Harry chats with M. Night Shyamalan about LADY IN THE WATER!
Published at: June 1, 2006, 2:15 p.m. CST by staff
Hey folks, Harry here with a special treat. Had a chance to chat with M. Night Shyamalan for over an hour whilst he was up to something in New York. I say "up to something," because I don't know specifically what he was up to. You see, Night, as he prefers to be called, is a bit of a secretive and mysterious fellow. If you ask a question that gets close to something he doesn't want to talk about, he giggles like a kid and then talks around the question in an entertaining manner. I found the conversation quite engaging... here we go, Night will be in Purple... Mr Glass fashion...
M. Night: Hello?
M: Hey Harry, how are ya?
H: Very good. It’s an absolute pleasure to be speaking with you today.
M: Good to talk to you man.
H: So, not very much is known about Lady in the Water outside of bedtime story. What are some of your fave bedtime stories?
M: You know, I like the darker ones… The ones I make up or kinda like classic ones that are told me and that kind of thing? Are you asking about the ones that I tell or the ones that are told to me type of thing?
H: The ones that were told to you and then inspired you to tell your own.
M: Strangely, in the Indian culture they really don’t tell you traditional bedtime stories, but they do have a lot of… Basically the religion is a string of stories, of bedtime stories that are told together. In the Indian culture they have these kind of Indian comic books that tell the stories of all the religious stuff, and you know, you get those and you really get attached to them and they are really like cult books. And I used to collect them and all. You know, they are the stories of the monkey gods, and different kinds of gods… And eventually all that stuff filters in I guess when you are starting to do something so fantasy oriented like this, which is kind of the first time I’ve done this kind of thing.
H: Well I know a little bit about the film because I got to speak with Paul on the phone for a couple hours a few weeks ago and it certainly does seem like it’s a different type of movie for you, from the ones you did over at Disney.
M: Yeah. You know there’s a kind of very independent spirit about the movie. You know, we are in the mix right now and I’m watching it and I’m like, “God, this is like a Coen brothers movie or something.” Like, this is way (chuckles)… It’s just very independent and that kind of humor and sensibility, really off beat kind of stuff all over. It turns into kind of a mainstream movie eventually, but it really has its kind of language in a very independent spirit, and in a way, that’s where I was going- especially with The Village and coming into this for sure it’s this movement that’s kind of a more independent world, like the kind of stuff I would be doing I were just, you know, working in the art houses kind of thing. But again, it kind of comes in a mainstream body but definitely it peaks as all independent.
H: Now, in the four mainstream Night films, you know- The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village- we were all very much dealing with someone who would make characters that were all about their family and here, Cleveland has lost his family. How did you explore that?
M: Well, you know, I definitely… All the characters in all the movies are kind of … that loneliness, and I mean, they are isolated and I think really that’s that all the movies are about, is kind of- how do we connect with other people and how do we feel connected to this world and, you know, keep going. And Lady is no different in that matter. It’s definitely about a lonely character who in this story learns to connect to others.
H: What draws you to that lonely man character?
M: I think that that is our greatest fear as human beings, is the fear of being alone, and we are born with it kind of as an intrinsic fear, you know. As a baby, we’d cry and as a child you would get left by your parents in the mall, you’d freak out. You know, we have those baby instincts, and in many ways we have that fundamental fear that we are going to die alone and then we are going to live alone, and with everything going on around us, we aren’t connected to other people, which is a hopelessness that comes with feeling lonely. So, it is you know, life after death and all those subjects of all the movies are really different versions of comforting people- about loving and being loved.
H: I know that just about everybody I know, when they start discussing their problems, you can basically trace all the roots back to- “I don’t want to be alone.” You know?
M: Right. Exactly, all the decisions we make- everything.
H: How did this bedtime story come about for you and telling it to your children?
M: You know, what was wonderful about the process of telling this story to the kids was that it came out of the structure of the stories I tell my kids, not the movie-making I do. So, it kind of had a… what’s the word I’m thinking of…Like, um..
