Director Mick Garris talks A&E’s Stephen King shocker “Bag of Bones”: Part 2

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Tell me a little about how production went.

Mick Garris: It actually went really well. It’s a very complex movie. It was shot for 39 days in Nova Scotia. You’ve read the book so you know that the Mike Noonan character is in virtually every scene, and a lot of them by himself. Normally an actor doesn’t run from Day 1 to Day 39 straight through and always there, but other than one day Pierce did the whole thing and a lot of it alone. And because you don’t shoot in order, it’s always interesting. There are three leading ladies in this movie with him, so it was like making three different movies, because you shoot for one actor’s schedule and for locations and that sort of thing rather than in story order just to make the production possible. The difference in each of those stories was stylistically and just where we were geographically with each one. It was really, really complicated and fascinating. It just felt like, “Whoa, three weeks ago we were where?” And probably the most interesting and fun challenge was recreating Dark Score Lake in 1939 with the jazz singer Sara Tidwell, who Anika Noni Rose plays. That was so much fun, all the period extras and carnival rides and the hayloft, and Sara Tidwell and her Slick Six, her touring band, performing these great jazz-era classic songs. It was really, really fun and exciting.

It was neat to hear you had gotten Anika Noni Rose for Sara Tidwell. That just seems like perfect casting.

MG: Amazing. You know, I was not that familiar with her work, and they were originally encouraging us to cast a popstar for that part. Finally, when Anika came up, I cannot imagine anyone on the planet being better for this part. She’s so good, she’s so beautiful, such a great voice and a fantastic actress, it was eye-opening. She’s going to really impress a lot of people not just with the musical performances, which are phenomenal, but the intense sequences with her are really quite remarkable. She really went for it. It’s kind of been the best cast experience I’ve ever had. I mean, Pierce does things I’ve never seen before, goes to some real emotional depth. He’s a fantastic actor, but he’s never really done a genre movie like this. He takes it out of the genre movie gutter that often we live in. Really, the material is different from your standard genre material, but then Pierce doing it really lifts it up. It’s a pretty incredible performance.

Yeah, the first perception you have of Pierce Brosnan is the suave, debonair type. You don’t always associate him with dark and disturbing material.

MG: It couldn’t have been better. I could not be happier with him and the rest of the cast. It’s really exciting. Working with actors is one of my favorite parts of this job, and sometimes it can be complicated and all, but everybody was on the same page and everybody genuinely enjoyed working with one another. I’d worked with Melissa and with Annabeth Gish before, so that was great. We already had a shorthand and a relationship going. But Pierce, from the very beginning once he settled into everything he just knocked it out of the park. He would try things, he would just go for it. A great actor is defined by an actor who is not limited by the potential of being embarrassed, who’s not afraid to go out on a limb, and when you see The Matador and him walking through a hotel lobby in his underpants and … boots you know this is a fearless actor. He really was a delight to work with. I don’t want to sound like a press agent.

I noticed Jason Priestley in the cast list. What’s his role?

MG: He plays Mike’s agent, Marty. It was a cameo, really. He does a show called Call Me Fitz that shoots by there, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and so we were looking for somebody who would be interesting to play the part and really bring something to the party. Again, I had not met him before and it was just great. At one point, he and Matt Frewer and Pierce were together in a scene together in a graveyard and started joking about being the kings of ’80s network TV. Brandon Walsh, Max Headroom and Remington Steele were all grouped together. (Laughs) It was really a riot.

The Bag of Bones promos sure are heavy on the spooky kids aspect. Is that a fair representation of the movie as a whole?

MG: Yeah, they do sell that. But it’s very much a part of it. It is a huge part of it, and the curse of Dark Score Lake is kind of the MacGuffin behind all this, so I would not want to downplay the horrific and frightening aspects, but I think what makes this kind of unique is the depth of the emotion that it goes to. It is a very passionate love story as well as a horrific Stephen King book.

When you’re casting a Stephen King project, is it important to you — or to him — that the actor not necessarily be a fan of King’s work, but at least have a good understanding of it?

MG: In a way, you don’t want them to think of it as a Stephen King thing, because some people have misconceptions about what that means. It’s like a “different rung on the ladder” if you’re doing a horror movie than from doing a drama. I think what’s special about Stephen King is that it plays in a very real world. It may take you to places that are not real, but you accept them because of the reality of the bed they sleep in. So understanding Stephen King is a great thing, if somebody comes in like Steven Weber, who is already a great Stephen King fan before you start and understands what he’s about, that’s fantastic. But I just want the best actor for the part, whether or not he’s thinking of being in a genre movie or however that’s handled. I’m looking for the best actor however he approaches it, however we get there.

I’m sure the answer is no here, but back when you worked together on Sleepwalkers, did you get the sense you and Stephen King would have such a long partnership?

MG: Absolutely not, especially because I never met Steve until the day he shot his cameo in Sleepwalkers. We had talked on the phone and faxed pages back and forth, back in the days of faxes in 1992. But we didn’t really meet until that cameo and that was only for two hours. But then when he asked me to do The Stand, that was a very different relationship because he was there for a good half of the show off and on. That was a long five-month shoot, so we really got to see how we work and work together, and got to know each other and became friends during that course of time. That’s really when that relationship developed. Then on through The Shining, where he was around even more. When I was doing Sleepwalkers, the answer’s no, but as things continued, you know, nothing makes me happier than to be able to work with him.

You had referenced earlier how there are new versions of The Stand being talked about. Got any particular feelings on that?

MG: Well, you know, it was great to do it as eight hours, which was really six hours, because it was a huge story. But it would be nice to see it where people had the funds to do everything you need. We actually shot The Stand on 16mm film because it saved us money, and the special effects were in their infancy, and we were using the bargain-basement version of the infancy of CGI. In a way, though, it’s like looking at King and his books. You can’t screw up a writer’s book by making a bad movie of it because the book is still on the shelf. Some of my favorite genre films — The Thing and The Fly — are remakes. And they’re, I think, better than the original, which may be blasphemy to some people. But it’d be interesting to see what somebody does with The Stand. It would be weird to see if I would feel competitive about it. “Ah, mine’s better than that!” There’s so many people involved in making a movie that it would be fascinating to watch. I had done Psycho IV, so I was kind of rooting for Gus Van Sant when he remade Psycho, but I don’t think it turned out that anybody was really thrilled with the results of his little experiment there. But it’d be interesting to see what they’d do, and they’d have a lot more money than I did, that’s for sure.