Richard Kelly: The Movieline Interview

In his new thriller The Box, director Richard Kelly puts forth a thirtysomething couple (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) with a spiritual crossroads to consider: accept a significant financial upgrade from mysterious benefactor Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) with the tiny catch that a stranger will die for it, or continue eking out a meager existence but do so with the knowledge that there are no favors owed or strings attached. It's a conundrum that the 34-year-old Kelly himself might be familiar with, since he rose to fame on the utterly independent, inevitably dystopic visions of Donnie Darko and Southland Tales, yet a financial lifeline is being dangled by a studio system (in the form of Warner Bros, which financed The Box) that can pad his future stories with budget, comfort, and potential compromise.

I talked to the writer/director last night about formulating his next move, his uneasy détente with the present day (and the influence of the Internet), and the unexpected side effects of being a creative person with biceps.

So what's your mood going into the film's release this weekend?

You know, I always keep my expectations as low as possible. [Laughs] This is an unpredictable business and I'm glad to be working. I'm just glad that the movie is finished and we're getting a wide release. That's something I've never had before.

I wanted to ask you about that. Donnie Darko and Southland Tales had these strange in-between openings on around 60 theaters -- not quite an LA-and-New York platform release, but not quite a semi-wide release, either.

Yeah. It's always tricky. There's maybe some rhyme and reason to theatrical distribution, but it seems to be becoming increasingly unpredictable. Obviously, the first two movies were released with very, very minimal marketing. I'm grateful to be part of the corporate machine here [at Warner Brothers] when it comes to distribution, because the independent distribution system right now is in incredible disarray, I think.

You've done studio scripts and rewrites before, and I have to imagine you were being offered directing gigs. What kept you from accepting one at a studio until now?

Well, I think I just always tried to hang on to my voice, and I've always felt like I maybe had a stronger connection to my own kind of writing material. I feel as though I'm kind of a control freak in that sense, where I need to write screenplays that I direct, but as I've gotten older now and I've completed three films that are in my voice, I feel like I'm more open than ever to potentially directing someone else's screenplay. It's just a total release now that I've gotten past [film] number three. So we'll see what happens, I honestly don't know. I have my script I'm working on, but I'm just trying to keep all my options open, really.

When you were writing screenplays for other directors, were you less of a control freak? Did you have any problems letting those go?

Yeah, that's a situation where it's a job-for-hire and I realized, "Listen, this is for someone else." You obviously still have an emotional connection to it. I've always had a pretty strong emotional connection to any art I've ever created. I've learned to try not to let that connection wear me down as much, and when I look at a writing job for some other producer, I try to keep a bit more detachment from it. You have to kind of assume that whatever will be, will be, and you hand it over and do the best job you can.

Was The Box an easier shooting experience compared to your first two films?

The only thing that was stressful about the shoot on The Box was the cold weather. We shot quite a bit of it in Boston, and it was just blizzard conditions, the coldest winter in probably years. There were a lot of exteriors, and you could really sense the entire crew [feeling] down and everything. It was a lot easier, though, in the sense that we had 44 days to shoot the movie, and the first two movies I had 30 days, 28 days. This was obviously something where I felt like I had more padding and I was more comfortable. It made me realize as well that I'd really, really love to be able to continue work at a higher budget with a studio that hopefully understands what I'm trying to do and understands my screenplay and supports my vision. I'm trying to figure out a way to keep doing that.

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  • SunnydaZe says:

    Southland Tales is such an amazing film. I have it in my collection in-between "Strange Days" and "Brazil"; A Trilogy of Terror concerning where society is headed. (or maybe we are already there?)
    Southland Tales is one of the only films with that big of a budget which functions like an art film. After watching it I feel more like I had a dream than watched a film.

  • Peg Entwistle says:

    "I try to make movies that are a lot to digest in the first viewing, that leave your head spinning when you leave the theater, and it can take a little bit for all the pieces to coalesce in your mind."
    Like "I Hope They Serve Been in Hell," which Kelly produced?

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