Chained – Jennifer Chambers Lynch interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
JENNIFER Chambers Lynch talks exclusively to us about directing the serial killer movie Chained and how it differs from a lot of genre films despite having started life as torture porn.
She also talks about working with leading man Vincent D’Onofrio and what he brings to the role, why she’s upset about how the movie has been censored in the US (and slapped with a dreaded NC-17 rating) and why she feels drawn to dark material in her work.
Q. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed Chained. But then I’d imagine you wouldn’t want people to?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: Ok, good. People always stop themselves from saying ‘enjoyed’ but yeah, experienced it and if it echoes, then I’m really pleased with that.
Q. What drew you to that world initially and how important was it to you to keep it as realistic as possible?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: I was really in need of a job and was very grateful when these producers sent me this script and read it right away. It was a fascinating idea about a serial killer we hadn’t seen before. The storyline was the same, pretty much, but there were detectives involved hunting him down, and the killer himself was called ‘The Dicer’ and would cut pieces off of women and would torture them. It wasn’t really about him and the boy, it was more about him making the boy a killer – strictly. I said I just can’t do that. I think there are people out there who can do torture porn really well and I’m not one of them.
So, they asked me what I’d do to it and I said: “Well, I’d go in and re-write it.” Obviously, they had paid for that storyline when they bought the script but I said: “To me, it’s more fascinating if I can humanise this villain and have people wondering when they leave the theatre what damage has been done to each and every person I encounter? What choices are they making based on that?” And I wanted it to be more about that dynamic. I love a good scary movie. But I like to think and feel while I’m being scared. That’s what really gets me. So, I wanted to make it quiet and not restrained but real… like real people doing this. And I wanted that fumbling thing that the mum was doing in the back of the taxi… like, ‘excuse me, that was’… and the panic growing but in these real situations. So, I didn’t want to shoot it slick. I wanted the real human element to be going on in it. It was really great to have people say: “Yeah, that!”
Q. Did you have to make cuts you didn’t want to? There has been a debate in America about the dreaded NC-17 rating…
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: Uh, you know, I don’t know what even to say about that other than I wish they hadn’t make me take… the throat slit as you saw it was bigger. It was what it would look like if a really sharp knife took a woman’s neck like that and it opened. That was my one on-camera gory kill. And it was meant to be like that because I had written these reactions where it was just about the anatomy question and he names the artery. That was what I was examining… to see how Rabbit reacted when he is being talked to and treated as a lesson. I think if Brad Pitt had played Bob, I would have got an R. They also kept saying to me: “It just feels too real… the whole movie.” And the one scene they could point to, to make me change was that one. To me, that’s an absolutely unfair situation. Violence should not be more palatable for kids because we make it silly or sexy. Violence is terrible. And I’m telling a terrible story. This kid is kidnapped, his mother is killed and he’s kept… it should feel bad!
Q. It informs his future decisions…
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: Yeah! And what I’m looking at is the child abuse. Bob was abused. I’m not justifying what he does but I’m trying to explain it. And now the question is: “What happens to this kid [Rabbit] based on this?” And I’m hoping that I told enough of a bonding situation with his mother, that the reason that he’s able to make better choices than Bob does is because he had that love at first and that was imprinted. But Bob didn’t; Bob just got fucked over from day one. So, I feel like: “You’ve made a great film… it feels too real, we don’t think children should ever see it….” Now I think a dialogue about violence with kids and a dialogue with kids and adults about child abuse and the building of monsters should be happening. I just don’t see why Saw and Hostel can get an R, when it’s the most horrific slasher-murders of young people.
Q. Made for thrills…
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: Yeah! I’m not sure why that’s OK with them. But it is. So, it confuses me because I would much rather, in a story where violence is supposed to feel bad, the film be allowed to make you feel bad! And that’s what film should do… is cover you. And R is fine… R is plenty. We’re not going to send an eight-year-old or a 13-year-old in there! Hopefully, parents are doing their job out there and are being discerning.
Q. The NC-17 actually makes it more of a film to be sought out, doesn’t it? It attaches a notoriety?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: It stopped me from getting theatrical release. And I feel so bad because from Evan [Bird, who plays the younger Rabbit] and Eamon [Farren, the older Rabbit] to Vincent D’Onofrio and Julia [Ormond]… these performances are great and should be seen. And now without a theatrical release the Academy won’t recognise them even as a nod. It breaks my heart because I think they’ve done really great jobs. And as hard a film as it is to watch for some people, they still made it feel really real and I think that’s great. It’s what playing dress up is all about. And that’s why I do what I do… because for an hour and a half we go into a dark room and watch other people live out their lives and it should feel like you’re peering in. That’s the kick.
Q. How easy was it to find Rabbit, in both older and younger incarnations?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: Very hard! I actually found the older Rabbit first after a long search and not finding the guy I needed at all! And the LA casting director said: “There is this one Australian actor who has done a few things, I think he’s really great, nobody knows about him…” He sent him an audition tape from Australia and I saw that on my computer and we got on the phone together and after talking to him for less than 10 minutes, I said: “This is it!” The producers were worried because of his accent but he was able to turn it off in a heartbeat. He was perfect.
