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Live for Films talks to director Gilles Paquet-Brenner about Dark Places

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Charlize Theron and Gilles Paquet-Brenner

Charlize Theron and Gilles Paquet-Brenner

From the author of literary phenomenon Gone Girl, Dark Places is the gripping and suspenseful story based on Gillian Flynn’s New York Times® best-selling novel of the same name. Academy Award winnerCharlize Theron stars in this nail-biting thriller from director Gilles Paquet-Brenner.

Libby Day (Theron) was only eight years old when her family was brutally murdered in their rural Kansas farmhouse. Almost thirty years later, she agrees to revisit the crime and uncovers the wrenching truths that led up to that tragic night, but what happens when you try to find light in dark places?

Dark Places features an all-star leading Hollywood cast including; Charlize Theron (Prometheus, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Mad Max: Fury Road) as Libby Day; Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Kill Your Friends) is Lyle Wirth, the leader of the Kill Club, a club fascinated with true crime; Christina Hendricks (Drive, I Don’t Know How She Does It, Mad Men) is Patty Day, Libby’s mother;Corey Stoll (House of Cards, The Good Lie, Homeland, Ant-Man) as Libby’s brother, Ben Day, and Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Hugo, Dark Shadows, Carrie) plays a young Diondra Wertzner, Ben Day’s secret girlfriend.

Go back in time with Libby as Dark Places is released on digital download from 15th February and on Blu-ray™ and DVD from 22nd February, courtesy of Entertainment One.

Live for Films recently caught up with director Gilles Paquet-Brenner to talk about the appeal of Gillian Flynn, Queen Charlize Theron and getting killed by a computer.

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Hi Gilles. I’m Alan from Live for Films. How’s it going?

Good. How are you?

 

To start, what do you think is the key to the appeal of Gillian Flynn’s work?

Um, I think that it’s a blend of sort of pulp and elevated. I think it’s very interesting social and political themes, but then the way she tells it is pulp. That’s why I think they are crowd pleasers and critical darlings.

 

And you also did the adaptation of the book for the film – tell me about that process.

Well… you know when I do adaptations – I’ve done a few of them – I start very simply. Literally page by page, and then I see what kinds of problems I encounter. Also I tend to adapt books that are already quite cinematic, with strong plots and well-defined characters, so with Dark Places what was really tricky was the amount of material I had to deal with – there’s a lot of plot, a lot of characters. It’s a big book, but had to be a two hour movie, so that was a challenge.

Everybody has their own process. I know some people write treatments, but I just start writing! I have the book, and I read while writing. I say “OK, I have to turn that into a scene”, or “I have to turn those four scenes into one scene”, or if three characters have to become one character. It’s an adaptation, so you have to change some things – but still be very faithful.

For Dark Places, we optioned the book in the Summer, and I started writing six or seven months later. It was always in the background, you know, but once my instinct tells me I’m ready to go, I just go for it.

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Were they any particular parts you were sorry to have to cut, or additions you had to make to particularly tailor the story for the screen?

Oh, wow. Where to start! I wish the movie could have been twenty-five minutes longer. Just in terms of some scenes missing, and more time with some characters, but you have the money you have, and the time that you have, and then you have the producers, and you just have to find common ground.

 

How do you go about getting the actors you want for a film like this? Is it easy when you can say it’s “from the author of Gone Girl”?

Well, when we took the rights to the book it was 2010 so it was pre-Gone Girl – before Gone Girl was even written. People who like murder mysteries knew who she was but she wasn’t the huge star that she became later on. Of course today if someone wanted to buy the rights to a Gillian Flynn book it would be way more difficult than it was for us.

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The cast you did assemble is great. How did you go about working with Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult and Christina Hendricks day-to-day? How do you approach directing actors?

Well I think that when you talk about big movie stars it depends on what kind of movie they’re on, but Dark Places is actually a very small film. We shot in twenty-four days, with a very limited budget, so all these people they know when they pick a project like that it’s not for money, there’s no big trailer, everyone just plays by the rules on a day-to-day basis. They’re stars, but first they are very passionate actors – they love acting, and interesting characters, and that’s what they were focussing on. So, to me, working with these people as opposed to unknown actors I don’t think it was much different actually, but then, on the other side, with those people you have access to more financing.

Some actors they want a lot of direction, some actors don’t want that, you have to adjust actor by actor, person by person, and then just put them in the best environment so they can provide the best performance.

For instance, Christina (Hendricks) wants to be directed. So, with Christina, I would talk a lot, we would work a lot. Chloë (Grace Moretz) likes to try things – even if it’s crazy – so we would try a lot of things with Chloë. Then Nick (Nicholas Hoult), Nick is like literally the easiest actor to work with ever! He arrives very prepared, and he has something in mind that is just perfect – so I didn’t need to tell him anything, because I just loved what he did. Charlize has a lot of experience. She is a very good actor, very well trained. Sometimes she needs you, sometimes she doesn’t. You just have to adapt to the moment.

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You have a distinct visual style that I really enjoyed catching throughout Dark Places. I particularly like your focus on the odd small detail; and the quick handheld zooms you throw in among back and forth dialogue scenes. Can you talk to me about developing your own look and aesthetic, and whom you may have drawn influence from?

In terms of direction, we had these two timelines to deal with. We had to find a language that would not be too obvious, but would help the audience to know where they are so as not to lose them. So we kept it subtle, and some of it was in post-production. So like we had a grain that we put on the past scenes, and kept the nowadays scenes sharp and clean.

Barry Ackroyd, the DP, is pretty well known for his handheld work with (Paul) Greengrass so we utilised that, but we also had some interesting movements and crane shots and tried to blend all the tools we had.

Part of it is pure instinct. Some directors completely process everything and design everything in advance. I try to do that, but only had five weeks of prep and five weeks of shooting, so a lot of it is instinct really. Sometimes you arrive and have a four page scene, and three hours, and two cameras, so you go with it and try not to think too much, and really focus on the performances. Had I had twice the amount of time, the movie would probably look different but in terms of the performances, we got everything we needed

 

“The Kill Club” are a pretty unforgettable group. Are there any real clubs like that that you visited at all, or are they a complete fiction?

Yeah! Gillian is one of the members – she is the one with an axe in the armchair – she is dressed as Lizzie Bawden, an infamous murderer. Does it exist? It didn’t at the time, but it might now! Obviously in our digital era there are a lot of fan pages, and people with similar interests in murderers and a passion for true crime.

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Film’s like Dark Places, and shows like Making a Murderer highlight the continued popularity of crime and mystery solving. Why do you think we are all still so interested with things of this nature?

I don’t know. That’s interesting. I think sometimes people like to confront very dark stuff, while not being endangered by it. They like to confront their fears, but not physically. Somehow there is a bit of an exorcism and it makes them feel better. Also, some people just like to investigate and to solve a mystery if there’s a debate about the killer or whatever.

 

What are you working on next?

I can’t say… I may be shooting a movie in England, but we’re still casting and it could fall apart in a second.

 

If you could remake any film, which would it be?

Oh, wow. OK. Gooooood question. Remake a film? You know what, if it was a movie I liked I would never touch it anyway! I think the only remakes should be if they were a foreign film or a bad film, but if they came to me like “Do you want to remake Blade Runner?” I would be like “Are you crazy?!”

 

If you could be killed by any movie monster, which one would it be, and what would your last words be?

KILLED by a movie monster?! And my last words?! The Black Monolith in 2001, or H.A.L., and my last words? “I knew it.”

 

Thank you very much for taking the time talk to me today.

Thank you so much. Bye-bye.

 

Bye!

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