The Omen - John Moore interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
JOHN Moore, director of The Omen remake, talks about why he wanted to revisit a horror classic, as well as the real-life implications of strange occurrences on the set.
Q. What made you think you could remake The Omen?
A. I didn’t particularly want to remake it – I wanted to make it. If you read David Seltzer’s original script it’s just such a damn good story. So worries about the remake of it all in my experience did melt away because I loved the story so much and thought: “Christ, here’s a great opportunity to make a hell of a scary movie but also to give it a context that might make it feel relevant.”
I think the movie is so scary because it feels real – both in the original and in the remake. The new opening scene that we have very much contextualizes it. I hope that makes it feel all the more disturbing. So the chance to do that was part of the attraction.
Q. Did you have to think hard about including images of recent disasters, such as the Boxing Day Tsunami and 9/11, during the opening sequence – especially in light of the criticisms surrounding films like United 93 and World Trade Center?
A. I’ve thought about it more lately than I did on the day. I was in New York last week and got very viciously attacked by a New York writer who basically said I had no right to use images of 9/11. I just think it would be contrived ignorance to deny the notion that that event was the triggering of something very big. It would have been churlish to shy away from it. It’s not exploitative. Every image that’s used in the [priest’s] presentation is real, it’s from news footage. I hate getting into the issue of ‘who has the right to do whatever’? We certainly have the right, the freedom of expression to use the images – but whether or not we have the moral justification is an individual judgment that people can make.
Q. How did you go about finding the right child to play Damien?
A. That’s the ball game. He has to be able to do all the heavy lifting just by turning his head and looking at you. But he’s a very effective little actor. We found him in New York. We cast in London and America and initially I was worried that people weren’t going to turn up because I can imagine parents might struggle with the notion of asking their kids to play this part. It’s like when Bruno Ganz brilliantly played Hitler in The Downfall, it was a hell of a choice…
Q. It could be fodder for playground bullies?
A. Exactly. He’s got to now experience the phenomenon of what the movie is going to do to him. But we found him and his parents were up for it. He had a very good experience making the movie – it was good fun for him, of course, because he’s protected from the overview. It was all about that look that he does.
Q. How many children did you look at for the part?
A. It got narrowed down very quickly. There was a general call but there wasn’t a big shortlist. There was Seamus [Fitzpatrick] and some other little guy in London that we screen-tested. It can be very difficult for the other actors because if a kid blows it, you can’t say: “Knock it off!” So, it was key that he could also understand the notion of concentrating for long periods of time with so many distractions around him.
Q. How was he with the dogs?
A. [Laughs] He loved them. It’s funny because he’d be standing on set holding two of these massive Rotweilers which was, in itself, such a weird, funny image. But he was quite taken with them.
Q. Did Liev Schreiber need any convincing to step into the shoes of Gregory Peck because Gregory really made the role his own, didn’t he?
A. Well there’s a couple of schools of thought on that. I don’t want to ever be perceived as criticising the original movie. It’s just not what I want to do. I think the original is genius and I asked Richard Donner to come and see this one very respectfully. I think the best way to phrase it is that Gregory Peck got to play to his strengths. He had the stature of being this beloved American mega-star, whose career was certainly in its twilight. So the good baggage that he had allowed him to be as big as he was in the role. Whereas Liev, of course, had to take a very different approach. I think Liev’s performance is a lot more intellectual. I think he projects the notion of man who’s too smart to believe any of this crap and has to struggle with it right up until the point where he’s presented with such physically horrifying evidence. I think he does that brilliantly. I term Peck’s performance to be reactionary – it’s constantly “oh my God, oh my God” – whereas Liev came up with a lot of subtleties. He doesn’t ever act as if he’s been part of this religious conspiracy, he constantly is wary of the whole thing and that makes for quite a credible performance.
Q. It also makes for an incredible tragedy as well because he realises when it’s ultimately too late…
A. Exactly. Towards the end of the movie you’re just so gut-wrenched for the guy. And that’s not easy because you’re trying to pit a grown man against a boy at the same time as trying to get the audience to will him to succeed but to fear the consequences of his failure. It’s a tricky piece of footwork for an actor to do, especially one that doesn’t have Gregory Peck’s massive bank account of “we love you, Gregory”. So hats off to Liev that he did such a different job and a great job.
Q. Was he always first choice?
A. He was very much first choice. I knew we needed someone that’s perceived – at least in his career so far – as a thinking man’s actor. He’s no “movie star” but he is the real deal. I called him about it and thought he’d talked himself out of wanting to do it after our first conversation. He constantly said that he wanted to be involved, to be sure that he’d be given the room to do what he ended up doing. That was smart of him. But I actually ended up having to call him back and say: “I don’t think you want to do this.” Because he really looked into the fine print of whatever deal he was making in terms of how involved he would be. But he wanted to let me know that he wasn’t the type of guy who walks in the door, hits the mark and goes him at night – it was going to be hard work. But I said: “Bring it on, it sounds like a good deal.” And there were some days when you wanted to jump out the window because it can be an exhausting process – as Jonathan Demme, or anyone that has worked with him will tell you. But it’s always worth it with him.
Q. Were there any strange occurrences on set?
A. There were a bunch but I don’t actually enjoy talking about it because it’s actually quite depressing. It’s a bit like being an animal in a zoo and it has a lot to do with giddy PR people who think it’s a great laugh to have these stories of incredible misfortune and depression. But I can’t sit here and recount a curious little tale because when it happens, you’re actually shitting yourself. You’re saying: “Oh come on, this can’t be this thing, it can’t be the curse of The Omen.”
We had plenty of bad luck. We lost a lot of film through a freak accident that was just devastating – two days’ work on a very intense scene and you’re just like: “Christ, it can’t be this!” It’s too pop culture, right? It’s safe to talk about ‘the curse of The Omen’. So that, in a way, sets you up to deny it and yet shit would happen. Film crews are a superstitious bunch, I find, so you had to be very careful that it didn’t get a hold or else everything starts becoming that. But there certainly were some unsettling moments.
I don’t mind telling you about one paranormal thing last week, when I was in a hotel in New York. I got sent some TV advertising to approve for the movie from LA, so I called up for a VHS – because all of these trendy hotels just have DVD nowadays. So the guy comes up, does all the wiring and inadvertently records over all the spots with a live TV show. I was like: “Oh fuck!” But he said: “No, that wasn’t me.” But I insisted that we could see the clock – it was a sports show and you could see the time, so it was Eastern time and couldn’t have been fucked up in LA. But he said: “No, you don’t understand, these machines can’t record.” The guy is white as a ghost and I could see there was no recording facility. They don’t have them because people would record porn. So that was a great little story, or anecdote, but right there in the room it stopped being funny.
Q. So I guess you’ll be sitting tight on the film’s release date, the 6/6/06?
A. Yeah, I’ll be happy to see the 7th!
Q. The original Omen spawned two sequels. Would you be interested in seeing this through?
A. I wouldn’t be interested and I know David Seltzer never intended it that way. The point of the movie is the bad guys win. In 1976, there was no such thing as a sequel so he was very much making that point. I’d be sad to see a sequel but I’m not in charge. If it makes a billion dollars somebody might want to pull the trigger but I doubt it.