And once we were in Canada, I was right up to the last minute looking for a kid and Evan Bird and I Skyped and he just has it. His parents were wonderful. We had a big talk. I’m someone’s mother. I’m not going to torture your son. I’m not going to be exploitative in this. Yes, I’m making this movie, I’m not going to deny that. But I don’t think anybody should suffer or be tortured to make this film. And they were wonderful and Evan is born to perform. He really gets it in this strangely wise way. But it was very hard to find both of them.
Q. Did Eamon have to do something to get that look he has in the film?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: He’s a pretty thin guy anyway, but he ate salads for abut six weeks and stayed out of the sun. I’m so thrilled with how that ends up coming across. There’s a moment where he walks away from Bob towards his cot and there’s a flare behind him and he looks even thinner! And I just love that moment because I think: “Oh, the poor guy has been eating the dregs of Bob’s cereal for 10 years.” But they all just really gave themselves and trusted me and we had a great time. I mean, we laughed a lot and it was a really happy set.
Q. Is it important to have a set that has a lot of laughter, especially with material like this?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: Very… it’s important to me on everything I do, also because it keeps us clear on it being a movie. It’s work. It’s not reality. And I think it’s really important to laugh – and not at anyone else’s expense. But just to be happy. Because if it sucks, why do it? I just don’t buy this: “I’ve got to be a miserable alcoholic to create art.” Or: “I’ve got to suffer to stay in the zone…” No, you don’t!
Q. Well, it’s one of the luckiest jobs in the world to make films…
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: It’s great and I’m so grateful. I think everybody should get to do what they love doing and I feel really lucky that that’s how I pay my rent.
Q. Vincent has played a serial killer before, in The Cell. Was he at the top of your list for the role of Bob?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: He was totally at the top of my list. And it was actually because of his performance in Full Metal Jacket because I was dealing so much with Bob still being that little boy who was tortured by his family. What I saw in his performance in Full Metal Jacket, that young happy kid who evolves into this killing machine. I knew he had the softness and the strength. And he’s such a friendly, wonderful, funny guy and, man, he can just go there! I kept saying: “Bob’s body is really heavy on him. It’s sort of Lenny in Of Mice & Men. He’s got that sense and he’s been hit in the head a few too many times… So, he’s not stupid by any stretch but he’s wounded.” And Vincent just did it! But he’s a real guy, so I didn’t want too big or goofy. I wanted a real guy who was that dangerous and yet was out driving around. I was so thrilled when he said ‘yes’.
Q. Did he take much convincing?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: No, actually. We sent him the script and he called me basically a day later and we talked on the phone and he said to me: “You know, we met before…” And I said: “Oh, I know… I can’t believe you remember that.” And he said: “Yeah, you didn’t hire me!” So, I apologised. It was for Boxing Helena. But I then said: “I really want to hire you this time!” And he said: “Good, because I really want to do this.” I’ve just totally adored him for so long. I think he’s one of the most unrecognised talented actors out there.
Q. He’s very chameleon-like, isn’t he?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: Yeah. He can just change the way he looks so easily. If you think of him in The Player… he was so slick. And all the changes he went through in Criminal Intent and what he does in The Cell and just all of them – even what he did in Men In Black. And he’s always genuine. When he walks in a room and says ‘I’m so and so’ I fucking believe him. And that’s such a skill. I think he should be working all the time.
Q. What draws you to darker material in general?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: I have so many questions about why people do what they do. My life is really bright, so I’m interested in what my life isn’t. And ever since I was young, it was part of my motivation to write The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, where I wondered… I’d always wanted to find someone else’s diary and run home and read it under the covers to find out whether she had the fears, fantasies and hopes that I did. I think I wonder about myself and everyone else – do we have these dark thoughts? Are we capable of this? Do we mean it when we say… at what point do we break away from being a conscious human and an animal? And so, to me, it’s that opportunity to explore stuff that I don’t get to explore. It’s a great way to dress up.
Q. Do you speak to criminal psychologists at all, to glean an insight into that kind of psychology and strive for greater authenticity?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: I don’t. My research is all… I walk the dog, I do the dishes and I think about ‘what would I do if this was my abuse and I was this?’ So, Surveillance is all about what would I do or want to do if I were any one of these people. And Chained is ‘if I were Rabbit, if I were Bob, if I were mom… how would I behave being dragged into a house’? Because that’s much like a dream… they say you are every person in the dream, so I try to put myself in the position of every single person in the movie, so that I can talk to the actors about it, too, and I can then believe what they’re doing. Hopefully, that reflects too because I try to give everybody an authentic reaction or behaviour.
Q. You’re working with Vincent again on another serial killer film, right?
Jennifer Chambers Lynch: I am, I am. It is another serial killer film. It’s called A Fall From Grace. He’s not the killer [laughs] and he’s not a bad guy. He’s a messed up guy. But that, of course, is what’s interesting to me; seeing healthy, happy people on-screen isn’t as interesting to me as the broken ones. And then after that he just agreed to be in another one that I want to do, which is a comedy with vampires, werewolves, zombies and nerds. So, I’m really excited about that. It’s called The Monster Next Door. It’s about not knowing who your neighbours are and hilarity ensues! And I mean it when I say it that time. It’s really funny and it’s sort of Superbad/Hangover humour meets American Werewolf in London with zombies! It’s going to be fucking fun!
Chained is out on DVD and Blu-ray on February 4, 2013.
Watch the trailer: