As soon as Daniel Craig signed on for Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out,” other A-list actors like Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Katherine Langford and Toni Collette joined in a snowball effect — but the director says one actress was harder to cast.
“Daniel was the first to sign on — he’s the reason the movie got made,” Johnson told TheWrap. “He was a part of the reason we were able to attract everyone we did because everyone wants to work with him. Then Michael Shannon signed on, then LaKeith Stanfield, then Toni Collette — as the cast got more and more amazing, more people wanted to join, and before you know it, you have this all-star ensemble.”
He added: “The only person that was hard to get was Ana [de Armas]. I always knew that because she was the center of the movie, we’d have to go out and find someone. She’s not a newcomer, and she’s done fantastic work, but I was less familiar with her work. My casting director brought her to my attention.”
Other cast members included Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Christopher Plummer and Jaeden Martell. “Knives Out” follows a detective that investigates a death of the patriarch in an extremely eccentric family — and everyone is a suspect.
The director also said that Craig’s limited shooting availability due to “James Bond” actually helped get the other big names to sign on, because there was a sense of immediacy.
“From the day he signed on, we had six weeks to shoot,” he explained. “We had a quick window, and I think that helped with the cast because it was like, ‘Are you available right now? Can you come down to Boston right now?‘ The immediacy of it was beneficiary.”
That definitely convinced Evans, who had planned to take a break after “Avengers: Endgame” but was home in Massachusetts when the film was pitched to him. “He was a local hire,” Johnson joked.
Johnson, who also wrote the script for the whodunnit, said the most difficult thing about writing a movie for such a big ensemble of character was that he wanted to make sure everyone had ample screen time, and that no one was “shortchanged.”
“The thing with writing is that you only have so much real estate in terms of screen time, so I had to make sure all these great characters got their moment and were serviced by the script — for the audience and for myself, I didn’t want to shortchange anyone,” he explained. “This cast is so good at what they do, though, they were having so much fun, they were all dialed in, so we didn’t really have any hellish days. The days when everyone was together, those were both the most fun and most challenging, directing wise.”
The most fun character to write, he said, was Craig’s character, Benoit Blanc, because of the character’s “love for words.” So much, in fact, that he would love to do more Ben Blanc movies, if “Knives Out” does well on opening weekend.
For Johnson, writing a murder mystery was a long-gestating dream.
“I grew up loving Agatha Christie and I wanted to do a murder mystery in the whodunnit mode for a long, long time,” he said. “The genre is kind of very close to my heart, it’s like comfort food for me. I had the basic idea for this movie 10 years ago, but the biggest issue was, how do we give the audience something they haven’t seen before. My solution to that was approach it more as a story, not a puzzle, and use emotion as a misdirection.”
To successfully execute a murder mystery story, attention to even the smallest detail is crucial. While that was difficult for Johnson, he knew he had to put in the work.
“That scene where Benoit lays it all out in the library, that’s my favorite scene in the movie,” he said. “Those endings are only satisfying if every single point connects with something you recognize from earlier. It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling of that Rubik’s Cube snapping together, and knowing that all the clues were there all along, to do that, you just have to put in the work and make sure you have everything set up in such a way that the audience is going to remember. That was fun — for me, that was like doing a crossword puzzle.”
This last part is a spoiler. Do not read on if you haven’t seen the movie.
Apart from the ensemble cast, there is one other big name in the movie that you might’ve missed. Stay for the credits, and you’ll see an actor’s name that has worked with Johnson many times before.
That’s right, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is credited at the end of the movie as Detective Hardrock. But you’ll ask, who was Detective Hardrock? Was he one of the cops in the background of a scene?
“You have to have your ears peeled,” Johnson said, laughing. “He’s a detective on that cop show playing on the iPad in the kitchen. I have to have him in every movie I do — if I can’t have him on set, I will use just his voice.”