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Arriving in theaters this weekend is iconic Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s English-language directorial debut, Stoker, an often macabre and darkly comedic thriller that stars Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska.
Written by Wentworth Miller (“Prison Break”), Stoker is a coming-of-age story that follows a teenage girl named India (Wasikowska), who is forced to deal with her own inner demons after a tragedy befalls her family on her 18th birthday. Conveniently, her very charismatic but mysterious long-lost Uncle Charlie (Goode) rides into town, sweeping both India and her attention-starved mother, Evelyn (Kidman), off their feet, revealing all kinds of twisted family secrets and bad blood amongst the trio.
During a recent press conference, we heard from director Park as well as Kidman, Goode and Wasikowska about their experiences collaborating on Stoker as well as what aspects of Miller’s script attracted them to the project initially. The trio of co-stars also discussed some of their favorite moments from the film, director Park explained how he had to adapt to the faster production pace of Hollywood for the very first time on Stoker and much, much more about the intricacies of the film and director Park’s vision for the film.
Read on for all the highlights from the Stoker press conference below, and make sure to check out the latest from director Park when it’s released this Friday.
Question: Director Park, it’s great to see your movie, which just played Sundance, and The Last Stand come out within a week of each other; how was your Hollywood experience, and have you seen Kim Jee-Woon’s film yet?
Park Chan-wook: No, I haven’t seen it; it’s not been released in Korea yet, and ever since I arrived in America to promote Stoker, I haven’t had time to go and see it in a theater either. And so the fact that I had to shoot twice as fast as I’m used to in Korea for Stoker was the most challenging thing about my Hollywood experience. The difference in Korea is that what I do is watch the playback of each take with all of the actors and spend a lot of time discussing each take with them.
I also use the process we call auto-assembly because I storyboard my entire film right at the beginning – even before pre-production ever begins – so that my vision is already laid out on the storyboard for everybody to see. That enables the on-set assembly person to cut together each take into a sequence and this enables a director to review the take within the context of the sequence of the scene. So not only do I look at the playback with the actors but I look at the on-set assembly footage with the sequences with my actors as well.
These are the reasons why I take twice as much time to shoot a film in Korea. Thinking back, I can remember on my first ever Korean film that I never used any playback or on-set assembly so all I had to do was to tell myself that making Stoker was just like making my first ever Korean-language film. After that, I felt right at home.
Question: For Matthew, Nicole and Mia, what was it about your characters that drew you to play them?
Nicole Kidman: For me, it was primarily the combination of the cast and the film being spearheaded by director Park; I knew his films and I had always wanted to work with him. Plus I thought the combination of this script with his direction would be really unusual. When I saw it for the first time at Sundance last week, I was like, “Wow!” which is a definitely great reaction to have (laughs).
Matthew Goode: Well, for me I had a slightly different experience; I’ve talked before about the fact that Colin vacated the role so I was very lucky to get cast in this movie. But as far as the actual character and wanting to do it, of course it was about director Park and these two beautiful ladies to my left; that’s true. But the role was so psychologically interesting and I got to go on a little trip with it. It was confusing and brilliant and wonderful and all those things, and I went, “I’d like to be involved with this if it’s all right,” and luckily director Park said I could be, which was thrilling. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have twice as much time with him to make a film? Why aren’t we making more films in Korea? (laughs).
Mia Wasikowska: For me, it was the same thing- to work with director Park and this cast and the fact that India was a very different character to anything that I’d played before. I was excited about that.
Question: When you have a cast that speaks a different language than their director, how does the universal language of film and storytelling manifest itself, and does that create more interesting performances?
Matthew Goode: One of the first films I ever did was in Spanish and I don’t speak Spanish and that’s as hard as it’s going to get, doing a film in a different language. But as far as with what voice do I listen in, it was really easy.
Nicole Kidman: There are times when you have to clarify certain things because obviously words can mean different things in other languages, and so a lot of times it would be me just wondering if this is exactly what he wants because in translation things can get lost so I was just very specific with him.
Park Chan-wook: Actors are professionals who deal with people’s emotions and their thoughts so working with this very intelligent cast meant that sometimes I would only have to start speaking a word and these wonderful actors would immediately catch on to what I wanted them to portray and how I wanted them to act. I never really had any issues communicating with them.
Question: For the actors, could you talk about your first impressions when you read the script by Wentworth Miller, and is there a difference between a script written by an actor as opposed to a screenwriter, or is a good script just a good script?
Mia Wasikowska: You know, I think a good script is just a good script. I thought it was amazing the first time I read it, and I was instantly drawn into this world and these really complex characters and the mystery within all of them.
Nicole Kidman: I had to read it a couple of times to understand it just because it’s got a lot of subtext and layers, so I wanted to absorb what the overall feeling of it was. I think the strength of director Park is his atmosphere; he creates incredible atmosphere, and this script relies heavily on the language of the images because there’s not a lot of dialogue so the cinematic language of it has to be very strong. When I had a meeting with him, we talked about all of that, and it was extraordinary how detailed and precise he was in what he knew he wanted to say, and his use of color and sound and everything is all very specific and it’s not by chance; that’s something that fills in a lot in a script like this.
When we first met, director Park said to me about Mia and my relationship, “Ever since you’ve held this baby, this baby’s never wanted to be held.” That’s an amazing way to start building the relationship of a mother and child because that’s horrifying as a mother if your baby doesn’t want to be held by you. That was fascinating to me.
