Interviews: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Scott Derrickson
In our previous SET VISIT report of† THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (DTESS) we chatted with the Special Effects guys, watched a scene being filmed and addressed my two encounters with star Keanu Reeves. And now it's off to interview the stars KEANU REEVES - JENNIFER CONNELLY and JON HAMM. And director SCOTT DERRICKSON, producer ERWING STOFF. Will DTESS be the remake to end all remakes? What can we expect? And why now? Read on and find out...
Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, director Scott Derrickson and producer Erwing Stoff
Can you give a brief indication of what attracted you to the original movie, itís been 50 years or five decades, that you thought this would be something right now to bring back to the big screen?
SCOTT DERRICKSON: Iím a big fan of the original. I had the chance to meet Robert Wise before he passed away at a film festival when I was actually a film student, and he talked about this film and THE HAUNTING. And DTESS and THE HAUNTING are still my two favorite films as a kid. In the case of DTESS, I think its greatness is pretty self explanatory. Itís one of the first films that real intelligence and legitimacy to science fiction when sci-fi was certainly less than respected and less intelligence. Also, the other thing, it was such a film of its period and dealt with the current events of its time. It had such a fantastic statement about the global situation at the day it was made. Thinking of it just as a film fan, or a film watcher, also, the whole notion of Gort and Klaatu coming out in a space suites and the shipóI just always loved how there was really a presence of an alien world in our world intermingling of these great things that belonged to each other, but not to the rest of the world. I loved that. Klaatu, his space suite, the ship that he comes in, and Gort himself, are so unreal compared to the real world and they are so tightly bound to each other. When I think about that film at that time, the image always comes to my mind of that trinity and the ship, and Klaatu. And lastly, I think the interplay of the drama in the film, it has real intimate, real sci-fi drama elements to it, but itís also a very serious character film.
ERWING STOFF: One of the things that I so love about the original movie is that, besides some of the cinematic innovations as far as the imagery that Scott mentioned, is that it was really the only science fiction movie at the time that wasnít a fear mongering in its themes and its connections. Because most of the other science fiction movies, or most of the science fiction movies at the time really existed to make us afraid of something, to make us afraid of the red menace, to make us afraid of all of the places that science was exploring at the time. They all kind of existed as warnings. This was really the only movie that kind of challenged mankind to be the best version of itself. Thatís thematically as unique for this movie as all of the cinematic innovations.
KEANU REEVES : I think a lot of what you guys are talking about are what goes into making it a ďclassic,Ē hence, being a part of its time as a classic being able to transcend that. The original presented all of the ambitions and hopes as well.
JENNIFER CONNELLY: I thought that it was just a great idea to do it. I loved the original film. I think that the character of Patricia Neal was so fabulous and I loved seeing this science fiction that film that everyone was so committed to it and took it so seriously, and it was actually really effective as a drama. I thought it was just a really well made film. And at the same time, really fun and exciting, and all these different elements going on at the same time. I really like the way Scott and Erwing and everyone went to contemporize this version of it, I thought it was the same relevant to us today in a way that I felt was very interesting.
JON HAMM: Well, I greatly second what Scott was talking about in the sense of looking at the first film. Science fiction was very much a niche discipline, and this brought that much more to a mass audience, and demonstrated why, in my opinion, science fiction is an important niche because it enables the artist to be subversive in a way when they canít really be if theyíre just laying out stories. By capturing it in terms of aliens coming to the world, you can tell stories that arenít as approachable and when you certainly take that in terms of the Ď50s, with all the red scare and the cult war, and all of the societal problems that we were going through then, you certainly couldnít come out and say ďWell, maybe the idea of America as the sole power in the world is the best way, maybe thereís a more of a co-operative way we could go about doing things.Ē But you capture that in to a science fiction aspect, and then itís not us thatís saying it, itís these aliens that have this other perspective, and it makes you a little more palpable to everybody. I think our version gets to that as well. Itís a little more excessive to the critical and the may be political incorrect nowadays, but I think the same vibe happens, and by capturing it with a science fiction aspect, itís a little easier to swallow.
