From the author of literary phenomenon Gone Girl, Dark Places is the gripping and suspenseful story based on Gillian Flynn’s New York Times® best-selling novel of the same name. Academy Award-winner Charlize Theron stars in this nail-biting thriller from director Gilles Paquet-Brenner.
DARK PLACES opens at cinemas on 22nd January 2016, is available on digital download from 15th February 2016 and out on Blu-ray™ and DVD from 22nd February 2016, courtesy of Entertainment One.
Can you begin by telling us a little bit about Dark Places which is out in cinemas 22nd January?
Dark Places centers on a character named Libby Day who is about 31 years old and hasn’t done anything in her life except for one notorious thing which is that she was the survivor of a murder than happened when her entire family was slaughtered one night at their Kansas farmhouse and she was a seven-year-old who managed to escape and not only did she escape but she escaped and fingered her eldest brother, Ben, as a sort of devil-worshiping crazy guy who killed the family. So for years now all she’s been doing is kind of sleeping and eating and lying around and living off the dregs of this trust fund that had been set up for her at the time of the murders and she becomes involved in kind of an underground society who investigates unsolved murders or mysteries and that sort of thing, and this group has become very interested in this case – the murder of the Day family. They really don’t think that her brother Ben did it, as do apparently a lot of people think that he was railroaded because he was the outsider kid and that sort of thing. So she starts to investigate, finally, for the first time in her life think about these murders. Starts kind of recontacting key figures in the case who will talk to her because she is who she is. And while that investigation is going on, the story jumps back and forth to the actual day of the murders in 1985 from the point of view of both Libby’s mother, who was hatcheted to death, and her brother as he goes through his day. And it’s kind of the different choices that are made and what really happened that day.
Great. And the novel’s set in Kansas in the 80s, which I believe is the time and place that you grew up in, and I wondered if you could tell us a bit about your own experiences growing up, how that influenced Dark Places?
I grew up in Kansas, right in the 1980s, and I have always been attracted to that time period. First of all the farm bust was happening all over the United States and Kansas, you know, being an agricultural state, was hard hit and that always loomed very large in my mind as a child, you know, that you saw these tractor pulls and farm auctions and that sort of thing and we’re not a farming family but it was hard to not see what was going on. And I really kind of started writing it because the real estate boom in the United States completely went bust, all these sub-prime mortgages and the stock market and everything going wrong and it really has this strange, eerie reminder of exactly what happened because that is what happened to all the farmers too. They were told: buy more land, the prices are only gonna go up, you know, they’re not making any more land and that sort of thing. And then just as with mortgages and housing prices, it all went bust. And the other thing that interested me, growing up in the 80s, was this time of what’s called now the ‘Satanic Panic’ where there really was this belief that Satanism and devil worship was kind of a commonplace thing that your next door neighbour could be a devil worshiper, your pre-school teachers might be involved in some sort of ritualistic abuse and it really was this kind of people were going on trial and going to jail because they had said something. It really was in a way a sort of witch hunt and that was always, I remember, rumours. Even still now, that’s the devil kid. That person over there worships the devil. Or there was always some warehouse on the edge of town where everyone believed Satan worship was happening and sacrifices were being made and that sort of thing. And that just always fascinated me because there really were people who would be sent to prison, you know, for years, if not their whole lives, in these cases because of that. So the idea that that could happen and that… sorry, I’m losing my thought. There was something I was about to say.
We were talking about how what you experienced when you were growing up has influenced Dark Places.
Yeah. So anyway, the idea that there was this really rise of Satanism and that was a really true thing that was happening, always kind of fascinated me. I wanted to come back to that again, you know, the fact that if you listened to the wrong kind of music that you were a suspect and that sort of thing and also during the research for Dark Places, you know, I went on eBay and I combed all sorts of old auction sites and what actually… helper videos, you know, videos that they would give to teachers and parents of how to spot devil worshipers, things to look for in case your next door neighbour could be a devil worshiper and that sort of thing. That they would interview law enforcement people, actually policemen, who would say, oh yeah, there’s a coven in our town and that sort of thing, not that that doesn’t happen in some places or it has happened, but the fact that it was considered a really commonplace thing was what kind of fascinated me.
You were just saying about the heavy metal aspect of it. Were you a heavy metal fan before you started writing this or is that something that you’ve researched and have got into whilst you were writing? Can you just talk a bit about that?
