This interview, which originally appeared here in mid-2002, is notable for being the very first that director Gore Verbinski did on his remake of the Ring, and for including the first-ever still from the set (see below).
First off, how would you describe the story of The Ring?
There is a saying, "If you dance with the bear, you can't quit when you're tired." It's our nature as human beings to seek out taboos. Parental advisory stickers on music only help to sell the product. We are intrigued with what we can't have, and we are lured by the forbidden. But with Sadako (Samara), there is no resolution. It won't stop.
How did you become involved with the project? Was it something you were approached to do, or something you became aware of and actively campaigned for?
Walter Parkes of DreamWorks sent me a VHS of the original film Ringu. I watched the tape and was intrigued. It's a simple premise but not exactly a "studio picture." I think that is what interested DreamWorks as well. It's both Pulp and avant-garde.
What sort of mood were you aiming for with your film?
I tried to maintain the minimalism of the original. Our film is set in Seattle so we went for an overcast mood: Wet and Isolated. By only focusing on three characters, the film is a study in abstraction. Devoid of clutter. It takes on a sort of inner dream logic. I tried to keep the frame as a tableau wherever possible. I believe shot construct in this genre is so much a part of the creep factorů. and sound is its partner. So the film is intentionally somewhat clinical.
What are your impressions of the original film, and have you seen any of the sequels?
I have only seen Koji Suzuki's original film Ringu. I was impressed by the stark visual style. It's hard not to change things when you make a film, but I hope we kept enough of what made the first film great.
How would you say your version of the film differs from Nakata's?
I am interested in the transferable nature of hate. It's the most contemporary fear society has to deal with. So I tried to bring that to the surface. I also tried to emphasize the viral essence of Sadako (Samara's) evil. How it progresses in the individual throughout the seven days and how it moves from victim to victim. It's not enough that those responsible suffer; everyone must pay. I like how it attaches itself, that it feeds on an essentially human attribute as a means of infection: Ultimately it is our own curiosity that propels it.
What particular challenges did you face in making this film?
Budget. Script. Schedule. The film went into production without a locked script. It just makes everything insane.
Verbinski directs Noah (Martin Henderson) & Rachel (Naomi Watts) in this exclusive photo
What degree of difficulty was there in adapting a Japanese film for a Western audience?
I found there to be a Dream logic vs. Emotional logic issue. The western desire for linearity, and resolution are so destructive to a film like this. It's hard to fight against that and still keep the audience interested. As a director, I tried to use the breadcrumb approach rather than a hand on the back in leading the audience through the narrative. The only resolution in life is death, and I believe that we seek out resolution in stories as a response to this. I think the trick is to keep them seeking right up until the end. Emotionally the film is inherently on the cold side, yet it deals with the relationship between mother and child. So we tried to use this in conjunction with the tape to create the feeling of a resolution - yet at a price: What would you do to save your child?
How would you answer the charge, "The original is a classic--why remake it?"
I think it's inevitable that I get bashed a bit by those who loved the first one. There is a proprietary aspect to films that obtain a cult status. As a fan you want to own it. There is a lot of pride and it's what makes the whole phenomenon unique. I believe that even if Hideo directed this film himself there would be those who feel that it is the "Hollywood version." The first one is always going to be the original and criticism from those fans is inevitable. Yet it is not necessarily the case that in adapting the film for a new audience you betray those who are already familiar with it. I hope that after the initial wave, even the hard-core fans will find the film compelling.
I understand the screenplay has undergone several rewrites. How would you say the story has progressed, and directorially, what degree of influence did you have on the storyline?
We worked on it right though production. Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road) wrote the first three passes and we worked together very well. Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report) came on later to do the polish. I admire Scott's writing, but we had very little contact as I was shooting by this time. Much of the visual work was never put on the page because it just wouldn't read as well as it appeared. So I was working from my visual notebook rather than the script for a lot of the film. The story is very similar to the original with a few surprises, and I think we all felt good about where we were going.
How involved were you in the casting?
Very. We knew going in that we didn't want any big stars. Naomi and Martin are great together and I believe that they keep the film honest. They have to earn it. This also allows the film to be discovered and removes expectations that you may get with a different cast.
One of the biggest concerns for Ring fans is the treatment of its characters, namely Asakawa Reiko (Rachel Keller in the remake) and Yamamura Sadako (Samara Morgan). What can you say about working with Ms. Watts and Ms. Chase, and about their performance in these roles? Is Samara as creepy as/creepier than Sadako?
Well, you need to see the movie and tell me what you think. Any time someone performs they make choices. I don't think the choices made by Naomi and Daveigh will offend those that enjoyed the original. They are both great actors and the roles play true to me.
I understand there are plans to export the American Ring back to Japan. What sort
of reaction do you expect?
That's a DreamWorks thing. I don't know what the reaction will be. But I'm not worried about it.
Overall, how would you describe your experience in filming The Ring?
It's no fun making a horror film. You get into some darker areas of the brain and after a while everything becomes a bit depressing. I am pleased with the end result, but it was not something I am ready to jump back into right away.
Would you consider making a sequel?
No. Besides, I hear that three of Hideo's films are getting remade in Hollywood. I would love to see him get a chance to remake one of his own.
Any final comments?
To me Ring is about the lack of conclusion. This is something that a western audience is going to have a difficult time swallowing. But it's what I like about it.
Thanks to Mr. Verbinski, and to his assistant Lindsay Greitzer for arranging this interview.