There isn’t much that can be said about filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan that he hasn’t said about himself, and as he begins a new era in filmmaking, releasing his first movie with Warner Bros. after a number of hits at Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, he also takes his greatest risk with Lady in the Water. Mixing fantasy, fable and fairy tales, Shyamalan has created something decidedly unconventional, but still in the realm of what we’ve come to expect from his creative mind.
Unlike previous movies that explored aliens, ghosts and superheroics, Lady in the Water is a completely original real world fairy tale, starring Paul Giamatti as Cleveland Heep, the superintendent of an apartment building who discovers a mysterious young woman named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) living underneath the swimming pool. Where Shyamalan takes that simple premise is something that only he could possibly do.
There was recently a press conference with Night about a number of subjects, but mostly about his most daring and challenging film yet.
This was originally a fairy tale you told your kids, but then it evolved into something a little darker and scarier. How did this evolution take place in terms of how dark or scary you wanted to make it?
M. Night Shyamalan: Well, when it was back at Disney… (laughter) They were so stringent about what had the Disney label on it, so at that point, I didn’t know, to the point that it hurt the piece, because I wasn’t allowing it to be visceral, because I was so worried about those kinds of things. When that didn’t happen over there, it really freed me up to do it. Now, when I was shooting the movie, I was starting to lose some kids. It was getting scarier and scarier and scarier, so for me it stops at around 8 years old, and for 7 year olds, it probably will be too much for.
And with Paul Giamatti —what attracted you to him?
M. Night Shyamalan: Paul’s kind of everyman brilliance is just great against the two of them. They both give off such different vibes, even as human beings.
Did Bob Balaban enjoy the idea of playing this film critic character?
M. Night Shyamalan: He loved it! [When] we met I said, “I’m going to say to you what I never said to another actor: I want you to start three-dimensional and become two-dimensional, so it becomes more of a parody by the time it happens. You’re going to deconstruct as you go.” He [replied], “I’m totally into that.” I gave him the script, and I didn’t tell him what the part was — I just said “You’re going to play the part of Farber.” He called and left me this message. It was so funny, I wish I’d kept it.
Do you read what critics say about your films?
M. Night Shyamalan: I get a general vibe that if you get caught up in too much of this, you lose your mind, because it’s all a momentary perception. These movies are so clouded by expectations that it can be damaging to you as an artist. What you think may be the critical response to my movies is very different from the reality. Signs is my best reviewed movie, then Unbreakable, and next is Sixth Sense and then next is The Village and that’s the order of the reviews. Also, Signs is my most popcorn movie. It’s that aspiring to something higher that always gets everyone all riled up. The perceived realities are very different as you move on. If everything was re-reviewed now, [they] probably would be different reviews.