Let Me In director Matt Reeves discusses taking on this classic story, shooting in New Mexico, finding the right actors, Cloverfield 2 and much more.
When Let the Right One in took critics and audiences by storm in 2008, little did most know that Cloverfield director Matt Reeves had already signed on to write and direct an American remake. Despite the initial backlash, critics warmed to the project, which was renamed Let Me In, and was one of the best-reviewed movies of 2010. Let Me In will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 1 and I recently had the chance to speak with writer-director Matt Reeves over the phone about this remake. Here's what he had to say below:
I believe you came onto this project before Let the Right One in premiered.
Matt Reeves: It was way before, yeah. I had seen it in January, right after Cloverfield had come out, so January 2008. I was taking around a project of mine, that was a personal project I was trying to get made, and one of the places I took it was Overture. They felt it was too dark and challenging at that moment, because a lot of independent film companies were going out of business at that point. They said they would love to do something with me and they love the writing but this project is not for us. I was disappointed but then they said they wanted to do something with me, because they loved Cloverfield and they thought the script was really beautifully written. They asked if I would consider doing a remake. I actually told them I wasn't and they said, 'Well, just watch the movie.' So I watched the movie and I was blown away. I called them back and said I still wasn't interested because I thought the movie is great, so, why remake it? They didn't have the rights at that point, Overture, and Hammer Films ended up getting the rights. Overture went to them and said, 'Listen, we love this movie so much can we partner on this with you and release it in the United States?' They did that and, during that time, while they were pursuing the rights, it kind of stayed in my imagination. I related to the coming-of-age story in the movie and decided I would read the novel and I was blown away. I kind of saw this opportunity. The story is so much about growing up in Sweden in the 80s, at the time I was growing up in the United States in the 80s. I thought, (author) John Ajvide Lindqvist and I are about the same age, maybe there is some way I can find to take his story, be very faithful to the myths he has created, but try to recontextualize it and personalize it, in terms of the context. I ended up writing to him and he, to my surprise, was incredibly encouraging and generous. He told me how much he loved Cloverfield and he was really pleased that I had wrote to him and that I was so affected by the coming-of-age part of the story. He said that is, frankly, aside from the vampires, the story of him growing up. So it felt, at that point, I could see a way. It was strange that, the fact that it was a remake, it felt like a way to do something that felt personal. I decided to do it and when the movie was released later in the year, and I was deep into the screenplay, there was all kinds of acclaim. On one hand, I expected the acclaim, because I thought the movie was terrific. It broke through with such universal acclaim and you never know what kind of exposure a film is going to get. It broke through in such a major way, I thought, 'Are we dead? Are people ever going to give us a chance to see what we're doing?' I tried to put that out of my mind, but that was somewhere hanging in the back of my mind throughout this experience.
Did that kind of trepidation about the remake motivate you even further though?
Matt Reeves: Yeah. I had written a draft and I was writing another draft when it came out. It made me re-focus, again, on why I was doing the movie. I knew why everyone was cynical that it could be any good, because most remakes are horrible. Most of them are soulless retreads and they're done for reasons that don't have anything to do with what makes a good movie, which is somebody's personal connection to the material and their passion for it. I knew that I was very passionately connected to the story, it resonated with me personally. At that point, I was so far down the path and very connected to it that I decided what I needed to do was focus as much as possible on what was driving me and make the movie, as much as I possibly could, as a labor of love. That's what we did. I didn't watch the movie again, after I saw it initially. When I read the book, and thought that I might do it, I thought, 'Wait a minute. I need to jettison that and think about how I could find a way to do this story, but still find a way to make it my own.' My director of photography had never seen the movie. The actors hadn't seen the movie and all of them had just fallen in love with the story the way that I had when I first saw the Swedish film and then read the novel. Everyone was making it for the same reason, that they loved the story. I knew that was the best chance that we had, at making anything worthwhile.
I haven't actually read the book, but from what I understand, it delves into a lot more of the darker aspects, particularly with the father character.
