Exclusive interview: Neil LaBute on The Wicker Man
1st Sep 06
Released today in UK cinemas, Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage stars in The Wicker Man, a reimagining of the now iconic 70s cult classic. Written and directed by Neil LaBute, The Wicker Man also stars Academy Award-winner Ellen Burstyn, Kate Beahan, Leelee Sobieski, Molly Parker and Frances Conroy.
Director Neil Labute has already garnered a fine reputation for his impressive body of work thus far, which includes such gems as In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty and more recently, The Shape of Things. Eatmybrains caught up with him recently when he was in London to promote the latest in the recent spate of classic horror remakes...
EMB: Tell us about the relocation of the story in your remake. How did you go about recreating the creepy ambience of Summerisle?
Neil LaBute: We wanted to do for today's audience what the original film did for many of us - create a world that felt new and unseen before now. I really relied on my designers and my cinematographer to help create locations and clothing and images that felt legitimately different than those I'd seen before. We received lots of help from remote locations around Vancouver but it was really this small band of artists who should get the credit.
EMB: Tell us something about the casting for the film. You cast one of my favourite actresses, Ellen Burstyn, as Sister Summerisle - what was she like to work with?
NLB: She was so great to work with - one of those people that you learn from just by being on the set with her. How she approaches a role, what works for her when she's acting, how she conserves her energy. It was like being at a seminar at the same time as you're filming. We knew that we needed a very iconic figure in this role and she immediately sprang to mind for both Nicolas Cage and myself; we're lucky to have her in the picture and I think she really takes over in a beautiful way when she appears.
EMB: Even though the story is set in an isolated location, were there elements that needed to be updated?
NLB: I think we did a few things to set this version apart from the original, mostly in the back-story that now exists for Nic's character and his connection to the people (one in particular) on the island. We also needed to justify how a place can still exist outside of modern communication--phones, computers, etc. - and make that believable to an audience. Little things like that would constantly come up and you'd have to quickly think of an answer - I think we've done a pretty good job but I know I'll read some review or blog that questions something and Iíll think, 'oh damn, why didn't we catch that?'
EMB: The music in the original film was almost a character in itself, and played a vital role in the filmís overall mood and atmosphere. How was the music in your remake approached and does the score retain any elements from the original?
NLB: The music was indeed a major part of the original; that said, I went in a completely different direction with our film as we opted for a more traditional score rather than the folk music that dominates the first film.
I was lucky enough to work with Angelo Badalamenti on our soundtrack and he's magical, I must say - able to capture the creepiness of the film without losing any of the richer, more romantic themes. Once I heard his score on the film I really knew that we had something special.
EMB: Nicolas Cage stars in the film and also acted as a producer; can you tell us about working with him in that role?
NLB: He's a great actor and it was amazing to work with him - he's one of the bravest actors Iíve dealt with, not afraid of anything. He just lets himself go and does whatever the scene requires and that takes a really fearless person to do that. He's had great success in his career and it was terrific to be with someone who doesn't ride on his laurels but comes to work ready to give his all to the movie.
He was also a producer and I found that he was a really thoughtful artist in that role as well - looking out for the picture as a whole and not just his own needs. It was a really great experience to collaborate with him
EMB: Some people might say that you donít seem like an obvious choice to do a Wicker Man remake. Can you tell us a little about why you wanted to be involved in this project?
NLB: I'd tell them to take another look at my earliest films - they're pretty scary! I guess you're never an obvious choice until you do something and, hopefully, do it well. It's an easy business to get pidgeon-holed in and so I understand that reaction but it always comes down to creating believable characters in situations that excite and interest an audience.
That's the work and it's work that I love, so I feel capable of a great many things that people might not yet expect. Of course I'm trying to make my own kind of horror film, not one that I've seen before or follows any formula - you may not find it to be the scariest movie that ever existed, but I think it's one that will get under your skin and stay there.
EMB: What would you say in response to the many horror fans who donít like remakes?
NLB: 'Give it a chance,' that's all I can ask for. It's easy to compare or wonder or curse or belittle but you might as well know what you're talking about - you might see the film and not like it, that's ok, that's your right, but to talk about it without seeing it makes no sense.
The nice thing is, it doesn't have to be a contest: you can like both films, or one, or neither, but you don't have to say one is better than the other. I understand where it can get old to see things made over and over but I really wanted to create something new out of this film rather than do the same thing over again.
EMB: Do you think it makes more sense to remake respected classics rather than flawed, cult films? Of the recent spate of horror remakes, have any caught your attention?
NLB: I think if it makes sense to the person doing it, then that's what matters most. Or first. Psycho was remade virtually shot-for-shot and I'm sure that makes more sense to the director than it does to me, but I totally believe in allowing an artist to explore and grow in whatever direction they see fit.
Why did hitchcock remake his own film (The Man Who Knew Too Much) or why did the director of The Vanishing find it necessary to redo his film in another language? íI don't know' is the answer, but I don't know that I need to have the answer; fact is, it was important to them and all I have to do is watch it and like or dislike it. I don't feel it's my job to worry about 'why' they do it so much as take a look at 'what' they make.
There's always something in a movie that catches your attention, so seeing a performance that I liked in The Hills Have Eyes or a sequence in the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre is enough to keep me interested. I'm not much of a complainer - that's probably why I don't have a blog.