Whose idea was it to make this movie?
SCOTT DERRICKSON: It wasnít the idea of anybody sitting here. It was a Fox property, and I think they struggled for years to try and find a way to make it work. And working with David Scarf the writer, and I think they really cracked it open and that was the point where they decided to move forward.
ERWING STOFF: The anecdote is this: the making of this version of it and the energy behind it initially was solely Tom Roth. He was the person that really felt a responsibility to try and remake this. He took it as a great personal interest. And I think that youíll see that all of us find that we are too.
SCOTT DERRICKSON: On that note, one of the things that has been very pleasing for me as the director to observe and experience first hand, is his respect for the original and his respect for the film as a part of the 20th Century Fox legacy. He seems unusually concerned with the overall quality of the whole production. He understands that thereís a certain treading on sacred ground in a remake of a classic, and in this case, a 20th Century Fox classic. For me, as a filmmaker, itís been great to have somebody up at the top of the food chain to have that much respect for the film that youíre remaking.
Embarking on a project like this, since the original film, so many sci fi movies have copied that film how difficult has it been to make this film fresh?
SCOTT DERRICKSON: It has been difficult. There was a lot of conversations about what we wouldnít do. We have to take a lot of the familiar science fiction staples and familiar technological ideas and remove them. Ok, we wonít do this and we wonít do this, so what can we do instead? What can we replace that with? And I think we came up with some fresh and innovative ideas. If we do what I think weíre doing, I think itís going to feel very much connected to the original, but itís not going to feel very connected to those films that the original spawned. Because I think it is a retelling of that story, but in terms of the science fiction elements themselves, thereís a lot of originality in it.
ERWING STOFF: Yeah, the movie will 100% be recognizable in terms of the original movie. But I think it has been re-imagined for today.
Weíve heard a little about how this is going to be a Ďgreení movie (environmentally conscious), and can you tell us about the challenges of that and how it has tied in with the methods of the film?
ERWING STOFF: The truth of the matter is, all of that hasnít really affected our lives. I was called in to a meeting when we first stared preproduction that was a 20th Century Fox Newscorp meeting, and I didnít realize that the company has a mandate to be a Ďgreení company by 2011. Whether it was because of this movie thematically, or because it was an accident of time or whatever, there were certain things production wise that weíve been doing and so on, and on a day to day basis it hasnít really affected our lives. But there are people that weíre aware of around us, saying ďno, use these kinds of generators, these kinds of lights, etc..,Ē but as far as making the movie, it hasnít really affected us in any way.
What rating are you shooting for?
SCOTT DERRICKSON: I assume that itís going to be PG-13-
KEANU REEVES: NC-17Ö
SCOTT DERRICKSON: Yeah, thereís this really strange Klaatu-Helen thing going on here. People will be shocked. [laughs] No, the subject has never really come up, this script has been clearly PG-13 from the beginning.
ERWING STOFF: Yeah, the real sexual tension between Klaatu and Helenóweíre saving that for the sequel.
SCOTT DERRICKSON: In all honesty, the subject has never come up. Itís not an R rated film, I can tell that just by reading the script.
Does Klaatu still say the three famous words in the film?
KEANU REEVES : Yessage. The context is a little inverted, but yes. Actually, that came up when we had the first script meeting, and I said Ďwe gotta have that line.í
SCOTT DERRICKSON: I think the draft that we had of the script when Keanu came on board, the line wasnít there. And I think Keanu was one of the people who said Ďyou gotta have that in there.í
Did you look at the [original Klaatuís name] performance at all to prepare for this role?
KEANU REEVES : Yeah, watching the film a few times in a row, yeah I did. This one is a little moreóhe was kind of the nice guy who carried a big stick, and Iím not such a nice guy. Iím a little more sinisterishÖ
SCOTT DERRICKSON: Heís more complex, which I likeÖ
KEANU REEVES : He had such a wonderful ease about him, about that kind of Iím an alien, Iím a human, quality to him that you really believed it. But he was kind of had this amusement and this frustration about him too. You know, thereís that scene where theyíre meeting and everyoneís around the saucer, and theyíre interviewing everybody and theyíre asking if people are afraid, and the guyís eyes kind of gloss over, and again, thatís an example of how the film is being subversive. So yes and no.