You know there are these bands: Iron Maiden and Slayer and Venom. I love them. I grew up like really into this kind of hard rock sort of thing. That pounding music and the lyrics were always kind of so scary and violent and I loved it and even getting into just the writing of the story was actually really fun because I got to pull out some of my old albums and download a bunch of stuff on my iPod and really, you know, conjured up for me these very good memories of sitting around in someone’s basement, just head rocking, so I have a real fondness for that kind of music actually and my poor iPod, I’ll have a dinner party and have on like soothing Norah Jones or something like that and then all of a sudden it’s like Raining Blood and anti-Christ or something, which some people don’t find soothing for dinner party music, but so I researched it a little bit more but mainly it’s not even about the technical aspect of this sort of music. It’s more what it means to love this music and what it means in some communities back then and even now, this was considered the music that you don’t listen to.
And obviously Ben is really fired up by this music but I think a lot of his… and he also sort of gets pulled into this whole Satan-worshiping thing, but he’s obviously a mixed up kid at the same time, and I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about his character and how you created him and how the mixture of the heavy metal worked with Satanism but also just being a bit of a troubled teen all came together to create his character.
Yeah, I mean Ben Day, who is the brother who gets sold down the river for these murders and Satanism and, you know, he was railroaded but the fact of the matter is you don’t know if he’s guilty or not, that he had kind of a bad crummy trial but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was an innocent kid, so that’s kind of the idea that I’m playing with throughout the entire story is did this guy really do it? You know, because he is this kid. I really wanted to play with that idea of… you know, the idea of that outsider kid and there are so many of those outsider kids everyone remembers from high school, those kids who didn’t quite fit in and felt maybe a little bit dangerous, a little bit off. Looking back some of them turn out perfectly normal and fine and some of them don’t and the fact that, for me, high school really is that time period where you kind of start making your path and you start going one way or the other and I think of all the bad ways I could have gone. In a way I think everyone looks back and thinks, you know, wow, if I’d done that one thing or things could have been really different for me and so for me Ben we’re seeing him on that day, right at that point where he is gonna go one way or the other. He’s presented with a bunch of different challenges. He’s this really angry kid. He’s a poor kid, like he just never has even enough to eat. He’s just constantly trying to figure out really how to survive and get through his day and this anger’s building up in him and this idea of, you know, that worshiping the devil is really a sense of power and that temptation of that idea, not in a religious way, but just that outlet for how do I get a sense of control over my life. I mean, throughout the day he’s constantly, how can I be on top for a change? How can I be the one who’s looking down at other people’s stuff, always the one who’s just trying to make things work?
And just in terms of the characters in general, we meet lots of different characters in Dark Places because of the way the story is told, and although they’re all fascinating and engrossing, they’re perhaps quite difficult in some ways. And perhaps it’s difficult to find things to like or warm to but at the same time you do feel for some of the characters and I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about Libby and Patty and Diondra and whether you set out to make them people that we could empathise with or whether it was your intention to make them a bit difficult for the reader to warm to and just a little about the female characters in the novel.
For me, I’m really drawn to characters that are not likable. I don’t know, I have a lot of people that are likable in my life so it’s like when I read I’m always more interested in darker characters and I’m never someone who is interested in the person who’s at the center of anything but the person who’s kind of over here and a little bit off or struggling and to me that’s what’s always interesting. I started writing Libby, my main character, and started out trying to make her just really nice, like a really nice person, and I got about a halfway through my first draft and I was like, I don’t actually like this likable person. Like first of all it doesn’t make sense that she had survived all this and was actually as stable as I was trying to write her, as normal. It didn’t make sense. And I kind of started thinking about really what that would do to a person survive, having seen their family killed like that, believing that their brother did it, never – and again it comes back to that idea of poverty and the idea of what it does to you: never have enough money, never quite be able to make ends meet, a lifetime of that where you’re always constantly on the edge and the exhaustion of that. And so she is a little bit of a kleptomaniac. She has this fondness for taking other people’s things. It says in the book she likes other people’s things because it comes with other people’s history and I really think that she doesn’t do it just to be mean, she does it because it’s like well that’s someone’s grandma’s set of pearls. I wish I had a grandma who… So she has that. She’s not a nice person. The opening sentence of the book is, “I have a meanness inside me” and I think she really does struggle with that knowing and kind of believing she has some bad blood in her. And to me the struggle to be good is much more interesting than the goodness itself. If someone’s already really perfect and great and stable, that is wonderful. I think that’s understood in writing about them, I guess. Really what interested me is that idea of kind of wanting to be a better person but maybe not knowing even how to or where to even start. How do you be a good person if you’ve never grown up with good people around you? And it’s the same way with Patty, her mother. She really is just overwhelmed. She’s an overwhelmed woman trying to raise four children on her own and the only thing she knows how to do, which is farming, is kind of crumbling around her largely through no fault of her own, through larger forces. And again, I think Patty’s a nicer person than Libby is but I do think that she is just, for the sake of the story, she just had to be this kind of overwhelmed… she’s kind of depressed and that sort of thing and again, to me, it’s the idea of the struggle. How do you be cheerful and good and happy when you really don’t even… you can’t even figure out what next month is gonna look like for you. So, to me, it’s always… I personally have tremendous empathy for these characters and I hope that readers do to. You end up kind of rooting for them despite a lot of the bad mistakes that they make.
