We recently joined a group of journalists at the Lovely Bones press junket, where we caught up with Oscar-winning genre filmmaker (hmmm... now those are words one doesn't often hear together) Peter Jackson and the star of his new film, actor Stanley Tucci. In this often dark fable -- based on the novel of the same name by Alice Sebold -- Tucci plays a suburban serial killer who murders a young girl, only to find her spirit lingers on, helping her family uncover his crime. Find out what the two gentlemen had to say after the jump.
What were the challenges of adapting this? What did you have to leave out?
Jackson: We shot some scenes. Any film that I've done, you shoot scenes that don't end up in the final cut. In my mind, there's no such thing as a perfect adaptation of a book. The master work is the book. Alice Sebold's novel is The Lovely Bones. That is the work that has got everything in it, every character, every subplot and that's the way that you should experience the story in its most pure form. A film adaptation of any book, especially The Lovely Bones in this example, it's only ever going to be a souvenir. It's going to be an impression of aspects of the book. To me, to adapt a book is not a question of producing a carbon copy of the book. It's impossible. To include everything, the film would be five or six hours long. It's a personal impression that basically Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and myself, the three of us wrote the screenplay and we read the book. We responded to aspects of the book, especially emotional themes, the comforting value of the book and things it had to say about the afterlife and that aspect of it, which is very personal to anybody. That's what we responded to and our adaptation is very much just elements of the book restructured following our interests and our takes. To me, no adaptation can ever be perfect. It's impossible. You don't make a movie for the fans of the book. You just can't do that.
Why was the choice made to give Mr. Harvey those peculiar contact lenses?
Tucci: What contact lenses? No, it was not to make him look slightly inhuman. I guess you thought he did. We felt that he should - - I didn't think that my eyes were the eyes that should be the eyes of this guy. And also, he needed to be more of, I suppose, quintessentially American, so the skin tone was changed and hair was added. The eyes seemed to be appropriate for him. I think that if you look at the scenes, let's see the scene with Mike Imperioli, when he comes in and starts asking questions. I think that the eyes there, what I'm hoping is that they looked sort of normal. I think in those close-ups, in certain close-ups like the reflection in the mirror when he's sitting in his car, I think then the eyes take on a different quality because of the way it's lit and because of my horrible thoughts behind them.
Jackson: Yeah, I think the eyes - - I've done a lot of movies with contact lenses in actors' eyes. To me, they change the color of your eye. If there's something that's going on with the character's eyes, it's because of the performance. You know, as a filmmaker, I like shooting extreme close-ups of some characters occasionally because that is a technique that you use to really get inside of somebody's head. Stanley was playing a very dangerous and frightening character, so getting close to his eyes were a way of increasing the menace because Stanley's performance was giving that to us.
Stanley, was this part hard and hard to drop at the end of the day?
Tucci: It was hard in every respect. I was very reticent to take the part at first for reasons that Mark just explained. I have kids and I can't really read anything or watch anything with kids getting harmed. I don't like things about serial killers. There's so much serial killer information out there in documentaries constantly. A lot of it's just sort of gratuitous or it's almost like pornographic really. There's no reason for it being shown. This was not that. This was a beautiful story about an exploration of loss. Pete and Fran and Philippa, in the long conversations we had before we started working together, I felt very safe with them. I felt that there would be nothing here that would be gratuitous and that we were going to create a person together in Mr. Harvey that was a real person. The more real he was, the more subtle he is, the more terrifying he is. The more banal he is, the more terrifying he is. At the very beginning, it was very hard to leave it at the end of the day, to drop it, particularly when you're fresh off your research and the research was repulsive. But eventually, once you understand who he is and you find him, for me, then I could drop him at the end of the day. But there's no doubt, I will say without question it was the most difficult thing I've ever done as an actor. I'd look forward to going into the makeup trailer, taking everything off and having a martini at the end of every day. And the beginning of every day too as a matter of fact.
