If you wish to go to the current Fangoria site, you may click the top logo, "Home" or "News" links. Or click here.
With THE WOMAN IN BLACK, co-producer Hammer Films harks back
to the classic tradition of shadowy, spooky cinematic ghost stories (see review
In charge of capturing that atmosphere was director James Watkins (pictured
left), who previously explored very here-and-now horror in EDEN LAKE, and
chatted about both with Fango.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK stars Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a
young lawyer grieving the death of his wife who uncovers more emotional pain
when he travels to the remote coastal village of Crythin Gifford on an
assignment. There he discovers that the townsfolk live in fear of a malevolent
female spirit—one that begins haunting Arthur, compelling him to dig into the
area’s dark secrets to uncover the truth.
FANGORIA: How involved were you with the adaptation process
on WOMAN IN BLACK?
JAMES WATKINS: Very involved. It came
to me initially as the screenplay that Jane Goldman had written, adapted from
Susan Hill’s novel. And once I came on board, Jane and I and the producers
worked together to hone and finesse what was already a very strong script to
where we are.
FANG: What changes did you make in translating the book to
WATKINS: That’s a really good question [laughs], because
there are a lot of things I don’t want to give away. But what was really
interesting, what Jane did fantastically and what I really responded to, was in
terms of the horror that’s in the book, and finding cinematic ways to realize
that, but also trying to have a sense of the emotional underpinning of the
story. That’s something Jane brought out very strongly. This is a film about
parents’ worst fears, the loss of their children, and trying to explore that.
Like all great stories, it’s about scars, it’s about loss. Dan’s character is a
widower who has lost his wife, and that has cast a huge shadow over him. For
me, that was what I found fascinating—the heart. I believe that hopefully
elevates the film, and lets you care more, counterpoints the scares and makes
it a much more rounded experience.
FANG: How did you work with Daniel Radcliffe to develop his
WATKINS: Breathing is one of the things we did. Dan breathes
very much through his mouth, and I wanted him to have a much more withheld
energy, and so I made him breathe through his nose. Things like that really
change somebody’s whole comportment. Dan is a high-energy individual, and very
ebullient, and this character is very damped-down and spare and stripped down
in many ways. We wanted to get that sense of stillness, and the feeling that
there’s a real weight on him.
I remember having lots of conversations with Dan; there was
one where Dan had been drinking a lot of Diet Coke, and I brought in two
bottles, one of which I had opened the day before and was flat. And I said,
“Dan, this fizzy one is you, and this flat one is the character. This is the
journey, and we need to work hard to find this guy.” He met with a grief
counselor and read a lot of books on the subject. It’s all about the starting
point when you do something like this, and that’s where he moves from. I wanted
Arthur to have a fascination with death—almost a death wish. He kind of has
this compulsion; he’s drawn to the afterlife. That’s what we were determined to
FANG: Radcliffe told me that you had the Woman in Black
physically on set, lurking around in the background of many shots. Did you
intentionally avoid creating her via CGI?
WATKINS: Yes. I don’t really like CGI, to be honest. There’s
something about it that doesn’t quite feel real to me. I like doing things in
camera; I thought it would be interesting to have more control there and be
able to see it and feel it. We deliberately designed the stages and the sets in
such a way that had real depth in the image—really long corridors and deep
backgrounds and real perspectives, in the manner of a film like THE INNOCENTS,
a real horror classic. I wanted to be able to play with that.
FANG: Radcliffe may be the biggest name you’ve worked with,
but you previously directed a star about to rise, Michael Fassbender, in EDEN
LAKE (see review here). Has it been gratifying to see him blow up the way he has in the past year
WATKINS: Absolutely. I mean, Michael has always been a star.
He’s fantastic. He’s a great guy and a great actor. I saw him in Steve
McQueen’s SHAME and thought he was astonishing—his range, his depth, the way he
holds the screen. I can only wish him the best, and hope to find another
project for us to do one day.
FANG: EDEN LAKE dealt with youth violence, a hot-button
topic in England. How was the film received there, in terms of the way it
addressed that idea?
WATKINS: It’s very interesting, actually. I think it was
well-received in that regard. We had those riots last summer, and friends were
texting me: “Hey! People are saying it’s EDEN LAKE!” and referencing the movie
[laughs]. It’s not a social realist movie; I don’t want to make claims for it
beyond what it is. But at the same time, we very much wanted to make an
adrenalized genre film while in some way tapping into a little bit more. It
made for a talking point, and riffed on some issues that were interesting. That
seemed to resonate with audiences and critics over here.
FANG: How did you get your young actors on that movie to a
place where they could become these very violent people?
WATKINS: It was fascinating, actually, and really rewarding.
A lot of it was in the casting. I’m not saying I cast violent guys, because
they weren’t that at all. They were actors, and very good ones. But we very
much didn’t want to cast stage-schooled kids. There are certain types of young
actors over here who would very much be faking it. Whereas those guys, Jack [O’Connell,
pictured above with Watkins] and Thomas [Turgoose] and the rest, they don’t
live in that world at all, but they understand the truth behind it. One great
thing about working with young actors is that they’re completely fearless. I
think all great actors are, but particularly with young guys and girls—there’s
no preconceptions about what they need to be, or what they should be, and they
haven’t fallen into any ruts. So they just sort of go with it, and are willing
to be completely bold and trusting and see where it lands.
It’s funny—when you’re doing a film like that, while it is
very hard and edgy, the set is actually really fun. It almost has to be, to
compensate. So you’re doing all this nasty stuff with knives, and then you call
“Cut,” and everyone’s having a good time. It was a very good process.
FANG: MY LITTLE EYE, a terrific movie you co-wrote several
years back (see review here),
never got the attention it deserved. It was one of the first horror films to
use the found-footage approach; do you think it might have been a couple of
years ahead of its time when it came out?
WATKINS: Perhaps, yeah. It’s funny with MY LITTLE EYE… Marc
Evans is a fantastic guy and a very talented director and I think it’s a really
good film. I mean, it did really well over here. It didn’t make much of a dent
in America, but people view it fondly. Again, it was a horror film that works
on those terms, but it has a point of view. The way it riffed off of
contemporary obsessions, again, I thought was quite interesting. I believe that
made it richer, and absolutely, I’m proud of what it achieved.
FANG: The movie is told from the points of view of a number
of different cameras; was it difficult balancing all those, and which camera
was going to be viewing which scene, working all that out?
WATKINS: Yeah. I mean, that wasn’t me, because I was only
the writer, but absolutely, it was a challenge for Marc, and I think he had his
hands full. At that point, all of our technology wasn’t what it is now, so it
wasn’t easy to achieve so quickly. But he was very bold and ambitious, and
ahead of his time in his thinking.
FANG: Are you working on any other horror projects now?
WATKINS: Not at the moment, no. I’ve got a few things I’m
circling, but I haven’t really committed to what I’m doing next. I try to
really focus on one thing at a time, before I get my head into what happens
For more comments by Watkins, as well as Radcliffe, on THE
WOMAN IN BLACK, pick up FANGORIA #310, now on sale.
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY AND BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT NEWS, CONTESTS, EVENTS AND MORE!
All contents © 2011 Fangoria Entertainment