M: Right, exactly. It’s got a free-flowing improvisational quality to the creatives that were really the opposite of how I usually sit down and write a screenplay, which is so structured. This was really kind of dangerous and stimulating for those reasons. I really felt like I wanted each and every movie to completely risk everything- each and every time- and certainly have some element in each movie that would jeopardize the success of the movie, you know.
H: How much of that original bedtime story was driven by the questions your kids would ask you as you were telling the story?
M: Oh, they’re not allowed to ask any questions.
H: So you have your kids vowed to being pure passive listeners, eh?
M: You know, they listen and they see the question usually as a confusing question or they want to make sure they are going to be okay type of question. “Are we going to be okay right?” That kind of thing.
M: So, generally, if they start spinning off into their own ideas it gets complicated in the end they just kind of hang out and listen.
H: How different is this film from the story you told them?
M: Well the story I told them, it goes through Paul.
M: So, Paul’s character here is pretty much telling the story verbatim the way I told it to my kids and we basically rented the movie about whether that story is actually true. So Paul has to come to terms with the facts that this absurd story is actually possibly true.
H: Okay, cool. I have to say…
H: I have to say that new movie poster that just came out, that was sort of everybody’s first look at the fantastic side of the story. How much did you want to fight against letting those images out? Because, I know you like to kind of savor that type of stuff.
M: Yeah, you know. If you are talking about the blue one right? With all the features…
H: And the hair and everything.
M: Yeah, no I loooove that poster. Love it!
H: I think it’s a lovely poster, but I mean. You know, people like me, I love to get early looks at things because I am a monkey, you know. There’s something fun about getting a glimpse of something and the foreplay of trying to create your own story about what you think is going to happen and then the joy of discovering what really does happen. You’ve always been incredibly playful with the audience before they ever get into a theater. It’s always like you try and prime the audience to get ready for a story, as opposed to just have trailers that spoon fed the audience to where they know exactly what to expect.
M: Yeah. You know, I love… For me the poster is wonderful because it really sets the landing place of the movie, like where are we going to end up on the journey. You know what I mean?
H: Mmm Hmm
M: And hopefully when we are all done on the visual campaign we have like a second trailer that is coming on Da Vinci Code that will be the final campaign, but it’s kind of like a second dive all in, but that shows more than I would normally show. I think that the main campaign, when June and July roll out, you will get more of a tease of what’s over there and what’s over here, but you won’t get to see it type of thing.
H: Why is this being made at Warner’s and not Disney?
M: You know, I think there is just, you know, a time and a place for change, and this particular one- and you’ll see it when you see it- is really audacious and independent in its spirit. It’s really an independent movie in its spirit and um, I needed to be in a place where that was okay, to be off the map a little bit, you know. There is this beauty of the movie that, if it works, that it all gels in a way that it’s so unexpected and so unexpectedly moving and forms its own walls from pieces. Like you should be making fun of it through much of the movie and then suddenly it starts to make sense and has resonance. Basically, it’s having faith in an absurd story, and much of that is in my head, my approach to the movie. I just thought like, you know, if they didn’t one hundred percent dig the independent spirit of me in my movies up to this point, you know what I mean..
M: I wouldn’t entirely be able to do the best work on this movie, but they have just been so kind to me and obviously really successful going along with this form of movies. I didn’t honestly think I was going to do justice to this movie unless I was really able to let go of the net- the net underneath- and it takes an enormous risk in the movie. It’s just got to be an audacious dangerous movie because people are getting tired of seeing the same old stuff in the movie theaters, you know man, and I wanna… I want you to come in and have two hours of “I’ve never seen anything like that.” Never. To do that, you really have to leave shore and when I sense that people are nervous about that, you know, I am going to be nervous about that.
M: You know what I mean? I don’t want to feel nervous about taking a shot like that. So, I went to Warner’s where, I felt you know, they were… First of all, they just really loved the screenplay. They really just got it and Alan Horn over there just really fell in love with it, you know. I saw it in his eyes. What you say is in your eyes- you know what I mean? And that was enough for me. It made it so that I can make this movie the way I can live up to my dreams as a movie and it really ended up being that way and I made my dream version of the movie over here and in the end you can look at Warner’s in two lights: You can look at it like, Hey they are making all these franchising movies, you know? Or you can look at it from the film maker prospective which is, They are just open to every film maker, you know- singular voices and strong voices- They are really open and just a good place to work. In their past history, but also in their present history, you know, with Tim Burton and Bryan Singer and everybody there. Even the choices they are making with other filmmakers are daring and so I am really happy to be a part of that basically filmmaker driven place.