Question: For Mia and Nicole, there’s a scene where Evie finally confronts India, which is very powerful. Could you each talk about shooting that scene?
Nicole Kidman: That’s a really intense scene, and I love that scene because it’s so unusual. I remember reading it, and I never expected it to end with that line of, “I can’t wait to watch life tear you apart.” From where it starts to where it ends, that’s an amazing monologue. To make that scene, which is because of the way director Park shoots (you know, really intense and close up), we did it a number of different ways, but we shot it in one shot, which is fantastic as an actor to not be cut up and edited. It gets to play out that way, and I was very grateful that he had the vote of confidence in me to be able to do it because it’s a really weird scene.
Mia Wasikowska: It’s a pretty amazing scene and very scary to be on the receiving end of, too (laughs).
Park Chan-wook: That scene is a very important scene for Evie’s (Kidman) character. In the original Wentworth Miller script the monologue ends with, “I can’t wait until life tears you apart.” But during the preparation period Nicole and I agreed to bring some other aspects to this character in that Evie’s not just an oppressive, pathetic mother. Deep down inside she actually loves her daughter very much, but in seeing this great seed of evil flowering within her daughter, Evie feels this raw aggression. And so after this long monologue of cursing her own daughter, she is actually surprised at how she can be so aggressive towards her own daughter and says to India, “Who are you? Aren’t you supposed to love me?” This is something that came out of these conversations with Nicole during rehearsal, and in fact, it was also a line of dialogue that Nicole came up with during rehearsals.
Nicole Kidman: It goes back to what director Park originally said to me, which is that her own child doesn’t love her and she doesn’t understand why; she doesn’t feel that she knows her own child, and that’s a terrifying premise. But then to say to your own child, “Who are you?” – that’s interesting to me; that’s a fascinating sort of dynamic to explore.
Question: For Mia and Matthew, when you’re portraying characters that do some incredibly evil things, do you as an actor have to find a way to relate to, understand and like these characters, and if so, how do you do that?
Mia Wasikowska: I’ve often found on the films that have a more serious nature, the more goofy and silly it becomes, that in-between stuff seems almost out of necessity to counter the intensity of the other scenes and material. I felt like we were pretty good at that.
Matthew Goode: Yeah, this movie is sort of a psychological investigation because otherwise it wouldn’t have a point; it certainly wouldn’t be the kind of film I’d want to make, not that any of us believe in censoring our film or anything like that. But overall I just want it to make sense because Charlie’s been away on holiday so in that sense, everyone is detached; they’re all so completely away from anywhere, so much so that we don’t know where it is or what time period it is really. It was fascinating to peel back the layers as it was happening because I think Charlie quite likes watching it unfold and he’s very good at being on his own.
I think I just wanted to make him a little bit like the fucked up Peter Pan that he is really because it’s a coming-of-age story for India. But really, how held back he is? So we have to bring it all together and make it three-dimensional I suppose, and that was really the challenge here.
Question: The sound design is compelling, and then there’s the odd dynamic going on between all the characters and the chemistry and sometimes lack thereof. What were your impressions the first time you saw it, and how do you think it fits in compared to other films in this genre?
Nicole Kidman: Well, I’m not sure what genre it fits into; it’s hard to define it. I was amazed at the filmmaking because you don’t see that kind of filmmaking that often. But then a lot of the stuff I hadn’t seen because I’m not in it, too. But this sort of detailed filmmaking is one, hard to do and not have it end up being pretentious and two, to have it tell the story, which is what you’re taught- that cinema is the language of images and you really should be able to make a film with no dialogue and tell a story. I think director Park should do that next (laughs).
Question: For Mia and Matthew, can you elaborate on your pivotal piano duet scene? How did the two of you approach shooting that intensely emotional scene?
Mia Wasikowska: I really liked it because I felt like I didn’t have to do much (laughs); we had playback going and it’s such an intense and amazing piece. I think we listened to it all day and the rest of the crew was wilting just a little more each time we replayed it. But I was like, “Yeah! Again!” because when the music is there, I almost don’t have to do much except surrender to it and then all the feeling and emotion I felt was in the piece.
Matthew Goode: We were able to play good little sections, which meant we were able to give director Park options to shoot from behind, and I think it’s always nice to be able to see everything in a scene like that because I think we all know the language of film; we all know that when you see somebody playing something, you’re like, “Well, they’re not playing that,” and then he’s able to show you that they are. It’s kind of fucking with the audience in a new way- it’s quite nice (laughs).
People talk about chemistry, but I just loved Mia and Nicole because you never know how it’s going to work out no matter how good the script is or how much of a genius your director is. I think that’s one of the reasons that doing the piano scene really worked because there was an element of trust because we’re not very good. (To Mia) You’re better than I was. You’re just in it, aren’t you? It’s all of that, really was a ruse (laughs).
Park Chan-wook: When the DVD comes out, and if you watch the film multiple times, you’ll be amazed to find two things. First is how much of the actual playing of the piano was done by Matthew and Mia, and secondly, not only that, but how much acting was going on there as well. They weren’t only trying to focus on getting their fingers right; at the same time, they were perfectly encapsulating the emotion of these characters during those moments.
Matthew Goode: Thanks, boss (laughs).
Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver, Lucas Till, Dermot Mulroney, Phyllis Somerville, and Alden Ehrenreich star in the film directed by Park Chan-wook. Look for Stoker in theatres on March 1st, 2013.
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