Q&A: “STEPHEN KING’S A GOOD MARRIAGE” Director Peter Askin (with exclusive photos)Fearful Features,Home,Movies/TV,News Michael Gingold
What happens when the man you’ve shared decades of your life with turns out to be a serial killer? That’s the central question of STEPHEN KING’S A GOOD MARRIAGE, scripted from his own novella by the master of literary horror and directed by Peter Askin, who discussed the film with FANGORIA.
Opening today from Screen Media Films, and inspired by the true story of BTK Killer Dennis Rader and his wife Paula, STEPHEN KING’S A GOOD MARRIAGE stars Joan Allen as Darcy Anderson, who seems to have the perfect union with her husband of 25 years, Bob (Anthony LaPaglia). Then, while he’s away on a business trip, she discovers evidence of his murderous side, and her whole world is shattered. It’s the first venture into thriller territory for Askin, whose career has encompassed writing and directing for both the screen and the stage—thought it does not represent his first collaboration with King…
FANGORIA: How did you come to be involved with this project?
PETER ASKIN: I’ve actually worked with Steve a couple of times on some theater pieces. At one point, I was going to direct a stage adaptation of MISERY, and I got to know him that way. Later, I worked for a time with Steve and John Mellencamp on their musical GHOST BROTHERS OF DARKLAND COUNTY, and after the early stages of development, I had to go off and do something else. Then I was out in Indianapolis with Steve; they were doing an album version of GHOST BROTHERS and we were rooming together, and he said, “I’ve been working on this short story that I think would make a good little indie movie.” He knew that the limited film work I’d done had been indie-based, and he said, “Would you like to read it?” I said yes, and we went from there.
When it came time to actually find a screenwriter for it, I asked him whether that was something he might entertain, and he said, “Well, I’m really busy,” but then very quickly I got about half a dozen adaptation ideas from him. Once he gets going on something, he doesn’t waste time.
FANG: How closely did you work with him on the GOOD MARRIAGE screenplay?
ASKIN: I gave him some very extensive notes about what, from the novella, I thought should be part of the screenplay. Then he went off, and I didn’t actually work with him on the writing of it. It was very much a back-and-forth; he would do a draft, and I would send notes with my thoughts on it. We were never in a room together.
FANG: Was he involved on set?
ASKIN: No; I wish he had visited the set, but he was in development on a bunch of other projects. He was going to come one day, but the day he could come was a particularly difficult day’s work, a very trying scene. It made Joan nervous, the idea of meeting him when she had to prepare for this scene, so she very politely and respectfully asked that he not visit that day. She never had anyone come to the set. We would have loved to have Steve do a cameo in a scene or two, and I think he would have been willing to do that, but it never happened. I still don’t think he’s met Joan Allen yet.
FANG: A GOOD MARRIAGE is an interesting variation on a popular thriller theme; usually, films like this are about the process of discovery that someone’s significant other is a killer, whereas here, Darcy finds out fairly early on what’s happening, and it develops from there.
ASKIN: You just put your finger on what I think intrigued Steve about the story, and the challenge for us in making the film: that it really begins once she discovers it, and the question is, what does she do about it? That challenge involved keeping the audience guessing, because if they knew this or that was going to happen too early, their interest level would drop precipitously. The novella is very internal, so that was another challenge—to activate that.
FANG: How did you go about externalizing that inner voice through Joan Allen’s performance?
ASKIN: Well, Steve did a lot of that in the screenplay. We didn’t use voiceover, but we did use something in a handful of places where things start in this domestic reality, whether Joan Allen’s doing the laundry or having a nap or whatever, and then go into something very frightening. One of the interesting things that comes out of it is the question of how much of this is going on in Darcy’s mind, and how much is actually happening. When you’re doing a low-budget film, you can’t afford too many test screenings, but we had a couple, and one of the most interesting things was the amount of conversations about how much of it is real and how much is in her imagination.
