Endings Are My Favorite Thing About Movies: Rian Johnson on Glass Onion

Endings Are My Favorite Thing About Movies: Rian Johnson on Glass Onion

Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” reminded audiences how much we love murder mysteries with lots of unpleasant suspects, a brilliant if quirky detective, and a fabulous setting. It was the kind of puzzle that made us think back for the pleasure of understanding what we missed.

Johnson has done it again with its sequel, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” which has an even more fabulous estate, even more unpleasant suspects, and an even more delightfully tricky puzzle. In what we both promised would be a spoiler-free conversation, we talked about puzzles, that amazing location, and why he picked a Beatles song as the inspiration for the title.

You have once again assembled an all-star cast who work so well as an ensemble. What is your casting process?

I just feel incredibly lucky. I don’t write with actors in mind. I just write the script and write the story. And then my producer and I get together with our casting director, Mary Vernieu, and we talk through each of the characters and throw out ideas for who could be fun. It feels a little bit like when I was a kid, we would get the Sears catalog and all the toys we wanted for Christmas, like pie in the sky, like there’s no way we could actually get this person. And then we go out and see who’s available, who wants to work. And both times we’ve been really lucky, not just in the caliber of actors we’ve gotten, but also with both of these casts we’ve had groups of people who have come together.

With “Knives Out,” we were outside of Boston, and we were in this house and everyone was hanging out together. It was kind of isolated. And then here we were very isolated because we were in Greece and then we were in Belgrade, but it was right in the middle of the Delta surge, so we were all locked down in the hotel together. So, we got very lucky that we got a group of actors who also just really loved each other. And it felt like summer camp a little bit. So, yeah, knock on wood, we have yet to have a bad apple.

Are you a Beatles fan? Is that where the title comes from?

That’s it. As I was coming up with it, I kind was like, Okay, so he’s going to have this island. I like the idea of the metaphor of something made of glass that you can see through. What is it, a glass castle, a glass palace? And I literally searched my phone’s music library for “glass,” and I was like, Oh, pick number one, “Glass Onion.” I love that song so much. I guess it was funny when I started telling people about it, I didn’t think there were deep cuts of Beatles songs, but I’m actually surprised how many people didn’t know the song.

And the song is about a mystery.

And it’s about playful baiting of a mystery that isn’t actually there. Which to me is fun.

In terms of cinematography, did you set a very difficult problem for yourself with so many transparent and reflective surfaces?

Glass is just fun because glass you can shoot through and it’s beautiful. You can reflect light through it. There are only a few sequences where we have mirrored surfaces, but those are the ones that get you. So, it wasn’t too bad this time around. But yeah, there was a heck of a lot of glass.

That was quite a collection of art in the movie! I thought I spotted a Rothko and Jeff Koons.

I guess this is an Easter egg, but it’s fun. I showed up and there was the big Rothko painting. But of course, it’s Edward’s character, Miles. So, I said, “Can we turn it upside down?” So, it’s actually upside down [laughs]. A joke for the art nerds.

We picked pieces that we could do, and had a local artist in Belgrade recreate them. It was extraordinary being on the set because you’re walking around with these fantastic recreations of these masterworks. There’s a lot that are pastiches of different styles that are original works through there.

It was fun because Edward was walking around like he was at a sale or something. He was like, “I’ll take that one.” But one of the interesting things, and I didn’t know this, if you do what we did and actually do a replica of a painting, you have to destroy it and you have to document it being destroyed at the end of it. So, sorry, Edward.

How do the fabulous costumes of the film help to illuminate the characters?

Jenny Egan did the costumes in this and for the first one. And she is just incredible. We had very general discussions about the characters. There were some that I was more specific about than others, like Kathryn Hahn’s character. I knew I wanted her entirely in tan. And I think poor Kathryn showed up thinking, “This is a ‘Knives Out’ movie, I’m going to have some fabulous costumes.” And I said, “No, I want your costumes to feel like a sad trumpet.” [laughs]

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