The secrets behind 'Let the Right One In'

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Tomas Alfredson, director of excellent Swedish vampire film 'Let the Right One In' discusses the weird ways he approaches filmmaking

The Graduate

‘I try not to inspire myself through other films. Too many filmmakers today, they watch other films while they are doing their films and one is often tempted to copy. It’s much more interesting to explore other art forms, or life itself. So for this film I studied a lot of painters and music and literature and I tried to look in my old picture books which I read when I was a kid and tried to find what kind of images scared me. One film that has been very important for me as a person and as a filmmaker is Mike Nichols’s "The Graduate". That is one of the most important films for me as a filmmaker and maybe there are traces from that film in this one. I think as a comedy, it’s very funny, but it’s also very serious at the same time.’

The work of Elsa Beskow

‘We have this national artist who died 60 or 70 years ago. Her name is Elsa Beskow and she’s like the Beatrix Potter of Sweden. Everybody has read her books and can relate to them. I found one image that horrified me when I was a kid and that is a key to my work in this film. It’s a picture of two little children who are at their uncle’s house and they are playing a ghost game or something. It’s a dark room, and the only light coming in is from the street outside, very pale blue-grey. Behind the door, the uncle is standing with a sheet over his body and the children are looking in to the room and they have not seen him yet. There is a promise in the image that something will happen in ten seconds or 20 seconds when they find him, and that is what it’s all about when you try to create horrific situations. It’s when you play with the audience’s fantasies about what is going to happen.’

Hans Holbein

‘Another big source of inspiration for me was the German renaissance painter Hans Holbein. He created portraits that used very strange angles and perspectives. The most common thing in his work is that the person who is portrayed is often looking at the spectator, or at the artist, but Holbein very often painted this person looking out of the frame. I find this very spooky and very original for that time. There’s a very famous portrait of a young British prince, he’s ten-years-old or something and he’s wearing this fantastic outfit, but he’s looking underneath the frame which to me is terrifying.’

Secret musi

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‘I have a technique where I try to find a piece of secret music that I think correlates to the material that I’m working on. Then I use it as a mantra. With this, I listened to this piece of music every day, and when I don’t know what to do or how to do it, I ask the music. You find the answer in the music. In this case it’s a classical piece in a jazz interpretation, but I can’t tell you what it is, in case you think, "Why the hell would he choose that song?" I would lose something.’

Animals

‘I try to inspire myself from animals. When I do the casting process, I ask myself “Ok, if this character was an animal, what animal would he or she be?” Then you get much more open to different kinds of ages and bodies and faces of actors. It’s too narrow to decide that this mother is 35 and she’s blonde and she’s this and she’s that. But if you say, “Well, the mother is a cat”, you could choose from ten very different actors and they have this kind of energy that you relate to or that you associate with a cat.‘When I was talking about the part of Eli with Lina Leandersson, we were discussing the animalistic elements, when she’s raging, when she’s attacking, when her body is reacting. We watched a lot of National Geographic films together, especially ones with lions attacking so we could find that kind of force inside you without blending it or confusing it with anger, because her attacking is not about anger.’

C

hildhood

‘It’s always much easier to work with material that you can relate to. “Let the Right One In” is set in 1982 in a suburb outside Stockholm. I was brought up in a suburb outside Stockholm and I had some problems with bullying when I was 12. I know all about this world and that is very good for a director to know the specifics. But if you look at this particular story it could be told anywhere at any time; it could be told in Africa or Tokyo. They’re doing an American version of the film, and I really hope that the director makes it very specific to his country and his feelings.’

Author: Interview: David Jenkins


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