Jordan Peele is a triple threat in the film industry. He is writer, producer and director of some of the most fascinating-to-watch horror/thrillers of our age. Cutting across traditional race, gender and genre stereotypes, Peele peels away the usual layers of horror, allowing his monsters to come from just about any background, culture or creed. Heck, his new film Nope even sees extra-terrestrial boogeymen taking centre-stage.
This is a film that truly is like nothing you have seen before, especially in the realm of sci-fi cinema. Peele’s aliens are not only otherworldly, they defy the typical style of extra-terrestrial we’re used to seeing; his being more ‘organic’ and therefore somewhat fallible in their tactics to touch down on our planet.
While too much won’t be given away in this here interview, it ought to be said this film will surprise even the most ardent fans of horror, thriller and/or sci-fi. The camera angles are challenging; the characters are unique; the soundtrack wonderfully warped; and the end result a fantastical feast for the senses. Read on.
Your films are so unique and different to everything else. What was the genesis of NOPE?
It’s hard to talk about the genesis without giving anything away, but I felt there was this vacuum of a movie that I wish existed but didn’t – which was the big, horror, UFO film. In some ways, I felt I had the responsibility to take that on. So, the idea, concept and plot started from there.
What was your main inspiration to write it?
Humanity – like all my films – combined with the feeling of existential helplessness. Then I targeted this idea of spectacle, to bring people out to the theatres and help invigorate their love for the cinematic experience, and at the same time I asked myself the reason why we are obsessed with spectacle. Why is the human condition such that we have this addiction to witnessing magic, be it beautiful or horrific?
“Film is one of the ways we address our fears, which we fight as human beings. There is something about getting together with a bunch of people to face those fears in a safe environment that helps our body release them and not hold on to them.”
At the core of the story there is a relationship between two siblings that are very different but who have a special bond…
Yes, it’s a story about home and two siblings – OJ and Emerald Haywood –who have a connection and a bond to rediscover. I think they represent two halves that most of us have in us. There is a part of me that is Emerald – wanting to be out there getting the laugh and the appraisal – and another part that is OJ, socially nervous and uncomfortable. I’m an only child, but I’m fascinated with the sibling relationship because it is based on a primal genetic sort of loyalty, with something special beneath. No matter how much they can go at each other’s throats or how much their existence is defined by being different to one another, they will come to support each other at the end. So, I wanted to tell a tale about that because it’s something that always brings me a great deal of heart, joy… and melancholy.
Those roles are played by Daniel Kaluuya – whom you’d already worked with on Get Out – and Keke Palmer – of Hustlers fame. What do you think these actors bring to those roles?
They are such different performers with such different backgrounds, and they both embodied their characters so wonderfully. These are characters that act as foils to each other, and as soon as we got these actors together you could just see them starting to become Emerald and OJ and how real that relationship was. It even got to the point where I didn’t have to talk to them much or tell them how they felt towards each other, because they knew. So, the scenes where they are together are magical, and their bond is real.
How did Daniel react when you told him he would spend a large part of the movie on a horse?
Initially, not great, but I will say that I have never seen an actor work as hard as he did to get the horse skills together. It’s just wonderful to watch his process, because from the first day I met him on Get Out and told him I needed him to get the accent right, and he has been flawless. Then on this film he said that the next time I saw him he would be a horse rider, and basically that’s what happened.
“I asked myself the reason why we are obsessed with spectacle; why is the human condition such that we have this addiction to witnessing magic, be it beautiful or horrific?”
You also have rich complex supporting characters that add a lot to the movie.
I’m inspired by directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Altman and Quentin Tarantino, because they don’t take any character for granted. I was blessed to fill the supporting roles with massive talents.
The film is also epic in scale – visually stunning.
My director of photography, Hoyte van Hoytema, was an absolute pleasure to work with and he’s a true genius. I believe he is the only cinematographer who could have forged the ground – both artistically and technically – to achieve some of the things we pulled off in this film. We did some things with large-format and IMAX cameras that I’ve never seen done. The heart and soul of the movie is about capturing the impossible on camera. When I asked Hoyte what he would use if he had to film a flying saucer for posterity, he said he would use an IMAX camera, just because of the resolution.
How would you explain your relationship to symbolism?
My relationship to symbolism in my films has grown to become a little more organic, regarding how symbols manifest and what they mean. During the course of a process, you find connections in things, and so much of telling a story and moviemaking starts with something you don’t know; trying to understand what you have been trying to tell yourself. So, you can’t sort of decide what symbols are, but rather let them show you what they are.
“The heart and soul of the movie is about capturing the impossible on camera.”
The use of name cards in the narrative is quite original and fascinating too.
Without going too deep into what that is about, I think NOPE structurally feels different to other films, and there are departures from traditional storytelling in it. I feel that the name cards helped an audience know how to watch the film and understand that this was not going to be the most straightforward style of narrative, in a movie where you were going to have to pay attention in a different way.
NOPE transcends and reimagines genres, to the point where it is impossible to place in a box. How important is that to you?
I love that! I’ve been trying to identify boxes and break out of them for my whole career, and part of that has to do with feeling boxed in. Also, when you have a box, you have a magic trick waiting to happen and an audience waiting to be surprised; so, if you can find a box, bust it open!
Horror and genre movies have existed and been successful since the dawn of cinema. Why do you think that is?
Because I think it’s everything. Film is one of the ways we address our fears, which we fight as human beings. And I truly believe that anything we suppress, keep down or hold down for long enough, doesn’t go away. Actually, it can come back in worse ways. So, there is something about getting together with a bunch of people to face those fears in a safe environment that helps our body release them and not hold on to them. That’s why these movies work.
Regarding the scope, this is your largest film to date. What lessons have you learned from making it?
So many! In terms of scope, I would just say that there is nothing unachievable. This is something that I would tell myself and anybody trying to make a film. Anything is achievable in this medium if you focus on collaboration. If you find the right team, work and problem-solve together, you can create the grandest of illusions. Since King Kong, back when they didn’t have any of the tools we have now, it was all about innovation. So, this was about putting myself and the team to the test and see how far we could push it. And now I feel we can continue to go further.
‘Nope’ is in cinemas August 11, 2022.
View the latest trailer, below.