The bad boys of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games
They’re perhaps the most polite thrill-killers this side of the chopping block. Meet Peter and Paul. Or is it Tom and Jerry? Or try Beavis and Butthead… Whatever names they’re going by, this moppy-haired pair adorned in shorts, starched white collared shirts and gloves make Naomi Watts and Tim Roth’s lives a living hell in Warner Independent’s Funny Games – but they do it with such courteous panache Hannibal Lecter would raise a glass of Chianti in toast to their methods.
For the remake of his 1997 film of the same name, writer-director Michael Haneke cast acerbic young actors Brady Corbet (“Thunderbirds”) and Michael Pitt (“Last Days”) as the Peter and Paul, respectively (roles previously essayed by Arno Frisch and Frank Giering). Together, they are fine young home-hopping and home-wrecking wackos whose charms and boyish good looks are offset by a devious desire to push their prey through terrifying trials.
Peter and Paul’s presence serves a multitude of reasons, one being to break the cinematic fourth wall and draw the individual movie-goer into the action closer than he or she may care to go through a wry wink at the camera or, more overtly, tossing a question or two at the audience. As for the motivation behind their malicious games, Haneke wants you to figure that out for yourself.
By the indoor pool – which served as a humid hub for press interviews – of the Marriot Hotel in Park City, Utah, Shock joined Corbet and Pitt for a brief discussion about “Games” and its place in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Corbet met us with fervent interest, as you’ll read below, to reflect on the remake not only from the viewpoint of an actor but as an aspiring filmmaker.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: Did Haneke fill you guys in on why he was remaking the film?
Brady Corbet: Haneke’s pretty practical and he doesn’t speak about his decisions or his work that much. I have my theories. He said to me, ‘I’ve directed the same play in different countries and different languages. The blocking stays the same, the text stays the same. The changes that were made were in the performance. It’s amazing that if you keep something exactly the same, how different the tone of that piece can be.’ It actually emphasizes the differences between the two. He always intended this to be an American film for American audiences. The original film had an English title – it was made for us.
Michael Pitt: I can’t speak for Haneke but I’ve heard him say things in the effect of the film ‘getting off on American violence.’
Corbet: He felt the themes of the original film were not very clear in that version because it wasn’t the right setting. Plus he wanted to play with “celebrity.” He thinks it’s very funny how far we push Naomi Watts and also likes performances that are naturalistic. The first film is really great, but this is very different and succeeds on levels the original didn’t. It’s just so interesting. I think because it’s a movie about movies, he could simply justify it by saying, ‘Yeah, I made a movie about movies,’ but only further putting you at arm’s length. He wants you to be aware of what you are thinking and feeling. “Funny Games” is the most on-the-nose movie he’s ever made. The original “Funny Games” and the new one – they’re not even my favorite Haneke films – but I still love them.
Shock: What is your favorite then?
Corbet: “Code Unknown.” But I really love what he’s doing here because it was an experiment with something that was so on-the-nose. It’s so brave and so well made that even the schtick of glancing at the camera is something he can get away with because it’s done so tastefully.
Shock: Brady’s obviously schooled in Haneke’s work – for you, Michael, what made you want to do the film, was it Haneke’s rep or the material?
Pitt: We had a work session and I could tell during that – just from my background in theater and the time I spent with [Bernardo] Bertolucci [for “The Dreamers”] – I knew if I listened to Haneke, I knew he’d make me a better actor.
Shock: How so?
Pitt: He’s just intelligent. He’s old school and a lot of the newer filmmakers…the actors are seen more as just puppets, they’ll figure it out in the editing. It’s just a quality level that he brings to the table.
Shock: So for you there was no worry about the stigma that often comes with remakes.
Pitt: I didn’t really care. I knew my take would be different. If it was a remake by a different director maybe I would’ve been more reluctant to get on board.
Shock: Naomi Watts serves as executive producer on this film – did she exert any creative control?
Corbet: No, she was 100% an actress as she sorta should be. I didn’t even know she was an executive producer until I saw the credit. She was pretty much involved since day one. Haneke wouldn’t do the movie without her – that was his one stipulation. He said, ‘You get me Naomi Watts and I’ll remake the movie.’
Shock: How did Haneke help you maintain such a sense of calm during the violence and mental torture you enact on the family?
