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‘Nope’ Writer/Director Jordan Peele on the Personal Nature of Steven Yeun’s Character: ‘They’re All Very Much Me’

Peele also tells TheWrap about the films that inspired his sci-fi horror spectacle

Nope” is writer/director Jordan Peele’s latest genre-bending experiment in terror and it is certainly his most ambitious.

The story of OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), part of a family of Black stunt performers, who are menaced by a UFO following the mysterious death of their father (Keith David), expands the scope of his previous films, gently nudging it into summer blockbuster territory. (Steven Yeun plays the proprietor of a western theme park next door to the Haywood ranch who has secrets of his own.) Of course, this being a Jordan Peele movie, it is also ambitiously structured, provocative, and symbolically rich.

We got to chat briefly with Peele about a missing shot from the teaser trailer (of a crab crawling over a miniature living room), the importance of animals in his movies (never more important than in “Nope”) and what some of his inspirations were for his big summer movie.

You must know that people are going to pick these things apart. There’s a crab in the teaser trailer that isn’t in the movie …

Oh my God. See, you go deep. I’m so glad you noticed that. There are sometimes scenes that have to change and have to go away. I’m not going to tell you because I want the mythology of this movie to grow. And I want all these stories about what’s in, what’s out, the process… I want it to grow, and I want it to be a big thing. So I’m going to leave it somewhat mysterious and not go too far into it. But yes, you little, perceptive genius. There is a crab in the trailer.

Well, the crab does open it up to talk about animals.

Yes.

You’ve had animals in the other two movies. This movie seems almost more explicitly about animals. And there seems to be an animal rights subtext as well. Why are animals so important to you, both in terms of the narrative and symbolism?

There are many ways I think animals pop into my mind when I’m coming up with horror imagery. I think, in its core, they’re a reminder of some of the existential questions of what it means to be human and a reminder of an ultimate exploitation with which how we treat animals and Mother Nature. This film, at its heart, is about spectacularization and exploitation. So yeah, there is, I think, an intrinsic throughline as to why I use animals in these nightmares.

Was doing a scary UFO movie super important to you? There’s obviously the stories you hear about Steven Spielberg doing “Night Skies.”

Yes. Wait, what is “Night Skies?” I don’t know what “Night Skies” is.

It was supposed to be the follow-up to “Close Encounters,” based on a supposedly true story of a farmhouse that was being inundated with scary aliens that Rick Baker designed the creatures.

This is the movie that didn’t exist, that I needed my whole life. You understand what you’re describing? How dare you. But you nailed it. Look, I think there’s a lot of people noticing that there’s a throwback to a different time of film, specifically eighties and nineties, where original ideas would just be committed to. And there was a sense of scope. There was a sense of science fiction. And there was also a sense of magic that also came together. And yeah, that’s a crime that wasn’t created.

Steven Yeun’s character is amazing. It sometimes feels like there could be a second movie just from his perspective. Where did that character come from?

It came from somewhere deep, somewhere dark. All the characters, I have to see through my own experience, in some ways. So, they’re all very much me. But I think his character represents the part of me that’s been in this industry for a while. And the scars, the scarification that comes with being in this industry for everyone, I think, in it. And yeah, it’s a special character for me in that I think it’s portraying something kind of vulnerable.

It’s always fascinating to hear what movies inspired you – what were the movies that you looked at while making “Nope?”

I think the movies to look at… there’s a lot. Every film I’ve ever watched, in some ways. But I think the films that I drew early connections with were “Wizard of Oz,” “King Kong” and even “Jurassic Park,” in that, at least the latter two are about the way we consume spectacle. They’re about spectacle, but they’re also about the way people deal with spectacle.

“Nope” is in theaters everywhere this Friday.

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