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INT: Morgan J. Freeman

08.16.2002by: The Arrow

The Arrow interviews Morgan J. Freeman

Yes, an "American Psycho" sequel was uncalled for, but we got one anyways in "American Psycho: All-American Girl". I thought it would be kool to have the director of the flick, Morgan J. Freeman (no, not the dude from "Seven"), come in to give us his two stabs on the project. Here's what went down.

A: Whatís your favorite horror movie?

MJF:
THE SHINING. The master of horror and master of filmmaking collaborated on a film that will continue to rise on the list of BEST FILMS EVER. Such a simple story unfolds into the creepiest 2 hours Iíve ever sat through dozens of times, each time finding a new little gym of directorial genius that I had not picked up on before. Storytelling is my work, and THE SHINING is as close to perfect as any film Ė horror or not Ė that Iíve seen to date.

A: Iíve read here and there that you didnít particularly enjoy the original American Psycho? Can we know what you didnít like about it?

MJF: Itís not that I didnít like it, I just wasnít interested in the subject matter. The book didnít do much for me. In planning for American Psycho 2, I never looked at it as a traditional sequel. I look at it as a story that stands on its own that is inspired by the first film. AP2 is a puzzle. The first time you watch it, you are forced to try and put the pieces together. The 2nd time you watch it, you should be able to see that there are little hints here and there that will give the evidence required to understand the ending. I spent all my time on telling a new story, rather than continuing a saga. Our PSYCHO (Mila Kunis) is AMERICAN (her character, as sheís from the Ukraine) Ė TOO. Thatís the connection Ė AMERICAN PSYCHO, TOO. Youíre a psycho, Iím psycho, sheís a psycho, heís a psycho Ė Wouldnít you like to be a psycho, too?

A: Were you initially adamant in tackling an American Psycho sequel? Iím sure you were aware of the negative attention that would possibly fall upon you for doing so.

MJF: No. I always saw an underlining structure in the script that would allow me to tell the type of story I wanted to. Any controversy over the original can only help raise visibility for the sequel. Iím totally aware that everything that happens in the original DIDNíT REALLY HAPPEN Ė it was all in Batemanís head. So, when our professor (William Shatner) drops Batemanís name as one of the most notorious serial killers in American History, I know that for the die-hard AMERICAN PSYCHO fans, It will be a let down. But this is storytelling, and Iím telling a story.

If you like films that force you to figure out what is going on, that follows a calculative, manipulative, 18-year old female killer who steals peopleís identities, then youíll enjoy. This sequel should not be compared to the first. The only connection is the title, which will catch peopleís eyes and perk their curiosity. I believe this film will pleasantly surprise many people as it exceeds what is normally expected as a film that does not have a theatrical release. If you want to see this movie, you have to save yourself a trip the packed multiplexes, the 10 dollar ticket price, and the 20 bucks in concessions.

You can save your money and rent a film that is ONLY AVAILABLE @ the video stores. Itís almost like weíre letting the consumers get an advance preview by bypassing the theatres completely. Iím looking forward to the upcoming months. I feel the film will find a huge audience w/o a theatrical release. Itís also a smart move financially as the only way to make money on a film this summer Ė which is jam packed with huge films Ė is to risk $25M on advertising. Lions Gate Filmsí plan saves that money and allows them to do some interesting DVD promotion, most recently showing the trailer on the Jumbo-Tron @ to the 75,000 fans @ the Rose Bowl last Saturday (June 15th). LGE also created temporary AP2 tattoos and retractable plastic knives. You donít normally get these little gadgets accompanying a movie that passes on the chaotic Box Office scene for a more intimate venue of your living room. I think itís a ground breaking release strategy, especially with the skyrocketing popularity of DVDs. You also get directorís commentary and commentary by Mila Kunis, as well as out-takes and bloopers.

A: What prominent changes were made to the screenplay that eventually wound up becoming American Psycho 2?

MJF: The original script that came to me was much more directed towards Milaís character being an absolute ďloose cannon,Ē with no explanation as to why she was doing what she was doing. I worked with the filmís Producer, Ernie Barbarash, and the Executive Producer, Michael Pasteornik (sp?), to create a character who was a master manipulator, who calculated all her steps well advance Ė a champion chess player. She had a plan and she executed (not pun intended) it brilliantly Ė so much so that she leaves the door open for American Psycho 3, but I have yet to hear from LGE on any plans. We have to see how many people give the film a chance by buying or renting it and liking it. You canít buy word of mouth, and I'm quite optimistic that this will shock people into recommending it as a ďmust rent.Ē Letís face it Ė it is a ďmust rent.Ē

A: In directing the picture, what were your intentions? What kind of film did you want to put out?

MJF: From the start, I wanted to make a film that left you trying to put the pieces together. I wanted to keep a fast-paced investigation into a string of killings on a college campus that was doubling as a ďset-upĒ for the audience. I wanted the audience to think they have it figured out, only to have the rug pulled out from under them and be forced to rack the mind of who knows what and who did what.

A: After seeing the movie, I couldnít stop praising Mila Kunis. How many actresses auditioned for the role and what was it about Mila that made her ďthe oneĒ?

