Quantcast ICONS Interview with Tomas Alfredson - Director Of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

Tomas Alfredson!

One of the best movies we've had the opportunity to see this year is the Swedish vampire flick LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. So when ICONS was offered a chance to sit in on a round table interview with the director Tomas Alfredson, we happily complied! The following is an interview that took place in NY with several journalists present, all fielding different questions. We are presenting you with the entire transcript; questions from ICONS are noted. Beware of mild spoilers. Read on for our FRIGHT exclusive interview with LET THE RIGHT ONE IN director Tomas Alfredson! - By Robg. - 10/08

Vampires are very "in" right now. Now you have TWILIGHT coming. You have LET THE RIGHT ONE IN being remade for American audiences, and people are dying to see that. There’s TRUE BLOOD. Why is the vampire craze starting up again?

You know, that’s really strange because I started working with this 3 years ago and nobody was talking about vampires! So it’s some kind of synchronicity as they call it. I really don’t know. Maybe, vampirism has something to do with the “animal” inside of us, and maybe something that’s suppressed. Held down inside of us that has come up every 20 years. I don’t know really?
What was the inspiration for LET THE RIGHT ONE IN?

Well… to start with, I was very stuck by the very unsentimentally told story about the bullied boy. Because I had some periods when I was a teenager being bullied. So, that was the first thing that struck me the hardest. And then it was this very original blend with this supernatural thing. I didn’t have any specific interest in vampires or vampirism before, so that was totally new to me. And that was the biggest, hardest thing for me. To find the solutions, how to stage those things.

What made you decide to choose the main character, having it be the story of Oskar a 12 year old boy? It’s rare that in a vampire film the kids are the main characters.

Before we started shooting, dramatists asked me “who is the main character, the boy or the girl?” And I would say they are both the same character. The boy and the girl, they are the same person. The light and the dark side of the same person. But what was your question?

Why’d you make children the main characters?

Well, that’s the main story from the book. From the beginning. That was not a choice for me.

Well, because it’s based on the novel.

Yeah, it’s based on a novel.

So, being based on a novel – What were the wrinkles in adapting this novel, making these decisions in terms of making it into a film for you?

Well, we had to make some big choices of things we had to cut out. The biggest thing that we left out that the character Håkan, the older “blood” supplier for Eli, he was an outspoken pedophile in the novel. So that really gave another tone to the whole thing. That’s too often used as say… an emotional special effect, without taking responsibility for what that really is. It’s a really complicated thing to debate on screen, I think. So that would’ve disturbed the story a lot to have that.

Did you envision in your mind when you developed Eli as a character that she was always looking for a replacement for him? Or was that an accident?

No, that’s up to you to decide, really. There are a lot of things in the film that are up to you to decide. And that’s the sort of style of it. My point of view is that it’s a happy ending. They leave this country and live their own lives as they want to, but it’s suggested as Oskar being the new blood provider, if you want to think that.

Robg.: I love the movie, I think it’s very beautiful. And when I tell people about it, obviously it’s a vampire movie, but you can take the vampire element out and I see it as a movie about two 12 year old kids falling in love with each other, which is why it’s so beautiful. So, how difficult was it finding the right child actors to play these “adult” themes? They were both fantastic and its rare that you see kids acting at that caliber, so how hard was it to find Eli and Oskar?

It took almost a year to find them. It was very hard. And my ambition was to have as I said, the same character. Two sides of the same character. So they were not only required to be a good boy and a good girl, but they were to be the perfect match as well as a couple, and as well as being two sides of the same coin. That was really complicated. These are two extremely strange and intelligent children. They’re very quiet. A lot of integrity.

Robg.: And this was their first ever film experience?

Yes, yes.

What was particularly “Swedish” about this film? Because what I was thinking, if you see 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, it of course exploits that seasonal setting. And in this film, you get that feeling of the dark season and the darkness there and the personalities of the people. I think there’s something uniquely Swedish about this film that perhaps another vampire film wouldn’t be like or another film wouldn’t be like. Can you speak a little bit about that?

Maybe it could be the amount of silence and talking through silence. Swed’s are very quiet, sometimes. And not answering a question is also a way of answering a question. Or turning your back to somebody is also a form of communication. So that is something quite special and Swedish, I would think. The idea of silence, and the things that you suddenly hear in a silent community.

Tomas, everyone’s talking about the recently announced remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN from CLOVERFIELD director Matt Reeves. I wanted to know how involved you will be and if they’re going to try to “Americanize” it and make a lot of changes?

