Rian Johnson Will Take On The Challenge Of Knives Out 3 Next
Feb 13, 2023
When Netflix signed a deal with Rian Johnson to make two “Knives Out” sequels, it didn’t necessarily come with a time frame. The first sequel, the already critically acclaimed “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” will arrive in theaters over Thanksgiving before a streaming launch next month. Anyone would completely understand if Johnson wanted to tackle something different before jumping into a third Benoit Blanc picture, but at the moment, the Oscar nominee is looking to go back-to-back.
READ MORE: “Glass Onion” Review: Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” sequel is another twisty delight [TIFF]
“I thought that it would be healthy to do something else completely different first, but I’ll be honest with you, coming off of this, the thing that’s most creatively exciting to me right now is figuring out what this third movie can be,” Johnson says during an interview with The Playlist last week. “To me, it’s genuinely thrilling. I start thinking about the other ideas I have in my drawer and I keep coming back to yeah, but what could the next mystery be? I don’t know. Right now I try to just kind of follow my nose in terms of what the next thing I do is. Right now it’s leading me towards us jumping into the third one and figuring out how it can be totally different, both from ‘Knives Out’ and ‘Glass Onion.’ How it can show the audience what the wingspan of these can be and truly surprise them a third time. That’s a pretty fun challenge.”
Despite campaigning from his friend and original “Knives Out” star Jamie Lee Curtis, Johnson also expects to continue to introduce entirely new casts for each installment. Outside of Daniel Craig‘s Blanc, of course.
“Never say never, but I feel like the expectation is always with sequels to bring beloved characters back,” Johnson says. “I do feel a little bit of wanting to sort of latch ourselves to the mast of the rule that these are going to be entirely new mysteries each time. Mostly to set that expectation for the audience, just to make sure that it doesn’t turn into a game of who are they to bring back, but the audience knows the pleasure of this is going to be in discovering a whole new group of actors each time. Then who knows? Once we’ve done that, look, if we’re still making these 20 years from now, I’m sure I’ll have broken the rule a couple of times, but for now, I feel like let’s keep writing new mysteries. Let’s keep working with new actors. Let’s keep it fresh.”
Over the course of our interview, Johnson raved about “Glass Onion” star Kate “Don’t Call It A Comeback” Hudson, his writing process, the gorgeous Greek setting, and, surprise, his intention to make each “Knives Out” installment its own period piece.
Oh, and not to worry. There isn’t a spoiler anywhere to be read.
Even though you’ve had the experience of writing a murder mystery before, what is the hardest part of actually writing a murder mystery?
I think the hardest part is actually the same thing that’s the hardest part about writing any kind of movie, which is when I sit down to write one of these, I always remind myself that it’s a movie. It’s not a puzzle for the audience to solve. Just like any other movie, you’re trying to figure out what’s going to keep the audience glued to the screen, what’s going to keep them leaning forward as opposed to leaning back and trying to solve it. I want these to be rollercoaster rides, not crossword puzzles. The mystery part of it is a fun thing to layer through it, but the reality is you’re trying to involve an audience emotionally, trying to make the ending satisfying beyond just who done it, trying to do all the things you do in any other type of movie. That’s always the biggest challenge.
Working on these films, these ensemble pieces with all these different characters, what’s the starting point for you?
I usually have some kind of themes and maybe a setting floating in my head, but the reality is I don’t really start going until I figure out what the story is. With this one, it started with the structure. It’s hard to talk about without spoiling sure anything in the movie, but there’s a very specific structural gambit that this movie attempts. Once I came up with that, which has to do with this big midpoint plot twist that happens, I thought, “Oh, that’s a really interesting challenge.” This is something that could then work along with the themes that I had been working toward in my head. It’s always kind of a little messy cloud of stuff and then it slowly starts to define itself as you hammer it into shape.
The characters in this are so great. Did you write any of them with any of the actors in mind?
No, I’ve learned to try to not do that because it’s a path to heartbreak. Inevitably, you write with someone in mind and then they’re not available or they can’t do it. Then you have that person in your head, so I try and write in the abstract and just write the characters. Also, I don’t want to be writing to my idea of what an actor is like based on watching them in other parts. I feel like it’s more interesting to just come up with a cool character and then give it to an actor and see what they turned it into. But with this, obviously, I had Daniel [Craig] in my mind and that was a big difference from the last one when I didn’t know who was going to play Benoit Blanc. It was actually an obstruction. It was tough having his voice in my head from the last movie. I was very conscious of not wanting to just write an imitation of his performance in the first one. I had to kind of clear the cobwebs out a little bit and try and come at him fresh.
