Paul Haggis on The Next Three Days, Scientology and Why He's OK With You Hating Crash
Last year, Paul Haggis, the director of 2005's Oscar-winner for Best Picture, Crash, went through a very public breakup with Scientology. His first film after the defection arrives this week as The Next Three Days, the story of a man struggling to break his wife out of prison and restore his family. Coincidence?
Movieline talked it over with the writer-director recently in New York, where he was promoting the tale of John and Lara Brennan (played by Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks) -- the latter of whom is convicted of a murder that she may or may not have committed. Her mild mannered professor husband John hatches a jailbreak, but don't expect The Next Three Days to be your typical car-chase fueled escape movie. Haggis's remake of the French hit Pour Elle is more nuanced in its approach to the prison-bust genre. We discussed his film's unconventional set-up, that pesky Scientology issue, and why Haggis loved writing for everyone's favorite nosy handyman, Schneider, on One Day at a Time.
[Mild spoilers follow]
Was it by design that you wasted absolutely no time diving right into the story with very little character buildup?
I've been criticized for that. Like, "Didn't you need to do more?" No. You need to know that with the opening dinner scene, I put that in because I want to show that she has a temper. And then the happy family and then, boom, disturbed. As long as you set up the movie and care about the people, that's what I take my time doing from that point, on for the next 30 minutes -- making us really care.
In that sense, did it help having Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks as the leads? People kind of feel like they already know these two.
Exactly. That certainly gives you a step up. But the most important thing is that they're really skilled actors, so it makes you forget about some of the roles that they've done before and realize that they are these characters.
I saw The Next Three Days the same day that I saw The King's Speech. Two of my biggest fears are public speaking and wrongful imprisonment.
(Laughs) I thought The King's Speech was great.
It goes down well.
Really well. Driven by character.
What kind of prison research did you do for this movie?
I did a lot. I went to Pittsburgh before I wrote this, and they opened the jail to me. And they were very open with the attempts that have been made. It's a new jail and no one has made it out alive. Exactly what's in the film is the truth: Three people have tried and no one has succeeded. I asked how they tried, and one way was through the elevator. In their case, someone had actually bribed the guard to get a copy of the key. But I thought that was too easy. That's when I started doing research on the Internet of how you would make a key. And I found the bump key thing. I tried it. It works. So then the thing is not getting caught -- and he almost gets caught.
That's a stressful scene to watch.
That's the thing about the film: You've got an English teacher. Not even at the top; he's a community college teacher. You want to sweat for him. You want to go, "Oh, this poor bastard, he's never ever going to succeed." And that's going to drive the tension.
Why did you pick Pittsburgh?
A couple of reasons. I wanted a city that wasn't iconically American. I didn't want New York, Chicago or L.A. because I wanted to show that this story could happen anywhere to anyone. And then I started looking for a city that was geographically correct for me. There's certain things that have to happen where you could go anywhere from there. It's not like you're landlocked or it's not like you're right against the Mexican border or something like that where you are obviously going to go across. So that narrowed the cities down. Then I started looking, and I found Pittsburgh. And I thought, Ah, here's a city that actually talks about the movie in itself. People say that movie locations become characters; I wanted it to be a character for many reasons. One, it is just the fact that it's a town that transformed itself; it used to be a steel town. So you can look at [John's] dad and go, "Strong, silent type. Man's man." Could he break his wife out of prison? Absolutely. Then you look at Russell -- second generations, it's now a city of education. It's a city of medicine. That's what Pittsburgh is now. The men who grow up there, now, have to look at their fathers and ask the question, "Am I the same man? Can I pull it off?" And we go, "No, I don't think he can." I couldn't, my father could. For that reason, Pittsburgh really spoke to me.
How did you want to build suspense? Before I saw the film, I just assumed, "Oh, of course they get away." While I was watching, I had no idea what was going to happen.
No, you don't. And you shouldn't. And you also shouldn't know if she's innocent or guilty. Even with that, I show flashbacks from two different people's perspectives. They could both be wrong.
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