IGN: Why do you think readers and audiences love a whodunit?
Rian Johnson: I don’t know. The reason I love it is because it is kind of a combination of being a genre that is a puzzle box, and that’s always fun. You sit down and it’s almost like someone doing a magic trick for you. Also, it’s a very character-based genre, and that’s why I loved the Agatha Christie movies growing up. Because they had these all-star casts, and everyone was chewing the hell out of the scenery and having a blast. That combination of the cerebral pleasure of the puzzle box, and big fun characters, that’s a good combination.
IGN: Do you have a favorite?
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Johnson: My favorite movies, because they are kind of sentimental favorites, feature Peter Ustinov as Poirot. So Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun are the big ones. He did a few others but those are the best. Just strict whodunits. There are also whodunit adjacents like Sleuth and Death Trap, and I love The Last of Sheila, so there’s a bunch.
IGN: Was Hercule Poirot an influence on Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc?
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Johnson: Yes, absolutely. Poirot, Miss Marple, Columbo to some extent. You start looking at the detectives and figuring out what elements unite them. And the big thing everyone points to is there’s always something about the detective that disarms whoever they are talking to, so you don’t take them seriously until it’s too late. So with Blanc, having him be slightly self-important and inflated but also have this folksy charm to him, and the fact that he has this Southern accent when he’s amidst all these New England WASPS; you feed those elements in, but it’s really what’s up on the screen – Daniel just making this guy real.
IGN: Can you describe the writing process involved in crafting a murder-mystery like this?
Johnson: I started with just a really conceptual idea. Which was I knew I wanted to do a whodunit – I’d been a fan of them since I was a kid. But I also kind of agree with what Hitchcock said about whodunits, which was that he thought the pitfall of them was that they were a long build-up to a big surprise at the end. So the danger is always that there will be a lag in the middle when you are just gathering clues and waiting for the big solution to be sprung on you. So it was kind of at first a genre exercise in trying to get everything I love about the whodunit into this movie and giving it a bit more of a Hitchcock thriller engine. It started there and then it’s just working through it, step-by-step.
IGN: Is the central crime based on a real-world case?
Johnson: No. It’s something I made up and something I backed into based on the plot mechanics and what I needed. I came up with the big picture and then backed my way into things.
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IGN: What are the politics of this film?
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Johnson: Going back to Agatha Christie, one of the things that I love about her books is how she is engaged with society at the time, and that all the character types she was writing about can seem like musty old tropes today, but that’s because it’s easy to forget that they were very present types in British society when she was writing. That’s kind of what I wanted to do. I wanted to plug this into 2019 America, but that can’t just mean giving everyone cellphones and saying we’re modern-day. We wanted to do what she did back then, today. They are a big family, so what are they going to be arguing about? Well, they’re arguing about politics. Let’s actually plug this in and make the character types actual character types that we’d recognize today. And that means engaging with the culture right now, and that means engaging with politics.
IGN: It feels like the film doesn’t pick sides when it comes to politics – was it tricky trying to strike that balance?
Johnson: For me, it’s always most interesting to find the foibles that unite us all. I know that – for me – the movie is as much about privilege as anything else. And it’s very important, no matter what side you are one, to be able to recognize that in yourself. You don’t want to “both sides” anything. You don’t want to come into it like that. But I guess me attempt was to take every single one of these characters and find an angle on them, and find a way into their motives and methods and madness.
IGN: The film also tackles online toxicity – was that a reaction to what was happening on the Internet when The Last Jedi was released?
Johnson: Not specifically. I think it’s more a reaction to just being on the Internet in 2019. If you’re on the Internet in any way, shape or form, you don’t have to have made a Star Wars movie to see that and have a laugh at it. It just happens to be the waters we’re all swimming in right now.
IGN: I heard that Jamie Lee Curtis was first on set every day, and even inserting herself into scenes that didn’t feature her character – is that true?
Johnson: I love Jamie so much – she’s like the A-student. She didn’t leave set. She was always around. There were some scenes that she wasn’t supposed to be in, like big family scenes, and because she was just there I figured ‘Oh, she must be in this scene’ and I found something for her to do. Just because she’s awesome.
IGN: Do you have more ideas for Benoit Blanc stories?
Johnson: I had so much fun doing this and I had so much fun with Daniel. I never consider sequels for anything I’ve done, I’ve never really thought in those terms. But with this, it feels like we’ll see – if this movie does alright, I would be thrilled to do a new one of these every few years. Get a whole new cast together in a whole new spot and come up with a new murder mystery and something else to talk about.
IGN: What about a Benoit Blanc book?
Johnson: I would LOVE to have a book series. Because that ‘s what got me started on all of this; spotting Agatha Christie books on my parents’ shelves and think that they looked very grown up and scary and picking one of those up. So yeah, let’s make a book series!For more on Knives Out, check out our rave review and watch why Daniel Craig is Rian Johnson’s perfect detective.
Knives Out hits U.S. and UK screens on Nov. 27 and opens in Australia on Nov. 28.