If we get ten movies better than Stoker this year, we’re in for a great year of movies. Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook came to America to film a Southern gothic fairy tale, and he made an indelible film that’s well worth seeking out. He also assembled a great team of actors to make it. We got a chance to sit down with Chan-wook, and stars Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska to talk about the movie. Check it out…
Director Park how has your Hollywood experience been so far?
Park Chan-wook: I had to shoot twice as fast as I was used to in Korea. That was the most challenging aspect. In Korea I would watch the playback of each take with all of the actors and spend time discussing each take. I always storyboard each scene even before pre-production begins so my vision is already laid out on the storyboard for everyone to see. This enables on set assembly so it makes each take into a sequence and this would enable a steady work flow. I would also look back at the on-set assembly sequences with my actors and that is why it takes me longer to shoot when I’m in Korea. Looking back on my first film in Korea I never used any playback or on set assembly so I just told myself this film was just like shooting my first film, then I felt right at home.
What was it about your characters that drew you in to the film?
Nicole Kidman: For me, it was the combination of the cast and the film being spearheaded by director Park. I knew his films and really wanted to work with him, the combination of this script with his direction would be really unusual. I saw it for the first time at Sundance and thought wow! It was a great reaction to have, it was a good wow not a bad wow.
Matthew Goode: For me of course it was about director Park and these two beautiful ladies to my left. The role is so psychologically interesting, it was confusing and brilliant and wonderful and all those sorts of things you would like to be involved in. Wouldn’t it have been amazing if we had twice as much time to make this film? Why don’t we make more films in Korea?
Mia Wasikowska: It was the same, to work with director Park and the cast and that India was a very different character.
How was the cast experience when it came to working with a director that really didn’t speak English?
Matthew Goode: One of my first films that I did was in Spanish and I didn’t speak Spanish and that’s as hard as it’s going to get but boy, do you listen. It was actually really easy, after the Skype chat I had with director Park – which lasted an hour – you realized the only thing you should worry about is who you should be looking at. Once you got on set you really didn’t think about it at all.
Nicole Kidman: There were times when you had to clarify words because particular words mean certain things. A lot of the times I would be asking is this exactly what he wants because in translation things can get lost. I was just very specific with him.
Park Chan-wook: Actors are professionals who deal with peoples emotions. Working with this very intelligent and smart cast meant that sometimes you would only have to speak a word and they would immediately catch on to what I wanted. I really felt that it wasn’t an issue.
What was your reaction to the script and is there a difference when an actor writes it or is a good script just a good script?
Mia Wasikowska: 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, these complex characters and the mystery.
Nicole Kidman: I had to read it a couple of times to understand it because it has a lot of subtext and layers so I just wanted to absorb the overall feel of it. I think the strength of director Park is his atmosphere, he creates an incredible atmosphere. The 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, very strong. When we had a meeting with him we talked about all that and it was extraordinary how precise and detailed what he wanted to say was. Also his use of color and sound is all very specific and that is something that really fills in a script like this.
Was there a memorable moment for you guys from the filming process?
Nicole Kidman: For me I loved the dinner scenes around the table because there is humor in them as well. I actually don’t think that Evelyn is evil. I felt that she was just starved for love and she has a child but she doesn’t connect to it. Director Park when we first met said to me, ever since you’ve held this baby, this baby never wanted to be held. And that’s an amazing way to build the relationship of a mother and child because that’s horrifying as a mother. I think that’s the thrust of her, this child that she had just doesn’t connect with her and she always trying in some way to connect. Obviously that has gotten broken down in years and years and India had a much stronger connection to her father. Then I just came up with my own thing that she’s just very starved for love and that creates a particular personality after a while. She’s not evil (laughs).
Mia Wasikowska: Neither is India.
Matthew Goode: One thing that really sticks out in my mind is there was a scene that became compromised due to lack of financing. It was meant to be by the lake where we see the burying of my younger brother and Richard’s youngest. Director Park really didn’t flap about it and got on with it just placed it around the house which was more chilling.
Nicole Kidman: With director Park, it’s interesting to talk to him he said this is a movie about bad blood which I thought it was an interesting way of describing it, whatever bad blood was anyways.
Park Chan-wook: I would like the story to be interpreted as many ways as possible and of course the bad blood aspect is included. You could always say that evil is contagious and we have this mentor Uncle Charlie that comes into your life.
Matthew is seems that your character was symbolically connected to a spider and we see a few images of predatory animals on TV… it feels like you choose when to blink, were you thinking about an animal or spider for you performance?
Matthew Goode: There are animalistic elements, but I didn’t go about it thinking “I’m going to do this like a penguin.” A lot of actors use the animal thing, so I’m not being facetious. He dances for me. Some things are autonomic and I tried to get out of my own way and that’s what happens when someone catches you with a camera. But it’s better to have your eyes open most of the time.
When your character has to do evil task how do you find yourselves relating to them?
Mia Wasikowska: I’ve often found on the films that have a more serious nature the more goofy and light headed and silly it becomes in between scenes almost out of necessity to counter the intensity of the scene and material. I felt that we were pretty good at that.
Matthew Goode: It’s sort of a psychological investigation otherwise it wouldn’t have a point or it wouldn’t be a film that I would want to make. We just want it to make sense because he’s been away on holiday. Also in some sense everyone is completely detached so much that we don’t know where this is and what time period it is. My character Charlie is like a chrysalis because he took a very long time to hatch. We wonder how held back is he, he’s sort of the man-child.
What kind of genre do you think this film fits into?
Nicole Kidman: I’m not sure what genre it fits into, it’s hard to define it but I was amazed at the filmmaking. You don’t see that kind of filmmaking that often and a lot of the stuff I haven’t seen cause I’m not in it. It’s very, very layered and the metaphor that he uses. The hair scene, I had no idea. He just said we’re going to shoot brushing your hair, then I see the film and I thought “awwww that’s amazing.” That sort of detailed filmmaking is really hard to do and not have it be pretentious. And then also to have it tell the story, which is what you’re taught — that cinema is the language of images. You should really be able to make a film with no dialogue and be able to tell a story and I really think director Park should do that next.
Mia you said that the piano duet scene was the best day of filming, can you elaborate on that?
Mia Wasikowska: I really liked it because I felt I didn’t have to do much. We had playback going and it was such an intense and amazing piece. Each time we replayed it I loved it but the rest of the crew was just wilting. When the music is there you really don’t have to do much but just surrender to it. All the feeling and emotion I felt was in the piece.
Nicole Kidman: But you guys really played it.
Matthew Goode: We were able to play little sections of it and the idea was to give director Park options. We all know the language of film, if you see someone playing something you know they’re not playing it and then they show you that they are., it’s kind of fucking with the audience in a weird way. People talk about chemistry but I just love Mia and Nicole. You never know how it’s going to work out no matter how good the script is or what a genius your director is. That’s why the piano scene worked because there was an element of trust.
Mia Wasikowska: I think with music that’s one element we don’t have when we shoot a movie because we shoot it on such a blank canvas. We’re always in a room where there are 25 people in our face so it feels pretty unreal to us but when there is music there is one more element that gives us an indication of the tone.
Nicole Kidman: We also shot in a house and not a set so I would hear you guys practicing.
Park Chan-wook: When the DVD comes out and 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 that was done by Matthew and Mia and secondly, how much acting was going on there as well. They were trying to focus on getting their fingers right but they were also perfectly encapsulating the emotion of the characters during those moments.
Stoker hits cinemas in limited release March 1.