LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Interview With The Director Of The Resident Antti Jokinen
By James Whittington, Monday 27th June 2011
The Resident, a new chiller from Hammer FIlms has just been released into UK cinemas. It boasts a cast that includes Academy Award winner Hillary Swank and Hollywood legend Christopher Lee. Notable for Lee's return to Hammer for the first time in over 30 years, it has been directed by newcomer Antti Jokinen and we caught up him to discover how he came to direct one of Hammer's most famous actors.
HC: You hail from Finland, are Hammer films well known over there?
AJ: Well, I don’t think that Hammer Films are that well known in Finland, but I think that they are well known within the film industry and among film fans and horror film fans, and I think those are the people that will always know Hammer Films well. But obviously I don’t think that we [as a country] have such a big relationship with Hammer Films. A lot of my friends were aware of it and I was obviously more aware of it; it was great for me to be involved with them because as they are a European company they work so enormously well on a worldwide level.
HC: How did you start in the entertainment industry?
AJ: Well, you know, I stuck it out. I made my first movie when I was seven years old on an 8mm film, and I wanted to study film so I went to East Carolina University in North Carolina and studied Film and American literature. I always sought out the craftsmanship and learnt to write, learnt how to use a film camera; I shot a lot of my own commercials, music videos. I learnt different aspects on what film directors need, I did documentaries then I did commercials and music videos in Hollywood, which were for very different artists and that was my very own ‘film school’ into making feature films. I believe that there are around 2% of people who are naturally talented and are able to lean on a camera, put the film in and then something immaculate will happen. The rest of us need to work on it. I think it is a craftsmanship like any other you just think that you need to start at an early age that you need to take on these inspirations that will help you make films.
HC: How did the project for The Resident come together and where did you get the idea for the story?
AJ: Originally, when I wrote the story of the film, I wanted to make a film about claustrophobia and voyeurism and I was very strongly influenced in my teens by Polanski with The Tenant, and Hitchcock with Dial M For Murder and other European psychological thrillers. I started to write a film that I wanted to be able to liken to that, and I also wanted to write a film which I could then direct that was character driven and not just blood driven. Then after I wrote the first draft of the story I got Robert Orr involved in the written process and he brought in a lot of new things, a lot of cool ideas and we executed the script together like that. I wanted to have control over the project so we worked for free. We didn’t have a development budget and didn’t want to get a development team involved too early on so that is really how it came together. It was a film where I wanted to take an American psychological thriller film and hide a European film inside of it. That was my intention and I think it paid off.
HC: The Resident has a feel of 1960s Polanski to it, was this deliberate?
AJ: Without a question it was deliberate. I really love that era of films and I really like, really love Polanski. I love those claustrophobic films, those films that are left unknown, films that leave things open and are left to your imagination and I think there was a very strong influence for me. I really also wanted to be a writer and director that really celebrated that era; now, when films are becoming more and more normalised, we need to make films as artists, that are different to what we are accustomed to in Hollywood.
HC: The Resident is your first major picture, how nervous were you when you first sat in the director’s chair on set?
AJ: I wasn’t nervous; I think that I am grown up enough not to be nervous, but I was definitely feeling the pressure. I think the biggest pressure comes from the fact you know that you want to deliver something you have imagined yourself. It is such a collaborative and creative process, in Hollywood there are always companies involved, a lot of producers, but I think my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t get my point of view across. I wasn’t really nervous or frightened by the fact I was making my first film, but I was feeling the pressure of delivering what I promised to the cast and crew, and even what I promised to myself. That’s the biggest stress that I felt. There’s a lot of pressure when you start shooting and you have to complete the film in 30 days, but when you have such a great cast and such a great crew that all of those fears do go away. And the fear comes from the fear of not being able to make the film I wanted to make. Am I going to be able to make a film that translates what the script is about? Those were the pressures I was feeling. On the other hand you want to make films that people like. I don’t want to make films for myself; I think that is the ultimate sin of a filmmaker. You want to make films for other people.
HC: Was it a hard movie to cast?
AJ: The original draft script was written eight and a half years ago and was written with nobody in mind. With Robert, there was nobody in mind. I tried to make the film once already and the original script had a stronger sexual vibe and I couldn’t cast it in Hollywood; then I adjusted the script a little bit three years ago, and I guess it got better as well. I couldn’t even dream of getting Hilary Swank but luckily she was looking for a different role. She was looking for an independent film with a different idea on how a story should be told. Then when she got involved it was like a ray of light and it all came together and the film was immediately greenlit. She was a fantastic collaborator. With Jeffrey Dean Morgan, I wanted to have a male character that was not just one dimensional but that had good and bad things; a darker side that was also gentle. He got involved because of Hilary as they were looking to make a film together. And then with Hammer Films, there was a role in the script for an older grandpa character that had a very strong presence; the Christopher Lee role was not originally made for him, but Hammer were very keen on getting him involved... It is Christopher Lee! What the f**k? What was supposed to happen? How do I say no to that? He really responded to the script then we spoke over the phone. I was unbelievably grateful; his screen presence is just unbelievable. He has made more films than anybody on the earth so you know what is not to like?
HC: To say Christopher Lee is an icon of horror cinema, especially Hammer cinema is an understatement...
AJ: Yes, of course, it was great. Hammer Films, Christopher Lee – it’s kind of a cracked deal! It was a dream come true in that sense. Both of them are icons, alongside Hilary as well. But I will be the guy forever remembered for reuniting Christopher Lee and Hammer. I’m very happy.
HC: The film is set very much in the real world and very dialogue driven – were you at all tempted to over-do the special effects?
AJ: I don’t like films where there is over the top action and gore; I mean, it’s a central thing that happens in horror films these days. It is not something that I wanted to happen. Yes, there were times where there were conversations, not with Hammer specifically, and from the Hollywood companies there was some pressure to inject more gore into the film, but that was not the film we were making. Hilary was great help there as well. But, you know, I think the system in Hollywood works in the way that once there are a couple of films with gore in them, they look for further opportunities to put them in to make them a part of the flavour of the day. We played with the idea but the script didn’t really have a place for it – it would have felt out of place. The central thing was that I just wasn’t interested in making that sort of film and neither was Hilary. I think that to have things that are not seen and a person who is incapable of trusting anybody is interesting filmmaking.
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