After two epic blockbusters, “The Lord of the Rings” and “King Kong,” Peter Jackson gets a bit smaller (well, $70 million) with “The Lovely Bones.” Based on the 2002 best-seller by Alice Sebold, it’s the harrowing story of a raped and murdered 14-year-old girl (played by “Atonement’s” Oscar-nominated Saoirse Ronan) who watches from her heavenly vantage point of “the in-between world” while her family on earth mourns her loss and tries to find her killer.
Well, they used to be far more important to sell movies, as they used to take an average-performing film and really give it a big box office boost. I think there’s far less impact on the box office now. But winning and even being nominated is still an enormous privilege and big thrill. The great thing about having won is that you do feel, no matter what happens in your career, you’ve always got that Oscar and it’s a nice thing to wake up to in the morning and go to the office and see them sitting there on the shelf.
It took quite a while. I write scripts with my co-producers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens and we all read the book while doing “Lord of the Rings.” We all found it very powerful and began inquiring about the rights. At that point the rights were with Film Four, with the film already in pre-production, the script was being written and Lynn Ramsey directing. We registered our interest and left it that if it didn’t work out, to please get in touch with us.
It’s definitely been the hardest adaptation that we’ve ever worked on – much harder than “Lord of the Rings.” The tough thing was finding the essence of the story that Alice Sebold is telling, and then figuring out how to put that into a three-act structure of a film — we’re big believers in structured screenplays.
(Laughs) Well, it gets taken away from you. There’s a knock at the door and someone’s there wearing a black leather coat and sunglasses and they just take it out of your hands and walk away with it, leaving you sobbing on the doorstep.
We’d met a few actresses in L.A. and seen some quite good young ladies, and then we moved on to London and did more auditions. Then the casting director gave us a DVD that Saoirse’s father, Paul Ronan, had made. He’s an Irish actor, and he’d filmed her audition in their garden and she’d taken the book and created a couple of monologues as Susie, and had taken some dialogue straight out of the book. She talked straight to the camera and Paul filmed her in a really interesting way — and she was very powerful and very engaging.
She’s truthful, brave, courageous — everything that a good actor needs to be. She’s also able to tap into this raw emotional power and put that on screen without any gimmicks or tricks.
Ryan had always said to us that he was just too young to play the role of a 14-year-old’s father — I think he was 26 at the time. And then the film also spans seven years, so by the time it ends, Susie’s sister is about 20, and he’d have to play the father of a 20-year-old. Ryan’s a terrific actor, and we felt that he could act his way around this problem, and we’d help him with make-up and so on. So our attitude was, “Don’t worry, there’s a way we can fix this and you’ll be great!” But he wasn’t so sure.
First off, he’s a father in real life. He knows what it means to be a dad. And he’s also that much older — I think he was 36 at the time — so that was easier, too. He came straight in and did a great job.
Well, I’m not intending to be on the set every day looking over his shoulder. It’s Guillermo del Toro’s movie, and he’ll be filming it, not me. I’m not quite sure what else I’ll be working on, as I want to make completely sure that I’ll be there to help Guillermo. But I’m hoping to direct something myself at the same time. I’ve got a couple of smaller projects I’m considering, but I can’t really talk about them yet.