MJF: William Morris packages Mila and myself to set up this film. She did not have to audition for me. After sitting with her for an hour at Jerryís Deli in West Hollywood, it was clear as water that she was the only candidate for this role. I love challenges. After watching several episodes of THAT 70s SHOW, I knew we had our work cut out for us. Mila wanted to explore a different character and we agreed on who that was. If I had to pick one thing I take the most pride in regarding this film, it is the success of Mila pulling off a role the called for a performance that played 100 percent against her roles as Jackie on THAT 70s SHOW. Watching the finished product, Iím still blown away by the performance she delivered.

It far exceeds my wildest dreams and will forever cherish our on-set relationship, and her faith in me as a director. I feel like we made a plan and pulled it off Ė it all boils down to pride. As with my 2 previous films, HURRICANE STREETS (first feature to win THREE awards at Sundance Ė Audience, Best Directing & Best Cinematography), and DESERT BLUE (Kate Hudsonís debut film supported by Casey Affleck, Sara Gilbert, Brendan Sexton III, Ethan Suplee, Peter Saarsgard, John Heard, Michael Ironside and Christina Ricci), AMERICAN PSYCHO 2 bears the Morgan J. Freeman stamps. Although I didnít write AP2, as was the case with my previous two films, I had to make it my own by gutting the script presented to me and making it mine. As the director, it is one of perks.

A: Was there a lot of improvisation on set or did you all stick to the script?

MJF: Iím not a huge fan of improvisation on the set, as it most often becomes a waste of time for 200 crew members that have a plan. I respect their preparations and donít find it fair to pull last minute changes on themÖ especially since we only had 20 days to shoot the film, there was no time to waste. This being said, I look at the script as a mere starting point, a seed that we plant and then together with the crew and cast, water and prune our little tree until the actual story sprouts. This is pre-production for me. During this period, I want to make sure that we are making best use of our time by finding the best way for the character to get the ďpointĒ across. There are a billion ways to say one thing, so scripted dialogue matters very little to me. What Iím concerned with is that actors feel comfortable with what they are saying. So, yes, during prep, we played with the dialogue as much as possible.

I donít force the words on the cast; I use them as a starting point to create the character. Until each part is cast, the script is nowhere near locked. The last think I want to do is have an actor say something that doesnít ring true. But I canít stress enough how important it is to do this work before you report to the set and that any changes are distributed to the crew with ample time to be prepared. The more truthful the performance, the more convincing the film. We have to believe the words they are saying. Also, Iím a huge fan of playing with the particular talents each cast member brings to the table. This way, the work is a true collaboration. I many be the captain of the ship, but Iíd be nobody with out my crew.

A: Whose decision was it to have the kills in the movie be relatively bloodless? What was the thought pattern behind that choice?

MJF: Mine. Iím not a huge fan of blatant, gratuitous gore. I find it much more interesting to have the camera looking somewhere else while something disgusting is happening. This way, the audience has to imagine what is happening just off screen and Iíd rather let them visualize in their minds whatís happening. Also, working with an extremely low budget, I donít see the need to use the money to create the gore. If itís going to be onscreen, it has to be believable. We didnít have the resources to do this and see that as a blessing in disguise as I was forced to come up with alternative ways of portraying gruesome attacks. In the end, I believe the visuals that are being created in the mind of the viewer far surpass what I would put on film if I had the money to do whatever I want. We also save time as gore scenes can get quite expensive. When it comes to gore and sex, I find it much more intriguing to keep it just off screen.

A: Looking back whatís the most valuable lesson youíve learned from the shoot? I heard it was quite grueling.

MJF: With 15 locations and 20 days to shoot, itís like boot camp. Thereís no time to waste. So, utilizing your pre-production and rehearsal time to itís fullest is priceless. With this type of schedule, we have to show up each day knowing exactly what our challenge is. But if a genius idea gets thrown out (my ears are open to the suggestions of all crewmembers), Iím not going use it just because itís not on the shot list. The more prep you do allows you to entertain spontaneous ideas that just pop up. That is the magic of movies. More time than not, what seemed to be a mistake on set turns out to be one of the best moments in the film. Also, I learned to ALWAYS keep the camera rolling 10 seconds after ďcutĒ is called. In those 10 seconds, you capture the actorsí reactions to the take. There are several reaction shots in AP2 that happened after ďcutĒ was called. Sometimes these moments are as honest an actor can get.

A: Whatís next on your plate? Would you even consider attacking an "American Psycho 3"?

MJF: Yes! I left AMERICAN PSYCHO 2 open on two precise points, both of which could be expanded upon for a third installment. But these points are first playing their roles in AP2, while opening smooth doors to another sequel. Iíd love to make a third, but we have to see how this one does first. Intention has very little to do with perception. No matter how many things I planted in the movie intentionally to get the viewer to see it my way, this rarely happens. Each viewer brings their own beliefs into the theater, and the film must go through their personal filter. Itís incredible how many people walk out of theater with a perception of the film that was not at all intended. Again, this is part of the chaotic magic that we call filmmaking.

And that was that. I'd like to thank Morgan J. Freeman for coming in and I personally, found this interview to be very interesting. And for the record, I actually liked "American Psycho 2". Sure, it's a smack in the face to the original but it was still fun stuff.

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