Saturday, September 7, 2013

Interview: Alexandre Aja, Director of HORNS

Last night in Toronto, Harry Potter himself walked the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival. Daniel Radcliffe, who is also at TIFF for The F Word and Kill Your Darlings, and his co-star Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises, Killer Joe) were in town to promote Horns, an adaptation of the critically-acclaimed novel of the same name by Joe Hill. The director of the film, the infamous French horror director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension), took a break before the Horns premiere on Friday to chat with us about Daniel, devils and David Lynch films.
Sasha James: What led you to cast Daniel Radcliffe, who is known for much lighter fare, in the role of Ig? 
Alexandre Aja: When we began casting, I wanted to find an actor who could portray the dark and romantic side of the fallen angel -- in other words, he had to be natural and charming with a pair of horns growing out of his head. The design of the horns almost preceded the casting in a way, I knew I wanted them to be organic. Ig had to appeal to both genders in order to elicit compassion from them, and so we needed to find an actor who could assume this look. Someone who could bring credibility to an otherwise supernatural world. As a result, Daniel Radcliffe became an obvious choice and he happened to be a huge fan of the book as well. 
Ig’s character was an iconic role to play with an extreme emotional arc and it gave Daniel the opportunity to spotlight a side few had seen from him. He begins as a sensitive and unlikely hero, tarnished and defamed by society. The role of Ig morphs into a dark and refreshing take on the devil myth as he becomes both manipulative and charming in an unnerving way. This was a perfect moment for Daniel to explore an offbeat, darker role and display his incredible range as an actor. To shift from sorrow, nostalgia, despair and pain to passion to humour in a beat is a challenging task, and I could not imagine a greater talent to have achieved this. When I watch the film now, it feels like the role of Ig was written just for Daniel. 
SJ: How did you come across Ig's story? Did you read Joe Hill's novel "Horns" or the screenplay by Keith Bunin first? What was the adaptation process like? 
AA: I read the book when it first came out and I thought the premise was original and the mixture of genres and tones fresh. After working in horror for more than ten years, I felt that I became too familiar with the genre’s tricks and wanted to reinvent myself, and Joe Hill's novel was the best thing I had read in years. The book tapped into a universal mythology with a rock 'n' roll pop culture edge. It was not just a parable about good versus evil, but a supernatural thriller with a romantic quest at its heart. 
Once our producer, Cathy Schulman, brought me on board to direct, we spent months pouring over the book with our screenwriter Keith Bunin, and worked in developing the screenplay in order to make it as true to the novel as we could. There were so many layers, motifs and symbols that we brought back into the script in order to make the film as rich as possible. I wanted to bring the biblical subtext in, but also stay true to the mixtures of tones. And keep the dark humour and the romance intact. But the most important element in the book for me was the story of the devil as the fallen angel. Metaphorically, Ig’s character was living in an idyllic Garden of Eden with Merrin until her murder. But then he fell from grace and grew horns in order to avenge her death and clear his name. Ig's character transforms throughout the book in a self-destructive way, and we expanded on the fallen angel metaphor to emphasize that his self-sacrifice and love were the motivation for redemption. 
The story also spanned more than a decade in scope as it moved between Ig’s childhood memories and the present day. It was important to me to keep the adolescent grunge years which spoke to the Stand By Me generation, and payed homage to one of my biggest inspirations -- Stephen King. As Joe Hill's novel garnered a cult following and became a phenomena around the world, I wanted to respect its most original elements and to stay true to the fan base. Horns is not a horror movie, and I don't want genre audiences to have the wrong expectations or be disappointed. It's something entirely different and unique in its own right. 
SJ: Where were you first introduced to Juno Temple? She's a particular favourite of mine. 
AA: I first saw Juno in Gregg Araki's Kaboom and although she played in a number of other films -- and had a huge independent following for her offbeat and quirky roles -- it wasn't until I saw Killer Joe that I saw her dramatic range and talent, and wanted to immediately work with her. 
In casting Merrin’s character, we wanted an actress who would be able to embody the archetype of Eve. Merrin represents the first mythological woman in all her innate goodness, purity and light in an otherwise dark and macabre world. But while she appears delicate, we discover a haunting altruism and armour hidden underneath. Juno Temple had this dualism of beauty and strength. Playing the role of Merrin gave her not only an opportunity to play a sensual lead as an ingenue – but to contradict that with a modern realism. She anchors the film as Ig’s muse, and pushes Ig forward to fight for his first love. 
SJ: Were there any films that influenced you while directing Horns
AA: I found Horns to be a kind of reversal of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life, with an ode to David Lynch's Twin Peaks, and a hint of the humour and tone of Fight Club. They inspired me during the development process, and on set in a visual and tonal sense -- along with Lynch's Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart.  
SJ: How did you react to your inclusion in the infamous "Splat Pack", the group of filmmakers credited with bringing back ultra-violent films in popular culture? 
AA: It's great to be back at TIFF exactly 10 years after High Tension first screened at the festival. Along with Cabin Fever and Hostel, these films emerged from a generation of fanboys who weren't scared in movie theatres and wanted to bring fear back to the screen. The "Splat Pack" relaunched a genre that had stagnated and so we injected more blood into it. But at the end of the day, I don't believe in gore for gore's sake and dislike gratuitous violence. Story-telling and character development always comes first. And while Piranha was probably one of the bloodiest films every made, it was essentially a comedy and poked fun at its inherent artificiality. High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, and Mirrors were more dramatic, but above all placed characters in extreme situations of survival. 
SJ: What films are you looking forward to watching at the Festival this year? 
AA: I'm excited to see Eli Roth's The Green Inferno, and Daniel's other two films, Kill Your Darlings and The F Word.

Alexandre Aja's Horns stars Daniel Radcliffe and Juno Temple, and premieres at this year's Toronto International Film Festival within the Vanguard programme. Further information about the film can be found on the Festival website, as well as on the Horns IMDB page.

Remaining HORNS screening times:
  • Sun., Sept. 8 Scotiabank 4 1:00 PM

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