Matt Reeves: His story extends so far beyond where it does in either film. He doesn't die when he goes out that window. He becomes this zombie, with lumps of burned flesh. It's truly horrific and amazing. In focusing the story, I thought Lindqvist's own adaptation focused on the heart of the story and clearly what was the most personal for him, the coming-of-age story, was the right thing to do. I have always thought that story is so good, that maybe some day somebody will return to it and say, 'We need to do the 10-hour mini-series version of this movie, this book.' There are so many facets to the book. There are sub-plots in the book that I filtered way, way down and tried to put them through the point-of-view of the main character, of Owen, because I wanted to use them to comment on his coming of age. The neighbors represent the world of adults and his first glimpse of sexuality. In the book, you really break point-of-view and you follow them and there's a very tragic, heartbreaking story about those characters. I think if you really had the time to spend with them, you would connect with them. I think the way to do that would be a 10-hour mini-series. You could do that, get some really scary stuff with Hakan, at the end, and you can do Eli's back story, which is very, very disturbing.
What I think is so cool about setting it in the 80s, is if you set it in present day, in this Information Age, you'd think they'd be caught or exposed almost instantly.
Matt Reeves: Yeah, actually, that's true. It's funny. The reason I kept it in the 80s, was because that was the thing I connected to. I knew that he was talking about his adolescence and he was bullied and I was bullied and I connected to that story. It felt personal to me, even thought it was Lindqvist. I wanted to, in a way, look at it through that lens of remembering what that period was like and setting it there. But there also is that other part of it where, if you set this story in the present day, in the Information Age, you're right, it would change many, many things. What I liked about it was that it sort of implied a once-upon-a-time real place, in a real time. That's what I liked about reading the novel and seeing the first film and I really wanted to do that in an American context with this movie. If I had decided that I wanted to do it in present day, I think that would have necessitated a lot of changes. I'm not sure how it would affect the story. I think you're right, it would be easier to catch them. You're not even as alone, in a way. You can be isolated, but there's somebody you can text (Laughs). It's funny. I remember talking to Drew Goddard and he and Joss Whedon were talking about, I think, Buffy. They were saying how a huge enemy of suspense is the cell phone and texting. Obviously these things are all adapting and there are new ways to create suspense.
I read that the studio wanted to change the ages of the main character, which you were against. I think it definitely worked out, in getting actors like Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Can you talk about those early discussions and how you ended up deciding on the age, and on Chloe and Kodi?
Matt Reeves: Sure. It wasn't everybody. The truth is the people at Hammer had followed the book for a long time and loved the story. There were some people at the studio, but not everybody, that suggested, 'Hey, are you sure we shouldn't make them older?' I said, 'I sure am sure, because that's what the story is about. It's about being that age. If you take that aspect out, you destroy what the story is about.' Something very interesting happened then, which is Twilight came out. Some people said to me, 'Was there some pressure to try and copy Twilight?' Actually, the people who were sure the characters should be older, when Twilight came out, they got quiet real quick. They didn't want it to look like they were copying Twilight. I actually was very grateful Twilight came out and was a smash hit because it made it very easy for me to win that battle. When we were looking for the kids, though, we just did a big search. The casting director and I got tapes in from all over the world, New Zealand, Canada, just all over. I wanted to find Owen first, because I wanted to tell the story from his point-of-view and, in many ways, the story rested on his shoulders as the lens to the whole movie. I had heard he was really good in this movie called The Road, but nobody could show me anything. The one thing I was skeptical about, was I knew he was Australian. I did watch an earlier film he did called Romulus, My Father, which I thought he was tremendous in, but I didn't know if that was going to be right for the American version of this story. He came in and he read in a flawless American accent, and he was brilliant. I, literally, at that moment, I sighed relief and I finally felt, for the first time, that we could make the movie. Then we needed to go find her, and we had the same thing. People kept saying she was great in Kick-Ass, but Matthew Vaughn couldn't show me anything. They didn't even have a distributor at that point. She was just so good and I could imagine the two of them together. I actually read Kodi with a few other people and I just had this instinct because, by the time I saw Chloe, he was already back making another movie in Australia. I couldn't have them read together, but I thought there might be some kind of chemistry because she is quite a force of nature and we thought he might be bowled over by that, and he was, we all were, which was great.
