Total Film - - Contents - Jor­dan Far­ley

M. Night Shya­malan and cast on shat­ter­ing su­per­hero ex­pec­ta­tions after Un­break­able and Split.

Nearly two decades after cult comic-book movie Un­break­able be­mused the main­stream, and two years after that Split bomb­shell, cross­over se­quel Glass is now one of the most ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated movies of re­cent years. To­tal Film tracks the ups and downs of the ground­break­ing su­per­hero saga about ex­tra­or­di­nary in­di­vid­u­als who live among us, with in­sight from se­ries master­mind M. Night Shya­malan and his su­per-pow­ered cast. Words

ince Un­break­able’s re­lease 18 years ago, M. Night Shya­malan has had two es­pe­cially mem­o­rable en­coun­ters with his Mr. Glass, Sa­muel L. Jack­son. On both oc­ca­sions, they were in­side sep­a­rate mov­ing ve­hi­cles. And on both oc­ca­sions, Jack­son bel­lowed a sin­gle sen­tence at Shya­malan be­fore speed­ing off into the LA sun: “When are we mak­ing that se­quel, moth­er­fucker?!”

It was a valid ques­tion in Jack­son’s mind. “From the be­gin­ning, it was sup­posed to be a trio of films,” Jack­son re­calls, talk­ing to To­tal Film in late Oc­to­ber, his work on Glass al­ready in the can. “I thought we did a pretty good job with Un­break­able, so I al­ways won­dered why we didn’t make the other in­stal­ments.” The “why” was sim­ple eco­nomics. Made for $75m and gross­ing just shy of $250m, Un­break­able turned a profit, but un­der­per­formed at the box of­fice com­pared to The Sixth Sense ($672m on a $40m bud­get). Even more damn­ing was the “C” Cine­mas­core. By com­par­i­son, no­to­ri­ous 2004 stinker Cat­woman skulked away with a “B”.

There’s lit­tle ques­tion now that Un­break­able was a film wildly ahead of its time. Ask­ing “what if comic-book he­roes were real?” and treat­ing the sub­ject with ex­tra­or­di­nary in­tel­li­gence, au­di­ences weren’t ready for a grand de­con­struc­tion of su­per­hero cin­ema be­fore su­per­hero cin­ema could take flight (for con­text, Sam Raimi’s Spi­der-Man wouldn’t re­lease for an­other 18 months). Nei­ther was what the film au­di­ences were sold. Stu­dio mar­ket­ing framed Un­break­able as a thriller rather than the slow, som­bre su­per­hero drama it is – the irony be­ing Dis­ney was the dis­trib­u­tor re­fus­ing to court the Comic-Con crowd. But a lot can change in 20 years. Comic-book cin­ema is now so main­stream that “sum­mer block­buster” is syn­ony­mous with “su­per­hero movie”. It was fi­nally time for Shya­malan to strike.

And he did. In to­tal se­crecy. When the se­quel to Un­break­able re­leased in cin­e­mas world­wide last Jan­uary, no-one out­side the film’s in­ner cir­cle had any idea that Blum­house hor­ror Split was in fact the se­cret sec­ond chap­ter in the Shyamalaverse, un­til a last-minute cameo by Bruce Wil­lis set up a clash of the ti­tans be­tween David Dunn and The Horde. Even Split’s above-the-ti­tle star signed on obliv­i­ous to Shya­malan’s mas­ter­plan. “It wasn’t un­til we were three or four days into re­hearsal that I picked up that this was part of a big­ger

‘Ev­ery­one re­ally had a feel­ing of wow, we're do­ing some­thing that's never been done be­fore’ anya tay­lor-Joy

world,” says James McAvoy, talk­ing to TF from his trailer on the set of It: Chap­ter 2. “I thought, ‘Is this part of Un­break­able? That would be crazy.’” McAvoy’s co-star Anya Tay­lor-Joy didn’t find out un­til Shya­malan let her in on the sur­prise min­utes be­fore the film’s Fan­tas­tic Fest premiere. “Ev­ery­one re­ally had a feel­ing,” says Tay­lor-Joy, eyes widen­ing, “of wow, we’re do­ing some­thing that’s never been done be­fore, a se­cret trilogy that Night kept in his head.”

In­cred­i­bly, even Uni­ver­sal, the stu­dio that bankrolled Split, didn’t find out they’d made a se­quel to a Dis­ney movie un­til Shya­malan screened the film for ex­ec­u­tives. “At the end it hap­pens, and they lose their minds,” says Shya­malan, re­gal­ing TF dur­ing a trip to Lon­don in late Oc­to­ber. “They’re like, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t use this char­ac­ter from Dis­ney.’ And I’m like, ‘I al­ready talked to Dis­ney, they al­ready said OK. We’re all good.’ They were just stunned.” Shya­malan’s gam­bit worked on one pro­viso: Dis­ney and Uni­ver­sal would share the spoils of cross­over se­quel Glass, Uni­ver­sal re­leas­ing the film do­mes­ti­cally, Dis­ney glob­ally. It put Shya­malan in a com­pro­mis­ing po­si­tion.

“I wasn’t sure that this was go­ing to work,” Shya­malan ad­mits, “I was like, ‘This is the one time I’m writ­ing some­thing that I need these ac­tors to say yes, and I need the stu­dio to say yes.’ I’m very, very lucky.”

Luck wasn’t part of the equa­tion when it came to re-en­list­ing Bruce Wil­lis. Shya­malan and his lead­ing man “de­vel­oped a friend­ship and high level of trust” dur­ing the mak­ing of The Sixth Sense, a re­la­tion­ship that has held fast for 20 years. “When [Night] told me that he had an idea for a script for me, which was Un­break­able, I im­me­di­ately said ‘OK, I’m in’. I didn’t even know what the sub­ject mat­ter was go­ing to be,” says Wil­lis, who also agreed to cameo in Split as a favour to Shya­malan. “Sim­i­larly, when he ap­proached me about Glass,

I agreed im­me­di­ately, I didn’t have to read the script.”

