1-On-1: Talking "The Wicker Man" with Neil LaBute

This Friday sees the release of "The Wicker Man." Written and directed by Neil LaBute, the film is a remake of the 1973 British horror classic which starred Christopher Lee. The remake stars Nicolas Cage (to be seen next in "Ghost Rider"), who plays Sargeant Edward Malus who investigates the disappearance of a young girl from a small island, only to discover there's a much larger mystery involving the island's highly secretive, neo-pagan inhabitants.

CBR News had a chance to sit down with LaBute for a quick five minute interview during Comic-Con International in San Diego this past July.

I admit, the interview you're reading is a bit of an indulgence. Let me explain.

Back in May, 2005 I was in London for business. While there, a friend and I took in the play "Some Girls" by Neil LaBute. I wasn't too familiar with LaBute's work before seeing the play, but looked forward to it based on my friend's recommendation.

"Some Girls" starred David Schwimmer as a recently engaged man who decides to look up four ex-girlfriends before his pending nuptials. It's a brutally honest and emotional piece of work exploring the male/female dynamic and LaBute had in me an instant fan.

Since then I've checked out a number of his films, including "Your Friends & Neighbors," "In the Company of Men" and "Nurse Betty." In all of LaBute's work you find brutally honest characters of great complexity with serious levels of moral ambiguity. These are incredibly flawed, engaging characters that you can't turn away from.

When I learned LaBute was available for interviews to support "The Wicker Man" during Comic-Con International this past July, I jumped at the chance to interview him. While the film may not be directly comics related, it does star one Mr. Nicolas Cage who'll next be seen in "Ghost Rider." Plus, the subject matter of "The Wicker Man" should appeal to the same audience that visits CBR. I hope you don't find this indulgence intrusive and enjoy the finished interview as much as I enjoyed speaking with LaBute.


Jonah Weiland

Hi Neil, good to talk with you today. I should mention I saw your play "Some Girls" on stage in London last year with David Schwimmer. It really blew my mind.

Wow, that's cool. I'm glad you got a chance to see that.

OK, so, "The Wicker Man." When I first heard you were doing this film, I thought it was an odd choice for you. One of the signatures of your past work are the character pieces you've created with films like "In The Company of Men" and "My Friends and Neighbors," which contain these terribly flawed and shockingly real characters. Now, certainly there will be character moments worth exploring in "The Wicker Man," but at first glance this type of film doesn't seem like the norm for you as you've never really played in the horror genre before. Why do "The Wicker Man?" Is this you moving in a new direction?

I guess the answer to the question is yes because it does fit within a kind of genre I've not done before. While some might say, "Oh, your first movie was a horror film," it really wasn't technically one.

Right. "In The Company of Men" is certainly a horrific story, but with "The Wicker Man" you're working more within the trappings of the horror genre.

Yes, exactly, even though I think this movie gets called a horror movie more often than it should. It doesn't have a lot of the conventions that a lot of horror films that I would think of as a perfect example of a horror movie has. Yet, that's what makes it interesting for me. That's what attracted me to trying this and saying not that I can make it better, but that I can make it different. I have a different take on it and coming from that theatrical world, I'm very used to seeing people doing different interpretations of projects.

You mentioned "Some Girls." Using that as an example, last year I saw David's interpretation of the play and this year I saw Eric MacCormack's interpretation. I wouldn't want to say which one was better because they're very different approaches to the same character. I see this all the time, so I'm not really taken aback when people talk about remaking something. I come to "The Wicker Man" as a fan, but I've never felt like I can't touch it because I want to go in a different direction. You'll still have the original and while we end up in the same place, it's a very different journey to get there. For me, I think it's just me always trying to push my self a bit and thus my move into a different genre. It's my take on it that made me comfortable - I'm not looking as much at the religious dynamics that were seen in the first film, but more about gender politics and the male/female relationship. I've written a lot about that. The play you mentioned is about that. That, to me, makes sense that I can try something new and still stay within a world that I'm interested in dealing with.

Let's talk about the original film a bit. It's considered to be many to be one of the greatest British films of all time, with "Total Film" magazine calling it the sixth greatest British film of all time in 2004. How do you think British audiences will react to what you do with one of their beloved films? Is this even a concern of yours?

It's not really a concern. The only concern is you'd like an audience to connect with a movie. If they won't give it the time of day, that's unfortunate. If their attitude is, "Good or bad, I don't want to know about it," you've lost the battle. You can't win under those circumstances. If people are fair they'll see how very different two films can be about the same material. People can be very protective of things they see as their own and I think people feel like this is one of those completely original things that came out of England and that's true. I've taken it and made it particularly American and quite different, yet there's still a nod to the original. I'm the first to say I really loved the original, but for me it's not hard to say I can change that. My only hope is that people give it a try and I think they'll be surprised by how much of the original spirit they feel while going on a completely journey.

Time's running short here, so one final question. What's more rewarding for you - making films or working on the stage?

Wow, they're both good. They both have similar artistic benefits and dividends, but the immediacy of theater is hard to beat. The fact you can be in there and any night or any moment can change with how the audience reacts to the actors and all that. It's hard to get that same sense in a movie theater, but it's an amazing medium to work in. I'm happy that I get to do both and I hope I don't have to stop. Maybe because I came from the theater I'm a pretty devout theater person.

Thanks, Neil. I'm looking forward to the film.

"The Wicker Man" opens in theaters this Friday, September 1st.

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