Great. And you mentioned before the Kill Club that Libby gets involved with and I just wondered if you could tell us whether you’d actually got involved with any of these sort of murder fetishist groups and if you did any research into that side of things at all? Did you have to go to any dark basements for meetings?
The idea for this kill club that Libby gets involved with, this group that researches these murders and it’s everyone from people obsessed with JonBenét Ramsey and these other killings, it was just an idea that came to me actually, you know, there’s a lot of online presence of these groups and the idea of the community that tends to build up around famous murders and what that is and what the attraction is and why people are interested and I’m one of these people. I mean, I’m a true crime junkie and I wish I weren’t. I don’t find it a particularly admirable trait in myself that I do get personally involved and interested in murder stories. So, to me, it came from the idea of what are these people like? What would it be like if instead of online or people who watch TV shows dedicated to this, what would it be like if they were actually together at kind of a convention, which is how Libby is introduced to them. It’s almost like a big underground strange carnival where they kind of meet and network and try to swap souvenirs or collectible items and there is a… I sometimes come across murder ballads that were written back in the 30s or 40s about famous murders. You can buy song sheets that were dedicated to chopped up little girls or that sort of thing, so this idea’s been around forever. People forever have been kind of fascinated with horrifically murdered people and so after that it was purely my imagination. It was what might this look like? And it looks really weird.
I wondered if you could talk a little bit more about the Satanism aspect in the novel, because I think that’s the thing that lots of people will be fascinated by for one reason or another. You were talking about how it was this big sort of witch hunt in the 80s but maybe if you could just talk about that again. Why you decided to explore that and why you felt that that was what you wanted to look at for the next novel.
I started to be interested more and more in this idea that Ben either really was a devil worshiper or was at least an accused devil worshiper or the whole idea of devil worship to me has always just been interesting because you hear so much about it and what is it and there’s that idea of is it truthful, you know, do people really believe this? And particularly growing up in the 80s it was very pervasive. The media really had caught on to it. There were always these stories about these day-care nightmares and to me it was the fact that there was this idea that there was this widespread idea of devil worshiping and that anyone you knew could be a secret devil worshiper, just kind of really fascinated me. I remember growing up in Kansas City, where I was growing up, there were suburbs bursting out all over in the 1980s and so you could go through entire neighbourhoods, entire towns that were just outlines of houses almost, and wander through them and I remember that was half of what we did as a child was trying to scare each other: this is the house where the devil worship happens, and these kind of eerie, strange places that weren’t kind of complete yet and I think there’s something to that at that time period that was this sense of growing and the unknown and who knows what was gonna happen next. You know children were much more on their own then so there was a guilt to it too of two parents working at the same time. And I think that led a lot… what is my worst nightmare? My worst nightmare is that my child’s pre-school teacher or babysitter is not taking good care of them, is a horrible person, and I think that really led to this ‘Satanic Panic’ also. And it’s just kind of, to me, an idea. Just the fact that I knew growing up… everyone has the devil kid story. I feel like everyone has the like, oh yeah, well there was this house on my neighbourhood, that’s where devil worship happened. And in some cases really horrible things did happen, absolutely, but the idea of that mythology of it, that everyone likes to kind of scare themselves with this is the other and the other is right in our neighbourhood, you know, nearby, driving around in the weird van or that sort of thing. This family is the devil worshiping family. That idea of the boogeyman, being able to point a finger somewhere.
Was it integral for you to set the novel in Kansas or could it have taken place anywhere?
