The Addams Family Director Barry Sonnenfeld on the Legacy of the Creepy and Kooky Family
Back in the 1930s, cartoonist Charles Addams began releasing a series of illustrations depicting a macabre yet loving family and their various outlandish adventures, with this "Addams Family" becoming a creepily beloved cast of characters. Their journeys were explored in a variety of mediums over the decades, with the creepy and kooky family finally making their way to the big screen in 1991, thanks to director Barry Sonnenfeld. 30 years later, The Addams Family and its bizarre sense of humor is just as adored by fans as it was when it was released, arguably setting the standard of what can be accomplished with the endearing and eccentric characters. The Addams Family will be landing on 4K Ultra HD on October 19th and on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and remastered Blu-ray on November 9th. Pre-orders are live on Amazon now.
In the film, "When long-lost Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) reappears after 25 years in the Bermuda Triangle, Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Anjelica Huston) plan a celebration to wake the dead. But Wednesday (Christina Ricci) barely has time to warm up her electric chair before Thing points out Fester's uncommonly 'normal' behavior. Could this Fester be a fake and part of an evil scheme to raid the Addams fortune?"
ComicBook.com recently caught up with Sonnenfeld to talk developing the movie, Christopher Lloyd thinking he was getting fired, and how he made sure Morticia always stood out from the ensemble.
ComicBook.com: The cast that was put together for this movie is remarkable, so going back to those early stages of the film, which character was the hardest to cast for and which character was the easiest to cast for?
Barry Sonnenfeld: Boy, that's a really good question. I think we knew right at the beginning, very, very early on, even before we got a green light for the movie, really, that we wanted Raul Julia and we wanted Anjelica Huston for Gomez and Morticia. The studio actually wanted Cher, but we were able to convince the studio that the Charles Addams IP was the star and that we didn't want a big movie star to be in our show. So we knew we wanted Raul and Anjelica. Casting Christina was a stroke of luck, she was fantastic as Wednesday. Strangely, I think the hardest role to cast was Fester. We started going down the road of dumpy, rounder, more Fester-looking actors. We talked to Robbie Coltrane for a little while and there were some others.
Then we thought Chris Lloyd would be really good, but Chris is tall and thin and Fester is drawn very differently. We actually did a film test where we hired Chris and then we gave him these prosthetics to make his face round. We shot the test and we shot an actual scene with him and Elizabeth Wilson and he looked terrible, he looked like he was from a different movie because no one else had prosthetics. He looked like a character from Dick Tracy, the Warren Beatty movie, which was great but everyone looked like that and that was the tonal joke. Chris's makeup and prosthetics just looked all wrong, but Chris really wanted it. He really likes to hide behind the prosthetics to create a character, but we didn't want it.
So we called Chris to the screening room to show him the test, to show him that we didn't want to do it. And, unfortunately, Chris didn't know exactly what our issue was when he came to the studio to look at the test. The cinematographer, Owen Roizman, was interviewing stand-ins for Fester and Chris had to go past all these people in a hallway who looked like Fester. So we get in, but we don't know this, we screened the footage for Chris Lloyd and I say, "What do you think, Chris?" And Chris says, "Well, I can do better!" "What are you talking about?" He goes, "Well, it was a test. I didn't know it was like an audition." I said, "No, Chris, what are you talking about?" He goes, "Well, I saw there's all those actors in line..." ..." I said, "No, we're not replacing you, we're looking for a stand-in." Anyway, so Chris was very hard. That role was hard to cast. Not Chris, but it was a hard role to cast.
I feel like, currently, anytime you're pitching anything with a beloved IP, it's always, "Okay, great. You can give us one movie, but how do you give us three movies and a TV show and a toy line?" And since I know you, personally, with Addams Family, with Schmigadoon!, with Men In Black, I know you love world-building, that's your draw towards these films. Going back 30 years, was that the approach with this, that when you were working on it, was the studio saying, "Okay, but we hope there's plans for two and three and four movies," or was it a more solitary experience of "let's prove and see if this works in the first place,"?
You don't really usually go into movies thinking about franchises and sequels and all that. You're right that I love world-building, and what attracted me to directing this is it was probably ... I wasn't looking to be a director. I was really happy as a cinematographer, but when I was given the script to read, it may have been the only movie that would've interested me as a director because I loved the Charles Addams drawings. I was not a fan of the television show, but I was a fan of the drawings and, in fact, it's all about world-building. His world is totally unique, his tone is specific. You always know what you're going to get and, for me, I think the biggest job of a director is consistency of tone.
