Rian Johnson on Knives Out and the Inspiration Behind the Characters

Rian Johnson on Knives Out and the Inspiration Behind the Characters.

Knives Out was one of the biggest and most talked-about films to premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. I was lucky enough to be there and experience the film with a very excited audience. Rian Johnson, who has directed films such as Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper, takes on a whole different genre with Knives Out, a hilarious modern-day whodunit. I recently had a chance to sit down with Rian to talk about the film and ask him a few questions about how the film become a reality.

Scott Menzel: Hi, Rian. Great to meet you! I saw this movie again for the second time last night.

Rian Johnson: Oh, no kidding.

Scott Menzel: What a treat.

Rian Johnson: Oh, thank you, Scott, I appreciate it.

Scott Menzel: What was it like for you though, to be there at the Toronto International Film Festival to see that kind of reaction?

Rian Johnson: Yeah, that was bonkers, man. It was so good. It reminded me of The Last Jedi screening where it’s like the first time we’re unveiling it and to feel the audience react in that big amazing way. It’s just overwhelming. I mean, you make these movies to be rides. You make them to be experienced and to see an audience having a blast in the movie, there is no more rewarding thing in the world.

Scott Menzel: It’s such a crowd-pleasing movie, but also a movie you have to experience with an audience. You can’t watch this at home.

Rian Johnson: No, you got to see what the biggest crowd possible, and that’s why I’m psyched about it coming out on Thanksgiving. It’s like take your family, go see it, see it with a big crowd. You’re going to have laughs. You’re going to have a good time. It’s a ride.

Scott Menzel: Is there any, I don’t know, problem nowadays to kind of get something like this made? Did you have any people saying like, “Oh no, I don’t want to do this? It’s original.”

Rian Johnson: It just came together really easily actually. Oddly. I mean I know that it’s increasingly tough to get something going that’s an original thing. I don’t know what it was about this one. I think maybe we just got blessed, you know, this happened fast and it all kind of like slid into place pretty quickly. I mean especially once we got Daniel Craig on board, I think that helps. I think the fact that he wanted to play the detective, suddenly we had a go picture, you know? So that helped out a lot, I think.

Scott Menzel: So I know everyone, we all know the history of this, where the inspiration came from, but what I want to ask you is where was the inspiration for the characters?

Rian Johnson: Yeah. I mean, so once I decided that we’re going to set it in 2019 and once I decided, okay, that means I don’t want to just do like Colonel Mustard with like a cell phone, that means let’s create characters that could only exist in 2019. So that opened up a whole realm of possibility just with the spectrum. So I’m like, okay, that means we can have an internet troll, we can have an Instagram influencer, like a lifestyle guru. We can have all these different types that could only be drawn from today. And doing that in the context of this kind of slightly inflated murder mystery world just lets you have so much fun with them. And then when you put actors like this, like Toni Collette, when you set her free, set her loose with a character like that. I don’t know, it’s something that I wanted to see on the screen.

Scott Menzel: Was it easy to get everyone on board?

Rian Johnson: It weirdly was. I mean, once we got Daniel, once Daniel was signed on

Scott Menzel: Daniel was the lynchpin huh?

Rian Johnson: And everybody wants to work with Daniel, but then it was like a snowball rolling down the hill because Michael Shannon’s signed on, everyone wants to work with Michael. Lakeith Stanfield signed on. Everyone wants to work with Lakeith. It just kept going. I think actors attract actors and so yeah, actually, the cast came together fairly quickly once we got going.

Scott Menzel: Fantastic. In terms of this film, and being a conversation piece now for award season, did you ever think that that would happen?

Rian Johnson: No. I mean, this movie was never… We didn’t make it thinking of it as anything like that. It was just designed to be something you could go to with your family and have a blast in the theater. It’s made to be like entertainment first and foremost. Yeah, and for me, the most gratifying thing is if audiences enjoy it. If I go to the theater and I hear people laughing, hear people kind of like, leaning forward. I see them lean forward in their seats at the right points and everything. I mean, that’s to me is really what we made the movie for, and if any of the other stuff ends up happening, that’s awesome. But first and foremost, making sure audiences have a good time.

Scott Menzel: Well, thank you very much. I do believe this is one of the best movies of the year.

Rian Johnson: Oh, thank you, Scott. I appreciate that, man.

Scott Menzel: Thank you so much. Thank you.

Rian Johnson: It was a pleasure.

Scott Menzel: Take care.

Be sure to catch an early sneak peek of Knives Out in theaters this Friday and Saturday. 

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott Menzel has been watching film and television since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by the films of Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associate's Degree in Marketing, a Bachelor's in Mass Media, Communications, and a Master's in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name change occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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