Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment
August 6, 2005
In the suspense-filled thriller Red-Eye, a seemingly random encounter on a plane sets the stage for a test of wills between two resourceful individuals. When the level-headed but haunted Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) meets the charismatic Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) on a red-eye flight, she doesn't suspect anything out of the ordinary. But soon after takeoff, Rippner reveals his insidious agenda: he wants Lisa to use her position as manager at an upscale hotel to change the room assignment of a political figure, thereby facilitating an assassination attempt that is scheduled to take place. If she does not cooperate, Rippner will have her father murdered. Armed with her wits, Lisa becomes a reluctant hero who must find a way to stop Rippner, and a tense game of cat and mouse ensues 30,000 feet in the sky.
Directed by veteran horror auteur Wes Craven, Red-Eye is a smart, tightly-cut thriller fueled by two amazing lead performances--a critical element for a film in which much of the story unfolds through the simple set-up of two people sitting next to each other, talking. Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls, The Notebook) delivers a wholly believable and embraceable character that is distinct from her previous roles, while Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, 28 Days Later) conveys a perfect mix of intrigue and danger as one of this year's most notable villains.
In this interview, Wes Craven talks about the making of the movie.
MEDIA: What were some of the objectives you were aiming for when you took on this project?
WES: I [wanted] to do something that acknowledges 9/11 and the way our lives have changed since then, and the fact that we're fighting an enemy, whatever your political or religious beliefs are, that is causing us to get into a fight where it's impossible not to hurt innocents, and it's impossible not to lose your innocence. That was one segment, and the other was, I wanted the third act to hinge on the fact that by [Rippner] being unprofessional and having his masculinity threatened, he makes a big blunder by following [Lisa] to her house rather than disappearing in the crowd as he should have as a professional.
How did you decide on Rachel for the role of Lisa?
I knew from the get-go that the whole second act is going to be these people basically sitting next to each other. There's very few films that put a director into that fix. So I knew it would live or die on acting and on faces. And the first time I had met her, I said, "Oh my God." [She's] beautiful and she has these eyes...So that told me that she certainly had the ability to be just galvanizing on the screen. And then talking to her and finding out that she had been a very highly advanced ice skater, I knew that she had physicality and had physical courage and had coordination and probably an immense amount of discipline. And then looking at the films she had done...Notebook, which is a beautiful, soft romantic thing, and then [Mean Girls], where she plays a hardass, looking totally different...I bumped into her today and I didn't recognize her. Every time I see her, she looks totally different! So I knew she was a chameleon. She talked about spending a lot of time on a farm. Her grandparents had a farm. So I knew she had been kind of down-to-earth and probably ridden bareback...And all this stuff, it just told me that this is a person that, if she has to, can get down and scrape and scrap with anybody and run and jump, and at the same time, have great acting chops.
And how did you decide on Cillian for the role of Rippner?
Cillian I had seen in 28 Days Later. But my big concern with him was that he seemed kind of thin. You know, in 28 Days, there's not an ounce of fat on the guy. And he's got this huge Irish accent. And they kept saying, "This guy Cillian really wants to do the film, he really wants to work with you." And I said, "Yeah, but he sounds like he's an Irishman calling from the pub!" And so then he jumped on a plane and we went out to LAX. He has these brilliant blue eyes, and when he was talking, he'd smile and laugh, and you could see he could be very charming. But also, if he was thinking, suddenly his face would get a look...And he doesn't have the normal kind of American leading man pretty face. It's a little knobby, a little angular, a little bit like he has taken a few punches and given a few. So I felt like there's something there. And I checked his resume before the meeting. He had done Shakespeare, and Danny Boyle had selected him and hinged a whole movie on him. And I thought, "You know what? This is worth the gamble." We had to go very fast. Those were the only two people we saw for those roles.
While tackling the logistical challenges of shooting in a very confined space on the plane, what filmmaking aspects did you have to pay particular attention to?
In filming, never having the camera distract, and never having the camera in a place that would be physically impossible if the plane were intact. So I never put the lens the other side of the fuselage, so to speak. And sometimes you had to be very careful about that. We set up a two-shot of them straight on, which involved removing the seat in front of them. And I came in and looked at the shot. I said, "No, you have to put the seat back. I can tell there's no seat there." So all that stuff had to be observed. These are the rules. We can't have more space than there is.
So the bathroom scene must have been interesting...
We cheated a little bit, but not much. But yeah, it was interesting. It was just three shots.
Were the scenes in the airport terminal shot in the same location where The Terminal was filmed?
No. I wish! It would have saved us a lot of money. The Terminal was shot, as I understand...it was entirely built. Or else it was in an unused portion of an airport that was being built. It was something like that. And they tore it all down. So we shot in three airports. We shot at LAX for the big lobby scene, where you see the cops running. And also, I think at LAX we shot the Tex-Mex restaurant. And then we went down to Ontario Airport and shot a lot of stuff there. The ticket counter, specifically. And then for a few of the distinctive things like the moving sidewalk and [Lisa] stealing the car, we went to Miami and actually shot there.
A pen with a cartoon character on the end of it plays a notable part in the movie. Did a lot of work go into the designing of that pen?
For a long time, we had this Bart Simpson pen that was just perfect. And then legal called us up and said they won't give us clearance. And that happened like a day or two before we shot. There's always a lot of problems with doing a film with violence. People don't want to have their products in it, so we literally had an artist design this character. I wanted an instantly recognized pen. The original script didn't have it defined in a way that I knew would be visually necessary, so I wanted something you could spot.
Was the process of creating fear and tension with a character like Rippner different than with villains from some of your previous films?
Well, in a film like Scream, a lot of it is mime. It's obviously broad in the sense that you have a mask and it's rigid and it's not going to have nuances of expression. But we worked a lot on those films with body language, and then making that character intelligent so it makes smart choices. With Cillian, you have no restrictions about that, so you can put all of these nuances of "I want this guy to actually be in love with this woman in a way, even if he doesn't realize it." One moment, he's totally threatened by her and just wants her to do what he tells her to do, and the next minute, he's trying to convince her that he's the most honest person she'll ever meet, and the next minute, he's so furious, he's going to kill her. And it was these wonderful complexities that you put into this kind of a drama that were part of the meat of it for me, and a welcome change. You know, something like Scream, third act...Skeet Ulrich's performance was great, and there was a lot of that sort of nuance to it. But it's not the whole film like this was.
Is having a strong, complex lead character important to you?
Yeah, because I think I'm a "closet regular director." [laughs] So I always want to be doing something that would interest me as an adult, no matter what kind of a film we were doing. So yeah, that's very important.
Any plans to direct a movie of a completely different genre, like a romantic comedy?
If I can, yeah. I would love to.
Are there obstacles?
The Wes Craven name is an obstacle, to a lot of people. I was in the New York Times crossword puzzle five times last year, and they would just say, "Horror film director _____."
Is there the possibility of a Red-Eye franchise?
You know, normally I would say no. But I would love to see these two characters thrown together. Like I could see...the CIA has him now by the shorthairs, so to speak, and they need him to go in to some cell or something, and she has to go with him because she knows something. I think that would be fascinating.