H: That totally makes quite a bit of sense…
M: You know, trying to figure out like if go to obviously the lineage over at Warner Bros. for me is heavenly with regard to Hitchcock and Kubrick, you know what I mean? All my guys, man!
H: Disney has always felt like, for me, a really odd place for you, you know?
H: Just because, you know, one of the things I love... So many people today, if you stick in a genre or tone or style of film making critics seem to want to attack that it’s all someone can do. Whereas, in the classic era of film making, filmmakers found their style of story-telling and then fully explored their style. Do you feel a pressure in today’s sort of short attention span critics, or are you set in how you want to tell your stories? Please say yes.. (Laughs)
M: You gotta see with Lady, Lady is as… The one thing I have to restrain myself from doing is rebelling too openly. I will never care. If I know I am going to get slaughtered for doing something I go right ahead and do it because I never ever want to ever have that fear of getting hurt, dictating my decisions, you know. Because, I know, even in my little short career here, I have seen how they have been incorrect, you know?
M: And time has changed everything, so for example, a Unbreakable comes out it’s not reviewed well and I remember seeing in Hollywood Reporter the review for Unbreakable next to the review to Josie and the Pussycats and they loved Josie and the Pussycats and they hated Unbreakable and I had that at home as just a reminder of going, “This is this month, and next month it won’t be this way. Even tomorrow it won’t be this way.” And over time that they have proven themselves wrong to the point that each movie is reviewed like “Oh this is not as good as the others.” Every singe movie! “This is not as good as the others.”
H: I remember when Unbreakable came out, the buzz in front of it was “It’s no Sixth Sense.” That was what critics were sort of going into and I reviewed it as, I love Sixth Sense but Unbreakable is just that much better for me and Signs is that much better than Unbreakable for me and I am one of those guy that for the longest time I really wanted to you continue to explore the Unbreakable story, like you had mentioned having a possibility for. I still think that especially as that story has caught on even further and further in home video that there is still even a place for that out there. I know definitely readers of my site, absolutely love that film to death.
M: I love that movie. I think coming in the shadows, except you know, the problem with fugitive movies now is they are part of a family. They are not seen as… If anyone in the movie, if it were somebody’s first movie, they would be seen very very differently.
M: That’s just, I guess, the burden of the family, but I love that story line. It’s one of my favorite stories that I have made up but I am always toying with this idea for Unbreakable. I’m always toying with it.
H: Well, it’s just one of those things where, you know, it was just such an elegantly told origin story the whole thing is just a delicious set up, and at the same time, it is completely complete in telling its story. I have had hours of conversations with fellow people that love that movie about what would happen next.
M: Hahaha, I tell ya, Unbreakable is the movie I get approached more about by any other movie out on the street.
H: Oh yea, I have no doubt. Because, it’s a story that feels like a beginning. The other stories you’ve told are complete stories that don’t feel they necessarily… Like, at the end of Signs, we know that Mel Gibson’s life is finally beginning again, but we kind of know what that life is going to be now. Whereas, with Bruce, at the end of Unbreakable we have no idea where it goes from here, we just know that it is going to be delicious, you know.
M: Right, right. I agree.
H: So, Lady in the Water is a stylistic departure for you, would you say?
M: I don’t know about that. I think it is really the element of all the movies that are kind of … In a way it’s great. It’s kind of almost a run through mainstream cinema to get to become an independent filmmaker.