Do you feel any sort of responsibility in stepping in the role that has already been played by such great actors?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Actually, they did such marvelous work, and I really loved what Patricia Neal did, and I thought she was marvelous. But for me, Iím a little bit off the hookóI donít want to be bad, but my character has been reconfigured so much in terms of my vocation and what I do and my purpose. Maybe not in the larger sense of the film, but really the character has a different kind of job in this version of itómuch more character filled, and to me she feels much quite different than Patricia Nealís character. Itís really a departure. But I aspire not to disappoint people. And Iím approaching it with the utmost respect for what she did.
The original film had themes of Christianity and the second coming of Jesusóto what degree does this version have of those themes?
SCOTT DERRICKSON: Itís built into the narrative almost inextricably to the degree that itís in the original itís in ours, though probably not as direct or as obvious. Thereís some 400 pound metaphors in the original that we donít have in this one. Of course, he [Keanu] has done that before, too.
KEANU REEVES : There are Christian themes throughout the film.. but itís so obvious here. Iím not named CarpenterÖ
SCOTT DERRICKSON: Yeah, things like thatÖ itís in there in the same narrative fashion as the original, which is one of the appealing things about it. Itís one of the things that, when it was done, with the exception of the Mr. Carpenter aspect, done in a way that was pretty elegant. If you look at THE MATRIX, or ET, or BRAVEHEART, or these films that have that sort of basic Christ-myth narrative, the strong story telling narrative that resonates with people. The popular version.
Can you tell us about working with John Cleese?
SCOTT DERRICKSON: Oh, he was fantastic. We shot with him last week, he wrapped him on Friday. He was fantastic. Itís quite a thing to have such an amazing guy come to the setóeverybody loved him. People were sad when he left. Literally, the crew was grieving when he was leaving the set because he is so funny, and so full of life, and yet the character that he plays was quite serious, and I think he really liked that, heís fiercely intelligent, and he greatly appreciated the opportunity to demonstrate what he can do as an actor as well.
ERWING STOFF: It was genuinely the most difficult role to cast. He struggled casting that role for months and months, and he was the first person we offered it to.
SCOTT DERRICKSON: We never found somebody else that we wanted and couldnít get, we just couldnít figure out who could do it.
ERWING STOFF: It was just the most difficult role to cast. When it popped up, it was like Ďwho would you rather make the argument for mankind than John Cleese?í
How has it been like working with Jaden Smith? Can you tell us about your characters?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: I love it. Itís a really difficult part. Part of it is our little story within the story, a mother and son who are in conflict, and to have stagnated in their relationship, and it begins to sort of coming to a crisis point. And something has to shift, something has to move, and we have a bunch of scenes that are filled with tension and unresolved difficulty and you want to hope that theyíre going to work it out and there will be a transition. Itís a difficult to find a kid who can create that and yet you still want to root for. Who can be at odds with his mom, and be bratty with his mom at times, and for them to mixóbut you always like despite it. Jayden is just so charming, and heís interesting, and so beautiful, and he really draws you in, and you really root for him and you really like him, and you really want things to go well for him. Thereís a real beautiful quality to him. Heís a huge asset, I think. Heís great. And heís fun, heís a real kid. He comes to work, he likes working, but heís a real kid.
Jon, can you tell us a bit about your character?
JON HAMM: I play Michael Granier, who leads the scientist team who tries and figures out this issue that has descended up on the earth. As it stands now, there appears to be some sort of back-story between Helen and I, which plays out a little bit throughout the film, but for the most part, Iím reacting to a lot of these things that have happened, and am trying to make a lot of sense out of these things that I can. Iím standing in place of the audience, reacting to whatís going on. Itís been interesting. My time on set has been limited so far, Iíve been on an airplane a lot more than Iíve been on set, back and forth, but the whole experience so far has been pretty amazing, working with the people I get to work withóJaden included. I canít second what Jenn said any more, he is truly astonishing for a 9 year old. Itís been great to work with all these people, and watch all of it happenówhich is a lot of what my character does, just watch all that happens.
