Interview: Richard Kelly

Already a modern classic, Donnie Darko gets even better with the Director's Cut, out this week on DVD. Director Richard Kelly explains why

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UNCUT: Donnie Darko is already a cult classic with a huge fan-base. Why re-cut it?

KELLY: Because we lost so much material first time round, during the editing process. We had to cut it down to under two hours for a theatrical release. And it worked, beautifully too, but there were always things that I was very unhappy with.

Such as?


The theatrical cut operates on a very esoteric David Lynch level, which is valid, but I always had in mind a more provocative version that operates as a science fiction fable.

Is it true that producer/co-star Drew Barrymore only paid you $9,000?

Drew’s company didn’t put up the cash, they helped us get finance. But I got paid more than $9,000 dollars. It was somewhere between fifty and sixty thousand.


Patrick Swayze famously said that he wanted you, with this film, to ‘take a torch to his image.’ Is there a fine line between taking a torch and taking the piss?

Oh yeah, taking the piss is a much more valid way to describe it. I hear what you’re saying. But I think Patrick was really brave in this role. Hilariously so.

What did you think of Jonathan Glazer’s giant rabbit in Sexy Beast, which isn’t unlike Frank in Donnie Darko?

I was intrigued. Because I saw it, and then I saw the rabbit in Cabin Fever, and I thought that it was just a bizarre coincidence, or it was about the power of rabbits in dream culture. Or maybe there was just something in the water.

You’re currently in demand as a white-hot writer-for-hire. Is there a conflict between writing gigs and your ambitions as a director?

So far I’ve been fortunate enough to work with specific directors – The likes of Tony Scott [on the bounty hunter flick Domino] and Jonathan Mostow [the thriller House At The End Of The Street]. So it’s not as if I’m working with studio executives and it’s filmmaking by committee. It’s quite a difference when you have a 600 lb gorilla like Tony Scott in the room to protect you.

What is the legacy of Donnie Darko, besides an overplayed Christmas number one?

The legacy for me can become frustrating at times, especially as I’m trying to get bigger and bigger projects off the ground. Because in the US Donnie Darko is still seen as a cult item. And when the studios see me as a cult director it doesn’t get them too excited about writing me a cheque for $20 million.

And the “Mad World” track?

You know, I’m glad for Gary [Jules] that it went to number one, but it was meant to be this quiet little song at the end of the movie. Then it goes to number one, it gets so overplayed, so bombarded, that it really starts to bother you.

I hear there’s also a collaboration in the pipeline, with Pi’s Darren Aronofsky on Kurt Vonnegut’s apocalyptic novel, Cat’s Cradle.

I’ve just finished the first draft. I’m actually referring to it right now as Ice 9, the name of the substance in the book, because it’s a pretty liberal adaptation of Vonnegut’s novel. It’s a difficult novel to adapt, pretty schizophrenic structurally, so I’ve tried to be faithful to the essence of it, with the humour and the satire and the ideas, but it’s a pretty liberal adaptation. I’m suggesting that it’s called Ice 9, but the script is in the hands of producer Leonardo DiCaprio and his people, so I have no control over these things.


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