I had the joy of knowing what Charles Addams's tone was, so it was very easy to stay consistent to it. I was both attracted to it because I loved his drawings and because I always felt, if I did direct, it would be a world-building thing. Whether it's Men In Black, or Pushing Daisies, or Addams Family, or A Series of Unfortunate Events, or even Schmigadoon!, there's something off-kilter about the world and that's what attracts me to projects.
In the first three minutes of this movie, for audiences who might not be familiar with the Addams Family, you're watching holiday carolers and then, 30 seconds later, a family joyously dumps boiling tar on them and then you're off. That is a pretty jarring experience and a pretty gruesome thing that we then come to love and that's part of the whole sense of humor. Were there gags, were there scenes, were there elements where maybe the studio pushed back, where you were going too far into that realm of the macabre and the more gruesome elements of that character? Or was it all built into the script of, for every one creepy scene, you have five laughs or heartwarming moments?
No, we didn't have any pushback from the studio because, again, like that caroler scene you're talking about, that is actually taken from a Charles Addams cartoon. Unlike perhaps some directors, I never like to see ... if anyone ever gets shot, they usually get shot off-screen. I'm not one of those directors that wants someone shot in the head and you see blood splatter on the wall behind them. Even in that opening caroler scene, we boom up from the carolers, you see the Addams Family tipping the pot, the cauldron over, but I don't cut back to the carolers, seeing them covered in goo or screaming in pain or on fire. It was subversive in some ways but it was tonally nothing that you couldn't let your kids see, and that's always been my philosophy. I just don't like seeing that stuff, so we had no problems with the studio about tone or scenes, or any of that stuff. That was pretty easy.
The play with Wednesday and Pugsley, that is an insane scene for even a full-blown hard-R-rated movie. It's on par with that, but you have the cheat of, "No, we know that this is fake, we know this is fake blood that they're spraying everywhere." Can you talk about what it was like that day on set and trying to convey to people just how much blood was going to be spraying all over everyone and everything?
I love that scene. Actually, what's interesting is our cinematographer was sick for a couple days and that scene was actually shot by Bill Pope. Pope shot Men In Black 3 for me, and he shot the first three Matrix movies, and the first several Spider-Man movies. Bill and I went to film school together. Bill came in for a couple of days to help out, so that wasn't even with our normal cinematographer. Seeing that scene again recently, I forgot how ... this is the wrong word, but like what a "sissy" Danny Hedaya is. I had worked with him on Blood Simple and there's a very funny shot where Danny is covered in fake blood and is literally wiping it all over his cast-wife, Dana Ivey. I just loved that that was not acting, that was Danny just being disgusted.
Every shot where Morticia appears, I know that Anjelica Huston had minor appliances with her face to raise her eyes and a corset to get a specific look, but was the cinematography of every shot Morticia was in designed slightly differently from how we see most of the other characters? Everything feels a little bit softer-focused, the lighting seems to be a little bit different than how she appears anytime she's with the rest of the family.
She didn't have any prosthetics. She had a wig and, obviously, we created a certain body style with the corset, but I don't think there were prosthetics for her eyes or anything. But yes, when I interviewed Owen Roizman, who was our cinematographer, I very specifically said to him ... because cinematographers always like to light with what's called "motivated light." So if someone's standing and there's a window on their left, then the left side of their face will be brighter, it's motivated from the window, let's say. I said to Owen when we first met to see if we wanted to work together, one of the things I told him is that I wanted Morticia to have her own motivated light.
I said, "I don't care if she's standing right by a window, her lighting, even in a scene with other people in the scene, everyone else can be lit from the window, but I want Morticia to be lit totally differently like she has her own motivated light wherever she goes." And Owen said, "I love that idea." I mentioned there was a famous still photographer of movie stars and I said, "I want her to look like she's always in a photograph where you darken the forehead and the chin and you accentuate the eyes and you add filtration." That's what Owen did and he did an extraordinary job doing it. So yes, Morticia had her own motivated light and it was something that I very much ... It was my idea and it was something I asked Owen to do at our very first meeting, and I think that got him excited about the job.
The Addams Family will be landing on 4K Ultra HD on October 19th and on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and remastered Blu-ray on November 9th. Pre-orders are live on Amazon now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.0comments