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Interview: Peter Jackson and Susan Sarandon

Impact’s Lucy Hayes caught up with Peter Jackson and Susan Sarandon to discuss their new film, ‘The Lovely Bones’; based on a novel about a young girl, Susie Salmon, who is murdered at the start of the story. As the film tagline sums up, it’s ‘the story of a life – and all that came after’.

What attracted you to this film?

SS: Many people read the book after 9/11; I think it was a comfort to many grieving families. Despite its difficulties it’s somewhat reassuring. It’s made less voyeuristic by the fact that you know Susie’s ok, she’s just somewhere else.

PJ: I was profoundly affected by the book. Every time we make a film, it’s because we want to see it. This film has been our biggest challenge yet. We didn’t think it would be as difficult as it was. The novel isn’t structured at all like a film, and adapting it was challenging, as adapting is always reduction. The story defines a genre, you can’t label it, which is why it appeals but it makes for a very difficult film.

Susan, your character, Grandma Lynn, provides many of the laughs in an otherwise emotional film. Did you enjoy playing her?

SS: I’m happy to be the comic relief; she says a lot of the things you wish you could say, often insensitive but they need to be said! She’s the least likely person to rise to the occasion, but she does, and she gets a second chance at being a mother to her daughter [played by Rachel Weisz].

The novel includes graphic rape and murder scenes which you left out, only leaving in the implication of the events. Why did you decide to do this?

PJ: It was always important that the film be about love, not defined as a murder film. We wanted it to be a 12A and not focus on how disturbing it could be if you included all of the details in the novel.

Was the attack scene still hard to shoot?

PJ: The tension in the attack scene was never there on set, we kept it light so it wasn’t too draining for the actors. I know playing Mr Harvey [the murderer] was tough for Stanley [Tucci]; it was hard for him to commit to the role in a truthful way as he’s a family man. We had our sights on Stanley for the role, yet he nearly turned it down.
SS: I think my character was the easiest to play, as I was never without a drink and a cigarette. I felt at home in the role at the start of the film, I have this veneer of overconfidence – and big hair, fake eyelashes, loads of make-up… My character had an eyelash-wig-arc, so by the end of the film when I was more vulnerable and emotional the big hair and eyelashes were gone!

Do you think the film may still be distressing for some viewers?

PJ: It shows how quickly disaster can come upon you, but it’s a positive film for kids to see. When my daughter watched it, she said, “If it was me, I would have gone with Mr Harvey too”.

SS: It’s not meant to be a cautionary tale; Susie’s a good kid with great parents. When you have a child you think about death. Mortality was never something I dwelt on when I was younger, but when you have children you worry constantly about them, and what could happen to them if you died.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

PJ: Yeah, I think I do. Whenever I doubt it, something happens to change my mind. It’s only the inbetween we show in the film; we leave heaven up to the viewer. We based the concept on subconscious imagery, so it would seem like Susie’s dream state, her emotions dictate its look. We wanted it to be as intangible as possible.
SS: I find that organised religion has been unimaginative and exclusive, and therefore infuriating.

PJ: I saw a ghost once, honestly. It was in New Zealand about 20 years ago. I woke up and there was a figure in the room – it was a terrifying woman with a face like ‘the scream’ but she was staring at me intensely while silently screaming. After a while she drifted out through the wall. I was left in bed, shaking. A few years later, the theatre across the road from the apartment was demolished and they published old newspaper articles about it. There was an actress who had committed suicide after being booed off stage, and her ghost had been seen in the theatre too.

SS: She just needs a better PR person! You should give her a part in a movie.

And finally, how is work going on the long-awaited Hobbit?

PJ: I was worried what it would be like, going back after 8 years, but everyone was just like old friends. Guillermo’s [Del Toro] making the film, and I’m not going to interfere; my favourite part of filmmaking is writing the screenplay. So far it’s going well!

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