Film Scouts Interviews

Christopher McQuarrie on "The Usual Suspects"

by Leslie Rigoulot

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January 23, 1996

Q: How has life been in the year since "Usual Suspects" debuted at Sundance?

A: Very disturbing. Working on a scrip for Ed Zwick and Denzel Washington at Castlerock. It was three months late and I thought they just really trusted me. Then I find out that Ed is working on another project and hasn't even looked at the script. And now instead of working with the lower level of people, I'm working with people whose names your parents would recognize.

Q: What kind of autonomy do you have?

A: Ed Zwick has just come off "Legends o the Fall" so he is pretty much left alone. And since he is working on another film, he has left me alone. All the nightmare stories about development haven't come true. But I did have to turn down a project with Sydney Lumet because we were going to do a biography and he wanted to do the whole life in under two hours. And I thought that one segment was representative of his whole life.

Q: What was the genesis of "Usual Suspects"?

A: Get comfortable. I saw an article in Spy magazine and it had a subtitle of 'usual suspects'. So then we started designing this poster with five guys who keep getting arrested. Brian forgot about it until we needed a movie to make cheaply. So he called. I told him I had a poster.... I was working in a law office and started smoking. The smoking room looked like an interrogation room, sort of dingy and it had this bulletin board. And there was an attorney named Kaiser. I told him his name was cool and he would be a villain in my script. He said, "Yeah, sure kid."
And the jumping around in time was also by accident. I went into my computer and started pulling scenes out. An the first one was the one on the dock. Audiences have seen hundreds of movies and as soon as you ask a question they start to answer it. Who is Kaiser Soze? Well, according to all the Agatha Christie movies, it is the least likely suspect. Hey, what about the cripple guy? So the question became: is Keaton alive?

Q: Is it your aspiration to be part of the studio system?

A: Hey, the money is great! But my next project is back to h egg, with the people I started with. As the film becomes more successful, the offers keep coming and coming. But there are too many people involved with it. "Usual Suspects" assumes that people are smart. But the advertising people don't see it that way. And the studios need us as screenwriters. But no one is going to make your movie, they are going to make THEIR movie. You are the commodity. But you have to ask for scrip approval. It's up to the writer to protect himself.

Q: What kind of research did you do for "Usual Suspects"?

A: I didn't know what film noir was!! I worked at a detective agency for 4 years and was going to go to the police academy when Brian asked me to write. I learned in detective work that everyone is a liar. They all have these great stories and they are all liars.

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