Shyamalan gambles with Lady In The Water
NEW YORK ó So is Lady In The Water the riskiest, most controversial movie yet of M. Night Shyamalanís storied film-making career?
Not necessarily, says the 36-year-old, India-born, Philadelphia-based director-screenwriter.
Even though Shyamalan will admit the fairy tale-fantasy-thriller, in theatres Friday, is certainly the most personal and revealing of all his movies ó including The Sixth Sense and Signs ó which have grossed a whopping $2 billion worldwide.
ìThereís something irrationally pure about (this film) thatís really (about) who I am,î says Shyamalan, who got the idea for Lady from a made-up fairy tale he told his two daughters.
ìThe centre of the movie (is about) the idea that you donít believe in yourself … and that someone says, ëThat weird, stupid thing youíre writing,í might (actually) have some effect. For me, itís much more raw on a lot of levels and I love that. Someone asked what makes me tick, and I said, ëDanger. Absolute, perilous danger. Just putting yourself out there.í And hopefully, over the course of time, you will get very truthful things from me, in that way.î
But in an excerpt from the new book, The Man Who Heard Voices: Or How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career On A FairyTale, published in Entertainment Weekly, Shyamalan is depicted as devastated and crying after a dinner where executives from Disney ó who had made his last four films ó passed on making Lady.
The book was originally going to be about Shyamalanís fifth movie for Disney, but took on a much more sensational tone in light of the events that unfolded.
ìIt wasnít cruelty, theyíre good people,î Shyamalan insists. ìFor me, I felt like this would be a great fit for that company: An eccentric, child-like, adult-imagination kind of thing. But it was not the right time and the right movie. And, really, it was coming from a parental place. And I appreciate that from them.
ìBut sometimes, you just want to go, ëIíve got to go to college. Iíve got to go do my thing. Iíll be back. Donít worry. Itís all going to be good.í Thereís not a sense of ëI hate you! Iím never coming back!í The most important thing to happen for me out of that dinner, or that conversation with Disney, was I heard them say everything: ëYouíre insane!í And I totally went, ëEverything you said is valid and I still 100% believe in the movie. And so Iíve got to go make it.íî
Shyamalan wound up taking the movie to Warner Brothers. But he doesnít necessarily think the controversy about getting Lady made, as detailed in the book which saw author Michael Bamberger receive unprecedented access to the directorís working life, will help its box office.
ìI donít know if itís good for box office,îhe says.
ìWhatís nice about (the book) is that people can see the struggle. Because the struggle is there in all of them. On every single movie thereís a struggle. Itís a torturous process to make personal movies, this weird thing that Iím doing, which is youíre making independent, personal movies. And released in a blockbuster capacity, that balancing act is a torturous balance and itís not one that I contrived.
ìIt is naturally the sum of the elements of how I think. So the supernatural elements and the personal elements, if you go said, ëDo whatever you want!í this is what I do. So that part of it is really nice that people can see that itís really fu–ing hard.í The movie, the book, that whole time period, was really a huge giant act of faith for me going, ëItís all going to be okay. Put yourself at great, great risk.íî
Paul Giamatti, for whom Shyamalan specifically wrote a starring role in Lady, doesnít mince words about the directorís film legacy.
ìHeís making eccentric movies. Thatís what I think is most interesting. And, I mean, theyíre commercial movies. Heís just a fascinating guy in and of himself, what heís doing, what heís trying to do ó and he pulls them off. But theyíre eccentric movies. Theyíre very strange and I thought that was kind of great. I thought this was a very weird idea. And if he could pull it off, it would be amazing.I didnít know if he could. I think he does. But itís not an easy thing to pull off. Itís kind of an ambitious idea.î
Adding to the risk factor is the fact that Shyamalan picked an unlikely but talented pair for his Lady leads: Two critically respected actors ó but hardly top box-office draws.
Bryce Dallas Howard ó who starred as the blind, brave heroine in Shyamalanís critically panned The Village ó plays Ladyís title role, while Giamatti is the apartment complex superintendent who discovers her water nymph-like character in the buildingís pool.
In the excerpt from The Man Who Heard Voices, Giamatti is depicted as supposedly keeping Shyamalan waiting before agreeing to make the movie. At one point, Shyamalan actually considered offering Kevin Costner ó among others ó the superintendent gig.
ìIt was probably five days and I think he was anxious,î says Giamatti, an Oscar nominee best known for his work in Cinderella Man and Sideways. ìI felt bad when I heard that I made him so anxious. I think I was kind of tired and I was at home and I forgot to read it for a couple of days. When I heard that, I was like, ëOh, geez. I feel terrible. I made the guy wait.í But I just think I was slow that day or something. I wasnít really on top of it. I donít remember there being a million things. But once I read it, I thought it was great.There was no question, no question.î
On top of all the other inherent risks in Lady, Shyamalan ó who has appeared in all of his movies ó decided to take on his biggest role yet as the apartment complexís struggling writer.
ìIíve been kind of dancing with who I am in these movies,î he says. ìThereís always this, ëWell, what do you do? Do you do the Hitchcock thing? Do you do the Woody Allen thing? What do you do?í I donít really do anything. This is as big a role as Iíll ever play because thereís a physical limit to it, because I canít direct. In the end, I think I was in 20 scenes out of a 100-and-something, so thatís the limit that it could be.î
Giamatti shook his head and laughed when asked if he gave Shyamalan any acting tips. ìI thought he was really pretty good,î he says. ìHe was very good at directing himself and he was actually really hard on himself, which he shouldnít have been, ícause I thought he was good.
ìHe doesnít fancy himself as any kind of great actor. He really enjoys actors and I think heís fascinated by it. So heís not out there, thinking heís killing the world while heís acting.î
Shyamalan gambles with Lady In The Water