After penning the screenplays for hit movies Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, Spider-Man and War of the Worlds, David Koepp has visited many glamorous film sets around the world.
One thing always made him curious.
Like many of us, the gratuitous age differences between leading men and their young screen love interests amused him. But, beyond that, what happens when the real-life spouse shows up on set while the co-stars are filming intimate scenes?
“There’s always a lot of anxiety around the sex scenes, especially when one of those actors is in a relationship. No matter how mature people are, and even if they’re involved with other actors who understand, its still unpleasant – somebody’s touching your spouse and kissing them and pretending to have sex with them.
“Actors say it’s part of the job – and it is a part of the job – but it’s a weird part of the job. And it’s actually not fun, so I wanted to explore that,” says Koepp, who cast Kevin Bacon, 62, and Amanda Seyfried, 34, to play the age-inappropriate husband-and-wife in his psychological thriller You Should Have Left.
Marking Koepp’s seventh directorial outing, Bacon is a favourite collaborator, having previously worked together on Stir of Echoes in 1999. “We became friends on that film and we’ve wanted to do something together ever since,” he says.
In the case of You Should Have Left, the inspiration came from Bacon: “He said to me, let’s do a scary movie for US$5 million and then we can do whatever we want.
“The central tension is in the fact Kevin’s character is married to someone much younger than him, which we’ve often seen in Hollywood films, but they never acknowledge it,” says Koepp, 57, who loosely based his story on Daniel Kehlmann’s novella of the same name.
Koepp’s favourite scene puts Bacon in the awkward position of being held at the studio gates while having to hear his wife moan and groan for a sex scene. “They won’t let him past the gate but they’ll let the guy with the lattes come in. I thought that was pretty funny,” he laughs.
Fast-forward and Bacon, Seyfried and Koepp, found themselves filming in a creepy house in deepest Wales. “I find Wales hypnotically beautiful and somewhat threatening. The house we used was every bit as eerie as you see in the film,” says the New York-based writer-director. “The locals kept telling us how people never stayed more than a couple of nights at that rental.”
One of the most successful and prolific screenwriters of all time, Koepp argues that it doesn’t necessarily follow that he can call upon the stars of those blockbusters when it comes to directing his own films.
Yes, he’d love to call upon Mission: Impossible star Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks after writing the screenplay for Angels & Demons, but when you’re directing on a Jason Blum budget, one has to be realistic.
During his prolific screenwriting career, he has frequently visited the sets of his blockbusters, studying the techniques of directors Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma, furthermore penning scripts for Carlito’s Way, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and Zathura: A Space Adventure.
“The problem is, you can’t learn that much from a master because as much as you admire their gift, it’s never a good idea to ape their work. You have to do your own thing,” says Koepp, who has directed Johnny Depp in two of his films, Secret Window and Mortdecai, switching to comedy to direct Ricky Gervais in Ghost Town.
Shopping You Should Have Left around Hollywood before landing at Blumhouse, whose signature has become clever low-budget genre thrillers and horror movies, he says, “They have done some great work and I knew all about their filmmaking philosophy, so I was keen to try that. I’ve been making movies for almost 30 years, so it’s always great to do something someone else’s way and bring fresh ideas.”
Having published his debut novel, Cold Storage, last year, he next sets his focus on Australia, as he adapts the sci-fi thriller for the big screen.
“There’s an extended sequence in Western Australia where chunks of the Skylab have ended up. There really is nowhere on earth that looks like the outback.”
Helmed by British director Jonny Campbell, the film is yet to be cast due to COVID delays.
Koepp doesn’t hesitate in naming Nicole Kidman as his dream lead, having many years earlier been thwarted from working with her after she was forced to quit Panic Room, for which he wrote the screenplay.
Subsequently recast starring Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart, David Fincher’s suspenseful thriller would become a big box office hit.
“But Nicole was the lead actress for the first three weeks of shooting until she blew out her knee and couldn’t finish the film. Jodie did a wonderful job – but I still want to have my Nicole Kidman movie. I would love that to happen one day.”