Child actors are key to the success of Orphan, which is in cinemas this week.
The film centres around Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard) who, after the death of their unborn child, adopt a young girl named Esthger (Isabelle Fuhrman). Only, as an alarming series of events begins to unfold, they discover she's hiding a dark secret behind her sweet façade.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson talk to Emirates Business about the film.
Vera Farmiga said that she loved the script for Orphan because it reminded her of the feel of Polanski's early stuff. When you were writing this what kind of pull were you going for?
Johnson: It's really interesting, but first of all I'm blown away that she made that comparison. But, definitely I had in mind the feel of seventies horror and 70s dramas, and things like that. I think it's one of the things Jaume really responded to.
Collet-Serrra: I'm a big Polanski fan. And I was drawn to the script for similar reasons. It was a movie that has the characters that are very well-developed, and their back stories are important to the movie and come back to haunt them later. And, obviously, I just always am a big fan of Polanski and the way that he explores the psychology and the fears that we all have in our daily lives; that's what makes it really scary. I think people can relate to the characters and the story.
Having an excellent adult cast as you do here really elevates the genre. But finding the kids that you found must have been a challenge. Starting from Max, played by Aryana Engineer, but also Isabelle.
Collet-Serra: We were very lucky. Casting for kids is difficult because they grow up so quickly. So, whoever was a great kid in the last movie, now is like 15 by the time that you're making this. So, you have a chance to find new and fresh people. Isabelle had done a couple of things. She came in and read, and I was blown away by her performance. She just owned the character. She would make actual choices in delivering the lines, which is something rare in a kid.
With Aryana, it was a very specific character. It's a young, five- or six-year-old little girl who has to play deaf-mute. And there were two options. The obvious one was to hire a kid and teach the kid some sign language. But I wanted to keep it real. She was just a kid and she was so innocent that I think, ultimately, it really paid off because that innocence is what we're trying to protect in this movie. And every time that she would step in front of the camera, even though we had rehearsed it, I didn't know what was going to happen because she didn't know what she was doing. She was just reacting for real to what was happening. And that's priceless when you get that.
As a director, to film those scenes with the kids, you have to go to some really dark places. What is your job in communicating? Making sure they feel comfortable?
Collet-Serra: Well, you have to, obviously, explain what they're doing. Mostly with Isabelle, obviously, she understood what she was doing on most levels. And you have to be careful in how you say things. And then you have to rehearse over and over again. Not so much that it becomes over-rehearsed, but then keep a playful sort of set. So, you can really disconnect from that right away.
With Aryana, it was different because she doesn't really understand what was happening. For her everything was a game. She was going to school most of the time on set. And she would just come to set and do her thing. I would ask her, 'Do you remember what we did yesterday?' No. It was just a game. She didn't really register anything.
David, I was noticing in your background some work with Frank Darabont, several projects. Was that sort of part of the plan? I mean I can just imagine if your goal is to be a writer attaching yourself to an excellent writer/director like Darabont would be like having a workshop or a brilliant master class every day.
Johnson: It really, really was. I mean I would like to take credit for being smart enough to have thought that ahead of time. But I came out to Los Angeles. I had met him on Shawshank Redemption, just very casually. But I came out to LA and was looking for work and my bank account was dwindling. And he happened to call up and needed an assistant. And it was sort of the phone call that changed my life because he took me under his wing. And from our very first interview he said, 'I know you don't want to do this for the rest of your life and maybe the plus side for you here is maybe I can help you'. And he was very encouraging and he looked at every script that I wrote, and vice-versa, which was amazing.
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