Can you talk about the decision to shoot in New Mexico? Aside from the tax credits, the state really does have a unique look to it. Can you talk about the kinds of things filming in New Mexico brought to the production?
Matt Reeves: Of course, the truth is, it started solely as a tax incentive idea, and I didn't know if it was the right idea or not. I had set the first draft of the screenplay in Colorado, because I wanted it to be in a kind of isolated place and I wanted it to be an American locale that still preserved that aspect of Lindqvist's story, the virgin snow and blood, that sort of innocence and the primal aspect. I really wanted that snowy locale. The story reminded me a lot of, I guess in a way, I thought of Elephant, the way that a school could be filled with such dread. That made me think of Columbine and I thought maybe there was a way that it could work in this isolated, what-should-be-idyllic town, and you know there's this festering alienation and malaise there. Somebody had said to me, 'You know, we can't afford to shoot in Colorado, but you could shoot New Mexico for Colorado.' I had never shot in New Mexico and I had always thought of it as John Ford country. I loved that aspect of it, because I thought it was very American, but I thought, 'Gosh, does it snow there?' They said it does in the high desert so we went and looked and, when we went, I fell in love with it. Somebody suggested that we take a look at Los Alamos because we were trying to come up with the right suburb. In the novel, it's all about how this suburb sort of sprang up all at once and they weren't prepared for the evil that was to visit them. Of course, I wanted to set it in an American suburb and the idea of an American suburb that had sprouted up around the Manhattan Project, I thought was incredibly unique. We drove up there and I thought we had to shoot there. It was a great place to shoot and it was the best crew I have ever worked with. They were just fantastic.
I have to ask, is there any traction on Cloverfield 2 yet? Do you know what your next project will be?
Matt Reeves: I haven't decided what I'm doing next. One of the exciting things for me was that the movie (Let Me In) was well-received, even though it didn't do well at the box office. The people who have seen it really enjoyed it, which is exciting for me because I really care a lot about the movie and it's bringing in a lot of interesting opportunities. I'm reading a lot of scripts and novels and going to a lot of meetings to discuss projects, but I haven't decided on anything yet, so I don't know what's next. Cloverfield 2 will most likely not be the next movie because that's still in the really nascent stages. We haven't really had time to get together and talk about what that would be. That journey will probably be a bit longer, when we find that idea that we really get excited about. We're still hatching the story. It has yet to be hatched. It was funny. Someone said to me the other day, 'Yeah, we hear you're going to get the band back together.' I said, 'Yeah, but at this stage, we're just talking about getting the band back together. We actually haven't gotten the band back together.' I'm reading a lot and hopefully we'll be able to say what I'm doing within the next month or two. I really want to continue to press and try to make this smaller project that I've been trying to make since before Cloverfield. It's a project called The Invisible Woman. It's sort of a character thriller. It's the anatomy of this woman's desperation. It's the same sort of storytelling that is similar to what I did in Let Me In. It's an intimate character story, so I'm excited to do that too. Probably what I would do is find the next project and find a way to marry that schedule to the bigger project. So, hopefully, we could do two in a row and then maybe Cloverfield 2.
Finally, you mentioned that Let Me In didn't do so good at the box office. What would you like to say to those who didn't see Let Me In at the theaters to get them to pick up the Blu-ray and DVD on February 1?
Matt Reeves: Well, I really do think that Lindqvist's story is an amazing and powerful story. I hope the people will get a chance to check it out because so many people missed it. I mean, one of the things that's exciting for me about Blu-ray and DVD is that a lot of movies that I heard were interesting and were really worth checking out, I'm busy a lot of the time and I miss so many of them. I can't tell you the number of movies I've ended up checking out on DVD and Blu-ray and ended up falling in love with. I hope there's a chance for the audience of the movie to expand.
Well, that's about all I have for you, Matt. Thank you so much for your time and best of luck with any of your new projects.
Matt Reeves: Thank you so much.