FROM his brutally honest interviews to his stance on the immigrant ban in the United States, director Manoj Night Shyamalan has never been one to mince words. Basking in the international critical success of his latest flick, Split, the Indian-American filmmaker has come a long way from being dismissed as a defensive arrogant man to a master filmmaker. Once touted to be the next Alfred Hitchcock, the Signs director’s career is on a resurgence of sorts with two successful outings in the last two years. Split, starring James McAvoy (pictured above), deals with a man with dissociative personality disorder and manifests 23 distinct personalities. Here, the 46-year-old speaks to us about the movie, his directorial process and more.
What was the seed that made you think of a character as complex and fascinating as Kevin?
It all started as part of another screenplay about fifteen years ago. I remember writing it and realising that Kevin’s character was so electric. I didn’t want it to be anywhere else and everything else felt dull next to it. I couldn’t write him out long enough at that point and it needed to be fleshed out. So it sat there for a bit. Then I realised it would be a great contained movie to make.
What made you choose James McAvoy to play Kevin and his multiple personalities?
In retrospect, I am not sure anybody else could have played the part. James was amazing in every aspect of it — the comedy, the emotion, the fear, the physicality, the dexterity, the specificity. I am very tough on the actors and I am very specific. I met him at Comic-Con and I thought this guy is so sweet. I wanted someone incredibly sweet to play this part, to defend all of these characters. Then I sent him the script and I Skyped with him for an hour. I immediately knew that he was the guy.
Do you feel that Split represents an evolution in your filmography?
My philosophy is to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. I want it to be a real conversation, like what are we capable of? What is our mind capable of? This film works in that framework.
Tell us more about humour in a script, particularly in Split.
The humour angle in the storytelling is really working for me. I do feel that is the way I enjoy talking, and I think that is the way that audiences need to hear stories now. For example, I think of what Robert Downey Jr did with the first Iron Man. He was a compassionate character and he played it with that angle. In Split, there are situations that are at the same time terrifying and funny.
How have you written such beautiful female characters for the film?
I have only daughters. I have their point of view, the way they talk, the way they think, what they are scared of. I like making complex female characters and for me, it’s easy because there’s no male in my house, other than me. We even have a female cat. There are no men anywhere.
What was it like working with Jason Blum again?
I hire the producers, I have an idea and I look for the right person to make it possible. Jason is the producer of low-budget movies, but that is almost a coincidence. I approached him because he is the champion of original movies and he believes in smaller movies reaching a large audience. He has convinced other people that that can happen. And he’s also such a gentle guy and he and I relate so well. I like the version of myself that I am with him. I can get panicky and neurotic during production. He is not that way. He has the vision of the bigger picture.
Split hits theatres on February 24.
— Team Indulge