M: When, usually it’s the other way around. You know, I’ve been trying to kind of find this balance between what I love about independent cinema and its lack of generalizing and it’s lack of chasing its audience. You know what I mean? And yet, have it on a map released at a mass scale, you know, because it has universal elements to it that allow it to be loved by people all over the world but at the same time it’s a very natural pore on both sides because I do love the independent world. So, the fact that you make a movie with both those elements, sometimes I feel like have no place and sometimes I feel like I have a home everywhere. It depends on what day you catch me. (laughs)
H: Yeah. Well, when I was talking to Paul at one point I commented on.. just because he is one of my favorite character actors that have almost transcended the pigeon hole that a character actor usually gets taken into as being a side-kick type character in movies to where he’s become the focus and I said that I was taking a look at your leading men, with Bruce Willis, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, and then all of the sudden you have Paul Giamatti and Paul started laughing and said “Yeah, ya know. I don’t get it! It just doesn’t figure!” Hahaha, ya know?
H: And I said, Well actually to me it makes a lot of sense because when you cast Mel and Bruce, in a weird way, you have them play almost Paul Giamatti-esque characters and it was like you were finally casting the guy you have always intended to have in these types of films, like the independent scene finally has a star that you could place in your film. Like, Yes! Finally I can use Paul!
M: (still laughing) Yeah, it’s true, you know Paul… When I watched his movies I really felt like I found this perfect guy for me, that he could be my Richard Dreyfus, you know?
M: Richard Dreyfus is the center of Close Encounters, Jaws, just this guy that can do anything and in many ways- Something popped into my head while you were talking- is actually, what I do is cast to get people’s types so I cast Bruce and Mel and then make them act like Paul and then I cast Paul and make him act like Mel.
H: (chuckles) That one of the things that I love is that you allow actors… Well, first of all the things that I like stylistically about your films is that you let scenes play out and let actors discover moments and then direct them to other moments. That’s really rare these days! How do you watch other people’s films where they so interrupt their scenes by over-editing?
M: Well really it’s not so much… There are two things. One is that I watch a movie just like an audience movie-goer but I’m very aware of the residual affects of the movie so when I go out I like that movie when I watch it but I has no affect on me, you know, ten minutes later or an hour later or the next day for sure. And then the movie that actually sticks to be is the one that has this kind of rhythm. But for me, what happened with Unbreakable and even what’s happening to the Village now, is this feeling of stickiness that it has and that it’s growing and the feeling that its spirit has really been incorporated into your life experience and that’s what I am going for. I find that much more of a powerful art form. Now, that’s such a burden on me in the two hours that you are in the theater because those guys get to use any form of distraction they have at their disposal, whereas I am using a very limited power because for me only these certain tools have that kind of stickiness.
H: Well, it’s like one of my favorite scenes in cinema history was in Jackie Brown where Tarantino had Pam Greer and Robert Forester just sit down and talk to one another and it was just that real long long take and it was before I believe- I believe Jackie Brown was before Sixth Sense had come out- I remember feeling hw refreshing it was to just see two actors work together, you know? And to just give two actors great characters to be in and then you just work the scene and I’ve scene how Quentin directs where he will have along cut and like, on the set of Kill Bill where he’s got Sonny Chiba and Uma Thurman working and he’ll just tweak one of the things that one of the actors is doing to get the other actor in the scene to blossom in a way that that actor wasn’t expecting to have happen. How do you direct your actors on a film?
M: Well, it’s very much like a play. We feed the script like a play and hire mostly theatrical actors. We deal with people that have strong theatrical training to be able to handle the long takes and the fact that I don’t do coverage and all that stuff and they get comfortable with, “Hey we are going to catch things so that take six is going to be my alternative to take eight, you know? And I’m going to just have to choose which one I use for the scene because there’s some magic in what happens live that as soon as you make a cut and you alter the rhythm and alter the truth of it so you have to recreate it. For example, in one of my early movies I shot something and on that day the scene was great but when I went to put the scene together it was a whole ‘nother reality and that came from the fact that I was cutting back and forth between the actors and I realized actually that I was creating a third reality there, you know? And you got to make it up in the editing room and a lot of people rely on that to make their movies and I prefer knowing, you know, directing everyone to getting to the exact tone color and pitch and there you have it. You don’t have to find it or get something similar. Then the next decisions I make are based on the knowledge of take six… Hey lets try this and cover ourselves by you doing the more aggressive take this way- that kind of thing. And that’s really where you can cause with great finesse the performers … because I’m doing them right there based on the metrics of their performance and on the moment because otherwise, you really don’t know what you have yet until you are in the editing room. You are just blindly directing and so you are getting consistent performances when, for me, my thing I am most proud about is the consistency of performances in the movies. You know, all through the casts, like the cast of The Village and everybody’s performances are consistent and especially in a movie like Lady, where we have such a broad cast and such interesting characters and it’s really an ensemble piece that’s supporting the main character Paul. Everybody has to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle and the performances which might seem eclectic at first can then kind of gel into the feel of the movie. So, for me, the number one tell of a great director is the control of tone. So, if their tone is a knowing controlled tone that they achieved, then they are good at story-telling.
