In his 2019 film Knives out, director Rian Johnson has crafted an Agatha Christie-esque thriller that speaks volumes about class inequality and privilege in America. Now it’s back, and this time it’s targeting tech billionaires.
Johnson says America has a unique relationship with tech moguls. We want to shoot arrows at them and make fun of them, but “we also want them to be Willy Wonka. … We think maybe they’ll take us up the big glass elevator and take us to Mars .”
Johnson’s new movie, Glass Onionfocuses on tech billionaire Miles Bron (played by Edward Norton), who invited an assortment of friends and so-called “disruptors” to his private island for a long weekend during COVID to play a game murder mystery.
The cast of characters includes a gubernatorial Senate candidate, a “men’s rights” YouTuber, and a former model who considers herself a social media truth-teller. Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), the Southern gentleman detective featured in Knives outappears on the scene to help unravel the mystery.
Although the sequel follows a structure similar to Knives outJohnson insists that Glass Onion is a “completely different race”.
“This movie is a bit bigger than the first one,” he says. “A big part of making this movie was to think of it not really as a continuation of the first one, but kind of going back to the source of inspiration for me, which were the Agatha Christie books.”
Johnson says there’s a misconception that Christie told the same story over and over again, but, in fact, the opposite is true. “She was doing wildly different things with each book and taking crazy narrative turns and not just shaking up the location and the cast of the characters and the type of murder,” Johnson said.
“And that was, I guess, the main thing I wanted to do with it,” he says of Glass Onion. “I wanted to create another fun murder mystery. But I wanted to say to the audience, ‘If we keep making these movies, each one will be a completely different adventure.’ “
on how Glass Onion differs from Knives out
The first is about a family in New England and it’s a bit more down to earth. This one, just out of necessity to… the fact that there’s a tech billionaire in the middle, it felt like we had to raise our voices a bit. … A lot of these movies try to connect with the present moment. …It’s getting a bit wacky. But for me, it’s because this stuff has gotten wackier and wackier over the last few years.
Mocking the idea of ”disruptors”
Miles is obviously at the top of this power structure. In fact, he does not want to disturb anything. He sits well. …So the notion of disruption applied to that would actually be horrifying to someone like that. So that seemed interesting to me.
On Benoit Blanc’s southern gentleman accent
When I wrote the first script, I think I didn’t want to scare off potential financiers, so I described it as “the slightest hint of a low whisper, a gentle Southern accent rhythm.” I used, like, 18 adjectives to pound it. And then, of course, Daniel [Craig] and I started going there, we went into town. We sent clips back and forth. My only directive was that I wanted it to be a pleasant accent to listen to. And ultimately, [what] we kind of chose is largely based on Shelby Football, the historian who is in some of Ken Burns’ documentaries. … He has, I think, a Mississippi accent, but it’s a very honeyed accent. And that’s kind of what we’re aiming for.
On his father’s and grandfather’s love of cinema
My whole family loves movies and my dad loved movies and he really loved directors. So my dad introduced me to Scorsese and showed me angry bull, through the lens of “Here is an artist who really does something.” And my grandfather loved Fellini. I think that’s very important as a young person – not just watching these movies and being exposed to them, but for me seeing older men that I respect, seeing through the prism of their respect for this thing. …
When I got into film school…I would sometimes watch three or four movies a day and soak up all the canon of film school. [My dad] has always been my biggest cheerleader. … If there was any bitter sweetness in all of this, it was that he passed away a few months before I was approached for the star wars work. And that would have been – I can only imagine. Much of filmmaking since then is still framed by, “My God, what would dad say if he was here right now?”
On direction Star Wars: The Last Jedi
It was the ultimate dream come true. It was the sky opening up, and all the cliches you can imagine…all of it, from writing it to working at Pinewood Studios and working with these amazing craftsmen and actors and shooting a star wars movie to get it out. And the experience of recent years of getting to know star wars fans and people who connect with the film and tell me about it. I mean, all of this just been, it’s like a mountain in the middle of my life. I doubt I’ll ever surpass it, in terms of breadth and depth of experience.
Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the web.