Carlye Archibeque: First of all the opening song of the movie, Killing Moon, is one of my favorite Echo & the B-men tunes ever, and I’ve always considered it a song looking for a soundtrack. I noticed that all the songs in the film relate to the characters and this is a great kick off for the story. How did you choose the song?
Richard Kelly: The opening sequence was designed to have “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS. This was how the film opened at Sundance. “The Killing Moon” was originally at the party near the end of the film. However, due to financial constraints brought upon by the meager interest in distribution… and subsequent apathy by the financiers… I had to drop the INXS and move the Echo song to the front of the film. I still wish that was the original way… but I am still very happy with the current version.
CA: I’m not sure if you’re aware that the Nuart, an art house type movie theater, in Los Angeles, is running Donnie Darko as a midnight show. When I first saw the film I though it had cult status written all over it and fully expected to see it show up on a midnight marquee. Did you have any of the same thoughts? And how do you feel about it making the midnight run.
RK: It has been playing as a midnight feature for exactly one year at the Pioneer Two Boots in Manhattan. I am really flattered that they are now doing it in LA. I never imagined that this would become a Rocky Horror kind of thing… but I guess the film touches a nerve. Because it had such a limited theatrical run with no advertising… people have asked me if Newmarket is going to do a theatrical re-release… especially because it did so well in London. But… I doubt they will. It is a shame… cause they really could have made more money off it last year if they just paid for some damn newspaper ads after the opening weekend. We always thought that it could be a big hit over time… but after that bad opening weekend they just dumped the film.
CA: The movie is incredibly multi layered, each time I watch it, I pick up on something else. Was that intentional on your part? Did you think the average viewer would “get it” on first viewing, or did you want it to be a layered experience? Or, did you think about the audience at all?
RK: I think of myself as the audience. I love films that grow with me each time I watch them. I love films that require multiple viewings to digest… films that cause people to debate ideas and interpretations. There was a design and intent to every shot in the film. There are still things that I put in there that I don’t think anyone has picked up on. Listen for the flight number on the intercom at the airport when Rose is on the phone. I don’t think anyone has picked up on that yet.
CA: My friend and I were arguing about the film. He feels like it’s a story of a mentally disturbed guy who trashes his school and that you cheated with the sci fi angle, but my argument is that it’s about a guy trapped in a sci fi world and it manifests as mental illness and he has to trash his school, and a few other things along the way to save everyone. Care to weigh in?
RK: I think you’re right… and he’s wrong. But what the fuck do I know? Like that dude in “Solaris” said to George Clooney… “There are no answers… only choices.” Answers are for when you’re dead. But then again… that film had a disappointing opening weekend… so it must be a “failure”. Boffo box-office and Oscar buzz are all that counts! [Insert bitter sarcasm when reading previous two lines.]
CA: When everyone is waking up from the dream/alt-reality, why doesn’t Karen Pomeroy wake up? Was that intentional or am I just a big old geek for noticing it? (you don’t have to answer the geek part)
RK: I told Drew that I wanted her to be the only one sleeping. It was kind of a personal thing between me and her. She was the godmother of sorts to this project… and she was really exploited as a child in the 80s… never got much sleep back then… so it fit for me that she was still dreaming of what happened. Besides… I felt it would have been a bit two schematic for everyone to wake up. You’ll notice that everyone’s expression is different. That was a choice as well.
CA: There are a lot of literature and mythology references in the film that you’ve managed to pull into modern culture (kudos by the way), but you also seem to be turning them on their head. Again I may be a big geek, but for instance, the Jim Cunningham character, in some literature, there is always a JC, Jesus Christ character, like in Red Badge of Courage, but of course in Donnie Darko, the JC character is shinny on the outside and spoiled on the inside. Was any of that intentional or is it just your academic breeding bleeding through?
RK: I didn’t conciously pick the JC initials. Funny how there is that connection. Perhaps it was a subconscious thing. “The Last Temptation of Christ” was always in there. Originally there was a conversation between Kitty Farmer and Karen Pomeroy about the boycott of that film in 1988. But it got cut out of an earlier draft.