H: Yep. Well that’s one of the things that I have always enjoyed in your work is the tonal consistency that you tell a story with. It’s also something that I really like about Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish films and… just a great deal of filmmakers. Who did you… what sort of films were you in love with when you were a child?
M: As a child, you know, definitely I celebrated Lucas’s movies because I was really in the heyday of those movies at that time. I was seven for Star Wars, and then twelve for Raiders and ET so I was in that heyday there of those movies and it creeps into my stuff. E.T. is very much at the heart of Lady in the Water.
H: I know that Paul said that you were constantly referencing Wizard of Oz on the set to him.
H: How did that play into this movie?
M: Well, there’s a certain…I don’t know what the word is I’m looking for but you don’t really care how odd you look which was there when you read J. M. Barrie’s stuff or when you read Roald Dahl’s stuff and also when you see Wizard of Oz. Some self-preservation thing to make sure your dignity is intact has been let go of.
H: (hearty chuckles) So you don’t care about dignity anymore?
M: Well, yeah there’s a sense of a free spiritedness that borders on flat out rebellious, that Roald Dahl or Wizard of Oz has, that Lady in the Water has in the air. It’s really just not playing by the rules.
H: No, that makes sense. I’ve heard that you have a film critic-type character that’s living in this apartment complex. Is that true?
M: Yeah, the movie’s about how we relate to this story that’s being told and there’s a very kind-of cynical person in the building who relates to it on that close-minded level.
H: Somebody that I talked to told me that he’s somebody who’s always trying to second guess where their story is going, and it just sounded fun to me. The playful poke at some of your critics out there.
M: (Japanese school girl-esque laughter) Well, let’s say this, I’m definitely not playing it safe in this movie (more laughing).
H: Just out of curiosity, is that who Bob Balaban is playing?
M: Haha, yes.
H: OK cool. I didn’t know because his name wasn’t listed on the credits page on imdb yet. But I thought, of the names that I was looking at on the list, the guy I would have cast as a baffoonishy sort of critic type. I would have cast Bob Balaban.
M: Well, When Disney read an early draft of the script, not the script that Warner Bros. read. They went, “You can’t do this!” (Laughs)
H: I mean, to me I know for a fact that there are a lot of critics out there that just can’t take any sort of playful jabs. I get attacked daily by my readership, so for me it’s like…by all means make fun of the entire world of film criticism because it is rife with humor.
M: Yeah, I’m just having so much fun and for me Lady is probably one of my most personal movies and there’s just no way you’re going to knock me down on this one. You know what I mean? It’s like, you can hit me square in the face and I’m not moving. I’m in that mood, you know? And it’s so perfect because it’s kind of like you have to be a little crazy to believe in stories.
H: Yeah. I have a little nephew that I tell bedtime stories to all the time and first of all, I just love the idea of labeling this as a bedtime story just because everybody tells there kids a story before they go to bed but there are so few new bedtime stories that get told on a global palette the way that you have the ability to tell a bedtime story. What do you hope the audience comes away with? Because with all bedtime stories, you learn a lesson. What’s the lesson of Lady in the Water to you? Because I know that we’ll all find our own lesson.
