Director Joseph Ruben was one of the go-to filmmakers for thrillers in the 90s with such hits as Sleeping with the Enemy and The Good Son, but before that he took a look at family values. with a late 80s cult classic. Ruben directed the film The Stepfather, which is finally available on DVD for the first time on October 13, just in time for the theatrical remake The Stepfather, which hits theaters on October 16. I recently spoke with director Joseph Rubin on the phone about his 1987 film and here's what he had to say.
Can you talk about how you first heard of this story and when you decided this would be the next film for you?
Joseph Ruben: Yeah. Well in most cases it starts with the scripts. I read an early draft and what hit me most is whenever you're looking at a thriller, the first thing you look at is how good the bad guy is. What made him interesting was that fact that what he wanted is, in some sense, what we all want. The beautiful home, beautiful wife, the beautiful Norman Rockwell family. When reality didn't jibe with his fantasy, it would eventually drive him to kill his family. He hoped to start this family that would achieve this ideal, and of course, it never happened. So he was a really interesting serial killer and it all revolved around the family and the search for family. That's what attracted me, the bad guy was just so interesting.
So can you talk about the casting process and actually finding Terry O'Quinn to play Jerry Blake, and all the other fantastic actors you found for this?
Joseph Ruben: Well, nobody wanted to play this guy. Every name or semi-name actor we approached turned us down because, I guess, he was just too bad a guy and they didn't want to play him. So we eventually realized that we were going to have to find somebody. For me, Terry O'Quinn's talent just jumped out at me. He's just one of these actors who cannot give you a false look. It's just his talent, you can't explain it, but Terry has a ton of talent. He also has that magnetic smile, which I think every good salesman needs.
Can you talk about some of the names that you went after, that you said turned this down?
Joseph Ruben: I can't be that specific. It was a long time ago, but nobody wanted to do it. Terry, at the time, was basically an unknown. He was a respected actor, but he had never done a lead role.
So can you talk about the production and just directing an actor like Terry?
Joseph Ruben: It was a good shoot, I think. We all basically had a good time making it. It was the first movie I did with John Lindley on the camera, and he and I ended up doing five movies together. Michael Steele I met, the first A.D. and he and I ended up doing seven movies together. It was a very tight, cohesive production. The actors were great and had a real good spirit. I think there was the sense that we didn't know if we were making a good movie, but we had the sense that we were making an interesting movie, an interesting movie that was a little different for this kind of thriller, one with some fun, subversive ideas underneath it, the search for the perfect, all-American family. I think in the sense of achieving the Norman Rockwell, safe, nothing bad could ever happen in this kind of town, look, was interesting to all of us. We shot in Vancouver and it was a good shoot all around.
So when you were directing Terry, like you said he was a relative unknown at the time, but could you kind of tell that there were big things in the works for this actor, when you were directing him?
Joseph Ruben: I remember moments where he would have to shift personas instantly. There was one moment, down in the basement, and we shot it fairly early, where he's losing it. He thinks he's alone and he's raving and you see all the violence in him. Jill Schoelen, the stepdaughter, is watching the whole time and then he hears her and he snaps out of it. That moment, I think he goes, 'Oh, hi honey. I didn't see you there. I was just letting off steam.' I remember shooting it and watching him and going 'Holy sh*t. This is an amazing moment that I'm watching for this actor.' Just the way he could transform his personality in an instant, it was exciting. Terry has a lot of moments like that in the movie, where these multiple personalities bump right up against each other. Probably the climactic moment is where he gets lost in his different personalities and he said, 'Who am I here?' For an instant, the circuits don't fire quite right and that's just really good screen acting.
This is one of the few classics that people have been clamoring for that is finally going to be available on DVD. Do you have any idea why it's been such a long wait for this movie to come out on DVD after people have been asking for it for so long?
Joseph Ruben: My guess is there are legal issues, but I'm not sure. That's usually the case when a movie takes a long time, but I'm just guessing. I don't know for sure.
I was actually on the set of the remake, so I was curious if you've had a chance to watch that yet? I know they made a few slight changes from your original, so I was curious if you've seen that yet or if you've been contacted about that?
Joseph Ruben: Well, I never saw either of the two sequels, so my guess is I probably won't see the remake, just because... well it's hard to explain, actually. When you make a movie, it's a complete experience, so to see a variation or sequels or remakes, it's just sort of off point for me. I'm sure it will be interesting. I mean, I take it as a complement that they're remaking it and it's a major production. My guess is it will be successful and I think it's legitimate to remake movies.
Before this whole stream of remakes, it used to be that the best remakes were of these smaller, cult-classic movies like this and it seems that this is one of the first new ones to come in and follow that formula. It seems like a pretty good fit.
Joseph Ruben: Yeah. Look, I think it was a smart idea to do it. I think it was also smart, because I talked to the head of Screen Gems at one point and he told me the big change they made was to make the step-kid a son, so that will change so many dynamics, but I think it will give it a fresh feel. I think they've made some smart decisions, it sounds like.
So I read that you're going forward on a sequel to The Forgotten, so is there anything you can say about that? I believe you have another movie called Jack in development, so can you talk about that as well?
Joseph Ruben: Well, they're both thrillers. The Forgotten would be a continuation of Julianne Moore's character's struggle against the aliens. I'd sort of take it to the next step. Jack is a thriller about a serial killer who has a catastrophic car accident and wakes up in a hospital with no memory of who he is. It's a story of what happens as he slowly gets his identity and his memory back. But I'm working. You always have to have a bunch of stuff going on because you never know what movie will happen.
So is there anything else you're developing that might not be as well-known right now?
Joseph Ruben: I'm working on a movie that's actually a remake of an English series called The Politician's Wife. It was made in the early 90s and with this remake it will be called The Senator's Wife, where a prominent Senator, maybe a guy who might be President, is caught in a sex scandal and his wife stands by him and he survives to re-election. But then she starts to discover other things about him, that basically he's not just sexually corrupt, he's corrupt politically and just across the board and she slowly, systematically, without him knowing it, destroys him politically. It's an interesting political thriller.
So will that basically be just an Americanization of that original British TV series then?
Joseph Ruben: Yeah, exactly. Nick Meyer, who directed several of the Star Trek movies, wrote the new version.
So, with this new DVD, there were commentary tracks on here, so how involved were you with this new DVD release from Shout! Factory?
Joseph Ruben: Yeah, I did the commentary and did an interview for it. It's a movie that I have a lot of affection for. What I like in a thriller, it's really hard to find, is where there's some wit and humor. I don't necessarily mean broad humor, the kind of writing that is so smart that it's subversive and it keeps you off balance and I think the movie does that. I have a lot of affection for it so it was fun. I haven't seen it in so long, and it was fun to look at it and talk about it as a movie like it was an old dream that you haven't revisited in quite awhile.
So, finally, what would you like to say to the fans of this film about what they can expect from this new DVD release and finally getting to pick it up on DVD for the first time?
Joseph Ruben: I think they'll have a fun evening. I think it's a fun, subversive, exciting movie that created a really memorable lead character.
Excellent. Well that's about all I have for you, Joseph. Thanks so much for your time and the best of luck with your new films.
Joseph Ruben: No problem. Thanks, Brian. Take care.
You can watch Ruben's original 1987 thriller The Stepfather, which is available on DVD for the first time ever on October 13, and you can check out the new version of The Stepfather in theaters on October 16.