CA: In the director’s commentary on the DVD you talk about how Donnie is gifted with knowing the universe is out of alignment and also with the physical powers, when he sleepwalks, to help him set things right. You also note along the way that a lot of the interactions in the film were from your high school memories. It strikes me that in a way all teens seem to know that the world is out of alignment but are never gifted with the power to fix it. Is Donnie Darko a superhero for you in this fashion, that he has the power to right the wrongs that all of us have sensed in our younger days?
RK: For me… Donnie has to repair a hole in the universe. Literally… there is a black hole forming above his house. You can see it there at the end of the film. Some higher power concocts this plan to manipulate this kid to send a jet engine through that hole as a means of closing it. In order to get that jet engine in place… he has to do all of this fucked up shit that is destructive and relevatory. Good and bad comes out of it. It is tragic… but all of this shit has to happen to close that black hole. I didn’t want to journey to be so neat, tidy, and black and white… the way development executives in Hollywood wish everything was… because real life isn’t like that. Unfortunately… development executives don’t live in the real world. If I ever had a lot of money… like Spielberg… Geffen… Eisner money… I would send every development executive in Hollywood on a two week de-programming trip to the real world. They would have to stay at some piece of shit Holiday Inn in Cleveland, Ohio… eat at the buffet every morning and talk about anything EXCEPT movies. If they spoke of movies… they would recieve an electric shock. They would also have ankle bracelets so that they couldn’t leave the hotel. Two weeks of this woud temporarily cleanse them. When they return to Hollywood… one of them might be crazy enough to greenlight one of my scripts.
CA: Do you ever read any Phillip K. Dick, cause, boy it seems like you do.
RK: I have read quite a lot of Phillip K. Dick. I certainly hope to adapt his work some day. Minority Report was awesome… although the ending was a bit too tidy for Dick’s world.
CA: You keep referring to Donnie getting all the characters “home” and I was curious as to what you meant by the word home. Obviously, you mean the reality they’re supposed to be living, but is there any more to it than that?
RK: Home is this world. He awakens in another. He begins to see things that are out of this world… to do things that defy the laws of physics. That is very frightening to him… and he wants to go home.
CA: What possessed you to cast Patrick Swayze as Cunningham? He is perfect and I almost cried at the end when he is crying, but I never would have thought of him for the role, of course that could be why I’m interviewing you and not making films.
RK: I have to give Nancy Juvonen credit for Swayze. It was her idea. A marvelous… perfect casting idea. Patrick was completely fearless and without ego.
CA: Were there any characters in the film that you had definite, I must have this person, ideas for?
RK: Almost everyone I got was my first choice. I was incredibly lucky.
CA: How did Jake Gyllenhaal come into the picture?
RK: He was one of several actors that I met with. When he walked in the room… he pretty much had the part. When someone is right… you just know. You don’t have to throw a camcorder in their face and ask them to read sides.
CA: Have you seen Secretary? Maggie Gyllenhaal is incredible, did you have any idea she was so good when your were working with her?
RK: Same thing with Jake. She has the same gift as her brother. It was apparent to me immediately.
CA: Jena Malone, I love her every time I see her. She rocked so hard in Bastard Out of California that I almost forgot how much I love Jennifer Jason Leigh. The scene where Pomeroy makes her choose her seat by picking the cutest boy (this is another friend argument, which is really why I’m interviewing you, to settle scores) some of my friends felt like this was the most humiliating scene in the world, but I felt that Jena/Gretchen made it her own and made her choice into a statement of her strength. Do you have an opinion on this?
RK: It is meant to be a humiliating… almost infuriating moment! Ms. Pomeroy hates the public educational system… she hates the conformity… the beauracracy… etc. She is an anarchist… doing anything that she can to provoke the kids… to enrage them. I think that more teachers should do shit like that to wake kids up. Also… remember… it’s moments like this that cause her to get fired. Some people can’t fathom Drew Barrymore playing an unsympathetic… borderline sociopathic character. She’s not allowed to do that! She’s America’s cutie-pie! Just look at the boffo box office! Only cutie-pie roles for Drew! She’s not allowed to play a bitch! Sigh.
CA: Are you working on a new project? Can you tell me a little about it if you are? And if you’re not working on anything new, me and about 20 of my friends wish you would.
RK: It is called “Knowing”. Hopefully we are going to start shooting early next year. The greenlight is almost blinking…