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Thanks to a successful marketing campaign, Orphan looks like another evil kid horror movie - a modern-day Bad Seed, another Omen. But thanks to an even more successful twist in the movie, it turns all those genre stereotypes inside out. Peter Sarsgaard attempts to explain without giving it away...
Q: Is it hard to talk about the movie without spoiling it?
A: There are so many things you don't want to give away -- the message, what the movie means -- but it's not something you can expound upon. People will be talking about it for a little while when they come out of the theater. But I'm not dying to tear it apart. It's fun, not a philosophy. The twist makes it a good version of the movie for the genre, and not morally reprehensible. If it hadn't had the twist, I wouldn't want to do it.
A: I was actually drawn to this movie because Vera would be involved in it. We're good friends. But I haven't seen Joshua ...
Q: She's the mom whose 9-year-old son terrorizes the family. He manipulates the mom (who believes something is wrong) against the dad (who doesn't believe until it's too late).
A: Playing one parent against the other? It wouldn't take a bad seed to do that! [Laughs]. Kids may not know the word "manipulate," but they know how to do it. When I was talking to Isabelle [Fuhrman, who plays Esther], I explained, "You know what it's like. You really want some candy, but there is none. Instead you see some cough drops, so you act sick for a minute to get some cough drops." That's how kids operate.
Q: And what's with how many of these "bad seeds" are so good at piano?
A: It's like how all killers listen to opera! [Laughs]. They're just good little students. Obviously, movies are just reflections of what's going on in everyone's heads; there's always some flaw we can all relate to. Rosemary's Baby was about something happening in your body that someone else understands better than you do. In The Exorcist, Ellen Burstyn is a very distracted mother. That stuff is not as scary without her standing there, wondering how did she go wrong as a mother.
Q: It's the nature vs. nurture question, which seems to pop up as an adoption issue in the evil kid genre a lot.
A: I know some people have a problem with our movie, some adoption agencies. For me, this movie would be a silly one to get up in arms about, since it's not about that. If I were thinking of adopting a child and then saw the trailer and reconsidered my decision, I probably shouldn't have been adopting a child in the first place. In The Omen, Gregory Peck gets a "replacement" baby from a priest. There always seems to be some religious element in horror movie adoptions, but ours doesn't have that.
Q: You don't have a priest, but you have a nun! What kind of orphanage is this with no background checks, no home visits?
A: Every horror movie needs a nun! We didn't do any research on adopting a child because that's not what this is. This isn't a movie where you see the struggle of getting a child and everything happening as a result. We concentrate on the second act.
Q: There's a scene where Esther tries to seduce your character ... and he finally wakes up to what's been happening.
A: I had a big hand in that scene, trying to make it the most realistic version of what would happen. Up until then, John's not really been paying attention. It was fun to be the one who adds a sense of levity, to be the doubter. I liked the idea that I would be the one people in the movie theater would be yelling at. It wasn't difficult doing that scene once I got inside his head. There are things in real life that I wouldn't be comfortable doing with a child...
Q: And yet, in your upcoming movie, An Education, your character is seduced by an underage girl...
A: I think the difference between a 10-year-old and a 16-year-old (especially in the latter case, when the actress is actually 21), is that it's inherently not the same thing. What's interesting about An Education, if you just look at the relationship, it's outside of what's normal, but not totally incomprehensible. It was actually legal at that time, in England. We could have sex. But with a little girl, it's just completely wrong. And people will be gasping at the screen [at Orphan.]
That's why I always loved horror movies, to have that collective experience. You go in to a big theater, with good sound, with someone, and yowl at the screen. It's fantastic.