Thursday, March 7, 2013

Director Park and His Goode Bad Guy

Stoker Is Playing in Theaters

Director Park and His Goode Bad Guy

(from 3/7/13)

(L-R): Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode
Stoker, Park Chan-Wook's erotic, beautifully-shot, cleverly-acted, and loony twist on Hitchcock's 1943 masterpiece Shadow of a Doubt breaks into national release Friday. If you're looking for a hoot this weekend, you probably can't do better than the American debut of the esteemed South Korean director (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance). In actor-turned-screenwriter Wentworth Miller's take, a charming but unhinged young murderer (fine British actor Matthew Goode as Uncle Charlie) moves in with his recently-widowed sister-in-law (Nicole Kidman as Evie) and niece (a mesmerizing Mia Wasikowska as India), who has turned eighteen and is feeling sexual impulses. Neither mother nor daughter knows he has left an asylum and they both are affected by his seductive powers to such a degree that they don't seem to care when they realize he is up to no good--in fact, that he may have been responsible for several characters' deaths is a turn-on for India, who apparently shares some of his baser traits. There's less blood here than Chan-Wook's Korean action films, mostly because Charlie's preferred method for disposal is strangulation, and spite and convenience are bigger motives for hostile acts than revenge, but fans of the director won't be disappointed. Kidman wasn't present at the recent New York press day for the film, and overly protective publicists wouldn't let me near Wasikowska, but I did take part in the following, brief roundtables with Director Park (as everyone calls him)--who had a translater at his side--and Goode, who thrives at playing interesting movie villains. I note my questions.
Park Chan-Wook RoundtableDanny Peary: In a previous interview, you said that one reason that you wanted to turn the film's script into a film is that you called it "quietly frightening." What do you find quietly frightening about this story?
Park Chan-Wook: This is a coming-of-age story, but it's unlike any other coming-of-age stories. The girl who comes of age doesn't become a good citizen. She doesn't become assimilated into society or conform to society. It's quite the opposite. What's frightening is how susceptible unstable pubescent minds can be to the seductiveness of evil.
StokerParkphoto.jpgPark Chan-Wook, photo by DP
Q: Please talk about how sound and color play such a big role in the movie.
PCW: I liked the script for being very quiet, and I could imagine right from the beginning how in the quiet Stoker mansion, sounds would inhabit the place. It would be something that your ears pick up on. I could hear, while reading the script, the tick-tock of the clock; footsteps on the creaking floorboards; the breathing of the characters; the sound of the wine glass as it is pushed across the table. It is these sounds that made me as a reader and the now audience be sensitive to the details. That's one of the big reasons why I chose to do Stoker. I could imagine all these sounds while reading the script and I really wanted to make good use of these elements. In the quiet environment, through these sounds, I wanted to create palpable tension. Now about color. In the film, the main characters don't reveal their emotions very much. India never really reveals what goes on inside her mind, what emotions she's experiencing. Uncle Charlie ostensibly is a very gentle character, but that's really deceptive because on the inside he's not like that at all. He's a very hypocritical character. Evie is the one character who expresses what she feels--her desires and emotions--but on the inside, she's very weak, fragile and brittle. All their emotions are not expressed by their dialogue or their expressions, so there has to be other ways for me to convey to the audience what really is going on inside them. It was done through color, props, camera movement, music, and editing. Another big reason why I wanted to do this script and turn it into a film, is that I saw an opportunity to include all these elements.
Q: To me, almost every character in this movie is frightful! That includes the high school kids and Whip [Alden Ehrenreich], the boy who at first seems nice to India. Do you also see this underlying sense of horror about your characters--and maybe life in general?
PCW: That's exactly right. This may appear to be a story centered around a very peculiar group of people, and their world may be a world very much unto itself, but it is not unrelated to the actual world that we live in. It may be an exaggerated view of our world, but that's what metaphor is all about it, isnt it? In that sense, this is very much relevant to the world we live in as ordinary people. There are elements that we identify with in this story--the family relationships, the emotions that each family member feels toward one another, and the confusing state of mind girls have during those sensitive years--which makes the idea of evil so seductive.
Q: Speaking of metaphor--in the second and the third acts you realize how the story is very much about nature vs. nurture. Can you actually change your nature? The turning point in the relationship between Richard Stoker [Durmot Mulroney in flashbacks] and his daughter India was when he saw a lot of Charlie in her and tried to curb her bad behavior. He knew he wasn't going to be able to change her, but he was trying to teach her so that she wouldn't end up the same as Charlie. But there's no saving this girl, and she's going to take over the antagonist role that Charlie had.
PCW: There is more than one role-reversal in this film. It's equally shocking when we realize that Evie is not really the oppressive and ostensibly strong character that we were introduced to in the beginning. As we follow the story, we realize that Evie's the most fragile of the three main characters. She's the only one of the three, maybe, that we can relate to. She's a victim who is prey to these two predators rather than an oppressive antagonist to India. So in terms of what the characters' personalities are, it's this great reversal that is a fascinating aspect and the turning point of the film.