Moving from THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE to DTESS, can you talk about why you chose this film? How do you go about choosing a project?
SCOTT DERRICKSON: I have a simple thing in mind to whatever the follow up film would be. I wanted to do something that wasnít either really in the fully commercial realm or the really commercial realm. You know, it wasnít just a commercial money making venture, or an independent personal artistic merit movie. I really wanted to find something that I felt people would go see and would be a commercial film, and that would some creative and artistic merit to it. So the projects that Iíve developed, and the stuff Iíve tried to put together, and everything that Iíve worked on since have been that, and this film is really the impediment of that. Because itís obviously a big movie and would be a very commercial movie and people will want to see, but when I read the script, the general approach of it is about some important things, and thereĎs no greater argument for remaking the original than the fact that the original was such a product of itís time, and weíre in a different time, and weíre in a different time, and updating it for this time is a really worth venture. And so the combination of the meaning of the, the aesthetic reasons and the thematic possibilities were so rich, and at the same time, itís a big movie that people will go see. And I found that so satisfying that it was not a hard choice to do.
Do you take any lessons from other remakes that didnít fare too well, like THE INVASION?
SCOTT DERRICKSON: I canít take any lessons from it because I didnít see it.
ERWING STOFF: I didnít see THE INVASION either. But, having said that, the one thing that you want to be sure of with any movie, is that youíre not simply building a house, that itís on a foundation, that it rests on a foundation that is solid and that has a reason for existing. Those movies that are built donít come out. The lesson period, is know why youíre making a movie, and thereís always been, on a difficult day, which exists on any movie, that thereís always something to go back to. And that you can always go back to the reason that got you to do it in the first place. And thatís the thing that gets you through a difficult day.
SCOTT DERRICKSON: Thatís interesting too. I didnít see THE INVASION because I think we were already in prep on this movie at that point, but one of the things I remembered saying to Erwing, is that I felt that a fairly worthy target for this movie as a remake of Philip Kaufmanís remake INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. I didnít see the original until after that, as a kid at the drive-in. Made a huge impression on me, it was a strange and creepy movie for me for how ever old I was at the time. So I watched it again since and then I saw the original film, and Kaufmanís remake was a great update of that original film in terms of taking the same original story and retelling it for itís time. I had that updating in mind for the comparison of this film.
Jennifer, how has it been working with Scott? Have you made a lot of suggestions as to how some scenes should play out?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Usually it pertains to me and to understand what Iím doing. And the goal of reading the script is to always to convince myself and be convincing on screen. So in that instance, there are things that arenít fully articulated in the script that Scott will have in mind, so in that instance there was a time lapse that I didnít know and plan in-between, and sometimes there are things that are changed slightly. So I was just checking with him about what we were cutting to make sure, so that I knew what I was walking into and to what was in-between. But I think that weíre all pretty collaborative. I do get pretty excessive when Iím working, and I canít stop reading the script, and so I do often come up with thoughts that are really horrible, and sometimes theyíre hopefully constructive, but of course, I approach everything from my characterís point of view, which is a different way than Scott might. And Scott has been really marvelous in entertaining those thoughts, considering and having a lot of discussions and making some interesting choices in that collaboration.
ERWING STOFF: One of the things that has made this fun and great and less stressful than usual is weirdly, for some reason, the larger the movie is, the greater the chances the script isnít done by the time you start shooting. Itís completely counter-intuitive. It just seems that the more a studio spends on a movie, the more flux the script is in, and more is being written on the fly and so on and so forth. For a number of reasons. A) cause a great job was done on the script, B) because of the impending writerís strike, we were dealing with an absolute deadline. We actually had the enormous advantage and pleasure that, by the time we started to shoot, we had a finished locked done script. And so for a movie of this size, itís completely counterintuitive, thatís a very unusual thing. And since we had a script that was done, it freed everybody to ask a lot of questions ask more questions, because we were working within a structure that was really full and complete.
