The director gives us the scoop on this Hugh Jackman-Ewan McGregor sex thriller
It's been a long time since audiences were shocked and titillated by a good old fashion sex thriller, but director Marcel Langenegger has jumped back into the genre headfirst with this month's Deception.The first time director has teamed up with producer Hugh Jackman for a devious jaunt through the more seedy side of New York City. The story revolves around lonely Jonathan (Ewan McGregor), a tax auditor that has quietly slipped into a bleak existence. He gets more than he bargained for when Wyatt, a high-powered lawyer and seeming friend, invites him into an exclusive sex club known only as "The List". When one of the club's girls goes missing, it is Jonathan's life and well being that are put on the line.
We recently caught up with Mr. Langenegger to discuss the film first hand. Sitting on a back alley stoop, the excited director delved into his project with an excited glee that certainly had me sold on the premise. Are audiences ready for a return to the sex thrillers of the 90s? He certainly thinks so. Here is our conversation:
How accurately does the title Deception depict what is going on in this movie? Or does the title describe the film's relationship with the audience?
Marcel Langenegger: It is both. The whole thing is a con film, especially in the set up. So nothing is as it seems. It actually happens in both directions. As you know, Hugh Jackman plays the bad guy and Ewan McGregor plays the good guy. At one point the role switches. It is a very balanced back and forth.
And at the same time, you are deceiving the audience as well?
Marcel Langenegger: Yes. A little bit. There comes a point in the movie where things don't make any sense. You don't know who actually exists, or if this is a fantasy. There is always the possibility that the things you see happening on screen could be a dream. But they are probably real. You, as an audience member, may start asking yourself those questions. At one point, the logic is completely lost. But at the end, it all starts to make sense again. This is how it goes.
I haven't actually seen the film yet. I want to know what "The List" is, since it is so heavily referenced in the trailer.
Marcel Langenegger: "The List" is a Wall Street sex group. It does exist. It also exists in Los Angeles as well as New York. The writer had come across a New York Times article where they referred to this sex group. What it is, is a list of people that work and live within the same social class. They have a certain amount of income. But they have no time to date, because stockbrokers have to work 24 hours a day. Hong Kong markets open in the middle of the night, and the European markets open when the other majors close. Once you are on "The List", you have a set of numbers that you can call. You can hook up with someone to have dinner, or a date, or just sex. That is what "The List" refers to. It is this innate group of people that essentially work together. And they meet for sexual encounters. The way it works in New York is that someone has to sponsor you. You have to pay a certain amount of fees, and then you are in. That is the story on it. Interestingly enough, the writer came across the idea the same time the ENRON scandal happened. The audit man was on the front-page news. Ewan McGregor's character is an audit manager. It became news that the audit manager has access to all news, files, documents, and bank accounts to these huge companies. That would make him the perfect target for criminals. So this story was fabricated out of those two stories. The writer put the two stories together. He even did research. He had a friend that was an auditor. And he found out that they are very, very lonely. Because nobody likes them. If you are going to go and audit a company, no one wants to speak to you. Because you are looking for some sort of fraud or mistake. The auditor is very isolated from everybody. The loneliness was an aspect that intrigued the writer. Then he came across the sex list. And that story talked about how lonely and socially detached the Wall Street brokers are. He liked how a Wall Street broker lured this lonely audit man into a sex group. And then somehow managed to blackmail him to steal money from a company. That is how everything works.
This is also pretty topical, considering what happened with the Mayor of New York.
Marcel Langenegger: Absolutely. By the way, are you Danish?
Yeah, actually I am.
Marcel Langenegger: As you can tell from my accent, I am from Switzerland originally. My wife is Danish, and half of her friends have your same last name. It is just interesting to me.
My Dad is first generation American. Half of his family comes from Denmark.
Marcel Langenegger: Have you been there?
Yeah, a while ago. I haven't gotten back yet.
Marcel Langenegger: Excellent. It is really lovely. I really love it there. Anyway, the sex scandal in New York. This absolutely ties into that. I did a little bit of research on "The List" people here in Los Angels. They are young, they are professional, they are good looking. The guy that operates "The List" here in L.A. also operates "The List" out of New York, Miami, and San Francisco. His list has fifteen thousand people on it. It is huge.
