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July 2006
LADY IN THE WATER: An Interview with M. Night Shyamalan

LADY IN THE WATER: An Interview with M. Night Shyamalan
By Melissa Walters
July 17, 2006

Since his success with the 1999 Oscar nominated The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has developed a reputation for weaving tales of suspense that distinguish themselves by the surprise “twist”. Shyamalan’s 2000 release Unbreakable, 2002 release Signs and 2004 release The Village were all stories that left the audience in discourse about the predictability, effect and overall success of the method that shortly became synonymous with the Shyamalan film. In Lady in the Water, on the surface Shyamalan appears to follow the same formula; uniting an all star cast, this time including Oscar nominated actor Paul Giamatti and The Village’s Bryce Dallas Howard, to tell what he boasts is again a highly personal, yet original story borne of a bedtime tale he authored for his daughters. Will Shyamalan reinvent himself with Lady in The Water much as Spike Lee did with Inside Man? In speaking to blackfilm.com, Shyamalan discusses the reasons Lady In the Water became a Warner Brothers project, why this film was so “raw” and his reasons for playing so prominent a role in this film.

So is this your most controversial movie ever, exciting as it is with the book presenting you as the victim of corporate incivility or misunderstanding or cruelty?

M. Night Shyamalan: Well you know it wasn’t cruelty. They are good people. Each corporate thing has a personality to it. So if I go play for the Detroit Pistons I am going to play like a Detroit Piston that’s just how it happens. I don’t know how that happens but if you go to L.A. you start playing like the L.A. Lakers. Showtime you know, each team, each corporation has its own genetics and so the idea was.

But you’ve been playing with the same team the whole time.

M. Night Shyamalan: Right, but in a way it was almost like- the success of the four movies has allowed me the freedom of never having to deal with that conversation that I want to have that I had with them with this and want to keep having in the future with them. Which was for me I felt like you know- this would be a great fit, a great fit for that company. An eccentric kind of childlike, adult imagination kind of thing. But you know it was not the right time and the right movie.

Well they saw The Village as a disappointment?

M. Night Shyamalan: Not financially but you know, there is always this sense like my parents, you made $300 million dollars you could have made $600 million. There is always that- that parental thing and it really was coming from a little bit of a parental place and I appreciate that from them. We did really have a kind of parent child relationship in a great way. But sometimes you just wanna go I got to go to college, I got to go do my thing, I’ll be back, don’t worry, it’s all going to be good and that’s kind of where we went and it was also that there was a person I was going to make this movie for and that was Alan Horn and he was somebody that’s always been right there connected to my movies and being so affected by my movies.

At Warner Brothers?

M. Night Shyamalan: Yeah and so I took it to him and I asked him do you get this?

But does this make Lady in the Water your most controversial movie and is controversy good for box office?

M. Night Shyamalan: I don’t know if it’s good for box office. You know what’s nice about it is that people can see the struggle because the struggle is there in all of them. They sold Sixth Sense. And every single movie there is a struggle. It isn’t so oh he does it you see the name on the billboard he makes a lot of money so fuck him. It’s so torturous. My wife is probably the one that knows it the most. It’s a torturous process to make personal movies. This weird thing that I am doing which is making independent, personal movies released in a blockbuster capacity. That balancing act is a torturous balance and it’s not one that I contrived, it is naturally the sum of the elements of how I think. So the supernatural elements, the personal elements, if you said go do whatever you want- this is what I do. That balance and so it’s a struggle. So that part of it is really nice, so people can see it’s really freaking hard.

So that’s why you gave this guy unprecedented access before the movie started?

