Exclusive: Paul Kaye Talks Born
Writer on upcoming supernatural thriller
OK, it’s confession time. When we first reported on supernatural thriller Born, we stated that its screenwriter Paul Kaye was almost certainly not the guy who used to play Dennis Pennis. We were utterly wrong. Kaye, a man best known for his comedy performances, has made a move into writing movie scripts and his first has been good enough to secure the interest of Guillermo Del Toro, who takes producing duties here.
Born is the story of Joe (Paul Bettany), a stop-motion animator who moves to a small, seemingly idyllic village with his pregnant wife (Jennifer Connelly) and starts to become haunted by visions of a young girl as he makes his new film. Born has had some delays in shooting – it was originally supposed to go before cameras in mid-August – but it is still set to go ahead. We spoke to Kaye recently about what audiences can expect from the project. Warning: Here be spoilers.
How did you come to make the move into screenwriting? And why Born?
It’s one of those weird things. I was chatting with a mate of mine about Ben Affleck and Matt Damon who wrote Good Will Hunting, because I was sitting round not doing an awful lot. So I though, ‘I’ll write myself a film that I can be in’. An old mate of mine, Dan Simpson, who I’ve known for about 20 years, is an animator, and we got together for about three years and wrote it down in Cornwall and all over the place. Unfortunately, they couldn’t raise the money with my name attached, so I had to give it up and sell it. It’s a weird feeling, I wrote it specifically for me to play the role. But it’s very exciting, the fact that it’s getting made. I’m glad it’s Bettany, because he’s a quality actor and if I squint, I could pretend it’s me. I’m sort of the ugly version of him…But it’s great, I bet Paul Bettany gets a lot of scripts every week and the fact that he picked this one is terrific. Suddenly I think I can write! I was actually trying to think of other British actors who could play the part, but I can’t think of any who could do it better than Paul. So, it was a bad 48 hours when I was told I wouldn’t be in it, but I’m over it. I’m just excited about it now.
Can you outline the story more fully?
Basically, I’d just finished [acting in 2004 film] It’s All Gone Pete Tong, so the idea of going mad and getting consumed by something was something I thought I could handle in a more interesting way; the idea of being consumed by work. Dan has always had this idea about an animator making a film and getting consumed by his work and disappearing into the art itself. So we wrote this mystery. We watched Straw Dogs, Wicker Man, a lot of films like that. So this man Joe [played by Paul Bettany] goes down to make his masterpiece in Cornwall and gradually becomes consumed with his work and possessed by his animation. In fact, the clay he’s using is haunted. Eventually you learn this dark secret in this village. The ghost of a young child is coming through the animation. That’s kind of the template. It all gets pretty nasty and horrific at the end.
When you say words like “haunted clay”, it seems that could easily be treated in a way that seems ridiculous. How do you make sure the emphasis is on fear?
I think a lot of it’s going to be down to the quality of the animation. The models and the drawings I’ve seen so far just look incredible. Basically, Joe builds a replica of the village he’s staying in. So the geography of where these horrific things happened is coming to him through the model. So I’m confident that if they get the animation right, then everything else will fall into place, because the story is so good. It’s also based around his girlfriend, Jennifer Connelly, who’s staying with him in the cottage and she’s pregnant. There are elements of Rosemary’s Baby in there. There’s a character called Orly White in the village and he makes these clay babies and there are clay babies everywhere in the village, in the windows of little shops and on mantelpieces. There’s an obsession with this child who’s been lost in the village and you get the sense that she’s about to be reborn through Jennifer Connelly, who, because her husband is not approachable and consumed with his work, is taken in by the villagers. I don’t want to give anything away; I’m trying to be very careful what I say. But I would definitely say that Wicker Man, Straw Dogs and Rosemary’s Baby were the influences.
The film’s been reported as being based on a Clive Barker book. But that’s not right is it?
No. It’s not a book – it’s just our screenplay. Dan’s sent a furious letter to the IMDb about the fact that they said [Clive wrote it]. That’s utter bollocks. It’s an original story. I read that and thought ‘fucking hell, where did they get from?’
So what’s Barker’s involvement?
Well, I basically handed it over to Dan and he went to see what he could do with it. He hooked up with [producer] Lloyd Levin, who was trying to raise money in the States, and Clive Barker read it and loved it and he’s got these incredible people on board. He’s got Guillermo Del Toro, the Chiodo brothers [animators who worked on the likes of Elf and Team America: World Police]. It’s a fantastic story, so I’m just excited to see what they do with it.
Were you involved in getting all these very well regarded people on board? Were you fans of them all?
I’d never heard of Clive Barker before! I’ve had to do my reading up on all these people, to understand the gravitas of it all. But, really I didn’t know Clive Barker. I’m not a Hellraiser man, I don’t really like horror. This film is really meant to be a thriller rather than a horror. What’s exciting is that they’ve got such wonderful people on the strength of the scripts. It’s very flattering to me, but I think the production is better off now without me sticking my nose in with all these people who are so good at their jobs.
How much will you be involved during shooting?
Not at all really. I might pop down onto set and I’m sure me and Dan will talk, but there are so many experienced people on the project. We talked about everything from casting to sets and the script is very detailed in terms of setting and everything. It doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination, so there’s not a lot there for them to make up. But you never know, once you relinquish control you don’t know what might be done with it.
Have you been told there might be any changes made?
No, not at all. I’m happy for Dan to get on with it. Dan is going to be a great filmmaker. He’s directed short films before, but this is his first feature, so I think the opportunity for him is so huge that the last thing I want to do is get in his way. It’s his gig now and I’m confident that he’ll make a great film out of it. I’m not going to make a pain of myself. There are so many creatives on board. The production designer did Eyes Wide Shut, the casting director worked on Pirates of the Caribbean. Who am I to rock the boat?
That’s unusual for a writer. Usually writers are very worried about any change at all.
It is a strange thing. It’s like someone grabbing your baby and being worried if they’re going to bring it up and dress it and do its hair. But I’m confident. Dan and I did this together, so it’s our vision. We almost killed each other down at this cottage, when we finished it. That last two weeks was scarier than anything in the film!