M: There’s a line that used to be in the movie that’s my favorite line which is the point of the movie which is not in there anymore which I find kind of poetic now. The line is “when a person finds his voice, his life takes on grace” and that’s really what I taught my kids and is really what this movie’s about. I really found my voice making movies and no one’s going to be able to get me to believe that you shouldn’t, like your something because its odd or different or because they don’t have a fucking genre for you. Or because they keep putting expectations on you and they think you’re this and you’re like, “No, that’s not me at all.” So there’s been this kind of wonderful liberation that’s happened. A lot of times I do go through the journeys of the main characters as I make the movie and to even make this movie I had to really embrace my voice and really kind of let go of all protective instincts. When people have seen this movie they say that it’s really much like a Hitchcock kind of movie because of its tonalities. It has an almost kind of Princess Bride type of humor to it. So it took a while before we got everything gelling, but when it did, it was kind of this huge tipping point moment when it just suddenly gelled and everything was working. The fantasy, the suspense, the humor, the poignancy, everything was working towards a profound statement below the surface which is about this ability to laugh and walk through the room like a child and how it’s a gift that we gave up. It can now be that way in the profound gift that he had been given and the belief on the lines of a miracle and you really come out shaken. Lady doesn’t strive to do something small, it strives to do something huge. There’s a moment in great movies where you find religion in the movie and that’s the hope for Lady that you come out with religion.
H: Cool. You have a couple of my favorite actors in this thing. There’s Paul of course, but I’m just a huge Jeffrey Wright fan.
M: Me too, me too.
H: What does he play in the film?
M: He just plays one of the tenants in the building. It’s hard to talk about (heh heh) but he’s a very important character in the piece. It’s a big ensemble piece with a lot of mixed races. There’s an apartment with my sister and me. I play a character in the movie and so there’s…
H: Your sister’s in the film too?
M: No no, not my sister. Sarita Choudhury plays my sister in the movie.
H: Oh, ok.
M: So my character and his sister live in this apartment. Then there’s another Korean family that lives in the apartment, and a Hispanic family, so it’s very multi-cultural.
H: How wonderful is it to get to work around your home area there in Philadelphia?
M: Everything has been contributing to a very independence there, like a very homemade product. Whereas a lot of people, when I turn to somebody and they do something that’s general. Not an actor let’s say, but an approach on the film, I try to tell everybody; look this is home crafted stuff here. We’re craftsmen here. This movie is about each person’s personality coming to the table. I don’t want to have anything general in this movie, so the fact that they’re written by me and we shoot them around my hometown and I’m in that mindset. The fact that I’m in the movie in a very kind of independent way, it just all feels like what I dreamed I would want to do for a living. To make these very personal movies. Basically, it’s the same shit I was doing when I was ten.
M: Those awful movies I made where really the only thing different was that at the time I was copying everybody.
H: Well I know I’ve been a pretty close friend of Robert Rodriguez for the last ten years and for him, he’s essentially doing the same thing he was did when he was a ten year old, except he has a longer cable than the twenty foot cable he had hooked up to his VCR to be able to record with. It’s really amazing when you go through and you see that he was making a couple of full length features a year, every year as a little kid. Just discovering his voice and playing with characters and he was lucky enough to have a billion brothers and sisters to throw in front of the camera. But, now he’s essentially doing the same thing and he still does his home movies. In between features, do you do little fun things with your children? Just for home movies.
M: No I don’t actually. I mean the closest thing I got was that AMEX commercial which was really fun to do. It was fun to think in the short term rather than a two-year thing all the time, you know?
H: Right. I know for Robert, he’ll just get an iron giant toy and do some playing in the backyard and does sound mixing with his kids and it’s sort of crazy because he’s managed to create such an at-home studio that he’s got every sound effect from Skywalker Sound in his home. He’ll bring back video tape from Disneyland of his kids standing in front of an elevator opening and closing and he’ll make it sound like it’s breathing on the tape and freak everybody out with a scary elevator. It seems different filmmakers have a certain amount of craziness to them. Especially Guilllermo Del Toro. But it sounds like you’re fairly well adjusted up there.
M: Yeah, if you come in my office, everything’s kind of disciplined and all the papers are piled in the right way and everything’s organized and the scripts are all on the shelf. I get kind of freaked out when everything’s not precision.
