by Hiko Mitsuzuka
Nicole Kidman wants to make one thing clear about her character in the upcoming drama-thriller, Stoker. "She's not evil," she says in front of several journalists while sipping from a glass of water inside a conference room at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. "She’s just starved for love and has a child that she doesn’t connect with."
In the first English-language film from director Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy), Kidman plays Evie, a widow whose teenage daughter India (Mia Wasikowska) forms an odd bond with an estranged uncle played by the mesmerizing Matthew Goode. That's about all I can say about the atmospheric and haunting drama, written by Wentworth Miller (attention, Prison Break fans) that opens in select theaters today.
As a matter of fact, it was the director that was the main draw for the Oscar-winning actress: “For me, it was primarily about the combination of the cast and it being spearheaded by a director Park. I knew his films, and I wanted to work with him. I just thought the combination of this script and with his direction would be really unusual. I saw it for the first time at Sundance last week, and I was like, ‘Wow.’ Which is a great reaction to have.”
Director Park, who sits with his translator a few seats away from the actress, turns to look at her, confused.
“A good wow. Not a bad wow," she clarifies with a laugh.
Matthew Goode concurs: “Of course it was about Director Park and these ladies to my left, but the role was so psychologically interesting, and you got to go on a little trip for it. It was brilliant and wonderful."
When asked how he would sum up the character of Uncle Charlie, Goode offers, "He's a fucked-up Peter Pan."
Mia Wasikowska nods in agreement: “For me it was the same…and just that India was a different character from what I’ve played before, so I was excited about that.”
Despite the language barrier between the cast and their director, the universal language of film manifested itself in interesting and unique ways. “It was really easy," Goode recalls. "After the Skype chat I had with director Park, which lasted about an hour…I didn’t really think about.”
“There are times when you have to clarify words," explains Kidman, "obviously because different particular words mean certain things, so a lot of times it would be just me going, ‘Is this exactly what he wants?’ because in translation, things can get lost. So I was just very specific with him.”
Park (via translater): “Actors are professionals who deal with people’s emotions and their thoughts, so working with this great, intelligent, smart cast meant that sometimes you only had to start speaking a word, and these wonderful actors would immediately catch on to what I want to portray, how I want them to act, so communication was no issue.”
With an actor (Miller) writing the script, one has to wonder if the cast responded differently to the work of one of their own.
“I think a good script is a good script," Wasikowska says. "I thought it was amazing the first time I read it and was instantly drawn into this world and these really complex characters and the mystery within all of them.”
For Kidman, she had to read it a couple of time to fully grasp the nature of the film: "It’s got a lot of subtext and layers, soI just 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, and so the cinematic language of it has to be very very strong...and his use of color and sound is all very specific and not by chance, and that is something that fills in a script like this.”
Overall, director Park hopes that the movie will be interpreted in as many ways as possible. While it's been described as a movie about “bad blood” and what makes it bad, he thinks it also shows how evil can be contagious. Wait for the third act, and you'll see what he means.
The entire cast was amazed by the results after watching the film for the first time earlier this year.
“I’m not sure what genre it fits into," Kidman says. "It’s hard to define it. But I was amazed at the filmmaking. You don’t see that kind of filmmaking anymore…That sort of detailed filmmaking is really hard to do and not have it be pretentious."
Mia recalls what she called her best day of filming, an intense and pivotal piano scene during which India and Charlie play side by side and fall deeper into their relationship. The song they play was written by famed composer Phillip Glass. “I really liked it because I felt like I didn’t have to do much because we had the playback going," she remembers, "and it was such an intense piece, and I think we listened to it all day...When the music is there, you almost don’t have to do much except surrender to it, and all the feeling and emotion I felt was in the piece.”
And if you're wondering, both Wasikowska and Goode actually played.
MG: “We were able to play good little sections and then give director Park options to shoot from behind. But it’s always nice to be able to see, because we all know the language of film and we all know that when you see someone playing you’re like, ‘Oh, they’re not playing that,’ and it shows that they are...I think the piano scene works because there was an element of trust."
“When the DVD comes out," Park says, "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 were working trying focus on getting their fingers just right, but at the same time, they perfectly encapsulated the emotion of the characters during those moments.”
- Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)