Shyamalan Admits To 'Water' Risks
Director says 'Lady in the Water' puts it all on the line
"I think I believe in believing," muses the writer-director, whose demeanor varying wildly between insecure and soft-spoken and bombastic and ego-driven over the course of a single publicity interview for his new film "Lady in the Water."
The film may feature some respected actors -- it stars Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti as a narf (think sea nymph) and the apartment manager she inspires -- but it's success or failure will ride entirely on his name, a fact that isn't lost on Shyamalan.
"My greatest joy, however temporary this joy is, the greatest joy has been that I feel that the audience is coming to the movie for the storytelling, so who I choose as the lead isn't as crucial as it would be for something else," he says.
Although his name helped open films like "The Village" and "Signs" despite mixed critical response, Shyamalan has put even more pressure on himself this time around. Not only did he end his creative partnership with Disney to go make "Lady" for Warner Bros., but he helped document the somewhat messy divorce by cooperating with writer Michael Bamberger on the book "The Man Who Heard Voices," which has become a major conversation piece in Hollywood even before its release. The book's first half chronicles the reasons Disney chose not to make the movie and Shyamalan's feelings of betrayal before delving into the production process.
"Usually, these are the type of things that happen on every movie, but you're going through it yourself, personally, like in a personal torture thing and then assumptions are made about how you got to the end point or whatever," he says.
Shyamalan is quick to add, "And it ended really well for me, in that I found a wonderful home and a wonderful place to make this movie and they love and cherish this movie and it worked out for everybody."
But Shyamalan can't help but admit something about Disney's decision.
"Here's the reality -- they are so right about all the negatives."
Shyamalan goes on to list several of the things he was famously warned against, but defends the storytelling process that began with a bedtime story he'd tell his daughters.
"This was like mania and the mania of telling the story to the kids and then, at the end, somehow magically, every time I tell the story to the kids, the Story Gods come and make it all fit, somehow and they go, 'Oooh. Ahhh.' And I'm always dazzled," Shyamalan says. "I go, 'How did that happen? How did I know that character's going to come here and do that and come back?' and I wanted that feeling in making of this movie. And I totally understand that that's a dangerous way to make movies, but it's a very healthy way to be as a storyteller, to once in a while change your clothes and be very dangerous and risk everything. And I really would give them all up for this one. I don't know why, just I would."
Perhaps that's why Bamberger subtitled his book "Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked his Career on a Fairy Tale." The director is aware that the performance of this movie -- positive or negative -- will prompt a wave of industry second-guessing.
"In either direction, however it plays out -- the $20 million or bazillion, whatever it is -- I totally acknowledge all the pitfalls that can happen and maybe they'll stumble us. But I've never gotten more joy out of a story than out of this one. I don't know why."
"Lady in the Water" opens on Friday, July 21.