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Interview: Alexandre Aja Talks Hitting Hollywood and ‘Horns’
With Elijah Wood having recently terrorised the neighbourhood as an unhinged serial killer in director Franck Khalfoun‘s updated version of the 1980 cult slasher Maniac (William Lustig), the film’s writer and producer, Alexandre Aja, has turned his efforts to the dark love fable Horns, adapting it for the big screen in collaboration with the writer of the original novel, Joe Hill, son of another fairly well known horror writer, Stephen King.
To the surprise of many it was announced that none other than Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe had been cast as the protagonist Ignatius “Ig” Perrish with fellow Brit actress Juno Temple playing his love interest doomed for demise. With the film set to release later this year, in the US at least, and as Lionsgate UK recently picked up the movie rights, I hopped on the phone for a chat with Alexandre to find out as much as I could possibly squeeze out of him about his latest project.
CinemaChords – So, before we delve into what you are currently working on I just wanted to briefly ask you a bit about your move to Hollywood following the great success of High Tension back in 2003. From what I gather you had quite the dilemma when it came to deciding how exactly you wanted the film to be seen internationally. As you weren’t keen for English speakers having to read too many subtitles you chose to dub half of the content? What other problems did you encounter?
Alexandre Aja – Well, first and foremost, we really didn’t make that film thinking it would be a passport to Hollywood. My intention was basically to create a film with my partner, Grégory Levasseur, to serve as a kind of celebration of old style movies. We were highly influenced by films like the original versions of The Last House on the Left and Maniac. It was made with all our passion for the genre and, thankfully for us, when it opened in the US it became a small cult movie which opened to door to us in terms of studios and producers.
So there was never really any talk of producing a remake rather than releasing your original version?
Well we did actually get a number of offers to remake it but I always turned them down because if you look at the movie as a whole it’s pretty much a silent film. There are only seven minutes of actual dialogue so I really felt that the film was very accessible on an international level already.
Somewhere else where the film came up against a few problems was in Korea where the film was cut rather substantially – all of six minutes I believe. With directors like Park Chan-wook it’s pretty surprising that your film was so heavily censored. What went on there?
Well we didn’t really feel it was our place to ask why they did this but they pretty much butchered the whole thing. To add salt to the wounds the only DVD that was first available internationally was a Korean import that was absolutely terrible, at least in my eyes.
Having said that, that was a good ten years ago and I think things have changed substantially and Korea seem to be a lot more open to screening more hardcore content now.
Despite a few setbacks you haven’t looked back and apart from the French produced Maniac you have remained in the US ever since.
Well yes, the main reason is that the type of films I want to make really need to be produced over here. In Europe it is pretty much impossible to shoot a film if it requires a budget in excess of 2 million dollars so the best way to ensure my movies are made as I want them is to produce them over here.
Coming to the present, Lionsgate UK recently picked up your latest project, Horns which is based on the novel of the same name, written by Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill. Tell us a bit about how you got involved in the project.
Well I was just finishing up with Piranha and I had a sort of early version of the book to read. To cut a long story short, I just fell in love with the material there and then as Joe has created a world which takes readers from the absolute darkest of comedy to emotional drama to some seriously scary scenes. Both of us were in negotiations with Mandalay from the very start so we basically ended up working together on the screenplay together which was an amazing experience.
Something that really surprised me was your choice of protagonist, Daniel Radcliffe. I say surprised but, looking back, you also had Kiefer Sutherland star in a horror movie slap bang in the middle of his series 24 with the whole world rooting for Jack Bauer every week. Do you intentionally cast characters that audiences don’t expect you to go for?
I guess you are right. I mean, I brought action star Jack Bauer into the horror world in Mirrors, Maniac also finds Elijah Wood becoming a serial killer and now Horns turns Harry Potter into a fallen angel. I suppose there is something I like about bringing established, rigid characters into the darkest of places in my films. I also think that using unexpected but recognisable characters allows me to take audiences on more extensive journeys because the film starts off with these characters that everyone recognises and loves and who everyone can relate to and this is such an advantage as it helps you take the audience with you in this transformation into hell.
In the case of Daniel Radcliffe, the character he plays is a guy in his early twenties who is very much in love with his girlfriend and she is found dead and raped with Daniel’s character accused of the crime. Subsequently he acquires powers of the devil so this is a seriously complex character to pull off.
I just happened to meet Daniel at the same time that I had been reading through the novel and the script and everything seemed to click with him. He just had all the same qualities that the book possesses. As soon as I went back to Joe Hill with my idea of casting Daniel he couldn’t have agreed more. I mean, he just creates this real character that the audience can identify with and he also possesses this dark edge that we needed for Horns.
He is also at that age and moment in his career where he is trying out various roles and different genres and I think that people are going to be really surprised by his performance.
I’ve read that you go as far as saying that fans of Harry Potter will enjoy Horns as you believe it’s almost a natural progression for Daniel. How so?
Well, in a way I do think that. He is someone who has that kindness, honesty and courage. He is very brave, both as an actor and as a person, and that is exactly why I thought he would be the perfect person. It was also something that I was eager to experiment with as I wanted to see how I could take this very rigid Harry Potter character and turn him into a kind of fallen angel with the character falling into the deepest hell to come back in another form.
The majority of the cast are also British even though they mostly play American characters. Was this something you also did intentionally or was it all by chance?
Funnily enough it was all a coincidence really as the film is in fact set in Washington State. We have some great British talent involved such as Max Minghella and Juno Temple and, although it was completely unintentional, I do believe that the younger generation of actors coming out of the UK have more gravitas and add much more depth to their characters. They also tend to give much more believable performances as a general rule. We’re really happy with all the talent involved and are sure audiences will be pleasantly surprised, especially by Daniel’s performance.
Horns hits the UK this very 29 October so it’s right around the corner now at long last.
We also spoke to Alexandre all about the world of remakes, something he is heavily involved in, as well as a few other projects he has in the pipeline. Head back to Cinema Chords on Monday for that.
We’ll leave you with a recently released trailer:
If you have any thoughts or questions for Howard Gorman? Fire over a message on Twitter.