TR Interview: Oculus Director Mike Flanagan

By Luke Y. Thompson in Movies
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 at 5:59 pm


LYT: Now, on the flip side, in offering Karen the lead role in a big movie, are you the reason she quit Doctor Who?

MF: No! No, no, no, no! In fact, she had finished Doctor Who before she read our script. But as a fan, I would never have forgiven myself if that was the reason why. And it was really scary at the time, because she said, "Oh, no, I'm done with Doctor Who!" I was like, "What do you mean you're done with Doctor Who?" She was like, "I can't talk about that." I was like, "What do you mean you're done with Doctor Who? You mean you're on hiatus, right? You're going back, right?"

So it was that kind of thing, where I'm really grateful that she decided to leave Doctor Who when she did or we wouldn't have gotten her, but as a fan I was sad, because I loved Amy Pond so much! But yeah, no - one had nothing to do with the other! It was really - I didn't think we'd get her. It took so long to get a read from her, because she was filming her final episodes. I did have the really awesome fan boy experience of watching her final episode air while we were into production. We watched it together, so that was really kind of amazing. We hadn't quite started shooting yet when the last episode of Doctor Who aired for her. Sitting in the room and watching it with her was really, really awesome for me as a fan!

LYT: Did you shoot all of this before she cut her hair?

MF: Yes. We shot this in October of 2012. Then we did additional photography in April of the following year. We were on the sound stage doing her ADR when she got the call that she had booked Guardians, and so I was there when they told her she would have to shave her head. Her reaction to that was really, really funny. But it was such a big opportunity. You've got to do that.

LYT: She seems like she'd be totally into that, honestly.

MF: She did, once she kind of decided to, you could tell she was enjoying it. I saw her in London a few months later when she had started production. She came out to a pub, and had been completely bald but didn't bring her wig with her, and she said "This is really fascinating, because nobody recognizes me. Nobody approaches me. It's kind of neat. I can just show up and be the strange bald chick at the bar!" She seemed to get a real kick out of it. I'm glad, though - I am glad we shot before that happened, because I think her hair is something of a really power trademark for her. But it was really funny when at Comic-Con she pulled off the wig and revealed that, it was really cool. I'm dying to see Guardians and to see what she does in that. It's such a fascinating, different role for her.

LYT: Was she able to lose the accent just like that, or was there a lot of coaching involved?

MF: She did have a dialect coach, and that was a concern going in - how does she do 13 pages of monologue and maintain the American dialect? But she just did it. She prepared like crazy. Karen works very hard and spends an awful lot of time getting ready to shoot anything. She spent two or three months working on the dialect and working on memorization, so that by the time she showed up, she had done all of the heavy lifting, and that was a relief, because on our schedule, we really didn't have time for anything else.

But yeah, she and Brenton [Thwaites] both had to bury competing accents. Brenton is Australian. It was really funny to watch them come in. I thought they both pulled off the dialect beautifully, and then we'd call "Cut," and suddenly you'd have this very Scottish side of the set and very Australian side of the set, kind of dueling. It was really funny. I don't know how they do it. I certainly couldn't.

LYT: It is very good. I tend to be picky about that, because I have two parents with two different accents, and I grew up overseas.

MF: Where'd you grow up?

LYT: Ireland.

MF: Ah, Ireland!

LYT: Ewan McGregor's American accent always bothers me, but Karen's did not.

MF: Yeah, I thought she really pulled it off, and it ain't easy!

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LYT: When you have a mirror that makes you see what it wants you to see, could a blind person just kick its ass really easily?

MF: That would be a fascinating idea! That would be a really interesting sequel idea. I imagine so! Well, if it can mess with perception, it can probably have a certain amount of defenses in place. I imagine they would have a leg up. What would you do to mess with them? That's really funny. I like that.

LYT: They'd have to feel their way.

MF: That's the way - they'd have to feel their way through the room, but it would be really difficult to trick them. That could be really funny.

LYT: One thing that I was thinking about was even though the mirror has this legacy of evil stuff, it's basically the innocent victim in this movie. It's just defending itself.

MF: Right, it's just sitting there, and this potentially crazy woman comes and grabs it and points a gun at its head. I've always looked at it as kind of a force that lives and eats and, you know, she does make the point that it's absolutely defending itself. I don't know about 'innocent victim,' because there's a malicious intent to it. It takes a little too much joy out of the pain it causes in people. But it certainly is fun - looking at the mirror as a character is certainly fun.

LYT: But all the pain it causes is before the timeline of the movie. In the movie itself, everything it does is in self-defense.

MF: We would joke - there's a scene where she pulls of the sheet and she says, "Hello again, how are you?" There were a few times where we were shooting it where we would be hanging out behind it during rehearsals, and she'd say, "Hello again" and we'd say, "Hello, how are you?" "I've been fine, thanks." "Sorry about your parents. This is awkward."

We tried to give that mirror a voice, because it's ripe for comedy, especially on the set. A mirror as a movie monster is an inherently ridiculous idea, so that was something we embraced in production, but we really had to try to find ways to make it scary, because it was like, it's a mirror - how is this going to work?

LYT: Have you worked out a backstory for why it is the way it is, that maybe would be used in sequels, if there are any?

MF: I have worked out a backstory. I don't know that I would want to include it in the sequel, because one of the things that I believe is that when you deal with evil in fiction, when you give it a back story, it takes away a lot of the mystique. There is no story that I could come up with that would be satisfying to everybody. And I think leaving the mystery, on the other hand, is better.

So we've been very resistant to having to explain why the mirror is the way it is, because people throw out ideas like, "Oh, forged by Satanists." It just never seems good enough. Why does Freddy Krueger get to go into people's dreams and kill them? We never know. We know how he died, but we don't know why he's special enough to take this supernatural revenge. It's better that we don't know, because any story we come up with is kind of lame.

LYT: But they did in Freddy's Dead, the dream demons - remember?

MF: The dream demons. In Freddy's Dead, or in New Nightmare?

LYT: In Freddy's Dead, the dream demons escape his body when he dies, and it was not satisfying.

MF: You're right. And even that does not give you - why did they pick him? How did they inhabit? Where did THEY come from? Any explanation is never going to be good.


Oculus opens Friday in theaters.

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