Exclusive Interview with Director William Brent Bell for ‘THE BOY’

– by Gig Patta

It sounds like one of the easiest jobs in the world—follow specific instructions to babysit a porcelain doll.

The problem is the porcelain doll may not be a normal doll.

THE BOY is certainly one of the biggest horror surprises for this year. It had all the elements of a creepy doll, big castle and a huge twist in the end.

The film stars Lauren Cohan as the newly hired nanny for an English couple’s boy who is actually a doll. She is given a set of rules, but as she breaks them—strange disturbing events start occurring that makes her believe the doll is alive.

Latino-Review had a telephone interview with director William Brent Bell on the movie. We talked about the twist, the small cast and production of the film.

Read the full transcript below.

Latino-Review: What attracted you particularly to this film called THE BOY?

William Brent Bell: The script. For me, that’s saying a lot. It’s sometimes hard to read really great scripts in this genre. Immediately, it hooked me with the tone over this boy and this girl trapped in this house. It seems like if we the opportunity we could make something great. It wasn’t too ambitious.

With the story to the end, I was worried with this concept and what was going to happen with this doll. It can go in a lot of bad places. And I loved that twist. It’s so fresh or rather doing something different.

And Lakeshore, as a company, they’re super supportive of me in directing this movie. They’re nice guys and they’re great. They’re a terrific group of guys to make a movie with.

Latino-Review: Let’s talk about that film. It was that slow-burn type of film towards the end. It had this supernatural feel until that twist towards the end. Wow! That twist at the end was certainly something I really remembered about that film.

William Brent Bell: It’s great and it’s cool when you do memorable things in films. It’s great these days to leave a mark on an audience. The doll, itself, is a really memorable character. We are really happy on the way he turned out.

As for the twist, we were really worried in pre-production with the script if it would work. The audience could be guessing on other things. We were also worried that [the twist] would leak on the Internet. Or maybe someone sees it and anticipates it all too easily. It worked out great. It was fun to have a movie where people can say, “Look out for the twist in this film.”

Not a lot of movies get to do that. It’s a real visceral audience participation reaction that makes it exciting to be a part of. It’s really fun.

It’s still talked about as it’s being released internationally and on DVD. I am continually surprised that people will continue to be surprised by that. And it’s also cool that the audiences who had seen the movie were protective on what that twist is. It’s fun and no one want to give that away.

Latino-Review: That’s true. My friends and I saw that movie and all we talked about was that twist. It almost felt like it was two separate types of movies though—before and after the twist. Was it difficult in setting all that up?

William Brent Bell: It was fun to set it all up. The design of the movie was very elegant and gothic. It was beautiful for the first seventy-five percent [of the movie]. And then after that [twist], everything just went off the track. It was a little messier, more hand-held and playing with the lighting. It was a big shift on the way it looked and sounded.

By the end of it, people were like “what the fuck just happened?” I was watching this creepy ghost story and now my heart is pumping from this wildness that’s happening. I think that’s pretty fun.

There was some intensity in the movie. It’s PG-13 for the brutality, but it’s relative. We were trying to make it scary for a whole different reason. You’re afraid for your life as something is standing right behind you instead of just being scared of a ghost.

The whole process was very much respected. We had these non-disclosure agreements. The actor who played Brahm was hidden from all the web sites. He was never mentioned on the call sheets of cast lists. It was great that everyone was protective of that twist.

I think the first two-thirds of the movie are so cool that it set the tone. The twist is fun, but it did become a different movie so I tried to get that end of the movie as quickly as possible. The audiences can enjoy that last fifteen minutes without feeling like they’re entering a different film altogether. And all the tones worked out together in the same the movie.

Latino-Review: Talk about Brahm, the porcelain doll, as a character. Was it strange to direct everyone around an object?

William Brent Bell: Yeah, it was pretty cool. There’s something about it—even for an actor trying to keep a straight face. We hope that there isn’t one who doesn’t crack or break character. It’s hard to be consistent, because he wasn’t real.

