Interview: Director Richard Kelly on Restoring ‘Donnie Darko’ For Its Fifteenth Anniversary
It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since the release of now cult classic Donnie Darko. We’re all getting so old.
But, unlike most of us, Donnie Darko only gets better with age. And this special anniversary brings a stunning 4K restoration of the classic to theaters.
Ahead of this weekend’s release, which includes a newly re-created reverse time lapse sequence done by Richard Kelly, we got a chance to speak to the director himself about his inspiration, managing such a talented cast, and that unforgettable bunny suit.
On Donnie Darko’s unique premise:
I tried to write the movie I most want to see. I tend to like things that push boundaries and don’t fit into genre categorization — movies that take risks and are surprising. So I gravitate towards that sort of thing. I get bored otherwise. I’m not really interested in conforming to existing patterns, artistic patterns. I like forming new ones, I guess.
On working with such big talent (Drew Barrymore, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Noah Wyle, Patrick Swayze):
It was an honor to get to work with these people. And I was a first-time director — I was confident in my ability to command a set, and I knew where to put the camera. I had my technical skills in place, but I was terrified of directing these actors ‘cause they were all so much more experienced than me and they had a deeper history in the business.
So I was intimated by the caliber of the cast, but then I just realized that I had written these words and that the words were well-chosen and that I just needed to talk to them from an intuitive place.
On creating THAT bunny costume:
I did all the drawings, all the sketches you see in the movie. And we worked with the artist who designed the mold for the rabbit and then we built the mold. And we had it painted and then worked with April Ferry, our costume designer to build the suit. And it all came together. It was a very specific design strategy behind it.
And when Steven Poster lit it, it came to life. And I remember when we first lit it on set the first week, when we first brought the rabbit on set, everyone got really quiet. And it was like everyone had taken mushrooms and it just started to kick in or something, and it was clear that something was working. It could have gone horribly wrong and everyone would’ve been cringing, said it was embarrassing or laughable… but I knew right away that it was working.
On the inspiration for Grandma Death:
Grandma Death was actually a real person from my childhood. There was a woman, very elderly woman who would stand outside by her mailbox and wave at cars and would open and close her mailbox. And everyone was concerned that she might get run down.
And how he really did almost run someone down in front of her house:
My dad bought me my first car at 15 1/2 years old, a pickup truck. We were driving back from the person we bought the car from, and we were driving past the woman my brother and his friends nicknamed Grandma Death, past her home, and it wasn’t her but there was a homeless man standing in the middle of the street and I swerved the car and missed hitting him by inches.
And so I didn’t almost run her down… it was a different homeless man, but it was right in front of her home. And it felt like there was something eerie about it, that carried on into the story.
That iconic ending scene actually came together pretty easily:
Michael Andrews is our composer and we worked really closely on the score. When it came time to figure out the ending he said, you know, my friend Gary Jules, he’s got a beautiful voice. He does this almost a cappella cover of the Tears For Fears song “Mad World.”
And the original “Mad World” is a very fast-paced, very different sounding song. And then he basically took the lyrics and he made them into this ballad. And so Gary came up from San Diego and laid down the vocal and Michael played this piano melody and it came together on, like, one day.
It all happened in one day. It was recorded and laid down. It happened really fast, and we had no idea that it would turn into this huge phenomenon. You know, number one UK Christmas single, selling a million copies or what, you know. It’s wild.
On Donnie Darko’s cult status:
For a long time it was seen as such a failure, I guess. So I am just so thrilled that it continues to connect to people. I really am. And it’s inspiring to me that people still wanna talk about it. And now to do this restoration, it was just a wonderful experience because we want people to see it on the big screen. This is where it was intended to be all along, is in theaters. It’ll probably be in more theaters this weekend than it was in 2001. So, that’s very exciting.
Donnie Darko returns to theaters across the country beginning March 31.
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