M. Night Shyamalan: No his was supposed to be a book about the fifth movie at Disney. So this was months before. He was more interested in the- I mean I don’t know you’d have to ask him but more the author, and how the author thinks and specifically orients things instead of being more general. That kind of thing and I remember calling him and telling him you are not going to believe this. I was really worried but the movie, the book, that whole time period was a really huge giant act of faith for me. Going its all going to be okay-put yourself at great, great risk as I shook hands with him. There was no contract. My lawyer called me up and screamed bloody fucking murder at me about this. He said no one does this you are insane. I just said the reason was he wrote me a very moving letter. And as a human being you just sometimes take those leaps of faith- I’ll get burnt many, many times on it - this guy was true to his soul- the person who wrote that letter and um so Lady was that same way. It was a leap of faith where I went, you know I’ve gotta get up from the table. I’m going to go find somebody. I think somebody’s gonna love this movie and somebody is going to believe in it in a way. And if you think of it, that place that made The Matrix, for me that’s always the hugest leap of faith I’ve seen.

Warner Brothers studio?

M. Night Shyamalan: Yeah.

Village Road Show actually.

M. Night Shyamalan: Yeah.

Do you believe this film for you is your most personal?

M. Night Shyamalan: It is. I was just telling my wife that this morning as I was leaving.

Why so?

M. Night Shyamalan: I don’t know it’s something irrationally pure- that’s really who I am. The center of the movie that-

Doomed writer?

M. Night Shyamalan: No the idea of that you don’t believe in yourself and you don’t have any- then someone says and someone says that huge stupid thing you are writing might have some effect. This idea of Harriet Beecher Stowe-spiral off for a minute - Harriet Beecher Stowe I love that whole thing that she wrote on Tom’s Cabin and Lincoln read that and starts this movement and she’s just writing a story and everybody has a part. Everyone has a part-everyone has a part in the play which is fantastic that link in the chain. But yet for me it much more raw on a lot of levels and I love that. By the way my parents, and by that I mean my parents at Disney, were very right in saying, just like my real parents said, Are you fucking crazy going into movies? They were absolutely right. There was a lot of pain ahead of me, a lot of risk ahead. Someone in the last room asked me what makes me tick and I said danger. Absolute, perilous danger- just putting yourself out there and hopefully over the course of time you will get very truthful things from me.

Well what do you mean raw, that there’s a lot of raw personal stuff here?

M. Night Shyamalan: You know feelings about things that might be sentimental, you know, the speech he makes in the mail room and the speech he makes your face, it reminds me of God, you know you can’t write that in a summer blockbuster- your face reminds me of God that kind of thing unless it’s coming from a genuinely raw, genuine place.

But people accepted that in the Sixth Sense in the summer.

M. Night Shyamalan: Yes when he says, your mom, the whole gravestone thing, when she went to the grave stone and she said yeah you make me proud every day and all these things you have to earn that moment of being that truthful. So there’s always something in the movies that is very personal but it is a very irrationally personal movie to me.

What did you want Paul so badly?

M. Night Shyamalan: I just think he’s the greatest. This dude is phenomenal. As the director I just can’t believe that he is not the first choice for every movie. He can convey every emotion, he can do physical comedy, he can do drama, he can do everything. He can scare the shit out of you if he wanted to or he can do anything. So pure, his eyes are so pure. You know there are actors that you can watch that have great craft and you watch them and you go they are really good actors and you are not feeling a thing. Because they are doing it all inside and they chose all these internal things and they do it and they get to a wonderful place but you are watching them and I have a whole list of those guys-

Who are they?

M. Night Shyamalan: I will never give that to you and those actors are crafted craftsmen and they are great but they just won’t be in my movies.

Is one of them Kevin Costner?

M. Night Shyamalan: Kevin Costner-I love Kevin Costner.

I know he was the second choice in case Paul Giamatti –

M. Night Shyamalan: No that’s actually not true. It was just a literal moment- the writer just happened to be in the room- I had thousand of those- and he happened to be in the room at that moment- and he just put it in the book.

What about Bryce?

M. Night Shyamalan: Bryce is not normal. She’s a perfect choice to play not a normal person. She probably won’t let you in but don’t even worry about it. There is nothing in her makeup that is like a normal twenty-four year old girl. She’s from another planet.

