This Friday, Netflix is set to drop another film in its ever-growing library of original content. What Happened to Monday is a taut thriller with an interesting dystopian premise: What would happen if global warming and vanishing resources necessitated the passing of a law that limited families to a one child policy? The scenario creates more than a few moral quandaries. What happens to the families that already have more than one child? And how far would a person go to protect them?
I spoke with director #TommyWirkola about creating a film that had its own set of challenges simply due to the story: When a set of identical septuplets (Noomi Rapace) is born, their grandfather (Willem Dafoe) goes to extreme lengths to raise them in secrecy, allowing them to go out into the world only on the specific day of the week for which each was named. Each twin has her own distinct personality while inside the confines of their apartment, but to the world, they present themselves as a single fictional person, Karen Settman.
It's a complicated story, and surprisingly, the original project was set to have a very different focus, Wirkola revealed:
When I came in, the script was actually very different because it was written for a man. It was written to be seven brothers. So when I came on board, Kerry [Williamson] came on board as well, and we changed it to sisters...So I was very involved in the changes to the script and spent almost a year doing the rewrites.
I was curious about the fact that Wirkola and Williamson rewrote the script to revolve around sisters rather than brothers and I asked him about the change. The director simply found it to be that much more interesting:
I just found it really hard when it was brothers to separate the characters and to feel like they were unique. Seven brothers was just like seven guys hanging out in an apartment, in a way. Changing it to sisters just made the dynamic so much more interesting in my head. I feel like in a lot of these sci-fi movies you see a male character do a lot of these things we're putting these sisters through. Maybe in separate characters, but still, you've seen it before. Making them female somehow made them more real and vulnerable to me, and interesting.
When you watch the movie, it becomes clear just how much #NoomiRapace has riding on her shoulders. Much like Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black, Rapace is responsible for playing not just one character, but multiple characters, each with her own unique set of quirks, mannerisms, and style. It's a tall order for any actress, and Wirkola revealed that Rapace had always been his first choice:
When I read it, I quickly saw Noomi in it...I just knew what she would bring to it in making these characters unique and special. So she was the first name I pitched when first meeting with the producers and luckily, they liked that idea.
Naturally, shooting a film in which one lone actress is playing seven different characters presents a number of challenges to work through, not just in the filming logistics, but also to make it feel as organic as possible. Wirkola revealed they went through the filmmaker's entire bag of tricks to make it work:
We used every single technique in the book. We used acting doubles where we could, we used good old-fashioned just lock the camera and do several passes of her as different siblings, we used motion control, we even used face replacements, which you can do now, of course, with the technology we have. By combining all of those techniques, hopefully it would just feel seamless. It was a really tough challenge. And Noomi, it was for her. Part of my job was to keep that stuff away from her...It was so in your face, these tennis balls and green markers. So to just keep her focused on the acting and the sisters and the characters and not as much on the technical stuff around her. It was very tough on her and it was mentally challenging for all of us to keep it in order.
Even with their meticulous prep and storyboarding, the project was a difficult one. The reality of it was that each scene in which all of the sisters were gathered together had to be shot seven times; there was no way around it, admitted the director:
It took a lot of time because even though we used all those techniques, she still had to do it seven times. No matter what technique we used, we still had to get her doing it as the different characters. In the dinner scene in the beginning of the film, for example, normally it would take three quarters of a day to shoot, but here it took two and a half days.
It's a sign of its growing influence within the industry that #Netflix, which has been building a reputation on making quality films and series that other studios deemed too risky, was willing to give it the green light. While the streaming service has received some flak in recent months from those in the industry that feel it's ruining cinema, Wirkola only sees the potential in alternative platforms like Netflix:
I think they're giving a platform to a lot of films that wouldn't be made otherwise and making a lot of brave movies, as well, different stuff—those sort of movies that studios really don't make anymore. I only think it's a positive thing, them coming in and disrupting the business a bit. It's another platform for creators and also for the audience. I don't think that the theatrical window is going to disappear any time soon. There's a lot of stuff going on, of course, you have Netflix and Amazon and all those platforms now, but I think it will be a healthy balance and there's room for everybody. I think Netflix coming in and doing what they do is a positive and a cool thing; interesting products will be the result of that.
What Happened to Monday premieres Friday, August 18th on Netflix.