Knives Out director plots whodunit franchise

Director Rian Johnson is writing the sequel to Knives Out, with Daniel Craig (foreground) set to return. The first film also starred (from far left) Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas.
Director Rian Johnson is writing the sequel to Knives Out, with Daniel Craig (foreground) set to return. The first film also starred (from far left) Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Director Rian Johnson (above) is writing the sequel to Knives Out, with Daniel Craig set to return. The first film also starred Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas.
Director Rian Johnson (above) is writing the sequel to Knives Out, with Daniel Craig set to return. The first film also starred Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • Hit murder mystery Knives Out (2019) is set to become a whodunit movie franchise, with British actor Daniel Craig's Southern gentleman sleuth tackling a brand-new set of suspects, its creator said.

The movie was a massive success for writer-director Rian Johnson, previously best known for the divisive blockbuster Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017).

An Agatha Christie homage about a family patriarch murdered in his sprawling mansion, Knives Out on Tuesday passed US$300 million (S$416 million) at the global box office, despite a budget of just US$40 million.

"It's always been in my head that if this one does all right, then it'd be really fun to do more of these," said Johnson.

The film was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar - losing out to history-making South Korean movie Parasite (2019) - and last week, studio Lionsgate confirmed a sequel.

"It's really more like another case, another set of suspects, another type of mystery, but with Daniel's Benoit Blanc character there to solve it," said Johnson.

He has begun writing the second film, with plot details under wraps. "I'm just starting to fish around... There will be a murder, I can say that!" But there will be "a whole new cast and whole new location and everything."

The first film boasted an impressive ensemble cast, including Captain America star Chris Evans, soon-to-be Bond girl Ana de Armas and veteran actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

Said Johnson: "That's the other fun thing about thinking about the next one... What other actors could we rope into this?"

WOOD-PANELLED ROOMS

Johnson first came up with the idea for Knives Out a decade ago.

After dedicating four years to making Star Wars epic The Last Jedi for Disney, he found himself itching to quickly switch to something galaxies away from that "big film-making world."

"I had a great time working on Star Wars... I genuinely enjoyed that aspect of it," said Johnson.

But the idea of a film "we could make quickly and just have some fun with actors talking in wood-panelled rooms - you can see how that would be appealing", he added.

Johnson remains linked to a brand-new Star Wars trilogy, announced in 2017 but plagued by rumours it had been cancelled after the experimental Last Jedi enraged die-hard fans.

"I still have a great relationship with Lucasfilm and nothing's been announced," said Johnson.

FOGHORN LEGHORN

Beyond the traditional detective formula, Knives Out earned praise for its comedic aspects, including its satirical look at the wealthy family's prejudices.

And, of course, there was James Bond actor Craig's drawling "deep South" accent, based on the late American Civil War historian Shelby Foote.

"It ended up being kind of Shelby Foote by way of Foghorn Leghorn," joked Johnson. "He (Craig) would go, 'Was that too much?' And I'd say, 'No, keep going!'"

The accent drew scorn from some viewers, but Johnson insists Craig's deliberately "humane and clownish" accent was "never just a joke".

"It takes a really, really good actor to go big and stay real," said Johnson.

Although Craig is the only actor reprising his role, the social themes from Knives Out are likely to return.

The whodunit genre provides the perfect chance to tackle social issues without appearing to lecture or preach, said Johnson.

"In a whodunit, you have this little microcosm of society with your group of suspects," he said.

Just as Christie used the genre to turn "the lens on contemporary British society of her time", the Knives Out franchise offers "a great opportunity to me to set it in modern-day America and turn the lens on ourselves a little bit".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

  • Knives Out is showing in cinemas.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'Knives Out director plots whodunit franchise'. Print Edition | Subscribe