And you have been considered to be from another planet- well part of the description is that there’s “Night’s world” and then there’s the real world. So do you feel that Bryce is a kindred spirit that way?

M. Night Shyamalan: Yes the misfit dials into misfits.

Did Ron call you up and give you some warning or advice bout working with his daughter?

M. Night Shyamalan: He said she’s going to work really hard for you as a good dad would say.

How did she change from The Village to here? Did you notice anything?

M. Night Shyamalan: I did. Definitely. There was definitely a kid in The Village and now there’s a woman. Definitely. There’s a change.

She’s grown up.

M. Night Shyamalan: Yeah, there is an elegance, which I knew there was a princess to be quality about her in a good way. Real royalty about her and now she has attained that.

Who is this movie for?

M. Night Shyamalan: Anyone over eight. That would be my thing. It’s interesting we had two screenings of the movie at the end when we were done and it was interesting to see the kids’ reactions because they had never seen their dads cry and so hat was a really powerful thing and I kept hearing that over and over. My Dad was crying, and the whole family, from me to everybody had their own powerful reaction to it and that was really cool.

This is the largest role that you played in one of your films- and why was it important for you to do that and did you have someone in the back who thought you were not going to be able pull this off?

M. Night Shyamalan: You know in each movie there is a kind of a spiritual center for me in the movie- as I am writing it I go there is the movie overall theme and then there’s the theme of guy-the signs of redemption guy, the guy wants forgiveness, I don’t know what I did wrong type. There’s something that I needed to express like that and that really ties me to the movie in a way that makes it very there’s only one door out now that if I’m truthful and I have faith in that- that I am telling a story of genuine truth and I’m not artificial. Nothing about ego. If I played it with any ego at all that it would just be obnoxious to the point. Just one thing- be vulnerable through this. And I also have kind of been dancing with who I am in these movies and I want to be comfortable with the oddity, the misfit part of it. There’s always this kind of thing, what do you do, do you do the Hitchcock thing or do you do the Woody Allen thing, what do you do. I don’t really do anything because this is what I do. This is it. This is as big a role as I will ever play because there is a physical limit to it because I can’t direct.

Was it too much?

M. Night Shyamalan: It was not because of the group of actors, they were just so giving but I could see if I was with another group of actors that needed more I would have to pull back a bit. In the end I was like in twenty scenes out of a hundred and something and that’s the limit that it could be.

Did you think Hitchcock in this rear window, with this whole set up of looking?

M. Night Shyamalan: Yes, definitely.

When you wrote it did you have ideas what each group, what each room would represent so to speak?

M. Night Shyamalan: Yes. Like I was on the press junket for The Village and there was this eccentric type of interpreter kind of guy and he was saying things and I was taking notes about Lady going there needs to be an interpreter in the movie. There’s always this feeling of gathering-

So that led to the Korean mother and daughter?

M. Night Shyamalan: Yeah. Which was a funny thing because they were having this battle- I think I was in France and he was interpreting for the reporter and they were arguing with each other and I was like I am right here. And he was like yeah yeah and I was like that’s really funny. They are trying to get desperate information but they were arguing with each other.

What about those guys sitting around smoking? In the book it says Disney realized that people think there are a lot of bongs sitting around but this is a no drug movie because of the rating I presume?

M. Night Shyamalan: I mean they are smoking. What they do on their non movie time I don’t know.

Earlier you said the actors need to be and you gestured with the hands what did you mean by that?

M. Night Shyamalan: They need to feel secure that my full attention is on their performance. That I am not going to let them make a step to the wrong left or the right that I am aware, that kind of thing. And you see that they are lost in a line and I hear you say it and we’ll do the scene and we’ll do the scene and I’ll go great, great, great and I’ll write my notes to myself and I’ll go by the way, and that creates great, great comfort.

LADY IN THE WATER opens on July 21, 2006




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