SPOILER ALERTI like how the film lends itself to another interpretation as well. I am not sure how much of an antagonist India ultimately becomes. It depends on how you look at her decision to kill Uncle Charlie. Killing him is a very just punishment that she doles out to somebody who murdered her father. Also it reveals the last remaining emotion of love that India has for her mother. India wants to save Evie from Charlie, preserve her life, so she has to pull the trigger and kill Charlie, for whom she felt a huge amount of affection.
END SPOILER ALERTDP: You're known for being a Hitchcock fan, and obviously Shadow of a Doubt was Wentworth Miller's inspiration for his script, with Joseph Cotten playing the murderous Uncle Charlie and Teresa Wright as his good-girl niece he is bonded to. Mia Wasikowska reminds me of the young Isabelle Huppert and while watching Stoker I was thinking that it was if you replaced Wright's niece with the impassive murderer Huppert played in Claude Chabrol's Violette Nozire. Chabrol was inspired by Hitchcock, too, so I'm wondering if you were inspired by Chabrol as well as Hitchcock?
PCW: Chabrol made many great movies, so many that I haven't had an opportunity to see them all. Unfortunately Violette Nozire is one I havent gotten around to seeing. However, one thing that I can tell you is that in looking at Mia, I am always reminded of Huppert. They are remarkably similar. Let me say something about influences. Wentworth Miller confirmed that Shadow of a Doubt was an influence in writing his script, which was quite obvious from the pages. I had seen the film so long ago that I had to actually go into my DVD collection and watch it again to jog my memory. So all the influence from Hitchcock and Shadow of a Doubt is something that informed Wentworth's writing, rather than my direction. I saw Hitchcock's Marnie the other night, I'd only seen it a long a time ago and almost forgot what the movie was; and back then I saw it without subtitles so I couldnt understand everything that was going on in the film. I sought out Marnie and I was flabbergasted to find how many similarities there are between it and Stoker. For instance there was a shot of the mother brushing the daughter's hair--blonde hair, no less. And there is a woman who doesn't like to be touched in that film. What a coincidence! You can't explain things like that!
Matthew Goode RoundtableDanny Peary: The first time I interviewed you was when you played the bad guy in The Lookout, opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I titled the piece: "Goode Is a Great Villain."
Matthew Goode: I hope you write something similar for this!
StokerMGoodephoto3.jpgMatthew Goode, photo by DP
DP: Is Uncle Charlie aware that he's a villain who does bad things?
MG: Thats a good question. The main question the film asks is: "Where does evil come from?" There is a predisposition to say bloodlines are responsible for the acts that Charlie perpetrates. But if it's what's inside him through no fault of his own that makes him want to do such things, then can he condemn himself? I didn't have my character judge himself for what's in his nature.
Q: You seem to like when there's a bit of insidiousness in your characters, as with Uncle Charlie.
MG (laughing): I'm a very insidious person. I think I'm pretty normal actually, but I keep doing this acting job, so there's obviously something damaged inside.
Q: I've seen you do some comedy, but you seem to really relish playing a character with an insidious smile or smirk.
MG: Charlie was a role that I pursued after my friend Colin Firth pulled out. It was by no means offered to me. I wasn't waking up every day and writing a begging letter to get the part, but I was trying to stay in the hat with the major candidates. I'm very aware of the other actors, British and American, in my age group, and I think that since we are often in the hat for good parts means that people think were quite good at our job. It's a small number of actors, and it just comes down to who the director thinks is the best fit for a particular part. It's still painful when you dont get the job, but you learn to appreciate the actor who got it. I'm always going, "You know, he's brilliant in that role." So I'm fortunate that on this occasion Park Chan-Wook chose me. It's a nice feeling. I've been very lucky, I think. If you look over my filmography, you'll see that I've bounced around between quite different characters. Just exploring, on my part. Acting is like adult dress-up, really. A dark character like Charlie, with sociopathic tendencies, is really interesting to explore. After Clancy Brown played a prisoner in The Shawshank Redemption, a reporter asked him if he'd talked to anyone and based his character on him. He said that if he met someone like his character he wouldnt admit it and he'd probably report him to the authorities. I suppose I could have gotten access to a patient in a lunatic asylum, but ultimately I just tried to work out the psychology myself. It's an interesting process--it's always a sort of puzzle when you go beneath the layers of a character like Charlie. You don't want to answer every question about, you have to treat the audience quite intelligently and let people come to their own conclusions.
Q: You got creepy Uncle Charlie down. He's very calm, calculating and mysterious in the beginning, and then he turns childlike towards the end, kind of like Norman Bates in Psycho.
