We had the opportunity to talk with Stone before his film screens tomorrow night at International Village.
tV: What drew you to this story?
JS: It's obviously a well treaded genre: there are a lot of films in the world of serial killers. I thought this one had an interesting change and was a little different in the way that the characterizations around Simon (Heyerdahl) and Hazel (Sarandon) didn't feel like something I'd seen before, especially with Simon being a guy who is both menacing and sympathetic. I wouldn't call him an altruist, but he's somebody who is trying to give people an opportunity to end their suffering, rather than create suffering, which is often so common in these kinds of stories. It's more common that sadism is driving them, not mercy, and I thought that it was very interesting that Simon was driven more by mercy. Even though he's got his own selfish thing behind it all, there's a merciful aspect to him.
The character of Hazel, kind of on a collision course with him, gave an opportunity for us to find an amazing actress, Susan, to pull off that double-hander.
tV: She did a brilliant job.
JS: I thought so too.
tV: I loved the opening scene. I laughed only because I thought it was a brilliant way to start a film.
JS: You're talking about her getting up?
tV: Yes. Was that from the book itself or was that a directorial decision?
JS: I'll be honest, I never read the book. By the time I got to the project there was already a script in place that Scott (Abramovitch) had written. He developed that script for several years, but I made a concerted decision not to read the book so I could bring a more objective point of view to it and wouldn't be too precious about leaving stuff out or adding new ideas as they came about in development. Scott was so versed with this book that he could represent that side.
So I couldn't tell you exactly whether or not that scene was written out that way in the book, but I could tell you that in the script it was written that she wakes up and reaches for her pills.
I always envisioned it as slowly revealing parts of her in isolated close-ups so that you get pieces of her before you get the full picture, and with an actress like Susan, who is so expressive and good with movement, it obviously lent itself to that. It was nice to be able to withhold that a little bit in getting the details of what her character is all about. In these two or three shots I thought that was an elegant way to establish the character in the world at the same time.
tV: There is a fair amount of humour within this very dark story, even in some of the most tense moments. It was most evident in Topher Grace's lines, which he was so adept at delivering, but where it stood out the most was in the critical scene where Hazel faces off with Simon.
JS: It's nice to diffuse that kind of tension. You build the tension and then you release the tension. I don't think it's the kind of film, say like a horror film, with a continuous ratcheting up in every scene. I think that especially in the way that Susan's character Hazel is written, she uses humour to reduce her own tension and also to cope with some of the hardships that she feels on a day to day basis. That's what we all do. It's the only way we can pull through the tougher days.
I think that in the case of the film I wanted to use that as well so that it didn't feel like it was stuck in itself and mired in self pity. I don't think that's something that Hazel does and I don't think that's something that I really relate to. I tried to bring as much levity at the right time, as I could.
tV: The Guy Lafleur line also made me laugh. How did that line come about?
JS: It's funny you picked out that scene. We were re-writing that scene (on location) and had so little time at the end of the day to get a really big scene. Gil was standing over me and Scott when we were going through the scene and we were convinced that a guy like detective Ray Green would be a real spiritual guy, but who would this guy worship? Immediately Gil jumps in and says, “Guy Lafleur” and we're like, “that's terrific” (laughs). I think it was Gil's line.
tV: It was such a Canadian line. I laughed out loud when he said that.
JS: I'm glad, I'm glad.
tV: What was the most challenging scene for you to shoot.
JS: Definitely the climax: the scene with Susan and Chris in the cabin at the end. Going into that scene we had obviously had it written, but it had taken various forms and we had been re-writing it up until the day we shot it and didn't have a lot of time to rehearse. We did get Chris and Susan in the weekend before to run through the idea but we just didn't have a lot of time and I felt like I wanted to go a lot further with how that scene played out. Hopefully it delivered some of the arcs of the characters and closes Hazel's journey up in a way that feels satisfying and in a way that is true to who she is.
tV: The film has a very Canadian tone to it. I love it when directors choose to go that route when opportunity presents itself.
JS: As opposed to running away from it and hiding behind American money.
tV: Yes, and opposed to Americanizing the beautiful Canadian landscapes and trying to make it feel like somewhere else. I thought that was very brave, because some filmmakers feel that films aren't as well received if they are Canadian. I would personally like to see more of them. Was that a very conscious decision of yours?
JS: It was. It was considered early on. In the way you design a film it's going to make a difference whether or not you set it in the US or Canada, just in some of the details. Especially in a movie like this where there is a lot of play on the infrastructure like mailboxes and police departments. I considered making it more generic and less specific, but I thought that that was a cop out and I felt that the story was stronger and required a Canadian setting in a lot of ways. It would have worked in a US setting but I thought it was benefitting from the Canadian setting so I decided to embrace it.
I think Canada has changed in the eyes of movie-goers. In the past it was considered very quaint and boring, and I think that has changed a lot as we've become more of a bustling country and a vivid, exciting place. People can envision exciting things happening even now.
The story lends itself to being quaint and getting disrupted. I wanted to embrace the idea that there's a universality to Canadian stories as much as anywhere.
tV: Well I appreciate that personally.
JS: I'm glad. I feel like I used to be one of those people when I was younger but later when it came to making the decision myself, it was easy to just go all in with Canada.
tV: We have such amazing landscapes and backdrops it's a shame to represent it as something other than Canada.
The Calling opens tomorrow night (Friday Aug 29) at Vancouver's International Village. Click HERE for a number to call for the exclusive screenings.
Click HERE for trailer.