And making him was an extremely intense process. There were so many different looks and the specificity such as his hair cut could’ve changed so much on what he was. There was the size of the eyes and with the realness in his eyes versus being cartoonish. By the end of the day, I was really inspired by the artwork of these lifelike porcelain dolls from hundreds of years ago.

I was also really inspired by Damien from THE OMEN. So we treated him more in building him and using him as an evil living and breathing eight-year-old kid. There are all these kids in these movies who can kill you with their stare.

It was also interesting too that he wasn’t like an overtly evil-looking boy. That was the big debate. To me, it was like the perfect-looking boy who is secretly holding a knife behind his back. For me, that is even creepier and scarier.

It was up until the night before that we did the camera test. There were still certain elements of him that did not work. Somehow, at the last minute, everything just came all together. When I showed up for the camera test, he was sitting in the lighting in his wardrobe—we finally lockdown that look in his chair. It was perfect.

Latino-Review: Well, dolls always creep me out. Could you talk about on how Lauren Cohan was perfect in this role and how you recruited her?

William Brent Bell: We had a list of actresses, but she was the first and only one I spoke to. The first time we met was actually on Skype since we were on different continents. I knew on who she was and of the show. I wasn’t a die-hard THE WALKING DEAD fan. So I was, “Okay. That’s an interesting idea.”

As soon as I met her, her personality is so engrossing and inviting. She is beautiful and also approachable. I was like, “Oh, wow! If I’m going to have to do a movie that requires an audience to watch one person for 97 percent of the film—it’ll be with her.” She is so easy to watch and so great to work with.

For her character, which was virtually in every single scene, she might be crying in one scene and then flirty in the next scene in all these shoots in the same day. And she might even be running for her life. It takes a pretty unique kind of actor to pull that off and to pull it off without one meltdown. She was a joy to be around.

I knew as we met her that she was perfect. Looking back, I can’t imagine this being done with anybody else.

Latino-Review: It’s a very small cast. Let’s not forget that Rupert Evans was in the film. What about working with him?

William Brent Bell: We ran through a lot of people. She would go in and read with them so we could have it on tape. We wanted to see on how her chemistry with all these different guys. The first time he read—he was my top choice. So when she came in to read, their chemistry was great. Once again looking back, I couldn’t imagine anybody else doing that part.

He played a character that everyone predicted that he’ll be a love interest to her and a shoulder to cry on. That’s actually pretty difficult. He had to be a storyteller. He had to give a lot of exposition that could be tricky. He is an engrossing storyteller, in which the way he is.

The character in the script is so important, because he’s telling all the backstory on the doll. It’s all about family and told like great campfire stories. If they’re not told like great campfire stories, then they’re just boring and we wouldn’t want to watch the movie.

Every time he began to talk and tell the scary story, I felt encapsulated by him. I knew the audiences would be in tune with him. The first time the audience viewed him in the first two scenes—the girls in the audience were giggling and talking about him. They just loved him.

Latino-Review: Could you talk about the horror feeling for the house and the music? That completed the total package for the film, right?

William Brent Bell: The house was perfectly on why we shot there. It was fairly non-descript in the screenplay. We went up to Victoria and looked up a few places. So we found this castle and we didn’t have to do much to it. It was almost on what it looked like in the film. It was so rich and so creepy. There were all this taxidermies and the stain glass. Everything about it just reeked in this great gothic horror movie.

Just like Lauren, we were like “Wow. We got a great location.” This movie is going to be great since we’ve been getting all the right pieces.

And the score came after that fact with Bear McCreary coming in to watch the movie. He became one of the biggest fans of the movie. He was so excited with all these creative ideas. He also respected us on how big and rich we wanted the movie to be. I went to Skywalker Ranch and sat down to see him conduct and orchestra. There was the orchestra in the room with the movie on the big screen. It was one of my favorite parts of the whole process. It brought it all to life and made a whole difference in the world.

Latino-Review: Thank you very much and it was a pleasure speaking with you.

William Brent Bell: Great to meet you.

THE BOY is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download.

Interviews, Film Lauren Cohan, The Boy, William Brent Bell