How are you approaching the technology aspects of this movie? Can you tell us a bit about the space ship and the alien technology?
SCOTT DERRICKSON: I wanted to avoid making this movie about technology, or at least technology as we think of it. I think that science fiction, certainly for the last number of decades, has been fixated on that. This movie isnít about laser blasters and high tech versions that take our current technology to its furthest imagination, as far as the imagination can carry it. We went in a direction that was taking the science fiction more seriously and more biologically and try and think of it as a more naturalistic term. That an advanced civilization would move beyond hardware and that spawned a lot of interesting ideas that ended up forming the aesthetic of the movie. Thatís where this film, as a science fiction film, has the most uniqueness to it, thereís something that separates it from the other films.
Where does Klaatu get his Ďhumaní clothes and look?
ERWING STOFF: Itís what the guy who he appropriates was wearing. So, you have to start with the reality of what would this public servant be wearing. And, as in the original, he appropriates his suit and thatís that, and itís the suit that he wears throughout the entire movie.
How is Gort used in this film?
ERWING STOFF: Heís used to the same ends as he is in the original movie. Again, itís the one thing that I donít really want to get into cause I think itís really one of the smart and ingenious things that has been done in the reimagining of Gort. But having said that, he plays the same role that he does in the original, in terms of what his power for destruction is, and he has the capability to end it all. And also, one of the things thatís great about the original, is thereís actually a physical relationship that exists between Gort and Klaatu. In watching the movie when we began to talk about Gort, we realized that it was actually a part of the time, itís the tie and relationship that exists between themóin a more simplistic level, heís Klaatuís muscle, standing there behind him. In that sense, weíve re-imagined him in terms of whatís possible to do today, and also the other thing we also did, we realized that Gort, Klaatu, and the Space Ship, those are the three entities that all exists from a different planet, they all have to have a relationship with each otheróboth in terms of technology, theyíre texture, theyíre materials, everything about them, very much like they do in the original. Itís sort of hokey when we look at it today, but the production designer of the original knew that these three things had to fit together, and in that respect, we did the same thing.
How big is Gort? Will he still be a Cyclops?
ERWING STOFF: He is large. But he wonít be a Cyclops. But again, like many things in this movie, Gort will be recognizable to you from the original movie.
Have you shot any scenes abroad?
ERWING STOFF: Yes. We are shooting sequences all over the globe.
Does this version of the story closely related to the original short story that the original was based on, or is it solely a remake of the film?
ERWING STOFF: No, it is not. We really just dealt with the existing movie and screenplay. The funny thing is, when somebody was asking about the inception of this, it was absolutely Tom Rothman was the motor, and the funny thing is, about 15 years ago when Keanu did SPEED for Fox, there was a different head of production at the studio at the time and he had a poster of DTESS behind his desk, and the weekend after SPEED opened and it was a big hit, and everybody was celebrating and patting each other on the back, and so on, and I looked up at the poster, and I said to the then president at Fox, Ďwe should remake that with Keanu playing Klaatu.í And then it was sort of one of those things, he wound up loosing his job, everybody got busy, etc... and it was one of those weird thing that all of these years later it came to pass. Itís just one of those funny things.
What does Keanu bring to the role of Klaatu that makes him perfect for this role?
ERWING STOFF: Obviously, I thought he brought something very specific, because I said it 15 years ago. What I thought it was, was a sort of innate curiosity/naÔve take that is tempered by a certain degree of cynicism and spirituality. You know the guy knows way more than we do about we do about the large picture, but way less than we do about the world that weíre in. And I thought those were qualities that would be interesting that could be brought to the character.
Iíd like to thank Melinda Wood for setting up the set visit, as well as the whole cast and crew of DTESS who were cool enough to let us interrupt their daily routine to ask a bunch of questions. Watch for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL in theaters everywhere December 12th, 2008!
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