Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Film Strip: ‘Midnight Special’ Cast Talk Belief and the Unknown

 (L-R) Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Lieberher, and Kirsten Dunst. {Ben Rothstein photo)
(L-R) Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Lieberher, and Kirsten Dunst. {Ben Rothstein photo)

It was back in 2011 that I first spoke to Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastin and director Jeff Nichols for the haunting and awe inspiring “Take Shelter,” one of that year’s best films. Nichols is back this time with the engaging and riveting “Midnight Special,” starring Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton.

In line with one of the themes of “Midnight Special,” The Film Strip asked cast members Shannon, Dunst and Edgerton, who were at the Lanham Place Hotel in New York City, to speak on the perils of prejudging and jumping to conclusions:

MICHAEL SHANNON: There’s a lot in the world and the universe that we don’t fully understand, despite years and years of scientific research and philosophical meanderings and religious exploration. There’s still so much infinite mystery. You know, this was very much a film about belief and about what motivates us to continue doing the things that we do.

Well, the thing I love about Jeff’s approach to filmmaking is he takes these kind of fundamental universal situation, events, issues, and he turns them into this fantastical story, this supernatural, science-fiction thriller. I mean the genesis of it is basically how does a parent deal with the fact that as much as they love their child, eventually their child drifts from them and becomes their own person. How do you survive that process without making a lot of noise?

KIRSTEN DUNST: Isn’t that the entire world, every religion, everything? I mean this is kind of like an example of how some people want to take a scientific approach to this child [in the film] and some people have extreme faith and some people are frightened by it. I think it’s Jeff’s version of his feeling towards religion and what else is out there. But the way it concludes is not in a negative way, which is refreshing for a sci-fi film.

JOEL EDGERTON: Well, I think on a filmmaking level it’s great that people jump to conclusions because that whole filmmaking process, if you can get to that feeling of something being surprising yet inevitable, it’s the perfect zone for a film. To think that the film starts and the audience has one opinion of who we are and what we’re doing to that child is fantastic because then a couple scenes later, the end of that very same scene you realize nothing is what it seems. That’s the great thing about it. Jeff really does that.

On a faith level, I think the difference between people that jump to the conclusion of signs and symbols and project their intentions of the world in terms of their own needs, desires, or deficiencies, that creates a meaning out of something [for them]. Other people inherit faith and question it. I inherited a religion and then had my own questions about it. I’m interested in the people who catch a glimpse of something, like my character does, which is a personal experience that then leads them on some kind of journey.:

The film obviously seems to embrace the spirit of 70s and 80s sci-fi films a bit more than the modern blockbusters. Was that one of the appeals to signing on to it?

What was it that drew you to this project?

KD: For me, I’ve been a fan of Jeff’s movies. I love “Take Shelter” so much. I didn’t even need to read the script to know I wanted to work with Jeff Nichols. I would play any part in any movie he would direct. I think he’s one of the best filmmakers we have and every movie he does I’m excited to see.

JE: The script that he’d written was the true sense of a page-turner because of the mysteries that keep unfolding and the questions that arise and the answers that are given, and yet not all the answers are always given. It felt so smart. There’s a kind of essence [there]…and Jeff has not sold characters down the river in lieu of it being a special effects driven story. It’s the family story, and then a pinch of science fiction.

MS: Jeff’s not trying to make a carbon copy facsimile of [other] films. I mean, why would he bother? He has very specific tactile inspirations. Honestly, even though I’m an actor and [the filmmaking aspect] is not really my department, one of the things that draw me to him is his attention to every single detail. When you talk about knowing that you’re in good hands, to me that’s part of it.

“Midnight Special,” which is in theatyers now, follows a father, Roy (Shannon), is on the run with his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who has mysterious powers that Roy, nor his mother Sarah (Dunst), can understand.

Sam Shepherd and Adam Driver also star, with appearances by Dana Gourrier, Robert ‘Bigg Sarge’ Deon, Edward Rashad Smith, John Henry, and Sam Malone.

Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]        Twitter:  @thefilmstrip

Marie Moore
Veteran syndicated journalist who covers film and television.




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