1922 is the latest Netflix original movie based on a Stephen King story, in this case a novella (which is a normal sized book for most authors but shorter than the average Stephen King). Writer/director Zak Hilditch brings to life the tale of pre-Depression farmer Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) who conspired with his son Henry (Dylan Schmid) to murder his wife Arlette (Molly Parker). Kaitlyn Bernard plays Henry’s girlfriend Shannon, who can tell something’s weighing on him.
The film screened a week early at the Screamfest horror film festival with cast (save for Parker) and filmmakers Hilditch and producer Ross M. Dinerstein in attendance. WLE was there to hear them talk about the film. 1922 premieres on Netflix this Friday, October 20.
Q: What balance did you want to strike between the supernatural and psychological elements?
Zak Hilditch: That stuff is what drew me to the project to begin with. My adaptation of it seemed to click with Ross as well. We just really didn’t want to let King down through any of the process. Hopefully the results speak for themselves.
Q: Ross, what was it about the short story that made you believe it could work as a film?
Ross M. Dinerstein: I actually read the script before I read the short story. I was a fan of Zak’s professionally and personally for years. When I got the script, it was one of those things like I remember where I was when I read it. It was a Saturday morning just sitting on my couch. You couldn’t put it down because of what he talked about. Obviously being a huge Stephen King fan but at the end of the day, you strip out all the elements and it’s a story about life and marriage and fatherhood and financial troubles, All that very relatable stuff. Then when I read the short story and Zak had done such a brilliant job at adapting it and really capturing the qualities that King wrote. Even King himself says, “I don’t know how these guys are going to make this into a movie.” The fact that Zak was able to adapt that novella into a script and make this movie so beautiful and so cinematic is really astounding. It’s kind of beyond my wildest dreams to be honest.
Q: How did you connect to this character of Wilfred James?
Thomas Jane: I think my grandfather. My mom’s from Alabama and my family grew up over there. On my mom’s side of the family, they all grew up in Alabama. So I’d spend the summers down there. We were living in the sticks. They lived in a little tiny town called Brundidge. It was literally one of those places where the black people still lived on one side of the street. The white people still lived on the other side of the street. Everybody got along and everybody was nice, but it was a weird reality. I’m not judging Brundidge because I actually loved it there, but the south, and we’ll get to Nebraska in a minute, but the south has a unique flavor of people that for me is sort of rarely captured on film. This was an opportunity for me, I was like, “Oh, Nebraska, all right.” I could sort of draw a direct line from Brundidge of the 1970s that I experienced and Nebraska 1922 farmers. That was the closest I was going to get to my own personal experience. He was World War II, all his brothers were in World War II and they were running around Germany together and brought back some souvenirs, some Lugers and stuff. When he got up to be in his ‘80s, he eventually went down eating breakfast with grandma. He kind of looked up at her and then he put his fork down and he got up, walked down into the basement and got his Luger. He came back up and sat down, put it down on the table and he goes, “I don’t know who the hell you are but you better get the f*** out of my house.”
Q: How did you and Molly work out your final scene together?
Thomas Jane: I remember the camera was pretty close to us because we were smushed down at the end of the thing, so I was mostly just thinking about whether or not I was in focus. If I moved a little bit that way, I’d be out of focus.Then they sweat you up with the stuff. We did that shot before lunch so I was kind of thinking about what was for lunch.
Q: Dylan, when Henry says you know your father loves you but you don’t deserve it, does Henry blame himself, his father or both?
Dylan Schmid: I think that he’s blaming himself.
Thomas Jane: I was blaming you. Same page there.
Dylan Schmid: Yeah, I think that he was just ripped between two worlds. I was just easily manipulated by my own father. He made this big beautiful picture for me of the field and corn, working. That sounds like a good life to me.
Q: Shannon was almost the innocent bystander. What did you want to bring to her?
Kaitlyn Bernard: I think that Shannon to Henry is a really nurturing character and she really worries about him, especially when things start to go sideways. She notices. I’m a worrier myself so that’s definitely what I brought to the character because she’s so concerned with Henry’s well being.
Thomas Jane: Did you say warrior or worrier?
Kaitlyn Bernard: Worrier.
Q: Zak, are we supposed to wonder if the ending is all in Wilfred’s head or if it’s real?
Zak Hilditch: In the book, there’s a little bit this way and that way about is this really happening to Wilfred or isn’t it? It was a fine line that we tried to really draw in the movie as well, even in the edit. There were many different edits of how were trying to play that moment. It became one giant symphony of a montage but we definitely had more fleshed out scenes. In that moment in the film, you just want to be taken on this very quick journey where Wilfred is being told things only a dead woman could know. Like the story when I first read it, it was like is this really happening or not? It was just figuring out a cinematic language to present that information and that situation and that feeling to the audience. I feel like everything really came together with that moment, with that whole sequence. Especially Mike Patton’s score as well being the glue that really helped link it all together. Again, an audience can take away whatever they want from that moment which is us trying to do our best to do King justice with how he presented that on the page.
Thomas Jane: In the short story, there’s that newspaper article, right? There’s a newspaper article where it’s like Wilfred, this farmer was found dead in the hotel room. He’d been chewed up by rats. That was after they found his body.
Zak Hilditch: At the very end of the story.
Thomas Jane: A newspaper article kind of led you to believe that it was maybe all in Wilfred’s head.
Zak Hilditch: Having chewed himself to death.
Q: Has Stephen King seen the film?
Ross M. Dinerstein: He’s openly been talking about it during the press for It. He’s been openly talking about it for a couple weeks. He loves the movie. He even wrote me at thank you note which is about as cool as it gets.
Q: Was it the Mike Patton of Faith No More?
Zak Hilditch: Yes, we are talking about the real deal Mike Patton, crazy musical genius Mike Patton. It was a dream come true to do a film with someone like that for sure.