Jonathan Crocker

Editorial Director | Journalist

Jennifer Lynch: Surveillance

Posted by Jonathan On March - 1 - 2009

jenlynchMeeting the daughter of darkness at Cannes 2008…

What’s your favourite film?

I’m gonna have to go ahead and list Blue Velvet as one of them. I’m going to also list Rear Window and Sunset Boulevard. Sunset Boulevard blew my mind as a kid. I was eight maybe. I mean, it was sort of a discovery. It was like uncovering a brilliant novel or a dirty book in a trunk. I didn’t know you could tell a story in that way. That swung the doors open for me.

Did you always want to cast Bill Pullman in Surveillance?

Right from the get-go. And I’d not been able to and he’d turned down the material. It’s a different stage in his life, this is years later. I’d gone on to other actors and then there I was literally maybe seven days from shooting. Whether I liked it or not. Gotta find an actor. And the actor who had committed, there was a scheduling conflict. It’s not gonna work. I looked at my producer and I said, ‘I gotta make a phone call. I’ll kick myself if I don’t at least try.’ Please reconsider. And he said, ‘Why did I say no…? Do I hurt kids in this?’ I said, ‘No, no. Almost. In fact, it’s the opposite.’ He said, ‘Well, send it to me again.’ He called back and said, ‘I’m in. See you in Canada.’ And it was a fulfilment of a wish. Very rarely do you get to think about someone for something like that. It’s like picturing a perfect mate and then having them appear. Because it’ a very intimate relationship, working with people, when you’re filming something.

Who was the other actor?

There were several, but the one at the end who was unable to do it was Jeremy Northam. He’s wonderful. But it was kinda of kismet to have Bill to come back in.

Your father’s obviously a big fan of Bill too.

What was funny was my father had never seen Bill’s work and he was casting Lost Highway and he didn’t know Pat Arquette and he didn’t know Bill Pullman. And I said, ‘Oh my god, you have to see True Romance and you have to see Serpent And The Rainbow and all these films. And he fell in love with both of them. And there’s something about Bill for me that is Everyman – could be any of us. He’s just so human.

He’s also got that darkness. You can’t quite put your finger on it.

Exactly. He’ll turn something funny or a funny look into a real dark look, and you’ll go, ‘Oooh, what was that?’

A bit like Jimmy Stewart for Hitchcock.

Exactly. Rear Window. Something’s up. Something’s dark.

How did the idea for Surveillance begin?

The idea was inspired by a totally different script that a friend brought to me. And it was about witches, of all things. And I was quite honest, I said, ‘This doesn’t appeal to me. But I think this idea of a stretch of road and bored cops,’ I said, ‘it’s giving me all sorts of ideas.’ And I started to build the story around these people. And I started recalling driving across the country with my parents. And the way you sort of pass people, repeatedly, and run into them at different stops. And then I thought, ‘Okay, what if something terrible happened. Who lives? And then what if something even worse happened? What’s the worst that could happen? What’s a thriller I haven’t seen? And what would be the the most fun, the most dangerous situation for a bunch of witnesses to be in?’ If you think the safe place is the worst place, really. And guess who figures it out. The one who isn’t totally in her own head. It’s the child.

That opening scene really taps into some primal fears.

Yeah, waking up with somebody in your house. Exactly. And I wanted that universal idea of… wait a minute? These people just get into their house? While they’re asleep? Because we all get into our house and sleep. And if I didn’t open with something that was plausible for everybody, we wouldn’t care enough to sit through the tension of the build.

Was the violence important?

Absolutely. For me, it had to be a potent beginning, what happened to her, so that she’s missing. And then leave this room for a search and the tension on the road and a mystery going on and to go from that really sweet quiet sleep to that horror. To this ‘here we come to save the day’, let’s just talk to everybody, let’s just calm down, obviously you’re all liers and then just completely spin it.

It’s a very Lynchian opening!

Oh, really? Ha! Well, you know…

Do I get in trouble for saying that?

No, you’re not in trouble. You know, I am who am. Who knows? Thank you. It’s the way I saw it. It’s the way it scares me. I set it up in the way it terrifies me. Because if I can scare myself, I figure I can scare most people. ’Cos I’m hard to scare.

What does scare you?

What does scare me? Spiders don’t scare me. But people waking me up in the dead of night with latex all over their faces beating the shit out of me? That scares me. That’ll do it. And letting me get away. And then chasing me down.

Who are your influences?

