Fortunately for Reeves, his version, titled "Let Me In," has played well to preview audiences and manages to honor the original while standing on its own. It helps that he cast Kodi Smit-McPhee ("The Road") and Chloe Moretz ("Kick-Ass") in the starring roles—two actors who perfectly capture their characters' sense of alienation and loneliness. With the film opening Oct. 1, Back Stage spoke to the filmmaker about his casting methods, why he related to the story, and re-imagining a modern classic.
Back Stage: You cast an ensemble of unknowns in "Cloverfield" and clearly have an eye for talent. Is there anything you would want an actor coming in to audition for you to know?
Matt Reeves: The thing that I always respond to is when people are willing to take a chance and try things. To me, the most fun thing about making movies is the chance to explore something and going in and trying different things and then surprising yourself. That happened on "Let Me In." We would discover things in the moment, and then things would change and be much more alive because something real happened while you were shooting. And that's the biggest gift you can get.
Back Stage: With "Let Me In," I understand you felt it was important to cast the kids first.
Reeves: I did. I thought that was the most important thing. I just felt like the relationship is the central part of the story, and if you don't have two kids who can take on the emotional complexity of this story, then I don't think the whole story works. It's interesting, because it's an adult story, especially emotionally, but it rests entirely on the shoulders of these 12-year-olds. And the idea of finding kids who could do that was a real challenge.
Back Stage: How did you settle on Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz? What were their auditions like?
Reeves: There was a scene that I wrote, after the moment when Owen [McPhee] realizes that she [Moretz] is a vampire—I wanted him to be reeling, and I wanted him to have nowhere to turn and for you to get this sense of his isolation and be inside his character emotionally. You see him on the phone with his father, and essentially he has a breakdown. The scene that sort of inspired me was that scene in "Rosemary's Baby" where the camera just holds on Mia Farrow where she's on the pay phone and she's trying to explain that she's not crazy. The camera never cuts off of her; it's all on her. So that was one of the scenes that I had the kids read when they came in, and Kodi was so natural. It wasn't pushed; it wasn't somebody playing with the melodrama of the scene. It was just totally, startlingly real. That was the moment I knew we could make the movie. It was the same thing with Chloe too; she played her scenes so real and natural. The key was not to get her to play a vampire but to get her to play a child who was in that position. And she totally got that, and that's what we tried to do.
Back Stage: But you were never able to audition them together?
Reeves: No, Kodi had a film he was making in Australia, so he had to leave. So I read other actresses, and Chloe was my favorite, but I couldn't get them together. But I had this weird instinct; I don't know what it was, but having spent a little time with both of them, I thought there would be something about their chemistry. I could have been wrong, but I was really fortunate that they sort of just responded to each other in a great way. And I tried to have them spend as much time during rehearsal as possible. They came in a couple weeks early, and I had them writing journals and talking to me about their characters, and they became fast friends.
Back Stage: How did the project come to you?
Reeves: When I initially took on the project, it was presented to me right after "Cloverfield" came out, so it was, like, January 2008. I had been trying to get a film made called "Invisible Woman" even before "Cloverfield" and spoke to Overture about that. It's kind of a darker, more challenging story, and so it was a harder sell. When I met with Overture to talk to them about it, they said that they loved the script but that it was a very challenging film to get made right now. But they were pursuing the rights for this Swedish film, which they wanted me to watch and see if I'd be interested in doing it. This was January of 2008, and I'd never heard of it, I didn't know anything about the book, I knew nothing, and I didn't even really know what it was about. The only thing they told me was that I might want to age the kids up in order to appeal to an American audience.
Back Stage: And how did you react?
Reeves: I was completely blown away. And weirdly, the script for "Invisible Woman" was all through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy whose family was going through turmoil, and they moved into this apartment complex, and he ended up having this relationship with the girl next door in the courtyard. So what the ["Let the Right One In"] director Tomas Alfredson was doing was right in the emotional terrain of what I had been dying to do. I called them up the next day, and I said, "I have two things to say. Number one is, I don't know if you should remake this movie, because it's brilliant. Number two, if you do make it—if you make it with me or with anyone—you can't age those kids up, because if you do, you lose what the whole story's about. At that point Overture didn't have the rights, and they said, "Well, we're pursuing the rights, and we'll stay in touch." I was so taken with the story that I read the novel. There's so much detail in the novel, and I saw even more deeply Oskar's story and understood it even more, and I couldn't let it go.
Back Stage: You wrote the book's author John Lindqvist, who also wrote the original screenplay?
Reeves: I did. I said, "This thing has sort of dug into me, and you guys made this beautiful film,and I love your novel, and I just want to tell you that I'm interested in this. Not because it's a great genre story, which it is, but because it resonates with me personally. I was just so affected by it." And he wrote me back, and he was very generous, and he said to me, "You know, I actually did hear that you were interested in doing this, and I was excited because I really liked 'Cloverfield'; I think it's, like, a sort of new spin on a very old classic genre tale. And that's actually what I was trying to do with 'Let the Right One In.' But I'm much more excited to know that you are most interested because of your personal response to it, because it's the story of my childhood." And he talked about growing up in Blackeberg and all this stuff. So I kind of took it on as this mission to say, "Okay, I want to find a way to translate this story into an American context and bring as much personal detail as I can and really honor Lindqvist's story."
Back Stage: I'm sure you're aware the original has a very strong and vocal fan base. Was that ever a concern?
Reeves: At the time, when I started writing the screenplay, the original movie still hadn't come out, so I had no idea. I knew that it was a brilliant movie; I just didn't know what kind of release it would get or how people would see it. Nothing would ever replace the original film; I think it's a masterpiece. And I loved the novel as well, which I think is brilliant. The story exists in those two forms already, and all I was going to do was make another form of that story. But then when the movie came out and it became the phenomenon that it did and I could see that people had the same kind of passionate response that I had, then for a moment I was sort of daunted because I thought, "Oh my gosh, what are we doing?" But at that point, we were so far down the line, and I knew that I was so committed personally to it that I just sort of put my head down and said, "Okay, but it doesn't matter, because really what I want to do is honor this story and find the way to make it personal."
Back Stage: Do you understand why so many people are wary of remakes?
Reeves: Absolutely. I think when people think of remakes that really get them down, they think of these stories they fall in love with and then Hollywood comes in and then sort of bastardizes it or takes the soul out of it. And I knew that that was not my intention. A lot of these remakes are being done because there's a lot of really brilliant storytelling going on in other places. So Hollywood says, "Hey, there's a story already there. Why can't we just take it and sort of translate it?" Obviously, producers see an opportunity there. I think it comes down to what the filmmakers' intentions are in doing so. If you see something in it that resonates with you personally, I think there's a chance that the films can be quite good. I've seen some wonderful remakes. But I've seen my fair share of horrendous remakes, too.