Vaughn Stein is the director of the new psychological thriller Every Breath You Take. A story about obsession and vengeance within a tragedy.
Every Breath You Take is a searing psychological thriller about a psychiatrist (Casey Affleck, “Gone Baby Gone”), whose career is thrown into jeopardy when his patient takes her own life. When he invites his patient’s surviving brother (Sam Claflin, “Hunger Games: Catching Fire”) into his home to meet his wife (Michelle Monaghan, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”) and daughter, his family life is suddenly torn apart.
I had the chance to connect with the director Vaughn Stein to talk about Every Breath You Take. He talked about the cast came togetherl and the location that fit the ambient. In addition, to whom was always willingly to participate in the action scenes with no hesitation and more.
Nancy Tapia: Hi, nice to have you.
Vaughn Stein: How are you doing?
Nancy Tapia: Good. How are you doing?
Vaughn Stein: I’m good, thank you. Not too bad.
Nancy Tapia: Good, I’m thrilled to talk to you about Every Breath You Take. I understand when you read the script, you were so into and you couldn’t stop reading it, please share.
Vaughn Stein: Yeah, it was very much that. It really grabbed me from the get go. I love thrillers, they’re a real favorite of mine. I think when you read a script that is a great twisting and turning thriller. But at the same time is a brilliantly rich and very sad and very beautiful character drama about grief and bereavement and what obsession can do to us. The ugliness that can come out of that. Yeah, I was so excited there.
Nancy Tapia: The film opens with a big scene where it just leaves you like, “What?” Then everything just goes into one of those slow burn thrillers.
Vaughn Stein: Yeah. We knew we wanted to start with this cold opening that felt very different to the rest of the film. This memory of a really happy time that suddenly and very tragically ends. We wanted to set up Grace who is played by Michelle Monaghan, who’s brilliant in the movie. Who’s this grieving mother throughout the film. We wanted to sort of imbue the audience with a sense of who she was and who she’s become because of grief. I think it sort of came out of that, the idea of opening the film that way.
Nancy Tapia: After reading the script, what part of the film were you looking forward to filming?
Vaughn Stein: Oh, that’s a great question. I love James’s story. James, played by Sam Claflin, who is the brother of Daphne (Emily Alyn Lind). She is a patient who dies in tragic circumstances. And James the bereaved brother and the moment that the film really turns and begins to unravel is James sort of imbues his way into their life and things begin to change for the worst once he enters. Being able to capture that, because of the brilliance of the cast and the amazing way that Sam plays it. Also, from Casey’s perspective, this sort of unavoidable slow moving train coming towards him, as his world crumbles around him and all these things start to go wrong and his family behave in strange and very unnerving ways.
I loved that bit of the story. I was fascinated by that. I think the other thing that I really enjoyed reading and was really looking forward to capturing was The Clarks. This family that suffered this unimaginable tragedy and are having to try to come to terms with it and are completely at odds with one another. Who are sort of burying themselves in their own separate world, living their own separate lives under one roof. To have a cast as incredible as this one in Casey, Michelle and India to play these roles was such a privilege. They did a brilliant job.
Nancy Tapia: The way Sam’s character, James, is introduced into the film is quite heartbreaking. You pretty much win over the viewer.
Vaughn Stein: Well, yeah…that’s Sam Claflin for you. I mean, he’s brilliant. You know, he plays so well, he’s an amazing actor and he had such a terrifying journey on this film. He is the linchpin of the thriller half of this movie. It’s his character who begins to sort of bit by bit as he more or less poisoned the lives of his family. But when you meet him, it’s also a haunting difficult and sad moment for him as a character to then watch his journey from there. I thought it was very exciting.
Nancy Tapia: Let’s talk more about the cast. I know Casey Affleck is already involved in the production. Was it originally planned for him to be in the film too? How did everyone else come together?
Vaughn Stein: I’ll answer your question. It was a bit of both. Because it was a great script, lots of people circled it. Yeah Casey was attached. Casey is one of the best actors in the world. There’s no two ways about it. He is incredible. He’s so collaborative and he has amazing instincts. He brings this kind of intensity, this realness. He can do more with a raise of an eyebrow than some people could do with a whole speech. He’s brilliant, he was in the beginning, I think one of the things that speaks to the quality of the script was these world-class actors wanting to be part of it. Michelle, who plays Grace, is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And she’s kind of the heart of the movie, she had such a difficult job to do, trying to hold her family together.
This rebellious teenage daughter, Lucy, played brilliantly by India Eisley. Her husband Phillip who’s off in his own world, he’s burying his grief in his work. Yeah she’s incredible in it. I think for me it was them as an ensemble. Veronica Ferres who plays the confidant of Casey, Dr. Fanning. His confidant and someone that he can trust and rely on as the world is crumbling around him. Yeah I was very blessed with an amazing ensemble.
Nancy Tapia: How did you know Sam Claflin was the one to play James Flags?
