As director Mike Flanagan put it following the film’s SXSW premiere, “Hush” should have made its producers very nervous. Flanagan co-wrote the screenplay with wife Kate Siegel, who does double duty as the film’s lead actress. That script features only two primary players, one of whom is a deaf mute, making for a largely wordless movie. Such uncommon characteristics can be red flags signaling a noncommercial thriller, but producers Jason Blum and Trevor Macy went forward with confidence. Flanagan, Siegel, Blum, and Macy tell Culture Crypt what made “Hush” such a passion project for everyone involved.
Culture Crypt: You mentioned at the premiere that the germ of the idea came from “Wait Until Dark.”
Mike Flanagan: That was kind of the focus of the discussion that started it.
Kate Siegel: We’d both recently seen the play at the Geffen.
Mike Flanagan: Allison Pill did it.
Kate Siegel: It was such a strong performance and it was such an interesting story. We were talking about the play, we were talking about the movie, and I was like, “I’ve always wanted to do something like that.” Mike had always talked about having a deaf protagonist and so it sort of started in that way.
Culture Crypt: Did I miss it or was there not a Lasser Glass cameo in “Hush?”
Mike Flanagan: There was not.
Trevor Macy: There was not, but keep watching future films.
Mike Flanagan: Keep watching because-
Kate Siegel: Your instincts are right.
Mike Flanagan: Your instincts are correct, just not for this movie. But there are some fun little things like – Can I talk about the mask and the connection there?
Trevor Macy: Yeah, of course!
Mike Flanagan: The mask was designed by Bruce Larsen, who designed the “Oculus” mirror, but also designed a creature for “Before I Wake.” The mask of the killer in “Hush” is made from the same mold.
Trevor Macy: That was a discarded early version of the creature. We both loved it, but thought it wasn’t right. So when Bruce came back with, “hey, I have this…”
Mike Flanagan: It was kind of like, “ding! Oh, I think that’s kind of weird!” Then we altered it to make it fit what we were doing with “Hush.” When “Before I Wake” eventually comes out into the world, when you look at a specific creature in that you’ll be like, “huh!”
Kate Siegel: “Was that John Gallagher?!?”
Mike Flanagan: “Is that John Gallagher?!?”
Mike Flanagan: But you will see the Lasser Glass this year.
Culture Crypt: You mentioned you saw Allison Pill in “Wait Until Dark” and then you have another “The Newsroom” connection with John Gallagher Jr. Kate, you said last night that something so important about him was likability and that he had a Ted Bundy quality. We know what you meant by that, but how important was it that John Gallagher Jr. be that person? What was it about his persona?
Kate Siegel: It was very important to Mike that the “Hans Gruber scene” needed to play believably. You needed someone likable for that moment. When that scene showed up, we realized we couldn’t have a scarred-faced monster guy. We needed somebody that could play that turn. And I think John was the first choice for you guys?
Mike Flanagan: I remember vividly the first time his name came up at Blumhouse. Because Jason, you could hear him down the hall shouting, “that’s who I want!”
Jason Blum: (laughs)
Mike Flanagan: He’s like, “that is the one! You need to get John!” And everybody thought it was such an unorthodox idea, even John.
Kate Siegel: Yeah.
Mike Flanagan: When John got the script, he thought, “I really like this, I wonder when my character shows up.” Then he called his reps and asked, “so am I the neighbor?” They said, “no, they want you to be the guy.” John was like, “what? They want me to be the guy?” It was just so against type for him. That excited us to no end especially because we really wanted it to be somebody who we hadn’t seen this from before. Someone you could believe who if you bumped into John Gallagher at Whole Foods you’d think, “what a cool guy!” And then he could go home and kill somebody.
Kate Siegel: “Cool guy! Nice neck tattoo!”
Mike Flanagan: Yeah, “nice tattoo dude!” For John, he got to completely throw aside all of people’s perceptions about the kind of guy that (he is). Everything that he’s built on “The Newsroom” and “Short Term 12,” he just got to shove it out of the way and completely dive in.
Kate Siegel: Also for Maddie, she believes all the things she tries are going to work. She thinks she has the answer every time. So when she writes the note, ‘I didn’t see your face, just go,’ she’s thinking it will work. There’s this horrible moment when she realizes what he is doing, which is he is going to show her his face and that’s how she knows she is in big trouble. This guy isn’t here to just mess around and rob her. This guy is here to toy with her.
Kate Siegel: It’s one of those “monster in the closet” moments. She is imagining something terrible, terrifying, some guy with a scar over his eye and it’s going to be really awful. And then when it’s sweet-faced John Gallagher, it’s worse! It’s worse because she can’t even comprehend why this person is here, what’s going on, and it’s shocking that this man would stand at her window and want to murder her. That’s when her sense of instability starts to really kick in. Is this happening? Am I really going to die? Then when she sees her friend’s body, she has her breakdown because she realizes this is real, this is now. I better arm myself and I better make a plan. His face is the beginning of that whole journey. So John was very important.
Mike Flanagan: Ted Bundy, Dennis Rader, those guys. Even after they were arrested and had confessed, they had good friends and family members that didn’t believe it. They’re just like, “no, they’re good people. They’re too nice and charming and normal. There’s no way in Hell they’re guilty of doing what they say they were doing.” That always fascinates me.
Kate Siegel: I also like the unknown evil. It’s like ‘Schrodinger’s Murderer.’ You don’t know why they’re doing it. You open a box and that’s how you know. But you don’t really want to know. I guess you do want to know once you’ve seen the movie and I’m sure John will talk about that if he chooses to.
Mike Flanagan: Yeah, John has a whole backstory.
Culture Crypt: Did you play the Ennio Morricone theme over it?
Mike Flanagan: I did! Because I didn’t know what editing was, of course. So it was all edited in camera. What I would do is when we finished shooting the movie, I wanted it to have music and I wanted it to have the Ennio Morricone score. And so I had to put the tape in the VCR, set up the camera in front of the TV so it would play through, and then I would sit there and-
Jason Blum: Oh my God, hilarious!
Mike Flanagan: -and play and pause on the tape deck to make the score go over the edits. Because in fifth grade, I couldn’t wrap my head around how they got music to go over when you cut the camera. I couldn’t wrap my head around it!
Kate Siegel: So you were into sound design at a young age!
Mike Flanagan: I had to time it just right when I would hit play so that it would have the score. The only bummer is when I look at all those little movies, they all look like they’re shot off of TV! The quality of the VHS is triple degraded because I’m taping it off this 19” TV in the living room. The sound is all tinny, you can hear my dad coughing, my mom in the kitchen… “Quiet! I’m scoring the movie!” Since then, I don’t know how to do anything else. I don’t think I’d be functional at much else. I don’t know if I could hold a job if this wasn’t a job. I don’t know what I’d do.
April 8, 2016