Wil­lis wasn’t the only one who signed on, script un­seen. Amer­i­can Hor­ror/Crime Story star Sarah Paul­son agreed to play the film’s most sig­nif­i­cant new char­ac­ter – psy­chi­a­trist Dr. El­lie Sta­ple – with “no idea” what she was sign­ing up for. “That’s how will­ing I was to do it,” says an im­pas­sioned Paul­son, who cites Un­break­able as one of her favourite films. “When he fi­nally called me and said, ‘I want you to do the movie,’ I burst into tears. For all I knew, I was burst­ing into tears about a movie I was go­ing to have one scene in!”

Se­crecy is par for the course when it comes to Shya­malan, but to­day the staunchly cagey sto­ry­teller has flown into Lon­don to show TF the open­ing 22 min­utes of Glass. It’s what he calls the film’s “James Bond pro­logue”, only his ver­sion of 007 “jump­ing out of a plane” is a count­down to a quar­tet of cheer­lead­ers be­ing de­voured by a man who can take two point-blank shot­gun blasts to the chest and sur­vive. Across Philadel­phia, David Dunn is still serv­ing up vig­i­lante jus­tice in a rain­coat, but now he owns a se­cu­rity busi­ness with his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clarke), who serves as the tech-savvy Or­a­cle to David’s lud­dite Bat­man. Joseph im­parts two im­por­tant bits of in­for­ma­tion: the press have taken to call­ing David’s heroic al­ter-ego ‘The Overseer’ (“Do not men­tion the ‘The Tip-Toe Man’ ever again,” as­serts Dunn) and that he has a “ten­u­ous the­ory” as to where The Horde has taken the miss­ing girls. The next day, Dunn tracks the girls to an aban­doned fac­tory, but be­fore he can get them out, The Beast makes his en­trance…

By his own ad­mis­sion, Shya­malan is no ac­tion di­rec­tor (it’s no co­in­ci­dence that The Last Air­ben­der and After Earth are his big­gest mis­fires), which is why he’s tak­ing a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to the


su­per-pow­ered punch-ups in Glass.

“I tend to look at it as di­a­logue,” Shya­malan ex­plains. “It can’t be: ‘I hit you then you hit me.’ I don’t know how to be­gin to shoot that. But I can do: ‘I am stronger than you,’ and then, ‘You’re as strong as me? I didn’t know that you ex­isted.’” Need­less to say, you haven’t seen any­thing quite like the (first) fight be­tween David Dunn and The Beast in a decade of Marvel dust-ups. With The Beast the un­stop­pable force to Dunn’s un­break­able ob­ject, the two reach a stale­mate, one that’s bro­ken with a flash of light. The Beast falls to his knees, but it’s Barry whose voice is heard next, an­other of the 24 per­son­al­i­ties re­sid­ing in the body of dis­so­cia­tive iden­tity dis­or­der suf­ferer Kevin Wen­dell Crumb. “Don’t shoot! We can work through this. What’s hap­pen­ing?!” Sta­tioned be­hind gi­ant flood­lights are a dozen armed of­fi­cers and Dr. El­lie Sta­ple. She’s here to com­mit David and The Horde to her in­sti­tu­tion, and they’re not the only ones in her care…

Shya­malan first had the idea for Split dur­ing the mak­ing of Un­break­able, when he cut the char­ac­ter of Kevin Wen­dell Crumb from the un­wieldy script, re­plac­ing Crumb with the Or­ange Suit Man. He also knew the planned third chap­ter of the ‘Eas­trail 177 trilogy’ (named for the train crash caused by Eli­jah Price, that Dunn sur­vived with­out a scratch) would in­volve bring­ing all three to­gether for a fi­nal show­down, but it wasn’t un­til the writ­ing of Split that he hit on the per­fect set­ting for a story about “be­lief ver­sus fate”.

“What you’re go­ing to see after the 22 min­utes is that ba­si­cally the movie takes place in a con­tained One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest at­mos­phere where all of these things are talked about,” ex­plains Shya­malan, who shot the film in a real aban­doned asy­lum. “The whole premise of the movie is: ‘What if Marvel was real? What are we ca­pa­ble of?’ Kevin’s con­di­tion, DID, which I think is the cra­zi­est thing, is that an ex­am­ple of a su­per­hero?”

But there’s a rea­son the film is named after Un­break­able’s enig­matic vil­lain – a man whose mind is as sharp as his body is frail thanks to the os­teo­ge­n­e­sis im­per­fecta that has left his bones brit­tle. “The first one is the ori­gin story of David, and the next one is the ori­gin story of Kevin. This one, to some ex­tent, is fo­cused on Mr. Glass and: what does all this mean for Eli­jah, and his be­lief sys­tem?” re­veals Shya­malan, who al­most called the film The The­ory Of Eli­jah Price, be­fore set­tling on Glass for “meta­phoric” rea­sons. “His be­liefs are al­ways called into ques­tion,” adds Jack­son. “He’s been put in this par­tic­u­lar place, and locked up for 18 years. He’s had time to re­fine his ideas, he just needed a way to im­ple­ment them. And, all of a sud­den, he’s given the op­por­tu­nity.”

While Sta­ple’s job is “es­sen­tially, to try to con­vince us that we’re in a de­fec­tive men­tal state”, ac­cord­ing to Jack­son, Paul­son claims that her char­ac­ter is no Nurse Ratched, but that she has an “enor­mous ca­pac­ity for em­pa­thy”. Part of the ther­apy she

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