A Spooky Start to the Season
Kenneth Branagh, the renowned director behind the latest Agatha Christie adaptation, “A Haunting in Venice,” has been sending shivers down the spines of North American theatergoers for the past week. This chilling release, boasting a star-studded ensemble cast, including Tina Fey, Jamie Dornan, Academy Award winner Michelle Yeoh, and “Yellowstone” sensation Kelly Reilly, marks the official kickoff to the spooky season.
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However, it’s worth noting that Branagh and his cast found themselves silent on the subject of their eerie chamber piece due to ongoing labor strikes within the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA. In light of this, Variety managed to sit down with veteran producer Judy Hofflund, who previously collaborated with Branagh on the first two Poirot films, “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile.” Hofflund shed light on Tina Fey’s transformation into a leading lady in this contemporary thriller and offered insight into the future of Branagh’s mustachioed detective.
A Post-Disney Greenlight
The green light for “Venice” came shortly after Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox. When asked about how the release of “Death on the Nile” and the new Disney regime embraced the franchise, Hofflund commented, “The second film was sadly released during COVID time, but I think that it did so well on streaming that it was a real boost of confidence for [Disney]. We had already hired Michael Green to get started on writing the third. I think that they believed in Ken and Agatha Christie and the whole franchise. They were excited about doing something that was really different. This is a post-WWII Venice — eerie, scary, stormy, and everything unfolds in one night. We’re personally excited about making a movie for this time of year when everyone wants to be scared.”
A Directorial Focus
Regarding Branagh’s approach to “A Haunting in Venice,” Hofflund emphasized, “More than the other two films, Ken went into this with complete focus. He knew what he wanted, down to camera angles. He never wanted to deviate in creating an edge-of-your-seat claustrophobia.”
The Stellar Ensemble
Hofflund revealed the rationale behind casting the film’s stellar ensemble, stating, “Tina was the first person we cast, and for me, that set the tone. I love Tina and Ken together; their rapport is so fun and rich, and they keep each other on their toes. Also, casting Kelly Reilly in a role so opposite from [her “Yellowstone” character] was a lot of fun, and she plays it masterfully. We also got to reunite Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill after “Belfast,” in a completely different feeling movie.”
Tina Fey’s Journey
Tina Fey’s role in the film seems to be a culmination of her career, as Hofflund noted, “It feels like Tina Fey has been barreling toward this kind of role for her whole career. There’s a transatlantic feel to this that she’s referenced in a lot of her comedy, including ’30 Rock.'”
A Spine-Tingling Séance
Discussing the film’s suspenseful moments, Hofflund highlighted the seance scene led by Michelle Yeoh, saying, “I’m sure Ken would say the seance was the hardest to film. He worked with Michelle a little bit before, but there was no rehearsal with any of the other actors. They knew the script, but everyone walked in for the first time with Michelle sitting on that chair in the middle of the seance — and that’s pretty much the take we used. Exploding lightbulbs and the [autonomously typing] typewriter, that was the first time any of the actors saw any of it. Then you’ve got Michelle spinning in circles, perhaps possessed. It was such a smart way to do it.”
The Future of Poirot
Amid ongoing labor strikes, the burning question remains: Will there be another Poirot film? Hofflund remained cryptic, stating, “Not yet. There have been some conversations about what they’d like to do next. I know what I want next, but I can’t tell you what it is.”
As for her own future endeavors, Hofflund shared, “Ken and I have a little project together, and the script is ready. We haven’t sent it out, of course. It’s kind of my passion project. It’s written by a young writer based on an idea of mine. It’s called ‘Grace and Lizzie,’ and should be made very inexpensively. It’s a bit like ‘Thelma and Louise’ meets ‘Promising Young Woman.'”
With “A Haunting in Venice” setting the stage for a spine-tingling season of cinematic thrills, it’s clear that Kenneth Branagh and his team are keeping audiences on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting their next masterpiece.