In the years that you spent obviously working on these films, how much of a backstory have you come up with for Detective Benoit Blanc? Do you know what he was doing as a teenager? Do you know how he decided to even get into this field of work?
No, not at all actually. One of the things that I find interesting about the genre is that the detective is at the center of these movies, but he’s not the protagonist of any of these movies. I think that’s a very important distinction. The detective is always outside the realm of the human drama going on amongst the suspects. The story has to be the mystery and the protagonist has to be somebody in that mystery who you care about, who you’re worried for, and you’re never really going to be worried about the detective. Because of that, I feel like it’s a weird trap to start thinking in terms of building out the detective’s backstory and showing who he is and thinking that that’s the interesting thing. I think you want to always keep the focus on the mystery and the detective playing his part in that mystery is what’s interesting about him because he’s the detective.
But if Daniel has his own backstory for Benoit, you’re O.K. with it. If he needs that for his performance.
Whatever he needs. Go with God. We do have fun. I think this is very fun showing little glimpses, revealing it in little small doses in this movie. We get to see his home life briefly and we learn a little bit more about him. I think that’s very fun, getting little glimpses of it. It can never be the cart that leads the horse.
I’m assuming for the next movie as well, and I don’t know if you’ve even sat down to write it or plot it out, that it’s the same thing. Benoit will not push the narrative. It’s a separate story that he’s just there to facilitate.
That’s it. Yeah, I haven’t even started writing it yet, but I know that will be the case. That’s exciting to me about these things is I’m a murder mystery nut. I think about Agatha Christie with her novels and how she managed to completely surprise the reader every single time, not just with a unique method of murder or, oh my God, this person did it, but with narrative invention and reinvention and subversion. The way that she mixed genres and was constantly flipping the audience’s expectations of the genre on its head. That’s what excites me. The notion of coming up with a whole new mystery, a whole new bag of hammers. That to me is exciting.
I know you just said you didn’t write the characters for any actors, but on behalf of moviegoers everywhere, I want to thank you for giving Kate Hudson the role that we’ve been waiting to see her in.
Oh my god.
Did you write it and then think, “Oh, Kate Hudson would be great for this.” Was she interested right away? I still haven’t figured out why Kate Hudson hasn’t been working very much over the past decade.
Look, man, I feel so incredibly lucky. She is such an incredibly intelligent comic actor and her skills are through the roof. It’s almost to give a great drunk performance, you have to play it sober. I think to play a character that’s this big and bombastic and could potentially come off as being this dumb, you have to be an incredibly smart performer. Turning Kate loose on this part was one of the real joys of this whole process. My cast director, Mary Vernieu, brought her up to me when we were thinking about people for the part. It made a lot of sense to me right away. What really sold me is Kate was really passionate about doing it. She came in hot and she came in real. I was very quickly convinced. Oh my God, this is absolutely perfect and I can’t wait to see her do this.
After you wrote the script did you start thinking, “Oh yeah, Dave Bautista or Janelle Monae would be great”? Was there anyone that you did want to go to for these roles?
Yeah, all of them were. It’s an interesting process because it starts with the mundane practicality of whose available. The reality is, I think there’s the perception that every actor in the world is available to you when you’re putting together a cast list, especially for something like this. That’s very far from the case. The reality is everybody is very busy and finding people who can take six months out of the year and go off to Greece and Serbia with you to make this. That automatically defines the playing field. Then within that context, it’s conversation. There was nobody in the whole group I went directly to. I was always talking with Mary about the possibilities. Once I got Dave in my head for that part, for instance, it was him. I couldn’t think of anyone but him. And ditto for Janelle. It was just, “Oh yeah, this makes all the sense in the world.” It’s a strange thing. It’s a roundabout path to something that ends up feeling inevitable.
Do you find these harder to direct because of all the other things that are going on in the story? Obviously, we don’t want to give anything away, but you’re shooting multiple scenes from different angles. Is it tougher than it looks or are you so deep into it, it’s just like making any other movie?