Corbet: Haneke actually told us that we were in a comedy and the family was in a tragedy. When we shoot our close-ups and stuff, he went out of his way to make sure our eye line on Naomi, Tim or Devon [Gearhart], they were not acting too much. He told us, ‘Every time we shoot your characters we’re shooting a different movie’ so we have to play those scenes differently. There’s a scene in the movie – probably my favorite movie that was an accident – where I ask Naomi if she could make us something to eat. Michael then says, “Tubby, this is embarrassing…” and then he tickles me. It was a mistake, Michael wasn’t supposed to do that. I tried to stay in character. We thought it was a f**k up. We lost it. If he Haneke hadn’t cut to Naomi and Tim during that scene, it was just Michael and I laughing for two minutes. Haneke came out from behind the monitor and was like, ‘That’s amazing. It’s so perverted and sick.’ We were hard on them, we were really aggressive.
Pitt: Sometimes during those moments we left Devon out of the room.
Shock: Was finding your character a solo journey or one you shared with your co-star Michael?
Corbet: I never think too much about bonding with other actors. First of all, I think it’s bullshit – method acting is bullshit. It’s very “practical thinking” making a movie – the art comes in when you’re writing it and when you’re cutting it. But production is artless. It’s a job. If you love the craft of acting, then go to the West End in London, you’re not serving a filmmaker there. I’m very happy to be a part of the movie, but I don’t have a sense of pride in my work. I’m just happy I got to work with one of the five greatest filmmakers in the world. This festival is very lucky to have him. It’s not to say it’s an honor, but it’s in a festival with all of these films like “Juno” and “Garden State” – it’s interesting “Funny Games” is in that mix.
Shock: Are you prepared for the fact that this film is going to polarize so many people?
Corbet: The first film is already so divisive and now you have an extra element of people who are just pissed that Haneke made this film. The people who love this film really love it and they have interesting things to say about it.
Pitt: I understand the purists who wonder why Haneke remade this, but he did it so people can see it. There are so many people who don’t know of his work. And this works, I think we did a great job. It’s different but the same. Anyone who’s like, ‘Oh why?!’ is just a film nerd. All the films that I make, are controversial – “Bully,” “The Dreamers,” “Last Days” – I just try to do my job to the best of my abilities and not worry about it.
Corbet:Of course, people have been speaking about Gus [Van Sant’s] “Psycho.” You know, Gus’ work can be campy sometimes. I think “To Die For” is a campy film and weirdly dated. “Psycho,” I don’t think, is quite as awful as people make it out to be. It’s really interesting, it’s not a good movie, but it’s interesting – if it had been a video installation, it would’ve been the coolest shit ever. Unfortunately, it’s ultra kitschy, but what’s strange and what’s hard for people to imagine is…people assume if he’s trying to replicate something there’s no soul in it. And if it’s soul-less then it’s probably pretty kitschy, too. Kitsch just doesn’t exist in “Psycho” and it was a straight arrow in a way people didn’t expect it to be. Or, the “The Vanishing.” The first film is a masterpiece, the remake is a joke.
Shock: It’s got Sandra Bullock in it…
Corbet: [laughs] Exactly, it’s that kind’ve thing. But you’re [the “Games” remake] for five seconds and you’ve got silent credits that roll seemingly forever. Haneke’s taking his time. Then he opens with an improvement on the first shot of the original film. [Cinematographer] Darius Khondji’s work is so subtle and so brilliant. Some idiot reviewer criticized Darius’ work, and really…what a f**kin’ moron. I don’t know what movie this guy is watching. Darius took a step back here, because he can really put a stamp on films, for this he really chose to serve Michael’s intent.
Shock: There’s a moment where you and Tim are sitting in the house. You’re looking out the door and suddenly the daylight dims a bit and you say something to the effect like, “It looks like it’s going to rain.” And it’s that subtle shift in light that hints at a cloud passing overhead – was that a happy mistake and improvisation?
Corbet: We were shooting in a soundstage, actually.
Shock: No kidding, so that was intentional.
Corbet: Yeah, we had to shoot in a stage for all of the interior house stuff.
Shock: Because Haneke utilized the same blueprints for the house from the original film.
Corbet: Right, he re-built the same house. The light in the film is interesting and the only thing I think is “true Darius” are the inky blacks. Sometimes people think something is wrong with the projection because some of the nighttime establishing shots are just black in this film. Like, what the f**k? I’m directing a series of films for a video installation and Darius shot my first film. When we were doing the digital grading, he was just going blacker, blacker, darker and darker. My movie, you need f**kin’ night vision to see it.
Shock: Where will people be able to find this video installation you’re working on?
Corbet: I’m hoping to do it in a particular spot in Paris in a year because I have two films left to finish. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’m going to take the first film to festivals and…we’ll see.
Funny Games opens in theaters March 14th.
Source: Ryan Rotten