I’m not involved at all.

At all? I read it’s something you’re not happy about.

Well… It’s sort of… It gives you some sort of feelings of jealousy, of course. I have been dancing with this material for 3 years, and now somebody else is doing it. But, you have to put that aside and just wait and see what they come up with. And maybe they’ll find other things in that book that could be interesting. It would be very sad if they made a copy of this.

Well, I imagine it won’t be as violent and perhaps they’ll make it PG-13.

Robg.: I’m petrified they’ll make the kids 18 instead of 12.

Excuse me – Why 3 years? Why did you have to wait 3 years?

Well, it was very tough to finance. Yeah.

Getting back to this discussion on the remake, what do you hope they will do? Go more his direction or her direction?

I don’t know. I would be very happy if I was surprised.

Robg.: Would you be receptive if they reached out to you and asked for your advice on the remake?


What about a sequel? That almost should motivate you!


Is he going to stay with her until he’s old?

(Laughs) I think they go out in Europe, eating people, having fun.

Did you have any people in mind that you were glad they were killing?


Were one of those boys that got killed a model for someone that tortured you?

(Pause) No. (Laughs)

Nobody was cast with that in mind?

No, no.

Robg.: This is more of an observation and a question about how you feel about this. For me, I didn’t think the horror came from the vampire girl. I was more terrified of what kids will do to other kids when adults aren’t looking. Those were the scenes that affected me. How much of that came from the book? And how’d you balance making those scenes just as suspenseful as say… the vampire attacks?

I really can not tell, but I think it comes from the book and my own experiences from childhood. But yeah, that’s very hard to tell. That’s a common commentary. That people are as terrified of the “horror” parts as they are of what people do to each other.

Did you pretty much stay close to the book when doing the film?

Yeah, we picked out this love track out of the book, and I think it was very true to that.

And how did you discover the book? Was it something that was popular in Sweden?

No, a friend gave it to me. One of the producers-to-be. And usually I hate when people give me books or films, because I really like to discover that for myself, but I read it. I don’t think you should do films from good books either, but there are exceptions.
You’ve done a lot of other films. How alike or different is this from your other films which people here are not as familiar with as they will be with this one? Can you tell me what was the difference in your process with this film as opposed to your earlier ones?

Well, the process is the same. I’m mostly famous for doing comedy. Black comedy. And drama television. But for me, the process is the same. It’s all about telling stories. It’s not funny making comedy. And it’s not scary making horror. It’s all about taking it seriously and telling stories. And showing your heart (in the material).

Well, you said you weren’t a horror fan. Have you become a horror fan? Are you looking to read more or watch more horror?

Yeah, maybe. It’s very interesting to explore what scares us, I think. I don’t get so much scared these days anymore. The things that make me scared are thinking of my children being hurt or murdered or something, but I’m not scared when I go down in the basement or I’m not scared when I’m sleepless. These are feelings that come from childhood mostly. And fear appears before the scary things happen. So, it’s all about finding what those fantasies contain. So, when I was studying before this film, I was watching a lot of Renaissance painters and looking at what they do for the eyes when portraiting people. There is a lot to learn from the old masters with how they treat eyes. For instance, there is a very kind, artist called Hans Holbein, who made fantastic portraits of people in the mid-1500’s and there is a very famous portrait of a young British prince. It’s a close-up and he has a red robe and a crown on his head and he is looking underneath the spectator, which is really, really spooky. I have worked very actively with eyes in this film. With eyes not seeing each other. With eyes out of the eyeline. So it’s a lot about eyes that makes a scary, creepy feeling.

I was curious about sound design and how important that was for you, because it was so vivid and strong with each sound. Did you have a sound designer you generally work with?

Well, we had worked together once before but I had this very clear vision. It’s like with framing, visual framing – it’s very much about what you have in the frame, but also what you do not have in the frame. What do you take out from reality or from this specific world? And it’s the same with sound. It’s not so often that sound editors work with this so much with framing out sounds. Because if you put out specific sounds surrounded by silence, they really mean something. They really do something with your mind. You really have to be picky with what you pick out to make those specific sounds. You really put them into close up, but it’s very interesting how that works. I really wanted to tell this as close as possible to the boy Oskar. To hear his own breathing, his own tongue moving in his mouth. We even had a microphone put very, very close to his eyes to hear his eyelids open and close. It really gives you a lot of contact with the character when you hear that. Especially if you remember in the scene when they’re lying together in the bed. There are a lot of human sounds that are extremely subtle. But they bring a lot of life to it.

