If you’ve been eagerly anticipating the upcoming film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, you’re not alone! The new whodunit premieres on Netflix on December 23! And in promotion of the film’s streaming release, FanBolt was able to sit down with director Rian Johnson and star Janelle Monae when they came through Atlanta, Georgia, on their press tour.
If you’ve not seen the film, here’s what you need to know. It’s a new adventure with only one familiar face from 2019’s Knives Out, and that face is Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). This time around, Blanc finds himself on a lavish private island in Greece. And a group of vastly different friends, who proudly label themselves as disruptors, have all gathered on this island at the invitation of billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) for their yearly reunion. This year, Bron wants to stage his own murder, and it’s up to his friends to solve the case. Of course, it’s all just a game. Or is it?
I sat down with Monae and Johnson to talk about the differences in the script from the page to the screen, the magic of the whodunit genre, Johnson’s writing process, and more.
But first, congratulations were in order. Monae recently won Best Supporting Actress from the Atlanta Film Critics Circle as well as the Best Ensemble Cast award. After a brief chat about their recent wins with film critic groups across the country, we dove into questions. Read our full interview below.
A Chat with Janelle Monae and Rian Johnson about Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
From writing these characters and from reading to playing yours on screen, what surprised you most about the transition from page to filming?
Rian Johnson: I feel like, I’m going to talk about Janelle’s performance specifically, I don’t know. You write these things and you have a version in your head. But then I’ve spent a year writing it, and I know that movie. What I’m looking for is to find collaborators who are going to come in and surprise me with their choices.
And I guess on paper, it’s one thing. But the complexity of what Janelle was actually tasked with in this movie, and the amount of depth she put into … I guess I’ll avoid spoilers. So, differentiating the different layers of this character, I didn’t even really appreciate it until I got into the cutting room and saw the whole thing strung together.
And that’s something I couldn’t have anticipated. You can have it on the page. But when you see a great actor, like Janelle, actually bring to life those little subtle differentiations and see that they’re all built into it and baked in, I don’t know, it was kind of magic.
Janelle Monae: For me, it starts with the script. And I think what Rian wrote was just remarkable. It was so appetizing for me to sink my teeth into, just delicious, a big delicious bite from start to finish, and especially with the character.
When I read what Rian was considering me for, I just knew, I was like, “We’re going to have fun. We’re going to play. We’re going to go on a ride as a character because there’s so much there.” And I loved everything on the page.
Rian is just the ultimate collaborator, like he mentioned, a good partner to come in and say, “Ooh, what about this? What about this accent? And what about if we drop some little Easter eggs here. So when folks watch it the second or third time, watch it back, there are some little clues that speak to those different energies?”
And I will say this, this role challenged me in the best possible way as an actor. I feel like I’ve grown more as an actor. I’ve grown more as just really a human, honestly. Once you do something like this with the people that you just genuinely love, because this cast, I don’t know if you guys could feel it, but we had a wonderful time just connecting. All of that showed up on screen, and he set the tone for that, too, creating that family-like vibe.
So, you go in thinking, all right, I’m going to do this, do that, and then you just get transformed in a completely different way. And you leave room also for surprise. There were lots of moments, where we talked about things. And through our talking through things, we realized it may not necessarily have been something that when you read it, you saw it. But when you do it, you’re like, “Yes, that’s it.” So, always leave that element of surprise.
So, Knives Out, in my opinion, brought back a lot of joy to the whodunit genre. How do you see Glass Onion and Knives Out as a franchise growing? And what do you think draws people into that genre of film?
Rian Johnson: Growing up kind of loving whodunits from an early age, starting with Agatha Christie’s … It starts for me with Agatha Christie, and I loved her books growing up. I loved the movies that were made of her books growing up – Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun, and the Peter Ustinov Poirot movies. That was my jam when I was a kid. First and foremost, it’s just an incredibly fun genre. There’s nothing not fun about it. And the fact that it lets you have an ensemble, the fact that it has a mystery to it, you can have comedy, it’s just kind of the most fun a movie can be.
For me, for this series, there are a couple of big ingredients though. The first one is kind of ignoring the notion of timelessness and setting it just unapologetically right here and right now. And using this form that we’ve mostly seen as period pieces to engage with the present moment in kind of the candy-coated shell of this fun mystery. That, to me, seemed like a really exciting prospect.