H: I understand that completely. As you’ve gone from each of these films, when did you know that you were going to make Lady in the Water as a feature story?
M: Actually, right before The Village. I thought about which one to do first and I thought about it because I did Lady after Signs, that I would be giving the wrong signal about where I was going, the consistency of where I was going. Signs is kind of fun, and probably the most popcorn of my movies and Lady had a lot of those elements and really makes fun of itself and has a lot of fun but is also probably the most emotional of all my movies. It has the biggest wow-up emotionally, but it’s having fun and I thought on an instinctual level that if I did Signs and Lady back to back, that would be too consistent a tone or direction of the way I was going and then The Village would seem like a little bit of a blindside. I knew The Village was going to do that regardless because it was very serious and dramatic, but it was something important that I wanted to say and it really worked out great for me because The Village darkened the palette in a very beautiful way for me. Basically, a movie where the supernatural isn’t real is a great way to go into a movie where it’s so fantasy.
H: So do you know where you’re going from here?
M: I do. I have two ideas. One’s very dark and scary and one is more adventurous. Again, it’s fun and it’s just a question of which one to do. I got the very dark, scary one, probably the scariest one I’ve ever done, and then the other one will be…not broader, but definitely more adventurous.
H: I noticed that you like to change D.P.’s a lot, and that you like to go with the very best, because you’re working with Christopher Doyle this time. It’s one of the main reasons I’m dying to see this movie. I’m such a lover of his lens.
M: He’s amazing.
H: Right from the beginning of your career…it’s like Tak Fujimoto, oh Roger Deakins, oh Christopher Doyle. Boy you get the worst guys behind your camera! What about that heightened beautifulness? In a way, that sort of beauty distances people from the reality of the piece or do you try to get those D.P.’s to capture a heightened reality for you? How do you direct your D.P.’s?
M: Each one depends on a very specific color. The image is huge for me. I will get in fights if you move the camera a half an inch to the left. It becomes painful for me. So, I need to have D.P.’s that I completely believe in. Chris was really the only choice for me. In the Mood for Love is one of my favorite movies. It’s truly a friggin’ masterpiece and Hero is so beautiful. For Lady, it’s an apartment building and the interiors of it really have a heightened saturation of color that in a way reminds me of Unbreakable’s colors which pop through the monotone. We had a very monochromatic movie with Unbreakable and then we had colors pop through. This way, it’s a full-out fantasy story that the characters don’t know what’s happening yet and so having saturated colors is very beautiful. There’s poetry to the silliness of the movie and it becomes really like poetry. Chris really, really helped that.
H: This next one’s just a pure curiosity question. I couldn’t imagine getting you on the phone and not talking a little bit about Hitchcock with you. What’s your favorite Hitchcock film?
M: It really varies on the moment. I’d say Rebecca.
H: Really? What about Rebecca captures you?
M: It has that spookiness. There’s something about it. It’s haunting, and it haunts me. It’s like he took me right up to the alter but didn’t really do anything.
H: Yeah, it’s probably the most…you said it right, it’s the most haunting film but it’s in a lot of ways, very untypical in terms of what people think of as Hitch, because stylistically it is so haunting and it’s not the thriller, thriller, thriller feeling that he created in the others. It was one of his films that I really liked that most people tend to forget. It’s something like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where Hitchcock was just trying comedy. How far off the path can you imagine yourself going? From doing this sort of supernatural- affecting-reality-style stories? Could you see yourself doing something that was just a flat-out comedy?
M: It’s funny you should say that because after doing these five movies, which couldn’t be any more different from each other. I never feel restricted. I know that everybody tries to tie them together and make them like one thing, but they’re really not. I can’t imagine anything more different than The Village or Unbreakable or Signs.
We had a series of cel phone disconnects as M. Night traveled about New York – he asked me about DA VINCI CODE, the ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE and we discussed the possibilities of throwing a cool LADY IN THE WATER event here in Austin (details coming) However, that tape ended with M. Night’s pre-pubescent, boyish laughter. Which is actually really quite delightful.