The Voices: HMZ Film exclusively interviews screenwriter Michael Perry
The Voices is one of 2015’s stand out films (my full review here) and features in my top 20 of the year. I recently interviewed acclaimed producer and screenwriter of the film, Michael Perry, to discuss the genesis of the film and all other aspects of its creation. Michael has penned Paranormal Activity 2 and various episodes in a number of TV series including Into the Badlands, House MD, The River, Law and Order and many more.
Michael: I met some retired FBI agents who had founded the Behavioral Profiling Unit, the real-life Silence of the Lambs guys, and asked them: how do you solve a murder? They said, 95 percent of murders are easy to solve because the motive is so obvious, i.e. revenge, robbery, spurned lover, etc. But 5% are committed by people who have psychological motives that can seem opaque. I asked them, how do you solve those? They said, we look at the crime scene, and then we ask, “what’s the movie that this person thinks he’s in?” They mean, what does he think he’s doing. At that moment, I thought, wouldn’t it be great to see what someone like that thinks he’s doing? Would we feel differently about him if we walked a mile in his shoes? Would we understand (but not forgive) what he had done? And that was the beginning of The Voices.
HMZ Film: How would you describe the film in your own words?
Michael: A man with a difficult past is on a roll, having the best week of his life: he loves his menial job, his coworkers have invited him to plan a company picnic, he has a crush on a girl, he has a great time participating in the party. It’s all wonderful until his cat starts telling him to kill people. (His dog says, “don’t listen to the cat!”) We soon realize that we’ve been seeing the world through his eyes, and another reality lies beneath that, as his world disintegrates.
HMZ Film: Jerry’s fractured psyche manifests itself in the form of Mr Whiskers and Bosco. How were these characters born and what role did you set out for each?
Michael: Mr. Whiskers was based on my neighbor’s cat, Whiskey, who would come into my yard and kill baby birds. It really bothered me until I realized, that’s what he does, that’s who he is, and he would be denying his essential self to refuse to kill birds (Balzac wrote a story, “The Afflictions of an English Cat,” about how pathetic it would be for cats to refuse to kill mice.) Bosco was a product of imagination, but mainly came from the dogs that have unconditional positive regard for their owners, regardless of what they’ve done.
HMZ Film: It’s a surreal film that blurs reality and fiction as we view the world through Jerry’s eyes.What was your greatest challenge penning the story from his subjective POV?
Michael: I knew what it was to be like before I wrote the first word; the challenge was conveying it to the reader, suggesting that the world is slightly stylized without letting on that we are seeing Jerry’s POV, until the scene where he takes his meds. Then, you could look back at the first part of the script (or movie) and see why things were slightly “off,” that it was a faithful representation of his world.
HMZ Film: Mental illness is a prickly and sensitive subject matter, how did you go about research to make it a credible depiction?
Michael: Tons of research, mainly reading books and talking to sufferers. There are millions of brilliant, kind people who endure mental illness with grace and dignity. A guy like Jerry never had access to the resources that could help him lead a productive life, with tragic results.
HMZ Film: Talk to us about your collaboration with Marjane Satrapi? How did she enrich the script when bringing it to life?
Michael: Marjane Satrapi is a genius and a wonderful creative leader, once she had the script, we did some cutting for budgetary reasons, and also adjusted some things to her taste. For example, “Sing A Happy Song” was originally “The Macarena,” but Marjane said she found that song to be grating; she didn’t want to be forced to listen to “The Macarena” over and over for weeks and months of preproduction, shooting and editing, can we please change it to something else? Ergo, the O’Jays.
Michael: Ryan Reynolds inhabited the character of Jerry so completely that it’s impossible to think of someone else in that role; it was his idea to play the dog and cat, but he didn’t want us to think he was throwing his weight around, he wanted the better idea to carry the day. So, he auditioned anonymously for Mr. Whiskers and Bosco! I received an audio tape, and the producers asked what I thought about this audition; I was blown away, doubly so when they told me that Reynolds simply read the script into an iPhone, switching deftly among the three characters. Gemma Arterton actually plays two different characters and gave subtly different qualities to both of them. The first character is Fiona; the second is Jerry’s hallucination of Fiona. Compare her in the first part of the movie with her performance in Jerry’s apartment and you’ll see all the tiny details she sprinkled throughout. Anna Kendrick is a true movie star; she reveals so much with a tiny glance or a look, and it feels like you’re eavesdropping on her soul. I could watch her all day, and she really communicated the tragedy of her character beautifully.
HMZ Film: What’s next for Michael Perry?
Michael: Working on Wayward Pines, Season II, with Mark Friedman, Night Shyamalan and Anna Fricke, among others. I think you can see my work in “Into the Badlands,” where I was a consulting producer.
A big thank you to Michael for taking time out for this interview and for writing a superb film.
The Voices is yet another spectacular Arrow Films release packed with un-missable extras such as Interviews •Scare Pranks •Deleted Scenes •Extended Scenes • Pet Voice Recordings. The film is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Steelbook.