeous tableau masters, and they had such restraint and they also were slightly removed, and that created a real sense of, I don’t know, it’s just very haunting.
I wanted to be a little bit more in the point of view of Owen and be a little bit more, I guess, classical. To do a sort of, almost Hitchcockian suspense version of the story, where you’re closer on Owen and you see what he sees. And I saw an opportunity to do that kind of Rear Window-esque thing where you are looking out into the world… and to kind of support the coming of age story and to put you in the shoes of these characters who do things that, on the one hand, you probably hope that you’d never do, but by putting you in those positions you would start to identify and connect to them. And there were elements of the book that I tried to draw in and there were elements frankly from Lindqvist adaptation, you know, he adapted the book himself. Some of the editing that he did, some of the combining he came up with, I definitely borrowed from those, but at no point did I attempt to do a shot for shot remake. And actually that was the coolest thing was that, when he wrote in his letter, he said I’d read all these things and I think he had a lot of trepidation when some people had said it was shot for shot, and he said I think that is rubbish.
It’s absolutely rubbish.
Well thank you! I’m glad. It’s so funny because some people still I talk to who love the movie, they say, ‘Wow, you did shot for shot!’ and I was like, really!?!
They need to see both films again [Laughing]. What was it in the story specifically that you found which held a personal connection for you?
It was definitely Owen. In the book his name is Oskar and the Swedish film his name is Oskar. That sense of being an outcast, of being bullied, of being of that age at a time when things were so confusing, going through personal difficulties because your family is going through a hard time. My parents were going through a divorce, or separating around that time. In all of that, I just remember at that age, life being very overwhelming and confusing and that sense especially that you’re getting bullied and having such pain. Not even just the physical part was the worst, which is terrible, but the kind of humiliation and the sense that someone can be singled out because something is wrong with you. And in fact, some of the details like how he is called a little girl, I was often mistaken for being a little girl when I was that age because when you are at that age, kids are much more androgynous at that age, and sexual features have not really presented themselves yet. There is something about being a boy at that age that is being mistaken for a girl, it can be humiliating. So I just really connected to that and all that stuff. I was trying to find a way to depict that also being very, very faithful to that aspect of what was in the book and also what he had done in his screenplay for the Swedish film.
I did like, as you mentioned, the lonely aspect to the film.
And that is what I got from when I first saw the Swedish film and then maybe to a greater degree because of how much detail you get into his back story and his daily existence, but in the novel, he is an intensely, lonely kid. That was actually one of the things that I like about Kodi [Smit-McPhee], I thought that with just a look he could convey that sense of loneliness and isolation, and not in any kind of self-pitying way. It’s just his being, and you put him in that environment when he’s so fragile, that it’s heartbreaking. So that aspect of the film was really important to me.
Bewared, the next part contains spoilers!
Can you talk about some of the changes, especially Elias Koteas character as opposed to the Swedish film?
You know, in the book there is a police investigation. And it gets into that characters back-story. And actually that story was… well not the story but that scene where he goes up to and confronts the acid ravaged patient, the father, and says we want to know who you are, you could save us a lot of legwork by communicating with us now is right out of the book, and I saw it as an opportunity to… everything I wanted to do was about heightening the coming of age story and what I saw as a kind of Romeo and Juliet relationship that he has with Abby. So I saw the policeman as being two things. One, he became this kind of moral eyes of the film. You start the film with him looking at the circumstances, especially in the 80’s there was a lot of what you call, “Satanic Panic” and I think that he would look at all of these events and wonder what could really cause them. What is this, looking into the face of evil and not understanding it at all? Who would do these things? Why would someone string kids up and bleed them to death? And all this stuff that seems absolutely horrific. And that the course of the movie is to unveil all of that and to understand the humanity behind all of this and all of the evil that happens. And it makes it very sort of provocative and ambiguous and disturbing. And when you revisit that scene the second time, you have a completely different understanding of who that figure is in the bed that is really quite tragic.
So on the one hand I saw that opportunity. The other opportunity was, I knew that as he was investigating he would be moving towards their relationship and that would sort of be signaling the beginning of the end. And it gets closer and closer and would let you know that what you are seeing as this budding relationship was, in a way doomed. Something was coming that was not going to be good and so he was sort of fate.
So that is what I tried to do with Elias, to bring that out. What I love about him is that he is clearly not a villain in this story. He is there to kind of bear witness and to understand and discover and find out why this is happening. And in that scene where he is killed, it’s a very heartbreaking scene because he is tragic and he is sort of an innocent. And Owen being confronted with that and having to make a choice. It’s a lot harder that he’s not a villain. It shows, I think, the moral ambiguity of the story and makes it sort of chilling.
So with my final question, I have to ask because I’m a fan, what is happening with Cloverfield 2?
You know what? I wish I could tell you something but I really can’t because there really isn’t any new news. JJ [Abrams] is shooting Super 8 right now which I know is his real passion project, and I finished this. So I’ve been working on this for two years. And then Drew Goddard, who wrote Cloverfield, he just directed his first movie that he co-wrote with Joss Whedon [“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”]. So he has been busy too, so the three of us haven’t really been able to collaborate to figure out what exactly it will be. I can only say that, we want to make sure that if and when we do it, it’s because it is something we can be as excited about it as were making that one.
Will you be seeing Let Me In this weekend?