And going forward, the big thing that I want with these is for them, again, to reflect Agatha Christie’s books, where it’s a whole new deal every single time. Daniel and I both feel like the instant we feel like we’re just kind of turning a crank on another one, we’ll stop. I want to be thrilled, excited, and kind of scared by the prospect of each new one of these. Ooh yeah. That’s what I’m saying. I was just thrilled and excited and got a little scared there. That was great.
So, I’m starting to think of ideas for the third one now, and it’s like, how can it be completely different than this one? And so that’s kind of, yeah. That’s kind of where it’s at.
I’m curious to know about the film sets. These sets in the film are absolutely gorgeous. Most of them involve a lot of glass, a lot of reflections. So, working around that, both as an actor, as a director, and filming that process, what was that like for you?
Rian Johnson: Well, Rick Heinrich, who’s our production designer, who I had worked with on The Last Jedi, he’s incredible. He came up with Tim Burton, so he’s done a lot of Tim Burton’s films. And Rick is amazing at doing very beautiful, very character-based design, but on a grand scale, which is kind of what we needed to get inside Miles Bron’s head. So, all those beautiful sets, which are built on sound stages in Belgrade actually, where we were for the second half of the shoot, those are all from the mind of Rick. I have to say, though, that massive set that we were on, it’s also-
Janelle Monae: From Miles’s house? Up in the Glass Onion?
Rian Johnson: Well, up in the Glass Onion is gorgeous, yeah, absolutely. The big one, because it does reflect Miles’s brain, it’s also kind of an eyesore. And we were on that set for a while.
Janelle Monae: Oh my God. Yes.
Rian Johnson: I think you were ready to start smashing it up by the end of the-
Janelle Monae: Oh yeah, and we did. We did.
I’m sure that was a lot of fun.
Janelle Monae: What we did was cathartic. It was so fun. And I think just speaking of what Rian is saying, just about how this genre within itself is you bring the elements of the people, the star-studded cast, on this private island in Greece, and you were at a murder mystery. That within itself is just fun. And getting a chance to smash things and do action and do the comedy and do the drama was just a very transformative experience, as I mentioned before.
But being with the cast, too, I was so excited about working with Daniel, working with Edward, Kate, Kathryn, and everybody. You grew up watching their work, right? So, there was a part of me that was a little nervous. But there was also a part of me that was eager to learn from them as well from them and their process.
And when I met them, they could not all be more … They were so just down to earth, humble, and scared too. A lot of us didn’t have a whole lot of work during that time during the pandemic. So, it was the first thing we were returning back to.
And so we just all wanted to do right by this script and this material since we loved it so much. Then there’s Rick, I love Tim Burton too. And to know that somebody like that, legendary, was coming in and creating some of those sets, it reminds you of why you love acting and why you got into movie-making.
Is the Glass Onion representative of what we build around ourselves so that we can see ourselves a certain way? Not tricking ourselves, but just – seeing ourselves a certain way for other people to see us?
Rian Johnson: I love that.
Janelle Monae: Wow, look at your work.
Rian Johnson: I was going to say, that’s better than-
Janelle Monae: This is some good thinking right here.
Rian Johnson: The way I could put it. I like it. Well, and so much of Miles, all these characters, are so focused on what they project as themselves. All of them are performers in some way.
Janelle Monae: Indeed.
Rian Johnson: And your character is kind of forced to perform. She doesn’t think of herself as a performer, and she is forced to step into that spotlight. She puts on a false front and turns out to be quite good at it.
Janelle Monae: Yeah.
Rian Johnson: I like that though, man. I like that a lot. Yeah.
Janelle Monae: That’s a good observation.
Rian Johnson: Breaking it down, yeah.
When you write in general, but especially this, do you feel like you have to go to a darker place, a different place? What’s the process for that? How did you get to that?
Rian Johnson: Yeah. The whole process of writing it, for me, I do a lot of outlining. I have to figure out the shape of the entire story before I actually start typing. But it is, I feel like with the last one and with this one, with the stuff that it’s engaging with, there is an element of it that definitely comes from stuff that I’m angry about. I think maybe that’s the element of kind of … This one probably even a little more than the last one was kind of wanting to kind of shout back a little bit at this kind of lurid carnival of insanity over the past whatever, six years, that we’ve all kind of been living through. And the stupidity of it, I guess.
And so, yeah, for me, any movie, I think, it’s going to be driven by something. It’s got to have some fire underneath it.
Even if it’s a fun kind of souffle of a movie, the reality is there’s got to be something that it’s about for me, and that’s usually driven by something I’m pissed off about. Yeah.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery premieres on Netflix on December 23, 2022! Be sure to check it out!