Filmmaker Says The Period Working On ‘The Lovely Bones’ Was A “Horrible Time,” Calls The 2009 Version “Absolutely Awful”
Contrary to popular belief, Playlist writers are not always on the same page, but one recently (re-)acclaimed filmmaker does bind most of us. Coming off her triumphant return with Cannes-approved hit, the psychological motherhood horror, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” — which looks like one of the two or three current Palme d’Or frontrunners and could likely earn Tilda Swinton the Best Actress prize — Ramsay is finally back in the saddle (read our Cannes review here).
But the Scottish filmmaker has been absent from cinema since 2002’s “Morvern Callar.” Known for her haunting and expressive works (which include some wonderful shorts and her mesmerizing debut, “Ratcatcher“), Ramsay famously was slated to direct the adaptation of Alice Sebold‘s “The Lovely Bones,” but exited the project in the mid-aughts leaving it to Peter Jackson to eventually pick up, and botch spectacularly. While it took her away from cinema for nine years, none of us really knew just how much it negatively affected her, but the filmmaker, who has talked about it a bit over the years, finally seems to be comfortable discussing what happened in no uncertain terms.
“It killed me, it knocked me for six,” she told the L.A. Times recently. “I thought I was writing something darn decent and I felt a bit betrayed at the end.” Ramsay was given the manuscript early (before it was even completed, which complicated things later), before the book went into publication and started working on the adaptation. But while she was underway on the film, it became an Oprah Book Club bestseller and then the pressures to get this literary phenomenon onto the screen started building.
Before it became a hit, Ramsay was “much more interested in the inner world of the father, whether he was going to see his daughter, like Hamlet and the ghost,” but when the book took off, the producers of the film “wanted a replica of the book,” she said. “It was a horrible time, no one was telling me the truth, like “1984.” They’d say, ‘Yeah, we like it, but can we make it a version of the Susie we know and love?’ “
Things got worse when Peter Jackson started “sniffing around” the film while she was still actively working on it, with “The Lord Of The Rings” director and Academy Award winner obviously having much more clout. She then thought enough was enough and decided to bow out of the project. “I was getting so frustrated, it would wake me up in the middle of the night. It was so hideous, it made me question whether I wanted to be a filmmaker or not,” she admitted. “When Peter Jackson started sniffing around the project—I mean, he’s the biggest director in the world. Him and Spielberg. I’m just Lynne Ramsay. So it just went a bit awry,” she said, conceding the degree to which his involvement only made things worse for her situation.
Thankfully she forged through and maybe she’s had her revenge since Jackson’s version of “The Lovely Bones” has a pretty dismal 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and made the top of our worst films of the year list in 2009. “I saw that chiller-thriller. Absolutely awful,” she said none-too diplomatically to our IndieWIRE colleagues.
“I thought it looked like ‘My Little Pony,’ ” she also added to MTV when asked about the same subject. “I saw the trailer and I thought it looked like… terrible. I thought it was completely trite and not what I was doing [in my adaptation] in any way. I was going for something a lot more psychological.”
“It taught me a lot about just picking up something myself and the pressures of others. Then I started working on ‘Kevin’ and that took so long because of bad luck and the timing of the recession,” she recently told THR. The difference between ‘Kevin’ and ‘The Lovely Bones’ was that there was so much pressure with ‘The Lovely Bones’ being the U.S. number one bestseller and on Oprah’s book club, that kind of thing. With ‘Kevin,’ the book was a much slower burn hit, certainly in America, even though it was such a big hit in the U.K.”
So what’s next? She’s not saying exactly, but there are two projects in the works that she teased ever so slightly. “I’m keeping it under wraps at the moment. I’m working on something small and something large,” is all she would allow. “I still want to make original ideas, too. It’s not going to be all about literary adaptations.”
Here’s Ramsay, Tilda Swinton and the cast of “We Need To Talk About Kevin” discussing the film at Cannes.