I don’t know if it’s making anything else. It is a very specific challenge, but to me, that’s the fun part. I love all the things with the alternate little versions of scenes you shoot for when the detective is explaining this or that, or tracking all of the little ways that we try and play very fair with the audience with the filmmaking. To me, that’s really fun. The part that’s challenging, like we said with the writing, the parts that are challenging is the same thing that’s challenging about any film, which is when you actually get into the scene work and making these scenes work as dramatic constructions and not just as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and really working with the actors to make them compelling and to give them forward momentum and keep the audience engaged. It’s all the same basic stuff, but to me the crossword puzzle aspect of it, that’s kind of the icing on the cake.
At the beginning of the film, the characters go to this island during the stay-at-home COVID period. What made you make that choice instead of just setting it at any time over the next five years or years before?
From the very start, even the first movie, “Knives Out,” the part of what got me going on this was being a huge fan of the mystery genre and having grown up seeing all these movies that I loved, which were all set in England and were all period pieces and felt that were set in a kind of like a hazy, nostalgic version of England that maybe never existed. Feeling very kind of timeless and disconnected from the present moment, and realizing that’s not what Agatha Christie was doing back in the day. She wasn’t writing period pieces. She was writing to her time and to her place.That was kind of the marching orders for these movies for myself is let’s make a murder mystery that’s unabashedly engaging with the here and the now. Let’s not worry about being timeless. Let’s not worry about being dated. Let’s just go for it. With those as my marching orders, I was writing this movie in the middle of 2020 while I was sitting at home, just like everybody else, in lockdown. I wanted to layer it in with a very light touch because it’s a very serious thing and these are not very serious movies, but it would’ve felt strange to make a movie that’s supposed to be set right now and to not acknowledge this huge thing that we all went through and to have that be part of the experience for the audience.
What made you go shoot in Greece?
I don’t know if I set it specifically in Greece. I set it kind of in a tropical, Mediterranean beautiful destination. Then we found Greece because we found this place called Villa 20, which is where we shot Miles Bron’s Bond lair compounds. It’s this gorgeous cluster of villas that’s part of the Aman Resort in Greece. It’s privately owned by this lovely couple. It’s just this incredible complex that we’re able to take over and have the run of. It’s got a beauty to it that’s also slightly mysterious. It’s got almost a “Last Year of Marienbad”-type vibe to it. When you wander through, everything’s meticulously designed. It’s kind of eerie and beautiful. It was when we found that we knew we were going to Greece and I had no complaints.
You can’t beat those sunsets, right?
Oh my God, the sunsets, the water, the food, the people, everything about it. It was a dream. Some of our cast would say, it feels like we really had a summer vacation together and kind of made a movie on the set.
That’s not a bad experience. That’s a good experience.
Not too bad. Not too shabby.
I know there’s already a plan for a third film and you just said that you hadn’t written it. You also have “Poker Face” with Natasha Lyonne that is coming out in January, but will you do another movie before the next “Knives Out” film? Or do you think that will be your next project?
I did. I thought that it would be healthy to do something else completely different first, but I’ll be honest with you, coming off of this, the thing that’s most creatively exciting to me right now is figuring out what this third movie can be. To me, it’s genuinely thrilling. I start thinking about the other ideas I have in my drawer and I keep coming back to yeah, but what could the next mystery be? I don’t know. Right now I try to just kind of follow my nose in terms of what the next thing I do is. Right now it’s leading me towards us jumping into the third one and figuring out how it can be totally different, both from “Knives Out” and “Glass Onion.” How it can show the audience of what the wingspan of these can be and truly surprise them a third time. That’s a pretty fun challenge.
One last quick question, I know never say never, but do you have a rule on whether the characters from any of the previous two films could ever appear again?
Did Jamie Lee Curtis put you up to this?
No, but I’m sure she’s campaigning. [Laughs.]
Never say never, but I feel like the expectation is always with sequels to bring beloved characters back. I do feel a little bit of wanting to sort of latch ourselves to the mast of the rule that these are going to be entirely new mysteries each time. Mostly to set that expectation for the audience, just to make sure that it doesn’t turn into a game of who are they to bring back, but the audience knows the pleasure of this is going to be in discovering a whole new group of actors each time. Then who knows? Once we’ve done that, look, if we’re still making these 20 years from now, I’m sure I’ll have broken the rule a couple of times, but for now, I feel like let’s keep writing new mysteries. Let’s keep working with new actors. Let’s keep it fresh.
“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” will “sneak” in theaters beginning on Wednesday. It will launch on Netflix on Dec. 23.
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