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Rian Johnson and Cast Talk Knives Out Sequel Glass Onion

With the imminent release of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery in select theaters on November 23 (followed by a Netflix bow on December 23), the streamer allowed us to participate in a massive press conference with actors Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline and writer/director Rian Johnson.

In the follow-up to Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Detective Benoit Blanc travels to Greece to peel back the layers of a mystery involving a new cast of colorful suspects.

Rian Johnson and Cast Talk Knives Out Sequel Glass Onion

Like its predecessor, Glass Onion once again follows Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc as he spearheads the investigation into a murder most foul. For filmmaker Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Looper), this meant starting from scratch with an entirely new ensemble of suspects.

“My head spins when I think about the fact that we were able to get this group together,” Johnson admitted. “It’s a little bit like throwing a dinner party in that it is an ensemble. We know we’re gonna be on location together and all be kind of stuck together for a while. You’re also just trying to cast cool people who are hopefully gonna get along and have a good time together.”

Rian Johnson and Cast Talk Knives Out Sequel Glass Onion

“There really had to be a real sense of egoless-ness on the part of all of these humans,” Kathryn Hahn said of the cast, who filmed under strict quarantine conditions. “We really did get to and have to spend every single day together. It felt like there was a backstage and an onstage. We had these holding areas where we were all together. We ate lunches together for the most part. It felt very much like we were in a theater ensemble.”

Hahn continued: “Leslie was talking about this last night, and he knows from theater ensembles. Rian was able to find a group people that was able to just be there for the thing. Starting with Daniel, who had been through it before and was there with such a welcoming generosity of spirit for every single person.

Rian Johnson and Cast Talk Knives Out Sequel Glass Onion

“There were so many shots where the camera was on one person, but if you turned it around you would see the rest of us all crowded around behind the camera for someone’s reaction shot. To all be there was pretty remarkable and hilarious. Just a great metaphor for the spirit of the thing which came from, of course, Rian and Daniel and Ram.”

“I’ve had a couple opportunities to be a part of great ensembles with Hamilton and One Night in Miami,” said Leslie Odom Jr. “This is one of the best, but it’s really an impossible thing to achieve without the leadership. It happens from the top down. You really can’t lead from the rear or from the bottom of the call sheet or the middle of the call sheet. It’s really Rian and Daniel and Ram making it feel that creative and that permissive and that fun.”

“Because this was the most fun, there were times when we would be sitting there and it would literally just be a reaction,” said Oscar winner Kate Hudson. “Rian would go to each one of us and it would be like, ‘And,’ you know, ‘scream.’ And you’re like, ‘Aagh,.’ We’d all have to just do the reaction. Then I just remember turning to Leslie and Kathryn like, ‘Was that okay?’ ‘Oh, yeah, no, that was great.’ Then it was someone else’s turn. For the reaction shots we were all there cheerleading each other.”

“Someone like Rian calls and says, ‘I’m basically gonna run a summer camp for deeply unserious people and I need people who are willing to ham it up,” joked Edward Norton, who gets a chance to show his comedic chops. “It was printed in the invite, you know. When you’re with a group of people and it becomes apparent that the words repetitive and boring have never been applied to any of them, it’s a lot of fun.

Norton added: “The experience of a summer theater troupe — for a lot of us who came into this through theater or just that idea of being in a repertory company ensemble — has a special pleasure. It reminds you of high school drama club, for those of who were dorky enough to be in the high school drama club. There’s a funny irony to making films or doing theater, which is it’s a bunch of adults playing dress up and pretending to be other people.

“It’s kind of amazing how much seriousness we layer over that in so many of the things we do. When you strip that off of it… and obviously this is a hardworking bunch of people, but I think when you liberate yourself from any pretention to be doing anything but entertaining the audience, entertaining yourselves, entertaining each other, it’s incredibly wonderful. After a year-and-a-half in your pajamas, it’s especially great.”

“I am a fan of everybody on this stage,” said the stylish Janelle Monáe. “I think that being able to work with Rian is a dream. I literally just told myself if I ever had the opportunity, it’s a yes. Then after reading this script, it was a hell yes, because this is a character that you get to play with. So many layers, so mysterious. It took a lot of focus.

“There were moments where the cast was out having a blast after they did their scenes and maybe I was in a corner upset, jealous, mad. No, no, no, I wasn’t. We had murder mystery parties outside of filming a murder mystery. We’re in Greece, what can I complain about, you know? I got an opportunity to grow as an actor, I got an opportunity to also gain what I like to say family.”

“Janelle was a guaranteed serve,” Jessica Henwick added of her co-star. “If Janelle was coming to dinner, it was gonna be a look and everybody else was underdressed. I don’t even know how you had the time to go find those costumes in Serbia.”

Model and Outer Banks star Madelyn Cline was a relative newcomer to movies before she was cast in her Glass Onion role of Whiskey. “I was landing in New York, and you know when you get close enough to the ground when everybody’s phones start pinging?” Cline recalled. “I got a message from Rian. He was like, ‘Would you have time for a call?’ And I panicked. I was like, ‘He’s gonna tell me I didn’t get it.’

She continued: “And so I said, ‘In an hour.’ I had to prepare myself. Then I was like, wait, no, no, that’s stupid. Yes, of course. I was huddled in a corner at baggage claim ’cause it was so loud and Rian was over the phone asking me if I wanted to be a part of it. I was like, ‘You’re asking, is that even a question? Of course, I do.’ So yeah, then I proceeded to have the best weekend of my life and cheers to that. It was amazing. This is the best call ever.”

Besides putting together this stellar cast, Johnson also had the creative challenge of making a sequel to Knives Out without the safety net of a returning cast beyond Daniel Craig. “It was challenging, but when Daniel and I were making the first one, even when we were on set, we were just having such a good time,” Rian Johnson said.

The filmmaker continued: “We were like, ‘If this does even moderately well, it’d be really fun to keep making these.’ But the mode in which we were thinking to keep making them was always not to continue the story of the first one, but to treat them the way Agatha Christie treated her books and to do an entirely new mystery every time, a new location, new rogues gallery of characters. Something Agatha Christie did is she really shook it up book to book.

“It’s not just a change of whodunit, she was mixing genres. She was throwing crazy narrative spins that had never been done in whodunits before. She was really keeping the audience on their toes, and every single book had a whole new reason for being. Sitting down to write this one, that was the marching orders. Let’s not just turn the crank and do another, let’s come up with something that’s truly different and that actually is gonna make audiences say, ‘Oh, wow, I’m getting the same pleasure I did from the first one, but I’ve never seen this before.’ That’s the exciting thing.

“Trading the browns of New England for the blue and yellows of Greece felt like a really obvious kind of ‘Oh, we’re in a whole new deal here.’ Also, as much as there’s a rich tradition of murder mysteries in cozy English -or in our case, New English- countryside houses, there’s very much a rich tradition of destination murders: Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, The Last of Sheila, which is one of my favorite films.

“There’s something to draw from in terms of the vacation mystery. Also, I wrote the script in 2020 in the middle of lockdown, so — like a lot of us — I was sitting at home wishing I was on a Greek island. That might have had something to do with it.”