The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Glass Onion.
When did you first conceive of this film?
Rian Johnson: The idea for this film came very very early, even when we were still making the first one, Daniel [Craig] and I, on-set, we didn’t want to jinx it — because we didn’t know whether the first one would be something people would want to see — but we said to ourselves, if this does alright… it would be really fun to keep this party going! Just because we were having such a good time with each other. And, the only thing I really knew was that I didn’t want it to be… if we were going to keep making these, I wanted to go back to the source of the inspiration for all of this, which for me is my love of Agatha Christie’s work. So I knew — as opposed to continuing on the story of the first one, or bringing back the characters from the first one — I wanted to do what Agatha Christie did with her books, which is, she took big, wild, different swings every single time. I think there’s sometimes a perception of her work that she kind of told the same story over and over, but anyone who really knows her books knows that the opposite is true: she mixed genres. Besides just changing the setting and the characters and the type of murder, she did basically a proto-slasher movie with And Then There Were None. She did gothic romance with Endless Night. She did serial killer thriller with The A.B.C. Murders. She was all over the place, in the best way! And so, that was the only thing I kind of knew, was that let’s keep making these, and let’s give them each their own reason for being, and let them each stand on their own, the way that Christie’s books did.
I want it to be a rollercoaster ride, not a crossword puzzle, for the audience
As a producer, how do you take the vision that Rian just articulated and try to execute it?
Ram Bergman: It’s all in this man’s head! He’s the one who comes up with it. My job is just to facilitate, make it a reality. But it all comes from his brain.
Can you talk about how you came to the project?
Janelle Monáe: I think I just… manifested it, working with Rian! I had seen a film of his called Looper, have you guys seen Looper? Yes! And I was blown away. I thought to myself… “if I ever get an opportunity to work with this guy… I have to do it.” I went down a whole rabbit hole: I watched Brick, which was, you know, a high school version of a ‘whodunit,’ something innovative in that space, and then he kept it up with everything he had done up to the first Knives Out, which I loved! I was a big fan of that film. So I had already said “yes,” and then I read the script, saw the twists… looked at the character, and I was like, “hell yes!” And then they said, “we’ll be shooting in Greece… might you be available?” And I said, “f*ck yes! Get me on the first flight out! Off my couch!” So it was just a no-brainer, and then Daniel Craig… obviously who is so iconic in this role… was so gracious for inviting me to be a part of this. The whole cast, there was nothing about this role — which I got to have an opportunity to have so much fun with — that wasn’t appealing. I mean, Rian wrote this character to be so mysterious, so layered… so fun! Humorous. You have those big emotional moments… and there was action. It was a dream, as an actor, to be able to portray this role.
How did Covid impact the production?
RB: Honestly, my job was to make sure that Janelle, and Rian, and everybody else had fun… that they continued to be able to make the movie, in spite of the pandemic, and that none of them got positive covid test results! That was my goal. Because if one of them got it… we would be f*cked. We would have to be shut down for a few weeks… and blah blah blah. So, luckily, they had fun and none of them tested positive. So, I did my job.
JM: That’s very true. Ram, I think you should also tell them that you hired a spy, for each of us… I swear, even when I would step outside for a breath of fresh air… someone would appear out of nowhere who would say, “get back in that room! Get back in there!” But… we thank you for that. Thank you.
RB: It’s all true!
How do you begin to write a story like this, with so many turns?
RJ: Well, I start… I write really structurally. So I’ll spend the first 80% of the process outlining. And I just work in little moleskin notebooks, and I need to be able to work the whole story out until I have the structure of it, and I have it really outlined, completely, scene by scene. I end up with the whole roadmap. And only then, at the very end, do I sit down and actually typing. And, I mean, the intricacies of the mystery are one thing— but anyone here who’s a writer knows that the real work goes into making the experience of watching it… I want it to be a rollercoaster ride, not a crossword puzzle, for the audience. The object is to make the audience have so much fun, they forget they’re supposed to be solving something. And that’s where the majority of the work goes, just the basic story work: what’s driving the audience’s interest? What’s keeping them engaged? What do they care about? How do we make the ending satisfying, above and beyond just the reveal of ‘whodunit?’ It’s just the basic stuff that, you know, you bang your head against the wall with for any other type of script. It’s the same stuff with something like this.
Janelle, can you talk about how the fashion in the film helped inform your character, especially since you were playing multiple people?
JM: Yes— shout out to Jenny Eagan, our wonderful costume designer. She was just… really so collaborative. She had great ideas, and I think after talking to Rian, and them talking, and we had a talk… and I feel like, at that first fitting, I just thought, “Ah— there’s Andi. Ah ha! There’s Helen… oh, there’s Helen being Andi…” You just have those little things in the costume that make such a difference: the dress that I had on, the type of fabric (it actually wasn’t a dress yet at that point), and I just thought it said so much about who she was. We got into the Grecian thing… there’s so much we haven’t even talked about, just in terms of the names of the characters! Helen… Cassandra… that whole Greek mythology angle. And it’s a lot. To answer your question, the clothes had to talk before I talked. Because a lot of those initial scenes with Andi, she actually didn’t talk. So the way her glasses looked, the dress that she had on… you felt like this was a person who was put together, but also hiding something. And her clothes were her mask. Helen’s sweater when she’s talking to [Benoit] Blanc… it’s so frumpy, and the t-shirts and all of that… and, it moves with her. Yeah, so: I think the clothes… Jenny Eagan, Rian, me… bam!