Box, The: Richard Kelly’s Credibility on the Line?

Richard Kelly is the writer-director of “The Box,” starring Cameron Diaz and James Marsden. The film will be released November 6 by Warner.

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“At the heart of ‘The Box’ is a moral dilemma,” says writer/director Richard Kelly. “What would you do if offered the opportunity for great wealth but it came at the cost of a human life, someone you don’t know?”

Norma and Arthur Lewis are an average couple, with the same concerns and aspirations as anyone. Says Kelly, “The idea is that the people faced with this fate-altering dilemma are just like you or me, our parents or neighbors. There is nothing fatally flawed about the Lewises, nor is there anything special about them. They’re good, hard-working, loving people who are raising a child, trying to get by, and living a little bit beyond their means–a situation as relevant today as it was when the story was written.”?

Ultimately, Kelly believes, “It’s about responsibility. What would you sacrifice for your loved ones and what responsibility are you willing to take for your actions? What does it mean to be responsible for another human being and what are the parameters–where does it begin and where does it end? I like to think that I wouldn’t push the button but I don’t know. Maybe I already have. Maybe we all have.?

On Technology

The director notes, “What fascinates me is the complexity of the instant-gratification, push-button society we live in today, with our handheld devices, TV remotes, computers, and all the ways in which we effortlessly solve our problems or meet our needs, large and small. We toss off messages without much thought to the consequences or ramifications. It was a little different 30 years ago, when the story is set, and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to keep it in the 1970s, when the story was first published. Pushing a button was a more deliberate act back then. For Norma and Arthur, it could be the most deliberate act of their lives.”?

On His Cast

“James brought a lot of charm and goodwill to his character and his chemistry with Cameron was fantastic,” says Kelly. “He also understood the depth of Arthur’s disappointment at not getting into the astronaut training program. He really got how that state of mind would affect the quandary they were faced with at home.”?

“Exactly who he is, and what he is doing, is open to debate,” Kelly concedes, jokingly adding, “You might think of him as a kind of interstellar insurance adjustor or maybe a tax auditor. He’s powerful, but also, clearly, fallible. He has his own limitations.”?

CGI Makeup

Combining CGI and practical effects to finalize Steward’s raw visage, Kelly describes the process as “subtractive,” meaning, “Rather than piling on layers of prosthetic rubber and traditional make-up, we digitally removed that portion of his face. By painting his face green and applying motion-capture tracking dots to it, we created an anchoring mechanism through which we could then imbed the digital make-up, the disfigurement itself, directly onto Frank’s face and not interfere with the way he talks or moves.”?

Shooting in a Historic Setting

For Kelly, who grew up in Langley’s shadow, “Embedding our story in the historic setting of the Viking Mission meant presenting Langley in what some would call its glory days. A lot of it hasn’t changed significantly from the way it looked in the 1970s: the same interesting architecture, the gantry, the rocket sled, the wind tunnel where they tested parachutes, the media briefing room. We tried to photograph as much of it as we could in a way that felt organic to the story while also paying tribute to what happened there. We were granted unprecedented access and wanted to make the best of it.” ?

One of Kelly’s favorite sets was the Ukrop’s Supermarket, a well-known Virginia-area chain, which was made and stocked from scratch for the film with vintage cereal boxes and canned goods, as well as pricing and signage. “I grew up going to Ukrop’s. It’s a local chain that’s been around for more than 50 years. It was fun to recreate that as a specific element of my childhood instead of going with something generic,” he says.

“As much as it’s based on larger concepts, in many ways it’s the most personal of my three films,” says Kelly. “My parents were the ones who introduced me to these kinds of films, the Hitchcock-style psychological thrillers that are still my favorites. Those are the movies that they loved, and they became the movies that I love.”