MG: I haven't seen Psycho or Shadow of a Doubt, actually. Cinephiles will think less of me now! It's probably good that I haven't seen Psycho, because even subconsciously I could have fallen into the trap of repeating someone else's performance without trying to. As much as Stoker is a coming-of-age drama [not just for India but for Charlie, too, because he's been in an asylum since he was a young boy], I think there's an element of my character that's trapped in the past. There's a sad loneliness that this guy has, and I think that's why he wants a relationship with India. She's the only person out there who is like him. Despite his horrific acts, there's some sort of bizarre, childlike innocence to him. He's not really grown-up. I quite liked the idea that at moments he's quite masculine, and at other moments he's like a man-child.
stokerpiano.jpgIndia and her Uncle Charlie
Q: Whats your interpretation of the supernatural aspects that are hinted at in the movie?
MG: Nothing is spoon-fed, but there's a lot of symbolism. Chan-Wook is so detailed as a filmmaker. There are elements--Charlie wears sunglasses outside, he doesnt eat, and he is drawn to the virginal bride type thing. Chan-Wook says people can interpret it as a vampire film with a twist. You can also ask if Charlie even exists.
Q: We hope you exist!
MG: Oh yeah, I'm not into method, I like a good steak when I can get one.
Q: What was your reaction when you first read the script?
MG: I loved it! In a completely selfish way, I thought this wasn't something I havent done before. Ultimately, great scripts dont necessarily get made into great films, but everything was there to explore. And I'd get to act with Nicole, who I think is brilliant in the film, and with Mia, who is such an up-and-coming talent. And I'd get to be directed by Park Chan-Wook. Being a fan of Oldboy. I jumped at the chance. All those things coming together in one project made it a no-brainer, which I know is a sort of boring answer. It was a nice feeling to know that someone was entrusting me to work with people who are considered so good at their jobs. It's always the same process. You sit down and talk about it, you rehearse to get over your nerves of doing it. Then you concentrate between Action! and Cut! and get it out your own way, and than go, "Was that all right?"
Q: How did you get into Charlies head, for this? When you find out what he did to his younger brother, it's hard to find anything redeemable about the character you're playing.
MG: It's still about finding truth. I'm not going to have him just go batshit crazy. In a flashback, we get some idea of his childhood, and though I don't sympathize with Charlie, I am aware of his loneliness. Your question is tricky to answer because I worked very closely with my director and together we determined how I should play Charlie. I also worked very closely with Mia. I think much of the film is very underplayed. Our characters do a lot of listening and it's all about what's going on in the eyes, really.
Q: You mentioned Nicole before. Did you discuss with her the art of playing tortured characters?
MG: It's a bizarre love triangle really, isnt it? Evie has been in this marriage to Richard; she's had this child, India, which, she says, was to fix that relationship. She was always at home while India and Richard were off hunting. She's almost this gin-soaked Southern belle, kind of a Tennessee Williams character screaming to get out. So that was Evie's thing, and theres a shared link between her and Charlie.
DP: If Richard had decided to bring Charlie to live in the house after getting him out of the asylum, instead of choosing to send him off into oblivion, would Charlie have tried to seduce India anyway?
MG: Personally, I think he would have seduced Evie.
Spoiler AlertI don't think he intended to kill Richard, he genuinely loved his brother. I think one of the reasons he killed his younger brother when they were kids was that he was jealous of Richard's closeness to him.
End Spoiler AlertQ: You filmed in Nashville, where Nicole has roots. Did it bring things back to reality, to have one of the cast members live there?
MG: Well, I don't take stuff home with me at the end of the day. I'm not that kind of actor. Thank God for my family, who said, "You annoy the shit out of us every day when you're working." What was nice, in conjunction with the project, was seeing Nicole at home. I dont know what my preconceptions were, but she's completely un-starry and comfortable in her own environment and her own place. She showed us around, and we had real access to her. Sometimes you work with someone famous and they go home at night and you don't really get to know them, even if work with them all day. So I felt quite honored that we got close. Also, now that I'm a parent, it was inspiring to see someone successfully balancing work and family. I think one of the reasons we shot in Nashville was because Nicole has a family there and that's where she wanted to be.
Q: Did you go out and see any music?
MG: Yeah, absolutely. The musicianship there is phenomenal. We saw the Time Jumpers, who are an amazing bluegrass swing band. They've been doing it for like fifty years. My Mrs. and I would go down to Robert's, and it was great because there were fifteen-year-olds and seventy-five-year-olds, all from different areas of the world. It was kind of touristy-gone-wrong-gone-right.
Q: Can you talk about working with director Park?
MG: I loved it, I loved him, I'd work with him again at the drop of a hat. I found him very easy to work with and very collaborative. It's very gratifying to see things in the finished film that werent in the script but came from our sharing ideas. Regardless of whether people like the material or not, I think they will stand back and see its just so beautifully put together. The pace of it might turn off the MTV generation that likes fast cutting, but I quite like that it's a real slow-burning film.
Q: What are you doing next?
MG: Dancing on the Edge is coming out soon. It's a Stephen Poliakoff drama. I had one day off between doing Stoker and going into shooting that for five months. Also I'm doing The Vatican, which might become a series on Showtime, Ridley Scott [who co-produced Stoker with his late brother Tony] is producing and shooting the pilot. There are couple of other projects that I'm hoping to get.
DP: I'm sure you're name is in the hat!

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