Rian Johnson Interview: Knives Out

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Rian Johnson returns to the murder mystery genre with Knives Out on November 27, only this time he’s moving from the film noir feeling of Brick to a more farcical whodunit. The acclaimed director breaks down what he loves about this kind of film so much, and why his latest work needs to be seen with an audience.

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I’m a huge fan of this film, because I love Clue. I love a movie called Charade

Rian Johnson: Yeah, I love Charade. It’s so good, man.

But this is amazing; one my favorite movies of the year. This isn’t your first mystery riff, after films like Brick and The Brothers Bloom. What did you learn from those past films that helped bring this one together?

Rian Johnson: It’s interesting. The Brothers Bloom probably has a lot of tonal consistencies with this one, because they’re both kind of humorous. Brick is interesting, because film noir and the whodunit seem similar, but they’re so different.

I mean, there’s like a moral murkiness with film noir that doesn’t exist in the whodunit. The whodunit is very clean morally; it’s very cut and dry. I don’t know, the crossover between subgenres is fascinating to me.

You wrote, directed and produced this. How long has this project been in your head?

Rian Johnson: I had the idea for this about 10 years ago. I grew up reading Agatha Christie books. I’ve wanted to do a whodunit forever, so I started cooking this up about 10 years ago. But I only sat down to write it last January, and we had wrapped the movie by Christmas.

It was the fastest any movie has ever come together and happened. I mean, The Last Jedi was a fantastic experience top to bottom, but it was four years making one movie. So, it felt really good to come and just hit this quick and not get precious. Just like, “Let’s make a movie. Let’s have some fun.”

Can you talk to me about some of the issues of class and privilege that you explore in the film?

Rian Johnson: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting. It’s one thing that the whodunit is uniquely suited to, I think? I think about Gosford Park; you think of Agatha Christie’s books – it’s all about the upstairs, downstairs. I think, because you’re getting a cross section of society with the subjects, you see the issues of class come to the front forefront.

[It’s] usually done, though, in a period movie and usually done in Britain, so we can kind of cluck our tongues and say, “Oh, those British class things.” The idea of putting it in America in 2019, and carrying that over and using it to dig into some of the stuff that we got going on right now – that seemed really interesting.

I mean, I hope the movie’s not a finger-wagging, lesson movie at all. It’s big entertainment, but layering that stuff in seemed like that would be really interesting.

I heard that you guys finished shooting a year ago, but while I watched it last night I was like, “How relevant this is as told right now.” It’s pretty crazy. 

Rian Johnson: It would be lovely if the stuff had been dated, and we would have had to cut it. But unfortunately not.

Is Detective Benoit Blanc a character that you want to explore again? 

Rian Johnson: I would love to. We’ll see how this one does, you know. But if this movie does alright; if I can get together with Daniel every few years and do a new Benoit Blanc mystery? New location; new cast; new mystery. It’d be so much fun.

The murder mystery subgenre hasn’t been at the forefront a lot, so why do you think now’s the time to bring it back? Because I think it’s brilliant.

Rian Johnson: You know, I remember going to Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun when I was a kid with my family. Big all-star cast, big entertainment, and just thinking, “This is the most fun type of movie there is.” I feel like, right now, we need to have some fun.

If we can have some fun and have some laughs, something you can see with your whole family that’s also got something on its mind, but it’s not going to knock you over the head with it. You’re gonna have a good time with it. That just seems like something that, right now, we all deserve.

When I watched it with an audience, it hit every single note. It’s brilliant. Have you got a chance to see it with an audience yet?

Rian Johnson: I have. I’ve been going around to different festivals and getting to see it with different crowds. I mean, this movie was made to be seen with a crowd. It was made to get a big reaction; it was made to just be a roller coaster ride. And so, it’s really gratifying to see audiences having a good time at it, you know?

I can’t wait to see it again, so I can catch every little red herring to follow up. Thank you so much for your time.

More: Daniel Craig & Jamie Lee Curtis Interview for Knives Out

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