What were your reasons for choosing to eliminate the rape part of her murder from the book?
Jackson: Yeah, there are artistic and they are more reasons and there are practical reasons. There are a variety of reasons that I should just talk about. The film is about a teenager and her experiences of what happens. She's murdered, she goes into an afterlife experience, her in between and we wanted to make a film that teenagers could watch. We have a daughter, Fran and I have a daughter who's very similar to Susie's age. We wanted Katie to be able to see this film. There's a lot of positive aspects of this film and it's not something that I think I wanted to shield our daughter from. So it was important for us to not go into an R rated territory at all. Also, I never regarded the movie as being a film about a murder. Yet if we shot any aspect of that particular sequence in any way, then it would stigmatize the film. Movies are such a powerful medium with the music and the effects and acting and performance, the editing and the lighting and camerawork that to show a 14-year-old girl being murdered in any way, even regards no matter how briefly, it would completely swing the balance of the movie and it would frankly make it a film that I wouldn't want to watch. I mean, I would have no interest in seeing that depicted on film and I would not want to see the film. Every movie that I make is a film that I want to see. It's very important. I make movies that I know I would enjoy seeing in the cinema and that would not be one of them. So the movie that we did make, we wanted it to become something that was the - - it was almost like a mystery, a crime mystery of what happens when you're in this world of the subconscious, the world of the afterlife and Susie has to deal with the mystery of what happened to her. There's a positive aspect to it in the sense that she's immortal and saying there is no such thing as death. All of those aspects and themes were what interested us. Not the murder, and also I just could not, I have no interest and I've shot some pretty extreme things in my time with Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles and Brain Dead. There's a certain style and a sense of humor that I believe you can do to get away with that but to do anything that depicted violence towards especially a young person in a way that was serious, to me I would have no interest in filming it at all. It would be repulsive. So there was a variety of reasons but we felt very determined from the beginning that the film should be PG-13 because it was important.
Tucci: You know, to that we talked before we shot obviously when we were just sort of introducing each other, and getting to know each other, and we talked about that and how far it should go. There were pieces in the script that were a little more graphic, but I think as an exploration of where this movie could go – what you really needed. And in our conversations we all agreed, I said, we don't need to see this. And Pete said, "no no, we don't. There's no way we're going to see it. We don't need to see it." I did an interview this morning and somebody said a lot of people were upset that they don't see the rape and the killing. I find that amazing.
Jackson: I mean, how much murder and killing do you need to see to be satisfied? How much to make somebody happy?
Tucci: I don't know. Obviously, a lot (laughs). I mean, because there's a lot out – I mean, I think anyone who's disappointed in that regard should just go on the internet where they'll find a lot of stuff like that. It's so much more interesting, what Peter did to me, to leave it to the audience's imagination; our imaginations of rape and murder are much greater than anyone could ever put on film.
Jackson: Exactly. I mean, one of the things we did which was different from the novel but now the way we restructured the screenplay is we have her fleeing from her murder, and we really liked that aspect of sort of the way that bit of the story was told in the sense that at the point that her spirit becomes disconnected from her body and she's running. She's running across that field, she's running into the street, she's running home, and Susie doesn't know what's happening to her. She's literally confused and now she finds herself in the in-between, which is essentially the world of dream, of subconscious, of this confused state, and she has to start to put the pieces together like a mystery. So that really dictated very strongly that even for all of the other reasons, seeing any form of murder was not something that we wanted to do because of the way that we restructured the story. She herself is confused and has to put the pieces of the puzzle together as the story continues.
Peter, what drew you to The Lovely Bones? It is an intimate character study after doing four big effects-driven stories.