Vaughn Stein: So I had recently seen Sam in Peaky Blinders, playing Oswald Mosley. Peaky Blinders is just one of the best TV shows ever. Sam plays this incredibly terrifying character Oswald Mosley who is the leader of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. This guy’s politics were awful and he was very charismatic. He’s a very handsome man, very confident, very suave. He came from the Gentry and Sam played him in this way that was so terrifyingly almost likable, which he was.
I think politicians are often very charismatic. Anyway, I just remember seeing that and just being entranced by him. I think he is such a brilliant actor and he’s such a wonderful and collaborative guy to work with. I think there’s a duality to James. He’s very tough. He has to be very vulnerable and wounded one moment and then cunning and conniving in the next. Sam was able to navigate his way through these emotional changes perfectly. He’s absolutely brilliant in the movie.
Nancy Tapia: Tell me about the location. It seemed to fit so perfect with the story and the way everything flowed. Was the location picked for that purpose? It was gloomy and everything was perfect.
Vaughn Stein: Yeah. We really wanted to have that sort of sense of prophetic fallacy in the movie. The emotions of the characters reflected in the surroundings and we were so blessed. We were shooting the house, The Clark home was in Squamish, just outside Vancouver. BC is absolutely stunning. And it has this kind of haunting, slightly gothic quality. The rolling mist, the low lying clouds and these very dramatic tree-lined mountains. And we really wanted to root the film in there. The Clark house, I thought was particular. I think Jeremy Stanbridge, the designer, and Michael Merriman, the DP did an astonishing job because we talked a lot about the house being like a terrarium. Like an ant farm almost, all these characters that keep existing in their little spaces within the house.
Often, you have these huge windows that you could look through. We wanted to create that feeling that they were living their separate lives within this cold unloving, very beautiful, but very austere and very unwelcoming home. It was also a gilded cage. It was a prison for them, it all goes back to the fact that money and success cannot buy you happiness. These characters are unable to deal with their grief and they’re living in this sort of modernist palace. Dwight and Jeremy designed it and the way that Michael Merriman shot it I think really gave it that uncomfortable and sad feeling that really captured The Clarks.
Nancy Tapia: Yes., I really appreciated the cinematography in the film. As you mentioned the big glass windows made me think that it must’ve been pretty cold there and reflected in the dynamic of the family.
Vaughn Stein: Yeah, exactly that. That idea that everyone is just always kind of in their frame. We talked a lot about that, they were framed by a window. They were framed by as little light. They were sort of stuck in their frames. We did use a lot of singles and a lot of clean singles, particularly where it was just one actor, when they were talking to one another, there was just one actor on screen. The idea that they were very much stuck in their own space. They were unable to be intimate, to be loving, to be near one another. I’m very grateful to the amazing department heads and the cast to really create that feeling, that discomfort that sits with an audience. I hope.
Nancy Tapia: To top it off, you have Michelle Monaghan in these scenes where she’s swimming in this pool, while it looks super cold out.
Vaughn Stein: Oh my God, it was so cold. She is an absolute trooper. It was amazing. It was freezing when we shot. The pool was heated, special effects did an amazing job to get it up to temperature. It was the idea for Grace as a character was this sort of obsessive need to swim. She consumed her grief in exercise, that was her way of processing her tragedy. Michelle improved her swimming, became a great swimmer. The swimming pool has some very viking kind of narrative and emotional moments in the film. She was a real trooper because it was cold, quite a few times (chuckles) when we were shooting.
Nancy Tapia: Yes, it looked freezing.
Vaughn Stein: So I’m hugely grateful to her for doing that.
Nancy Tapia: There was a little bit of action. Did you get stunt doubles?
Vaughn Stein: Yes, but they all stunted brilliantly, the cast. They really threw themselves into it. I have to pay particular kudos to India Eisley who played Lucy who got battered and bruised all around. Every time she’d go in and I’d say, “You okay to do this? You sure you don’t want your stuntee to do it?” She’s like, “No, I’m fine. Let’s do it.” Which was great.
Yeah, we had driving doubles for some of the driving work. There were stunt doubles for some of the bigger falls and the bigger hits. The stunts always look at their best when you can’t tell their stunts and when you can involve the actors in them. We had an amazing stunt coordinator called Paul Loom and his team were fantastic as well. There were small pockets of stunts within what is predominantly a psychological thriller. When there was action, I’m very proud of it and very grateful to the stunts and Michael Merriman who shot it for the way they made it feel so big. So impressive.
Nancy Tapia: Well, thank you for discussing the film. I enjoyed it and I really appreciate the cinematography because it said a lot about the characters.
Vaughn Stein: Well, I would say, I’m not going to tell Michael because his head’s already too big. But thank you, I really appreciate it, haha…
Nancy Tapia: Haha…You’re welcome. But of course your direction was phenomenal. Without you, it wouldn’t have happened.
Vaughn Stein: Thank you very much. That’s very kind of you to say.
Nancy Tapia: Thank you for your time and everyone will be watching Every Breath You Take on April 2nd.
Vaughn Stein: Thanks so much.
Every Breath You Take is available in theaters and VOD April 2, 2021