Writer/director Rian Johnson returns to the big screen with his latest movie, Knives Out, coming to theatres nationwide Thanksgiving Day. In this mysterious crime-drama described by Johnson as “an original, modern day American whodunnit,” esteemed English actor Daniel Craig stars as the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc who is mysteriously enlisted to investigate the death of renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) at Thrombey’s estate shortly after his 85th birthday. Everyone is a suspect, from Harlan’s dysfunctional family to his devoted staff, as Benoit sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan’s untimely death.
(left to right) Chris Evans (as Ransom Drysdale), Ana de Armas (as Marta Cabrera), and writer/director Rian Johnson behind the scenes of Knives Out (2019)
Rian Johnson made his feature debut almost twenty years ago with his crime-drama Brick (2005), starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Johnson teamed with Gordon-Levitt again seven years later in his critically acclaimed crime-drama Looper (2012), co-starring big names like Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, and Knives Out cast member Noah Segan. After directing a few episodes of Breaking Bad (2010-2013), Johnson was handed the keys to the Star Wars empire when he wrote and directed the blockbuster Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), which grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
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Having conceived the idea for Knives Out some ten years ago, Rian Johnson finally found time to complete the screenplay following his commercial success in the Star Wars franchise. The quirky cast of eccentric characters and table-turning twists that have come to epitomize whodunnits, one of Johnson’s favorite genres as a child, require a meticulous attention to detail to craft on the page. “When you have a labyrinth of so many different characters, and so many different motives and all these twists and turns, even if you have the basic structure of it down, there’s a lot of math that you still have to do,” says Johnson. “The key is making all those mechanics invisible to the audience, so they’re just on this fun ride.” Part of the fun is delving into the dysfunctional Thrombey family, each member with his and her own unique quirks and ambitions. “I’m very close to my family and they’re not terrible like this family at all,” laughs Johnson. “But having grown up in such a big family, I’m very familiar with all the complicated dynamics and dysfunctions—and of course that can become really fertile ground for both humor and drama.”
Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) and Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) in Knives Out (2019)
Johnson’s main character, the world famous private detective Benoit Blanc, instantly charmed Daniel Craig, who was the first star to join the Knives Out cast. As Johnson notes, all great movie detectives have major imperfections—“the better to compel doubt from the audience,” he explains. “Whether it’s Poirot, Columbo, Mrs. Marple or whoever, one of the big unifying elements among movie detectives is that there’s always something about them that makes you not quite take them seriously,” says Johnson. “With Benoit Blanc, I just wrote a fun, flawed character that I genuinely loved and then it was really Daniel who brought all the wonderful warmth to him.”
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Craig approached the character first by way of the accent, which would serve as his path into Blanc’s Southern-fried background and prying personality. “I came across the Civil War historian and writer, Shelby Foote, who has this beautiful, lyrical accent and that was the inspiration I started with,” says Craig. “Eventually, I worked up the nerve to put something on tape for Rian and he said, ‘let’s go for it.’” In addition to perfecting his Tennessee drawl, Craig also hit the books to study movie detectives in preparation for his role. “I grew up on Agatha Christie movies,” says Craig. “I also love Deathtrap with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve, these sorts of chamber pieces where everything unfolds all in one location.” Though his research helped craft the character, Craig ultimately returned to Johnson’s source material to create the man we see on screen. “But Rian also brings a fresh take and an edge that feels very modern to me and is a lot of fun,” Craig adds.
(left to right) Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans), Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), and Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) in Knives Out (2019)
Joining Daniel Craig in his final performance before closing the book on James Bond is a slew of talented actors like Chris Evans, who steps out in his first role since hanging up his Captain America shield. “It was fun in the wake of his fantastic Marvel arc to play with how the audience perceives Chris,” says Johnson. “You get to see more of his range and how great his acting chops are.” Evans marks the second Avenger to have worked with Rian Johnson following Mark Ruffalo’s role alongside Daniel Craig’s wife, Rachel Weisz, in Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom (2008). Knives Out also stars Cuban actress Ana de Armas, whose popularity continues to rise after her co-starring role in Blade Runner 2049 (2017). She gets the opportunity to share the screen and build a rapport with Daniel Craig before joining him as the newest Bond girl in next spring’s No Time to Die (2020).
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Johnson has also tapped Academy Award ® winner Christopher Plummer and Academy Award ® nominees Michael Shannon and Toni Colette for his latest movie, which also features LaKeith Stanfield and Miami Vice (1984-1990) legend Don Johnson. The strong horror-mystery background of Colette (The Sixth Sense, Hereditary), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, The Fog), and LaKeith Stanfield (Get Out) should serve them well in this original whodunnit.
You can watch Rian Johnson’s latest creation, Knives Out, when it slices and dices its way into Regal just in time for Thanksgiving this Wednesday, November 27.