Knives Out is the fifth feature film written and directed by Rian Johnson, and after veering into original science fiction with Looper (2012) and franchise expansion with The Last Jedi (2017), Johnson has come back to the murder mystery genre, which he first explored –in his own distinct way — in his debut film Brick (2005).
This time Johnson has gone back to the classic whodunit format, with a famous novelist (Christopher Plummer) seemingly dead of a suicide — until a “gentleman detective” named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) begins poking around and finding out that the author’s death isn’t what it appears to be. Along the way he grapples with the deceased’s large and dysfunctional family, including his strong-willed and no-nonsense daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis).
“It was the script,” says Craig in our interview below when asked if a murder mystery was something he was looking to do. “It turned up, it was Rian’s script, so I was going to read it because I’m a big fan of his and I want to know what he’s up to. And I was just blown away. It didn’t matter if it was a murder mystery, it was just funny, it was intelligent, it was smart. It is all of those things. I just saw something very special on the page and I just was terribly excited about it.”
Craig adds that he “is a fan of murder mysteries” — “I’m a fan of Agatha Christie, and I grew up watching Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney and all of those people do those kind of crazy, but amazing movies. So I kind of keyed in instantly.”
Curtis, on the other hand, was not as “keyed in” as her co-star. “I knew nothing,” she says cheerfully. “I didn’t know who Rian was. I am not a cinephile. So I read this sort of document with no understanding of anything, except that I knew that Daniel was going to play this character. So that was my only frame of reference. I laughed, and couldn’t figure out what happened. I went to the end of it and figured it out, and then I went back and read the whole thing. It was just on the page, and it’s just not often that that happens, so it was a real pleasure.”
With Craig (James Bond) and Curtis (Halloween) best known for high-profile and long-running franchises, both actors agree — to some extent — that it’s important for them to do and support original work like Knives Out. “Absolutely,” says Curtis. “But again, my connection to the franchise has had 20 years in between, so I’ve had the great opportunity of doing a bunch of different things. I’m an actress for hire, so basically, you send a document and we read it.”
“I don’t plan my career,” adds Craig. “I genuinely don’t. I don’t think it’s possible really to do that. I don’t think you can map things out. So, if you do something and then react to it by doing something else, I think you’re onto a loser. You’re trying to sort of catch up with yourself, saying, ‘No, I can do this. I can do this.’ It doesn’t work really like that. You’ve got to do what’s in front of you. And things like this don’t come along very often. So I didn’t do this because it’s different from James Bond. I did it because it’s fucking good script. It’s as simple as that.”
Both actors do agree that working as part of an ensemble with actors like Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Don Johnson and Chris Evans, mostly all in one location (the house in the film is real), was also a joy. “It was,” confirms Craig, with Curtis chiming in, “And by the way, that can go both ways. You know, you can be with a group of people that you like — I mean, 99% of the time, you enjoy the people you work with. It’s very rare that there’s just an asshole that you just can’t stand, and the idea of being on set with them makes you crazy. For the most part, people are kind and for the most part people are grateful to have jobs.”
It sounds as if everyone involved was grateful to be involved with Knives Out, and we can assure you that you’ll be grateful when you see it.
Knives Out is in theaters this Wednesday (November 27).
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye