Stoker - We Go 1 on 1 with Director Park Chan-wook
With Stoker (review) arriving in theaters tomorrow, we had an opportunity today to have an intimate chat with visionary director Park Chan-wook here in New York City about his new take on American Gothic and why this sometimes quirky, always mesmerizing new addition to his filmography came at just the right time in his career.
It should be said that director Park used a Korean translator to interpret his words during the interview.
We also sat down with Mia Wasikowska, who stars as the spiteful teenager India, and Matthew Goode, who plays the menacing Uncle Charlie, so look for those interviews very soon.
Dread Central: Why did you feel you had to make your first English-language film at this stage in your career? Was the talent involved just too good to pass up?
Park Chan-wook: Well, Thirst, which was [director Park’s] last Korean feature length film was ten years in the making. The first time it was conceived was ten years before it was actually made and having finished that film, he came to a time where he had pretty much made all the Korean films that he had developed. So, he felt a chapter in his career came to a conclusion. It basically felt like emptying his guts and he felt rather despondent at the time and felt that there was a turning point needed in his career. If that is an internal reason, there was also the external reason of coming across this great script. It was something that was happening from the inside but also the outside.
DC: So, what was it about the script? Was it the world you thought you could create or bringing India’s dramatic character arc to life that most attracted you?
PCW: Is it going to be too easy an answer if he says all of the above? Well, if you would allow him to add one more to that, he would like to mention that the script was very sparse. It had a lot of room. It wasn’t too dialogue heavy and wasn’t populated with too many characters.
DC: Which is kind of rare for such a popular script that also found its way onto The Black List.
PCW: Probably the people who selected the script to be on The Black List also could see exactly what he saw in the film. Of course, there was great description in lieu of sparse dialogue. While not being busy, it managed not to be dull and it managed to retain a very palpable tension throughout.
DC: You do a lot of really intense storyboarding and I remember being on set and seeing you do a lot of takes over and over again of a lawnmower as the younger Richard Stoker runs off camera. I think a lot of directors would probably just do a couple takes of that but it was obvious that you knew exactly what you wanted. I know that the production was hurried but was pre-production faster also or done at your usual pace?
PCW: Compared with his process in Korea it was extra short on this film. You might not believe this but even during the script development stage in Korea, he would get together with his DP and the Production Designer and sometimes even the cast to exchange ideas. So even if during these exchanges the Production Designer may not sit down and begin to draw designs, they can exchange ideas for what director Park has in mind and what kind of atmosphere he wants in the film. And they can really get ready for what’s coming. Sometimes it will influence what he does with the script as well and how the cast and crew need to prepare. So, it could take as long as one or two years to get ready for a film.
DC: Mentioning the cast, did you allow any room for the actors to make adjustments? Was there any improvisation at all or do you tend to frown at that? Is it so planned out that there’s no wiggle room?
PCW: Well, he is worried thinking about this. Am I giving too much limitation for my actors? His cast, however, would often would come up and thank director Park for giving them so much freedom. When he hears that he breathes a sigh of relief. To clarify, rather than come up directly and say that, he would read interviews where the actors had said those things. He would like to consider himself a director that gives a lot of freedom to his actors but as you rightly point out, he tends to have specific ideas during the preparation stage. And you’re right, there is a version of the performance that he has in his mind after he assembles this cast and places them in this world. He imagines it. If the performance on the day on set deviates from what he had imagined he does get surprised but it needs to be a good surprise, doesn’t it for it to work? So, he’s always on the lookout for such good surprises to happen. He spends an enormous amount of time with his actors before ever rolling the camera. This is where he allows and invites the actors to really bring their ideas to the table. And this happened on Stoker as well and it was a good collaboration.
DC: You always do seem to have great performances from your actors. Was there a performance or a scene that really stood out to you that you were looking forward to filming? If that didn’t wind up being your favorite scene, what was? There’s a lot of memorable moments.
PCW: Well, when he was reading the script, this didn’t feel like an ambitious scene, and by this scene he means the scene where Uncle Charlie and Evie go for a drive and come back home and they are in the kitchen. Uncle Charlie in the kitchen, Evie in the pantry, and India just out in the foyer and they are talking to each other. Do you remember that scene?
DC: I do.
PCW: Nobody might agree with him but it’s a very personal favorite now after having gone through the process of prepping and filming the scene. It utilizes the layout of the floorplan of this great house that we found in Nashville.
DC: That was an amazing house.
PCW: They are engaged in this dialogue and the camera is allowed to capture them on their own in their own performance and he’s able to capture all the subtleties of each performance. That, to him, is his absolute favorite. Especially when India quips [referencing ice cream], “I like the swirl kind”, and when India has the tubs of ice cream shoved under her arms with a sullen face in the basement. It really reminds him of his own daughter, this petulant teenage girl.
DC: Yes, I remember them telling us to stay away from the freezer when we toured the basement. We were not allowed to look in the freezer. So, did you get a chance to go out in Nashville and did the owners of the estate change the house back to what it was originally?
PCW: The Wentworth’s...yes, Wentworth is the name of the owners...loved what Thérèse [DePrez] and her team did with the place. Director Park never heard back whether they returned it to its original state, but he knows that they loved it.
If it was me, I would have kept the place exactly how it was. I wouldn’t even wash the blood-stained wall!
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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