You know, I’d say Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, David Lynch. And, in a weird way, nature. Because if you separated everybody else’s noise right now, and just listened to the ocean, there’s part of how loud that is but how quiet that is. That’s exactly what I wanted to examine in the sound design. I didn’t just throw music in there. The rest of the time there’s either nothing or a sound design to evoke something. And sometimes the loudest noise is silence. And that’s terrifying. Hearing nothing, just dying to hear something. And when audiences are looking for a way out, that makes you feel less safe. And I love that feeling. And that I learned I think in nature. And probably in some bad relationships. Silence being the loudest noise in the room. ‘How you feeling honey?’

Scary…

Yeah! Dead quiet. ‘Do you love me, honey?’ Dead quiet. So the experiment was really what scares me. And sometime it’s the absence of things as much as the presence of things.

What is the appeal of the darkness for you?

I was never told not to think certain things. I never had limitations put on my imagination. But I’ve always lived a surprisingly, for what people think I have, happy, giddy, fortunate life. Even living in a garage with crazy artist parents, totally broke. You know what I mean? My dad with a paper round. Broke. Crazy. That was between [the ages of] one and seven. And being teased for being the poor kid with beat-up shoes. They’ll find a reason to tease you no matter what. But I was a happy kid. I had a happy family. And so the curiostity is of what I don’t know. So that’s where I go. I don’t live in it. If I lived in [the darkness], I think I’d explore, like, love stories. I have done the whole fluffy thing. And no offence, but if I made You Got Mail, it would be a totally different film. That would be shocking. Jen Lynch does You’ve Got Mail. The remake! With Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond. ‘YOU’VE GOT FUCKIN’ MAIL! You got a letter, bitch!’ Hahaha! That’s the next one. I don’t even know if it’s… You know, ‘dark’ is such a funny word to me. You know, why do you love going out at night so much? Why do you love going out Lynch? During the day? I love them both. But I live in one. So I explore the other. Why am I fascinated by the ocean? Because I don’t live in the ocean. I live outside the ocean. So I ‘m dying to know what’s in there.

Have you seen Superbadd? It also had a pair of twisted cops…

I have seen Superbad. I love Superbad. Haha! You know, when I saw that, I said, ‘This reminds me of my cops.’ Totally! I was like, ‘Hey!’ Superbad has crazy crooked cops. And the whole McLovin thing, you know. Oh my god. I was sort of excited. Alright, we’re playing with crooked cops. Because the film had been finished at that point so I was sitting and watching and thinking, ‘I’ll be doggone.’ They don’t go as far. But they go. They’re crooked. And they’re a little more bumbling than my cops. But still fantastic. And just abusive of their power. And I think that’s both terrifying and funny. We need to police our police and we need to police ourselves.

You like comedy?

I love to laugh. The Thin Man series. WC Fields. Being There is one of my favourite films of all time. The Pink Panther Strikes Again is one of my favourite film of all time. If I need to cheer up or if I’m sick with a cold, chicken soup and It’s A Gift. Chicken soup and Being There.

It’s been a long time since your last film.

Yeah, you know, raising a child, three spinal surgeries.

In fairness, they’re pretty good excuses…

Yeah. I just figured… She’s 12. The spinal surgeries took a couple of years. And for a while I didn’t know if I was gonna walk again. And I needed to recover from… and figure some shit out, to be honest with you. Figure out how I was still gonna do what I loved doing. And not take it so personally when people slung crap at me.

Critics were very unkind to Boxing Helena…

Lynch: Super-unkind. And not even super-unkind to Boxing Helena, super-unkind to me. Like I’d done something personally to them. Which blew my mind. Like, why are they so pissed at me? It’s a movie! You don’t walk into the Museum of Modern Art and hate a sculpture and say, ‘That sculptor is such a fucking asshole.’

Did you feel under more pressure?

Not more pressure. I think I felt glad to be back and I think I felt no matter what I just had to make I film I was gonna like. Because people are gonna think what they’re gonna think about it. And I certainly wasn’t try to make a film that people loved. I can’t please people that way. I’m gonna disappoint people. I’m gonna anger people. Do I want to share what I’m making? Yes. But ultimately what matters is that, at night, I go to bed and say I made the film I wanted to make. So in case they say, ‘You suck and your film sucked, I don’t take it so personally. ‘Oh I shoulda never gotten into this.’ That’s a lesson I learned from my father, for sure. Once you’re done, let it go. Walk away.

Read the original article at Little White Lies.

One Response to “Jennifer Lynch: Surveillance”

  1. […] it could have been plucked from the cutting-room floor of her father’s Lost Highway. In fact, Jennifer Lynch’s brutal mystery thriller pivots around a daylight slaughter on the deserted two-lane […]

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Jonathan is a London-based journalist, critic and editor. He currently works for data visualisation agency Beyond Words.

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