For me I really wanted to set the story in the middle of Kansas for a couple of reasons. First of all the Kansas Missouri, you’re right in the center of the United States, is such an underused, under known kind of place. I spent a lot of my life in either Manhattan or Los Angeles and, you know, outside of the central part of the United States it’s almost exotic. Like, you’re from where? Are you joking? Their idea is Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, it’s kind of the only framework that they have of Kansas. And so to me it’s this kind of place where it is so under-represented in fiction that I think it strikes people as interesting and you can play around a lot more with the mythology of it than you can with say something that’s set in Manhattan or Brooklyn, which you’ve at least seen it in movies or that sort of thing. So I really wanted to do that. And of course Kansas is the site of the Truman Capote book In Cold Blood, which I just think is such a massive, fascinating and important work and so that was a little bit of my ode to that idea, the farmhouse and Kansas, and the mythology of it. You know, Kansas is a place where there are a lot of… the Kansas Missouri area, there are a lot of famed murders and murderers and Libby talks about growing up and going to Dodge City where there’s Wyatt Earp and all the Westerns and by the end she’s at Jesse James’ farmhouse. Jesse James this famous cold-blooded killer became famous and so to me that was kind of true to the idea that so much of Dark Places is about the mythology of murder and how a single murder can take on a life because so many different people are projecting their thoughts onto it that Kansas was a very good spot to set it.
Great. And can you tell us what your favourite all-time ever heavy metal song is?
It would definitely have to be Iron Maiden Run to the Hills. I just think that’s the all-time, that’s the one I can kind of listen to over and over again to relax in the evening or when I’m jogging or whatever. It’s probably my all-time favourite. Is that the formal name, Run to the Hills? Should I check that before… That’s what I always call it. I’ll get phone calls, the actual name of that is… but I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. Is it Invaders?
So obviously Patty has a gun in the film. Did you have to do research into how it would be used and what type of gun she would have?
Yeah, it’s a gun family. Patty has a gun, her sister Diane has a gun, Libby owns a gun. Patty’s the one who ends up dying by shotgun and Ben carries around a gun a lot. And I knew, I understand that people who are into guns know guns really well and you do not want to make mistakes on your gun talk and so thankfully my brother is this amazing shot, you know, goes to shows and really competes, and so I phoned him up and said, Travis, would you mind taking me out shooting because I don’t know what it even feels like to shoot a gun and I want to look at all the different ones and decide. Kind of match the personality, because there is an affinity for different kinds of guns, and get that right. So it’s funny because we went to this shooting range which is outside Kansas City and my brother shows up with probably every single one of the guns that he owns, this entire… I think they’re gonna call the Homeland Security because we’re unloading gun after gun and all these rifles, I don’t know bazookas or something, so it was great. We just stayed out there all day and I shot every kind of gun from an old peacemaker to my grandfather’s army revolver and shotguns and there were about two that I just didn’t want to have any part of but by the end of the day you start understanding what it really feels like to shoot a gun which I just wanted to be able to say that right. I wanted to make sure that each person owned a gun that made sense for them to use. I didn’t want Patty with some sort of fancy gun that wouldn’t make sense for a farm woman, that sort of thing. So I ended up mixing and matching correctly but I still phoned him about twenty more times to make sure I had things correct.
Are you tempted to take up shooting yourself now after that?
You know what, I loved it but at the same time it kind of scared me. My heart started beating quicker than really having known only about guns from having watched TV and movies, that sort of thing, I didn’t really understand the real power that has. I don’t know that I would ever go out on my own. Maybe with my brother again.
Following Gone Girl and Dark Places, Sharp Objects is also being made into a film and I just wondered if you could give us a bit of an update on how that’s going. Whether there’s any film news you can tell us?
Yeah, right now with Sharp Objects, the film rights have been sold to Pathé and I am just finishing writing the screenplay for it, which is very fun to get to revisit again and try to really break it down and figure out how to make the book work as a movie because the book is a lot of it is very internalised, it’s a lot of thoughts and memories and that sort of thing and how do you put that on the screen. So it’s be a fun little jigsaw puzzle almost. And they’re hoping to shoot within the next year or so, if the timing can be right, you know, we would kind of like it to be shot during the summer time just because it’s such a summer book where the kids are all out and roaming around unattended and there’s little Emma in her short shorts and that sort of thing. So we’ll see where it goes from there but I went on actually a road trip around Missouri and Kansas actually for Dark Places but the idea of the town is so similar to some of these little smaller farm towns, so I took tons of photos – look, we could film here, this is the perfect stand-in for Windgap, so I hoped they would like to shoot it somewhere in the Missouri region just to have that real specific feel.