What particular audience were you looking at when you made this film?

Oh no, no. Never. That’s not my work. That’s work for publicity people.

What kind of decisions did you make in how much you wanted the vampires to feel vampiric or not? It’s interesting how much violence you put in and didn’t put in, weather we were going to get a sense if there were fangs or not. Things with the skin – When she was lacking the blood, she started to look more decaying. What was involved with your art direction? Your thoughts on that?

Well, there is a lot of CGI in this film. I think over 50 CGI shots. And it’s a fantastic tool box to use, but it seems like almost everyone is using it too much. If there’s a car explosion, it seems like the car has to explode for 3 minutes, and has to be the biggest car explosion you’ve ever seen. And it’s not good for the material or the reality to it. So, we tried to hold back on that as much as possible. You can do so much with those effects in a subtle way. For instance, changing the size of the eyes by 10 percent. Just make them 10 percent smaller, and nobody could tell what you have done, but it’s really spooky when someone suddenly has little, smaller eyes. In one scene, they were bigger and so on. People can not really pinpoint it. If you make a car explosion for 4 minutes, everyone will know it’s fake and why.

Would you be interested in taking on a Hollywood project? Have any Hollywood studios approached you to make an American film?

Yes, I’ve got a lot of calls from the studios and from agents and from people trying to hire me for projects, but that’s a very big thing to do to change work space, and to change your life around you and your language. It would be very interesting to do, but it’d really have to be the right project with the right timing.

Would it necessarily be horror?

It could be anything that’s good! Or anything that I could feel I could come up with something. It could be any sort of genre.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

Yeah, I’m working on Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm with a comedy group. Yep. It hasn’t got a name yet but it’s opening in August. We’re 7 people writing it together. And 3 weeks ago, I opened with MY FAIR LADY in Stockholm, so I do different things.

I assume it’s in Swedish?

Yes! In Swedish!

Going back to the film, do you feel it’s for a specific audience? Do you feel it’s for teens, do you feel it’s for adults, is it for everybody? Also, in terms of the R rating, do you think it’s going to limit anybody? Do you feel like violence is over judged in America?

Ok the first one was who the film is for? I really don’t know. These are questions for marketing people…

Well, your personal opinion. Would you let a kid who is 13 see your film?

I have a son that’s 13 and I let him see this because obviously this takes a lot of space in my home. I had explained to him a lot about how it’s made and so on, so I let him see it.

Was he scared?

Yeah, but he was mostly scared of the tormenting (bullying) parts rather then the horror parts. But maybe, I wouldn’t let someone younger see it.

I thought this was violent but not like HOSTEL. Have you ever seen HOSTEL or any of these “torture-porn” movies?

No? Are they popular?

Yes, the SAW films are.

Ah, yeah. I just read about it. It never interested me.

So, what’s the rating system like in Stockholm?

I think it’s rated for 15.

What would you do if you met a vampire? Have you ever thought about meeting a vampire?

(Long pause) Uhh, yes I did. I tried on the internet before we started shooting, I tried to get in contact with vampiristic people. And… nobody answered. (Laughs) But there is some sort of interesting thing with the obsession of blood that must come from the animal side of ourselves. If I met a vampire? I would pick up my garlic hot dog, because I wouldn’t want to be a vampire myself.

Robg.: In terms of the shoot itself, were there any scenes or specific moments that were difficult or challenging? Or was this a smooth film to make?

No, it wasn’t smooth in any way. It was really tough because of the temperature mostly. And working in the dark with children. That was really tough. It was like minus 30 Celsius, I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit?

That’s cold!

(Laughs) It’s like having somebody shouting in your ear, and I destroyed 2 fingers.

And you didn’t shoot this in Stockholm, right?

No, it’s set in a suburb to Stockholm that most Stockholmers know of, but most of the exteriors were in Luleå, the very North of Sweden.

You said you tried to meet vampires. What do you think of those people that worship vampires and want to be them? There are people who get fangs and really want to be like this. This film made it so realistic that it made it feel like a possibility.

Well, I can say that I love people who make their own choices and who can be whatever they want to be without hurting anybody. So, as long as they’re not biting people, I really like people when they do what they want. (Laughs)

Are you going to stay away from horror for a while now?

No, I’m going to bite any project that’s interesting, so it could be horror or a comedy… or something very boring! (Laughs)

Would you do another vampire film though?

Why not? As long as it’s good and interesting.

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