‘Longlegs’ Interview: Director Osgood Perkins on Crafting Dark Worlds and The Electric Guitar That Is Nicolas Cage

Aaron Neuwirth interviews writer/director Osgood Perkins, who discusses what's behind developing Longlegs, what it's like to work with Nic Cage, and more.

I’ve seen several solid horror films this year, including one focused on a doomed late night talk show, a surprisingly great Omen prequel, and the third entry in A24’s initially unintended horror trilogy. However, the horror film I’ve been most anticipating is Longlegs (Review Here) from writer/director Osgood Perkins. Having already impressed me with his dread-filled, atmospheric features The Blackcoat’s Daughter and Gretel & Hansel, among others, the actor-turned-filmmaker (and son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins) has had me psyched for the possibilities of what he would deliver with a serial killer thriller featuring It Follows star Maika Monroe and Nicolas Cage at his most unhinged. Now having seen it, between the cryptic marketing campaign by Neon and early assurances by critics and horror fans that Longlegs got under their skin, I can only hope the audience goes along with the nightmarish ride in store for them when the movie opens on Friday, July 12. What follows is a brief discussion I had with Perkins regarding his development process, working with these stars, and how this film coincides with his other features.

(The following has been edited for clarity.)

Aaron Neuwirth: So, I saw the film yesterday. It messed me up, and I was very happy about that. I want to know: Where is this coming from? Where is this coming from? I can see what I think are clear inspirations, but being such a rich film in terms of all the sources of darkness at play, what led to wanting to develop this particular story?

Osgood Perkins: The idea was to write and create something to garner more eyeballs, right? That would sort of cut through in a different way. And so then, if my intention was to cut through differently, then it becomes, “Well, what’s the implement,” right? Like, what’s the tip of the spear that’s going to get you through? What will pierce that membrane and get you into a place where you’re more accessible to more people?

It always just seems natural and sort of elemental to me that movies are about movies in a way, especially nowadays. So, to just sail in on Silence of the Lambs – it’s like having the best lanyard at a concert, right? You’re just gonna walk right the fuck in. And so, we walked right in on Silence of the Lambs with the intention of then not doing that movie at all, deviating into a different realm, and exploring a different kind of scene. But the idea was just to invite the audience into a place of tenuous comfort, a sort of “Oh, I know this movie,” And then reverse it.

AN: I really keyed into the atmosphere here, much like I have with your previous films. That’s something I very much admire about your work in general. I’m curious, when you’re crafting your story, is that something that is written in the script? Are you thinking with the visuals in mind as you’re writing these stories? Or are you finding that within the filmmaking process?

Perkins: I write as much onto the page as I can, and I think one of the gratifying things about working with the people I’ve worked with so far is their response to the script as written. I think a lot of screenwriting can be very prescriptive and sort of, “We’re inside today.” It’s an interior, and I don’t write “interior exterior,” for instance. It’s not an instruction manual. This thing that I’m writing, it’s a look into what I think I mean. And it’s trying to get as many of the department heads, the camera, makeup effects, the actors, and the production designer on the same page of getting the vibe as early as we can so that we can then make it better and better and better and better – so then we’re on the same page.

So, it’s all on the page, and then you hire people who have good taste and trust them to do their best work. Then, you stand back and take your hands off a little bit. I don’t believe in doing things with a grip. I believe in doing things with an open hand and letting people do their thing. Then, through enough conversations and good references, you find the thing.

As far as references go, I don’t want to reference horror movies, right? Like, when we’re making this movie, Longlegs, I’m not like, “Oh, you should really watch, you know, Night Swim.” That doesn’t occur to me. It’s, “You should really watch My Own Private Idaho” or “We should really watch A Woman Under the Influence.” You know what I mean? You find other ways to relate the work that you’re doing. It helps everybody expand their minds. And you’re working with artists, not with fucking cops, and these people want their minds to be opened.

AN: I get what you’re saying there, and with that in mind, as far as the collaborative process, I know Nicolas Cage obviously has a history of making unique choices to enhance the various roles he’s been in to benefit the projects he’s worked on. I’m sure he had plenty of ideas for Longlegs. Regarding what he’s doing here, what were the most exciting ideas he brought to his role?

Perkins: Oh, you know, all of the voice. You hear people say, “Oh, actors are their body, and their body is their instrument, right?” In the case of Nic Cage, it’s really true. He’s been compared to or sort of put into the rocker category. So, if he’s going to be an instrument, he’s a fucking electric guitar, and he knows how to play his fucking parts. He knows how to play the thing.

And so, I put words in front of him which describe a certain rhythm, a certain melody or harmony – there’s even a certain poetry or a certain absurdity or opacity to the way a character talks, and an actor like Nick who wants to play his instrument, runs with it. I may make a suggestion here or see something and say something. But when you have Nicolas Cage, it’s like having, you know, literal lightning in a bottle or a fucking tiger in a cage. And you let them be the lightning or the tiger.

AN: Similarly, with Maika Monroe, who emerged as a kind of indie scream queen, given how much I see Clarice Starling as an inspiration, or at least a launching point for the character, I’m curious – was she a first choice? And, given her talents, what did she bring to the character?

Yeah, when I met Maika, and it’s something that I find true for most of the people I end up hiring, especially the female performers, it’s the quality in how different they are in person compared to what they bring on screen. In the case of someone like Maika, her real-life persona has nothing to do with her on-screen persona. They’re unrelatable entities. And for me, that’s the strand that connects those two things, the string that makes those two people’s lives.

That’s so interesting for me – like what’s going on in that realm, that kind of liminal space between the real Maika and the on-camera Maika. So, when someone with a disparate nature of those two things is strong enough in a person, to me, they’re the person to cast. And I got that through meeting her a couple of times.

AN: This film, Longlegs, has more than a little in common with your debut film, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, from my perspective. I was curious if you had that or any of your other films in mind on any other level beyond just thematically.

Perkins: Yeah. I mean, I think that one of the things that I’m trying to do, along with the people who are my sort of colleagues, is that we’re trying to find a signature, right? We’re trying to find or become indispensable. Because the more generic you are these days, or maybe ever, but certainly these days, the more generic you are, the more liable you are to be replaced by a computer, I guess is the way you could say it. So, you want to dig in and get down there with yourself. The Blackcoat’s Daughter was very much about, you know, it was very true for me. It was very much about myself. So, it becomes a refrain that you want to revisit in the same way that artists revisit subjects you know, and they know you know. Someone like David Hockney does a portrait of the same person over decades in different styles. You never step into the same river twice.

AN: I have to wrap up, but one final thing (Note: mild spoil regarding a detail in Longlegs), the dolls – they have these orbs in them. I’m curious, is that a Twin Peaks reference at all? Or is that just your own idea?

Perkins: Could be, but I didn’t think of it. Um, but there’s so much that’s in my unconscious. Yeah, things will surface, and sometimes I’ll see things like, “Oh, I didn’t even realize there was a painting of a wave in The Conversation, and there’s a painting of a wave in I’m The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, and I had to have that painting of a wave,” but I would have no idea why.

Longlegs opens in theaters on July 12, 2024.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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