The two stars and director talk about adapting the Phillip K. Dick story to the big screen
It's been a while since we've seen Winona Ryder in a film - however, in her latest movie, A Scanner Darkly, we really never quite see her either. In the film adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's novel, she plays Donna Hawthorne, the on-again, off-again girlfriend to Keanu Reeves. Winona even had a very small relationship with Phillip K. Dick; her g-dfather was roommates with him in college.
The film takes place in a world set a few years after the present time, where the police have developed a 'scramble suit' that hides the identity of the person underneath. Bob Arcter (Keanu) is one of the people who wears the suit, even though he is heavily addicted to 'Substance D' drugs. A Scanner Darkly also stars Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr., and Rory Cochrane.
The entire film is shot in rotoscope animation, something director Richard Linklater is very familiar with. His other film, Waking Life, was filmed in the same technique.
We had the chance to sit down with Winona, Keanu, and Richard to talk about working on this film. We actually got very lucky with Winona because she had been shooting a new film called Sex and Death 101, re-teaming her with Heathers' director Daniel Waters; at the last minute, she was able to make it.
Here's what they had to say:
Knowing that this was going to be animated, did you use your hands or face more than you would normally for a live action picture?
Winona Ryder: I didn't even think of it because in Waking Life, which is one of my five top favorite movies of all time, I felt like the performances came through so much, the subtlety so I knew this was going to be that times a thousand. But if I thought about it, it would have probably been distracting.
Richard Linklater: Actually Woody, Downey and Rory - I think because of their characters, I think pushed them a little bit, but that didn't really have that much to do with animation, it had more to do with their characters who were a little more tweaked out.
This must have been a great reunion for you and Keanu?
Winona Ryder: Yes, very much so, and I had worked with Downey when I was about 15 and he played my brother on this movie a long time ago so it was really great to be around - I felt really safe. Keanu helped me especially with the material because it was very challenging.
Keanu Reeves: No way.
Winona Ryder: No, the material is still very challenging; I feel like if we were making this movie forever, I don't know if we'd ever be able to fully grasp it. It's endless; I was really scared and he was there.
Keanu Reeves: Well, you had things to figure out like who are you, conceptuals, and I had the benefit of being just 2 roles, with the material. I was like the greeter.
Winona Ryder: It was very hard to.
Keanu Reeves: You were trying to figure out why; there was more of the why.
Winona Ryder: But he makes me feel really safe and was there for me.
Keanu, what did you think of the script when you first read it?
Keanu Reeves: I was really attracted to the material; I think it's got a lot to offer to the viewer about cautionary commentary to the world that we live in and that was the grand inspiration. As a character, it's very interesting to play someone who wants to change their life and have him change it.
What is it about Phillip K. Dick you like and why do you think it's been so influential and continues to be?
Keanu Reeves: He tells great stories; I think I relate to the situations that I find his characters in, I love his writing. He's wickedly funny, he's got brutal irony, I like the context of his stories of not of the little guy but people in situations that all of a sudden are not what they seem. His stories tell about fights of the individual against forces beyond their control and then being manipulated by them. He tells really good romantic stories, he writes really cool woman; there's a kind of flesh and blood. People are angry, people are needy, people are greedy, people are scared and I find, I relate to the worlds that he writes.
Richard, what did Waking Life prepare you for shooting this film?
Richard Linklater: This one wouldn't have happened without that; I kind of saw where we could take the animation, what would be the next step with it. As a director, I think you have all these tools at your disposal, possibilities of how you can shoot your film. I'm lucky that I have this technique as one of the colors on my palette as a way to tell a story, so I thought A Scanner Darkly would be best told this way, having done it once before and seeing the possibilities of it. I saw how I could use it to tell this story and it's just different, it's a very consistent look. We had a very much a visual design for it unlike Waking Life, it looks the same throughout. It was very difficult to do, it was much harder to do than Waking Life, like 10 times harder it felt but that was the way the story could work. It was interesting to see that process evolve, but it was difficult. I don't have another animated film I want to do just yet.
What got you attracted to the rotoscoping technique?
Richard Linklater: I know the guy who wrote the software; he's a friend of mine in Austin, so he was sort of creating it. It's a computer variant of rotoscoping which is an old technique; I don't even know if that's the right way of calling it rotoscoping. It's just a computer variation, something you can do on your home computer via the software. It still takes over 500 hours to do one minute of this, it's very artist intensive; that's why we spent a year and a half doing it.
Would you guys have done the movie if it were straight live action?
Winona Ryder: Yeah.
Keanu Reeves: Absolutely.
Winona Ryder: I still think of it like we did it like that.
Richard Linklater: Yeah, I don't think we could've got the movie made probably, like this story probably wouldn't have warranted the $20 or $30 million budget that it probably would have been if it was live action - our original budget was $6 million.
Winona, what's it like working with Daniel Waters again?
Winona Ryder: It's amazing, it's a dream for me; I love him very much as a person and he is I think a phenomenal writer. We've been trying to do this sequel to Heathers as well, which hopefully will happen, and this is - it's impossible to describe this script, but it's so Dan, it's so twisted and great, and he's a great director, he's a great director, and it's wonderful, it's really a dream for me.
Is it true you have a small relationship with Phillip K. Dick?
Winona Ryder: My g-dfather (Timothy Leary) was actually roommates with him briefly,
Keanu Reeves: Wow!
Richard Linklater: I have that note still on my refrigerator -
Winona Ryder: That he left.
Richard Linklater: The note's very simple; it's 'Tim, I'm moving out. You won't see me for a long time. Phil.' That's still on my refrigerator.
Keanu Reeves: Wow!
Winona Ryder: I don't know - when I was really little apparently I met a lot of really interesting, great people. I wish I could remember because it would be great, but at the time they were grown ups to me. He was always sort of part of the circle of the crowd that my dad and mom are in, a large literary circle, but I think I read him really early on and I always hoped - I never thought there would be an adaptation of A Scanner Darkly, but I always hoped that there would be a - maybe I would get a chance to be in it.
You read him quite young?
Winona Ryder:A Scanner Darkly, no. That one I read, I don't know how old I was, but I don't know if I ever met him, but my g-dfather was good friends with him.
Keanu Reeves: Doesn't your dad have his jacket?
Winona Ryder: My dad actually has this jacket of his in his closet. I think my dad was pretty close to him; he gets very misty when he talks about him.
The police uniform has different pictures each second, how did you make the animation - did you audition many people?
Richard Linklater: The scramble suit - in the book it's described as a - he gives a lengthy description, also calling it kind of a vague blur, so he leaves it very much up to the imagination of what that looks like, but it's just a multi-personality. So we spent months on the actual design of it, but what we came up with was, every four frames different sections of the body changed to something else so no moment is it one person, different sections are changing. We needed illustrators who could really draw, there's thousands and thousands of people in those scramble suits, and if you look closely there's Phil K. Dick, there's everyone, they're looking through magazines and yearbooks, every ethnicity, it's all over the map, but it's all these people. That's kind of the metaphor for the movie, about identity, but it was tricky to come up with. You have to be able to watch it and be intrigued by it.
Was it green - what kind of suits?
Keanu Reeves: In real life they were these grey -
Winona Ryder: Jumpsuits, kind of sweat suits, but it wasn't cotton.
Richard Linklater: What was it, it was kind of slinky material.
Keanu Reeves: Unknown.
Richard Linklater: It was making it very uncomfortable, but that was good for their characters.
A Scanner Darkly is open in limited cities now; it expands nationwide in the coming weeks; it's rated R.