That is crazy. Now, I am going to ask you a question, and maybe you don't want to answer it because it will ruin one of the twists in your film. But on IMDB, the key words Nun, Mother Superior, and Nun's habit are listed on your movie. Yet, in the trailer and clips I have seen, the film looks like it has nothing to do with Nuns at all.
Marcel Langenegger: That is a mistake. There is something wrong with that. Anybody can put anything onto IMDB. That is the problem with that website. There is no big twist dealing with Nuns. I don't know. The movie has to do with this lonely auditor who goes from company to company to check their bookkeeping. He is very isolated, and he has gotten stuck in this routine. He doesn't really have a life. He is basically dead. Then he meets this snake charmer played by Hugh Jackman. The guy is full of life. They join together, and the Hugh Jackman character gets Ewan's character involved in this sex list. There are no Nuns in the film at all. The plot revolves around a phone swap between these two characters. Because of this swap, Ewan meets someone he shouldn't be meeting. All of a sudden, he realizes that the Hugh Jackman character did this to lift his spirits a bit. Introduce him to some fun. The guy should be leading a more exciting life. During this time, two woman come into his life. And a love story starts. It is sort of a triangle. A murder happens, and Jonathan, Ewan's character, is framed for it. There is no way out for him, because it is framed so cleverly and so good. From that point, nothing makes sense in the story anymore.
Did you set the story in New York because you felt it played more to the loneliness of Ewan's character?
Marcel Langenegger: Absolutely. In Manhattan, people are really lonely. The writer is from there. And the actual list that this movie is based on came from the New York group. Audit mangers operate mostly out of New York. New York was a very logical choice. We were originally going to shoot it in Toronto, but we actually shot it in New York. This happened because Hugh Jackman's son needed to go to Kindergarten. And his school was in Manhattan. It is kind of funny. Shooting your film in Manhattan, the visuals are very lonely. It is also so difficult, because there are so many hurdles on a day-to-day basis. From the city, to the rules, to the unions. When shooting in the subway, you can't carry on a case because it might be a bomb. So you have to carry all of the cameras and equipment onto the subway without any cases. You can't park within two miles of the subway station either. Little things like that make shooting in New York difficult.
With Hugh Jackman on as a producer, how much input did he have in regards to the final cut of the film?
Marcel Langenegger: He had quite a bit of input. His main input was getting this movie off the ground and getting us financed. He was the one that got it made. It was his company that picked it up, so they had a heavy influence on it. He certainly had input. He approved the rough cut. He had comments about certain shots. Yeah, he was fairly involved with it. His main key role was getting the movie off the ground. We had a crazy schedule with only five weeks of prep time. It greatly helped that he was involved with that aspect of it. When something needed to be done, as soon as he picked up the phone, it was done that much faster. He was a great hope in that regard.
How hard do you think it is to stay ahead of the audience when you craft this sort of story?
Marcel Langenegger: It is very hard. Today's audience is very smart. They are much smarter than studios or producers give them credit for. They always have a sense of where the story is headed, or what may happen. It is difficult to keep them guessing. Especially with this type of Hitchcockian story. It has a classic love triangle, and a classic twist. A lot of it is, to some degree, predictable. That said, I feel there are still enough twists in the story that nobody is going to see what is coming. I hope that the audience is generally surprised by what happens. I want them to be puzzled by the story, and I want them to be interested in how it will continue to go on.
And the twist is, this is all a dream that is going on inside the mind of a mad nun.
Marcel Langenegger: Possibly, yes.
We don't see too many sex thrillers nowadays. Was that a hard genre to get back off the ground?
Marcel Langenegger: Yeah. People say, "This seems like an idea from the 90s." I thought the same thing when I came onto it. When I read the script, I thought about how everybody used to like these types of films. Now, no one is making them any more. I started questioning why that was. That aspect of the film also intrigued me. It is a genre that has been forgotten in time. But people like these types of films. People like to watch a clever thriller that is also sexy. They like the twists and turns. They also like the erotic undertones. People are very receptive to that in general. It is human nature. People are eager to know about this list, and how they can join. For real. So I think there is a need for this type of movie out there. People want to see it. The reaction has been very strong and positive.
Deception hits theaters across the country on April 25th, 2008.