In 1997, Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal made his U.S. feature filmmaking debut with Nightwatch.
Starring Ewan McGregor, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte and Patricia Arquette, the thriller was a remake of Bornedal’s 1994 film Nattevagten from Denmark. Nightwatch was a Dimension Films production and it faced a small delay reaching the screen (as is/was the case with some Dimension projects). Following its lackluster reception, Bornedal returned home to continue his directing career overseas.
His name wasn’t connected to Hollywood again until 2007 when Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s Ghost House Pictures acquired the American remake rights to Bornedal’s sci-fi/horror film The Substitute. While progress on that remake moved slowly, Raimi asked Bornedal to take a crack at another American film, The Possession, opening in theaters this Friday.
The film is a loose re-telling of Los Angeles Times writer Leslie Gornstein’s article “Jinx in a Box” and centers around a cursed relic containing mysterious familial tokens that is mistakenly purchased and its new owner must solve its mystery to save his own family.
Shock spoke to Bornedal about The Possession and working with producer Sam Raimi. He also reveals who was being considered for the role co-star Matisyahu now plays in the film, how he made star Jeffrey Dean Morgan “crack” and what’s wrong with modern filmmaking.
Shock Till You Drop: Sam said you were his first choice for director on this project. Talk a bit about your history together…
Ole Bornedal: I had done two Danish movies they bought to remake. The Substitute and Just Another Love Story. I don’t think Just Another Love Story is no longer there but The Substitute is still being developed. We talked a lot when we sold the remake rights. I didn’t know I was his top choice, we never talked about that. The good thing about Sam is he’s a filmmaker himself. There’s a certain language that filmmakers just know when they meet each other. A certain senstivity or empathy towards filmmaking and working with actors. Some of my choices producers would cut down or not listen to, Sam would always understand those choices. There are many producers who do not know much about movies, so a combo of filmmaker and producer is the best combination.
RELATED INTERVIEW: Read our chat with Sam Raimi here!
Shock: As we have seen other exorcism/possession films before, were you constantly pushing yourself to transcend what we’ve seen before visually?
Bornedal: I don’t know much about genre in itself. I don’t watch horror films much because it’s not a genre that interests me. The screenplay for this interested me. I thought it had real character. I liked the sadness from the divorced parents, the sadness of watching their daughter turn schizophrenic, I liked the human stuff. The way I shoot movies is just my style. I don’t give it any concern, it’s just how I do things. The biggest challenge in every movie is to create characters that you love, hate or feel for. Skip heartbeats that can make you angry or make you sad.
Shock: Well, regarding character and actors, I spoke to Jeffrey Dean Morgan earlier and he cited a time on set where you had just let a scene play, and go on and on.
Bornedal: Yeah. Jeff actually hated me for that. When Kyra and Jeff started exorcising their daughter, I told the actors we were going to shoot for a certain amount of time with this tracking shot. But I couldn’t feel it. Natasha was playing it so wild and crazy on this stretcher, so I can see in Jeffrey’s face that if I let him play longer than he expected, he would crack. It became worse and worse, I could he was starting to cry and his voice was trembling and he forgot all about this being movie making. And that’s why I just let it play on. He was so angry after. He had to take 15 minutes to get back to himself. But those are the most precious moments in movie making.
Shock: Talk about the casting of Matisyahu. Sam told us you had to fight for him to be in the role. Why did you select him?
Bornedal: Because he’s real man. He’s Orthodox, he knows all of the rituals, his beard was real. He didn’t need a costume, he could just jump in a cab and come down to the set. He knew what to say, everything. Again, if a producer comes in and says, ‘Adrien Brody is one of the greatest actors of this generation,’ of course he is, but he’s still an actor. For some roles in some movies, you just need this feeling of something organic and Matisyahu was the real thing. He had to spend two hours each day saying his prayers and we had to work around that. Friday night, we had to wrap him at six o’clock.
Shock: Was Adrien Brody someone they suggested for the role?
Bornedal: Yeah. He would have been excellent, but we’d still be missing this certain edge.
Shock: The movie takes a deliberately classy approach to the scares. They’re not graphic, was the script a bit more hardcore?
Bornedal: It was much more graphic in the beginning. It was much more, what can I say, “horror”? The less you saw the better, I thought. The story is about evil, but the evil within yourself. You see flashes of something at the very end of the film, but it’s very understated.
Shock: Are you and Sam discussing perhaps another project together?
Bornedal: Not at the moment. I’m developing stories in Europe and having talks. Right now I’m developing a bit epic about the German/Danish wars of 1864. It’s a love story. The Possession was my nose in American horror and that was fine.
Shock: Well, I was going to say, Sam should put you in the running for this Poltergeist remake he’s developing.
Bornedal: [laughs] There’s another example of a good film with great characters. That really surprised me when I saw it. It’s an ingenius film. They spent time with the characters and for some reason, now, the faster the thing goes, the better it is. The more you keep the audience on the edge of their seat, the more fascinating it is. Which is completely wrong. Timing is not about speed, it’s about everything. It can be a slow build up.