In the novella, Steve makes an active use of mirrors. Darcy looks into a number of them in the house and sees a different reality; she sees what she describes as a darker version of herself, a different version of her husband and a different layout of their bedroom and living room. We toyed with the idea of keeping more of that, but at the end of the day we did not. At the time we were making this, BLACK SWAN was coming out, and it made extensive and good use of mirrors, so it seemed more interesting and fresh to go in a different direction.
FANG: How did you cast the two lead roles?
ASKIN: I had been fortunate enough to work with both Joan and Anthony before. Joan was in a film I did called TRUMBO, based on a stage piece by Dalton Trumbo’s son Christopher, and I had always been a big fan of hers. I felt she represented a kind of normalcy, in a way I wanted Darcy Anderson to appear. And I had worked with Anthony earlier on a comedy I did with Doug McGrath called COMPANY MAN, about what really happened with the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, where he played Fidel Castro. The thing about Anthony is that his face can be such a mask; he can come across as opaque, and then suddenly you see a small smile, and there’s this boyish sweetness to him, and yet when his face is in repose, he can have a very menacing quality. There were a couple of people we were interested in, but Anthony was the one who could see all the levels to Bob and really embrace the idea of playing with them. Having worked with both of them, I was very excited about what they could bring to this.
FANG: Did you do any research into the BTK case to prepare for the film?
ASKIN: There was a fictionalized movie version of it that I watched, and I read some of the available material, but the key thing about this story and stories like it—the whole idea of the serial killer hiding in plain sight—was something that was very much on our minds, and had been on Steve’s mind. Dennis Rader’s wife was interviewed after he was caught—after 25 or 30 years of marriage—about being absolutely blind to who he really was. That was an intriguing idea, and certainly one that King wanted to play with, but he wanted to do something where, instead of living with learning about it afterward, she discovers who he is while it’s going on, and it’s about what she faces, and what she is willing and not willing to do about it. As you mentioned earlier, that question is very much what the film deals with.
FANG: How did you approach Bob’s violence in the film, and how much of it to show or not show?
ASKIN: I would say it’s more suggestive. We do have a little bit in flashbacks and photographs when Darcy is researching Bob after she learns who she’s living with, and is trying to deny the fact in the course of a long night of wrestling with it. There is some violence in her dreamscape, and at other points, but it’s pretty minimal. In my own moviegoing life, I don’t naturally seek out those kinds of films. The movies that have disturbed me, whether they’re Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS or David Cronenberg’s A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, or the great films by Alfred Hitchcock or David Fincher or something like Carl Franklin’s ONE FALSE MOVE—I watch them because I’m intrigued. I agree with Hitchcock’s theory—I’m much more scared when it’s something like INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, where the gun is under the table and you know it, you just don’t know when it’s going to be used, than when somebody’s throat suddenly gets slashed. That’s shocking and scary, but the anticipation is what really works for me, and that’s what we tried to do here.
FANG: What is it about King’s writing that you think resonates so strongly, and has resonated for so many years?
ASKIN: Well, first, he’s a terrific storyteller; that’s what I respond to. I also respond to his humor; to me, there’s a lot of that in a book like MISERY. He’s also so accessible in his writing, and for someone who is so well-known for this genre, he has an extraordinarily broad imagination. Just rooming with him for a week in Indianapolis, driving to the recording studio every day, to sit and listen to him reveal his breadth of interests—he’s so generous with his knowledge and information. His mind goes into unexpected places, and in the time I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve been surprised dozens of times by where he goes in conversation.
FANG: You mentioned the humor in King’s work; is there any of that in A GOOD MARRIAGE?
ASKIN: I hope so. That would probably have been one of the things that, if we had more time in our schedule, which was very tight, I would have loved to explore a little more. But yeah, I believe there are moments. There’s a scene where they’re eating pizza that, to me, is awful, but it’s also very funny. She doesn’t want to cook after she discovers who he is, so she buys a pizza, and that scene, to me, is quintessential Stephen King storytelling.