The murder mystery genre of films had long been on the sidelines in popular culture until recent efforts like the adaptation of British author Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” novel, and Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 “The Hateful Eight”, pushed that genre back into the mainstream. Now writer and director Rian Johnson, whose last film was the blockbuster “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, brings his own version of the complex murder mystery to the big screen.
His film “Knives Out” tells the story of a wealthy family and the intricate relationships and underlying motives after the family patriarch dies under mysterious circumstances. This is where a detective comes into the scene, trying to figure out just “whodunnit”.
The detective, played by Daniel Craig, is joined by an extensively great cast that includes Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield and Michael Shannon, who play an eccentric group of family members, staff and local law enforcement dealing with the fallout of the murder within the family’s mansion.
Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays the eldest child of the family, took some time recently to speak to us about the resulting film efforts of all that talent, and how it was working on a mystery movie updated for the current political climate while retaining the twist and turns and intrigue of a classic murder mystery.
So, Jaime Lee, to start off I want to get an idea of what is going on in the film “Knives Out”?
Well the first goal of any good murder mystery is the joy of just that word, “mystery”, not knowing where you’re going. Not knowing where it’s going, what the characters are doing, that is such a pleasure. And when you have someone like Rian Johnson who wrote and directs the movie you have somebody telling that murder mystery story in a really interesting way. And then you just fill it with really good actors. And so, it’s a very satisfying – It’s like a really satisfying creative meal.
So, first of all that’s what’s going on. It’s a really fun way to spend two hours. Then of course it’s about a family. It’s about a white privileged family. And there’s a very big class differential in the movie that is sort of second story if you will. The main character of the movie is a young caregiver named Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), who is taking care of this sort of older white patriarch, this murder mystery writer, and the movie is really about their relationship and the way the family deals with that relationship; and the way that the family treats Marta which is not really well.
And I just think that it’s a good social commentary. It’s a comedy so it’s done in humor. For instance, there’s this running joke in the movie that none of the family members know where she’s from. Everybody brings up a different Latin American country which is racist and horrible and xenophobic. And yet at the same time really funny the way that it’s dealt.
So, the film is also an ode to those Agatha Christie mystery novels and the “whodunnit” genre, except “Knives Out” seems to have a more modern and refreshing point of view with Rian Johnson at the helm. Can you talk a bit about what it was working with Rian Johnson and that ensemble cast?
You know you’re not in an Agatha Christie movie when the 23-year-old young actress is using a JUUL and vaping in the first second of the movie. Like in the first five minutes you know you’re not in an Agatha Christie movie you’re in a modern movie in the middle of a class and political divide that is pervasive in this country right now. We made the movie a year ago and the movie is coming out not even a year after finishing it.
So, you know many many many many many of the issues in the movie, the red and blue state mentality, is played out in a delicious way, in a very funny way. And you know, again that’s all Rian Johnson who wrote it and had the whole thing in his head and then you bring 15 actors into an old house near Boston and put a camera in there. It’s pretty funny.
Could you now tell me a little bit more about your character of Linda and what her motivations are, and how you got into that role?
Well I am the oldest child of the patriarch played by a fantastic actor, Christopher Plummer. And you know, it’s about white privilege and legacy and the abuse [regarding] trust fund children and people who are given their wealth and not have to earn it.
It’s a think piece about that kind of wealth. And Linda, seemingly because nobody is what they seem in the movie, is the most self-sufficient and that whole idea of self-reliance is very strong in her. Like literally goes through her like a rod which you know is funny to see. She is a very successful real estate woman; she owns her own company while the other children seem to be much more tethered to the to the teat of the family money. Linda It looks like has much more self-reliance.
I was curious was there any specific moment or filming day that was memorable to you that you can speak on?
Well there’s really only one day where the entire cast is present or the majority, in one sequence that involves a will reading because of course someone has died. It’s a big sequence in the movie and it involves all these very funny actors and for being in an ensemble movie, that is a really delicious thing to be able to do.
Would you say that in a way “Knives Out” is like a family movie as well as a whodunnit mystery?
Big time. I mean it’s not a movie for young children but it’s definitely a movie for a family Thanksgiving. “Let’s go, you know adult family members, let’s go to the movies and work out all our problems on the screen”. Let’s watch these people lose their minds and we don’t have to. Which is really nice on Thanksgiving to do. Let these people go crazy and then you don’t have to hate each other.
On that note, what would you say is something that people can get out of “Knives Out” when they go see it?
It’s first and foremost a comedy. So, you will laugh. I think you will see, depending what side of the aisle you tread, you will be satisfied because there’s plenty of representation on both red and blue. The sort of second layer of course is the family dynamic which is really fun to explore as we just said, letting other people work out their family drama while you sit back and eat popcorn and not have to do it yourself. And lastly, it’s a movie about class divide and it couldn’t be more topical, the immigrant experience is brought into this movie in a very clever and interesting way.
“Knives Out” hits theaters on November 27, 2019.