Director Stettner talks about The Night Listener
Robin Williams makes a dramatic impact as The Night Listener, a radio host who believes he may be the victim of a literary hoax. Patrick Stettner discusses adapting the bestseller with author Armistea...
Robin Williams makes a dramatic impact as The Night Listener, a radio host who believes he may be the victim of a literary hoax. Patrick Stettner discusses adapting the bestseller with author Armistead Maupin and directing a terrific ensemble cast.
The Night Listener tells of failing radio presenter Gabriel Noone’s difficulties with an obsessed fan, the 14 year old Pete. Noone initially buys into Pete’s on-air claims of sexual abuse and his subsequent memoirs, but begins to suspect something is amiss. Similar to director Stettner’s debut feature, the critically acclaimed The Business of Strangers, this is a dark thriller which operates on the fringes of the genre.
“I love thrillers very dearly but it’s so hard to do them and surprise people in any way,” Stettner says of the genre. “What I loved about The Night Listener was that I didn’t know where it was going next and there’s such a strong character pull.”
Of course, by adapting a bestseller there’s a risk that those distinguishing elements can be lost in a big screen adaptation. Stettner’s decision to work with the novel’s author, Armistead Maupin, on the script was crucial in maintaining the integrity of the story.
“It was great working with Armistead but a lot of these things actually happened to Armistead, so we had to have a wall between those events and the fiction,” Stettner comments. “Not only for the sake of the script but also so the actors could really own the characters.”
The portrayal of Noone by Robin Williams further consolidates the actor’s reputation as a fine dramatic actor, following his standout performances in Insomnia and One Hour Photo. Stettner believes Williams has one defining feature which was required for the role.
“One of the qualities that Noone must have is that he cares too much,” he observes. “Robin just has that big-heartedness, that need to help. I saw that in his performances in Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society. You really feel with him that, just like the character, he genuinely cares a lot.”
Williams is surrounded by a superb supporting cast in Toni Collette, Sandra Oh and Mean Creek’s Rory Culkin, who Stettner believes has a great future.
“I think he’s the most talented Culkin,” he says laughing. “I’m really intrigued by his career. He doesn’t have the obvious leading man, chiselled good looks but I have a tremendous amount of respect for his acting talent.”
The focus on character allows The Night Listener to maintain tension without resorting to shock tactics, a technique which Stettner sees in some classic thrillers of the past.
“Well, it certainly doesn’t have the blood-letting which seems to be the qualifier for the genre these days,” he comments. “I feel that it fits in the same category as Play Misty for Me or Vertigo, in that it has great concern given to the character arc and the relationships between them. I think audiences will really enjoy the characters and the ride.”
The Night Listener is showing on 25 and 26 August at Cineworld.
Winners of EIFF 2014’s short film awards and two of its documentary premieres have been nominated for 2015 BAFTAs.