Jackson: It's not a challenge to direct a different style of film in terms of the acting because you're always dealing with a screenplay and a screenplay has particular needs and a style that is appropriate and it's my job obviously to attempt to shoot the script that's appropriate for that particular role. But to answer your question, the only thing as a filmmaker that I am scared of or fear is repetition. I have no interest in doing the same thing over and over again, and that's not to say that I wouldn't do another fantasy film or I wouldn't do another splatter film one day or another film with puppets. But it would be different, and certainly it's great to have a break and it's great to turn your mind to something different, and The Lovely Bones was a challenge. One of the things like I'm sure most of the people in this room would appreciate that things are immediately much more interesting and enjoyable if they're difficult. If you're attempting to do something or if you decide that you're going to take on a project for the next year or two years, if it's easy and familiar – I shouldn't say easy, actually, that's the wrong word. But if it's familiar and if it's treading on the same ground that you've gone before, immediately it's going to be less interesting than taking on something that has new demands and a fresh challenge. The Lovely Bones is a wonderful puzzle, it's a terrific book that affects you emotionally, but the book doesn't have a structure that immediately makes a film obvious in your mind. The book affects you on an emotional level, not a story level as such, and you delve into it and as a filmmaker you figure out a way in which you can tell the story on film as I said at the very beginning, not necessarily the perfect way, and not the way that other people would do it. You take 20 different filmmakers and give them a book like this – any book, really, but especially Lovely Bones – and you'll have 20 completely different films, which is interesting. So the idea of certainly doing something that was a challenging new topic was absolutely of great interest to us.
Could you give us a little insight into the acting process for the murder scene. What kind of conversations did you have with one another?
Tucci: Yeah, I couldn't wait to finish the scene, I'll be honest with you. You know, you are concerned, certainly as a parent or just as a person you are concerned when you are working with a younger person with this subject matter. You know that you have to behave a certain way in order to get what you need or get what you need across to fulfill the needs of the screenplay. But after every take, I would say to Saoirse, are you okay, because you know – it just made me uncomfortable (laughs). But Saoirse would also ask me if I'm okay, and it turns out that she's the one who really I think in some ways made us all feel comfortable. Because she's so mature. I did ask Pete, can we just get this done in one day? And he said "I'll try," and we weren't able to; we shot another half day the next day, and then it was over. I kind of breathed a sigh of relief. It was one of the last things I did in the movie, and I was very happy when it was over. But you also in between takes, you joke around, you have to. It's your job to go and do that thing and then take it off and go home to your kids or go and have dinner. That's your job.
What did you discover about people's need to believe in an afterlife?
Jackson: Well, it's an interesting question and it's one that I think everyone has obviously there own points of view about it. I'm not sure if I'm answering your question correctly but certainly what we felt very strongly with the movie is that we didn't want to make a film that cast judgment on people's religious beliefs because that wasn't at all the motivation for making the movie. We didn't create the in between being Susie's subconscious for that reason. To us it wasn't about at all her existing in a world that had some form of religious control around it. It was literally she is disconnected from her body for that period and she is in this weird hallucinogenic state. What we do in the movie is, obviously if you've seen it you realize there's that scene in the end with the field when Harvey's victims come down to meet Susie. There's a golden light there which is supposed to be wide heaven, as Susie calls it and as Alice Sebold called it. That's a golden light which I shot in a deliberately clichéd recognizable way that people get the idea that heaven is there. That is indeed the goal of which Susie has is to get out of this weird trapped place that she is and to actually move on. That golden light represents where she and everyone else moves on to. The idea is that you can put whatever you choose into that golden light and if you are religious, then obviously that's what you put in there. If you're not religious, you can imagine something else. If you don't believe there's anything there at all then probably it's not the movie you should go see.
I personally think that, all religious things to one side which is a completely different topic, I do think that there is some energy that we have inside us. I have experienced a couple of people that have been very close to me dying and I've been there, and I've held their hand. There is a feeling that when somebody passes on, that they leave. There's a sense of departure that's very, very strong and it's so strong that it has made me believe in the fact that there is a form of energy inside us that continues to survive after death. Science, physics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed so it has to go somewhere. It doesn't evaporate.