Interview: Director John Moore (The Omen)

John Moore
John Moore

Director John Moore sat down recently to a great roundtable interview to discuss his recent film, The Omen (review). John was born, reared and educated in Ireland, and speaks with a thick accent. He started his career as a news camerman, and then worked as an assistant camerman in feature films helmed by the acclaimed fimmakers Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan. He went on to make his feature directorial debut with Behind Enemy Lines in 2001, and also directed Flight of the Pheonix more recently in 2004.

Having directed The Omen remake, which is coming out during a time of heightened sensitivity toward religion and apocalyptic insinuations, he was unfortunately grilled by a rogue writer for having used a clip of 9/11 in the film after a screening for film critics. A tense and heated debate broke out before the entire audience, however most people in attendance did not seem to agree with the writer’s sentiments. This topic was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, so of course, the interview opened on the subject…

Director John Moore reviews a scene with actor Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick on the set of The Omen.

Q: Some of us missed the end of the lovely chat that was going on. What did you guys decide?

MOORE: You know – it was very reassuring because most people did not feel as angry as that one gentleman who had the outburst. A lot of people have said to me – have made a point of saying to me – uh… we don’t agree with what he said. So, I think it was… for me it was a very rewarding evening.

Q: It is the first fictional film to use a snippet of 9/11 and use it not as-

MOORE: Flight… What about United 93?

Q: Well what I mean more specifically is, its the first mainstream fictional film to use a clip of 9/11 that isnt actually about that day’s events. Did you expect to, maybe, catch a little flack?

MOORE: You’d be very naive to come to New York and not be very careful with your P’s and Q’s, and rightly so. I did wonder about it for a long, long time – and a lot of people said, “Jees… can’t you use Rhawanda or something?”

Q: I thought it was interesting that he only mentioned the suffering of this city, and wasn’t complaining about any of the other atrocities you were showing from around the world…

MOORE: Well – I guess – all politics are local. But the reason I did put it in is because… ongoing failure to interpret what happened on 9/11, as part of some thing, and continuing to believe that its a singular event – an act of singular evil – is dangerous I think. It HAS to be contextualized. The failure to contextualize it has driven this great nation towards a dark place.

Q: But do you think that maybe its easier for others to see, than maybe New Yorkers, at this point?

MOORE: Look Im going to say something thats dangerous… Non-americans love America more than Americans do. Let me explain the context of that. We want to come here. We desire it. Rather than get to live it on a day to day basis… um, its why America works. When it works great, thats why it does… But I can certainly understand the point of view – that I dont know the feeling of 9/11 like New Yorkers do, because I simply wasnt there. I can understand that. But similarly – I mean, I was on the west coast when it happened. And – you know – it was just as shocking… its not even easy to watch it on video tape.

Q: What was it that made you particularly interested in picking up The Omen in the first place?

MOORE: The lack of good material out there is shocking. You know people accuse – both in the Hollywood media and in the general media – people accuse Hollywood of, you know… “Hollywoods making another remake – what the fuck is wrong with them? Hollywood, they’re assholes, can’t they come up with something…” Studios dont write the scripts. You know – there is a lack of very good material. There’s a dangerous new genre of self-aware derivitive material. There really is. Stuff like, um… I dont know – some of the remakes… stuff like Hostel… You can even argue that some of the Tarantino lore is dangerously unserious.

Its so tongue in cheek and disposable… so what attracted me to The Omen, to answer y9our question, is its a damned good story. Its a bit like asking an actor if he wants to do Death of a Salesman or Macbeth. Its like, no actor in their right minds goes, “Well, no, thats been done before.” Everyone wants a shot at the title. Even a kid watching a racecar driver sits there and says, “Oh, I wish I could do that. I want to do that.” So thats why I wanted to do it. Plus there was a small, but definite opportunity to do what we did at the start of the movie.

Q: You compare this to an actor doing Hamlet or Macbeth, but an actor choosing between Hamlet or Macbeth makes a choice. Why did you choose The Omen and not another one of the great texts.

MOORE: I think in part the answer is in the end I could contextualize the story. Look, when you’re young and stupid as I… well, I was once young. (laughs) You make dumbass angry movies, angry young man movies. Youre always trying as a filmmaker NOT to do that. You always want to comment, but not be so ugly and raw and stupid. So here comes The Omen, and you get a moment to really finesse an idea, and to say something. And there are very few vehicles in Hollywood moviemaking that are going to allow you to say something. I mean get ready.

There is a RASH of – I think Ive read 30 scripts this year based on the war in Iraq. A whole RASH of material about to be vomited upon us, and most of it is bad, because its not finessed. And its not finessed because there is very little contemplation behind it. Whereas The Omen is such a well established – its a lean race horse of a story – so you know it works, thats why I was attracted. Fear of failure is a great motivator. And with The Omen there was less chance of completely screwing up because the story is so good. But the other side of that coin is that you get beat up for doing a remake.

A seemingly innocent trip to the zoo leads to panic and terror for Katherine Thorn (Julia Stiles), who is unaware that the melee has been triggered by her son Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick)

Q: The question of The Omen is about evil. What do you see is the nature of evil in your version of The Omen, and how does that shape your belief system in what you are trying to communicate to the public and get across when they see the film?

MOORE: Well The Omen works both as a piece of entertainment and it works on a metaphorical level. You know, obviously Damien represents a collective failure to act against evil, and it also plays a complicity – a complicitness required for evil to succeed. On the other hand, on a less sophisticated hand, there’s just a lotta bad stuff being done by a lotta people – so its quite easy and effective to point to things that are happening in the world. I mean, if you’re asking – if you wanna know what evil looks like, that’s it. I guess, the film tries to make both points – with a somewhat scholarly or stiff opening. It tries to show the bigger question and then it allows the fable or the metaphor of the story to play out against them.

Q: Youve worked with some of the great Irish filmmakers – Neil Jordan, Jim Sheradin. What is their influence and how does it affect your work at this point?

MOORE: I wish it did more. I wish I was a better Irish director. I worked as an assistant camerman under both of those gentlemen. Jim’s its fascinating – Jim couldn’t care less if there is a camera on set. Its actually incidental to Jim that there is a movie camera there because he’s so singularly focused on storytelling, and working with actors and script. He gets so involved with an actor, that when he sees something good he’s like, uh…. And Neils work is – Neil’s incredible, I mean, I dont know if youve met him or worked with him but, he’s so introverted really… and its all -ya know, ya know ya know, ya know, its poetry. Ya know? (laughs) And again, fascinating for a guy, who you’d think directing is not a good career choice for somebody of that personality. He is so intense, that I think, actors are drawn towards him. Whereas Jim is drawn to actors – I think actors are drawn to Neil.

Q: So where do you see yourself?

MOORE: Im just a hack that does remakes! (laughs)

Q: The Mia Farrow casting. I just find that so interesting and incredibly enchanting. What was your point in using her?

MOORE: The whole Rosemary’s Baby fun of it all… really is there for film lovers. First and foremost, its Mia Farrow’s acting ability that makes it so good. I think if Mia had been just “OK” in the role, I don’t think you’d be as delighted that its her. Its the fact that she gives such a home run performance, because she’s so damned good. You can see just how much fun she has with the part.

Damien’s (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) nanny, Mrs. Baylock (Mia Farrow), brings the boy to the hospital to visit his stricken mother.

Q: Did you communicate with her a lot about what you wanted, or did you just sort of let her run with it?

MOORE: We just really had one idea that we kept going back to, which was the idea of deception. We decided, lets make her look as if she has come – has been handed down from God. So it was all about deception. Because we couldn’t – when you think about it – if she’s anything other but absolutely beguiling and nice to Katherine, Katherine would fire her ass. You know like, “Don’t tell me how to raise my child.” That wouldn’t fly now – 30 years ago, that strict nanny type was credible then but not now, so we decided we’re gonna have to do something about this, and what we decided to do was make her credible. Constantly credible.

Q: Remakes. In light of remakes and how the public is generally scoffing at them as of late. In the 70’s such as when The Omen came out, films were based on stories, and characters, not models and CGI.


Q: I was very impressed with the way you avoided glowing eyes, or overusing some poser child, and you really stuck to the original screenplay. Were you conscious of this, going in, to avoid these modern type pitfalls?

MOORE: I knew we’d blow it if we tried to get too clever. You know, with all the tools out there nowadays we could have done some spectacular and gory deaths. I mean, The Omen, when you break it down is a series of set pieces about death. But what I noticed that they all had in common was that they’re all very primevil. Impailing, beheading, hanging. You know, there is a rule going on. Nobody gets shot. Nobody gets strangled with their IPod cord. (laughs) You know what I mean? Theyre all – what it suggests is the eons old nature of things that are going on. That this guy’s been trying for a long time. And uses his tools, all perceived coincidence, to achieve his means. No but, thats why we consciously didnt want to go “Hollywood” on it.

House of Horrors would like to thank Omen director John Moore for taking the time to sit with us and for sharing his insight on a remake that finally pays homage to the original. Stay tuned to House of Horrors, and watch our upcoming roundtable interview with actor Liev Schrieber.

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