Daniel Craig: 'Knives Out' Aims To Be One Of Those 'Grand Pieces Of Entertainment'

Dec 2, 2019
Originally published on November 30, 2019 9:21 am

Knives Out is a human jigsaw puzzle of a whodunit: a dead, rich novelist on a divan upstairs; scheming, back-stabbing family members downstairs quarreling over the spoils; an appealing family attendant; and a famously astute detective in the drawing room, armed only with his wits — and, in this case, a slow Southern drawl.

Daniel Craig, who plays detective Benoit Blanc, says filmmaker Rian Johnson wrote in the script: The gentlest of Southern lilt. "I may not have done that, but I went for it," Craig says. "He wanted something that placed him, that separated him from the rest of the characters — kind of maybe leaves him open for ridicule."


Interview Highlights

On the whether clues left behind by Harlan Thrombey, the murdered novelist, are there to help

I suppose so. I mean, he's also done the opposite, I would say. That he scattered clues to put — misdirection, I think, is what he's really after, and for a very, very important reason. But the film is littered with stuff like this. I mean, there are many, many references.

Rian's a fan of — as I am — of Agatha Christie, and certainly of the sort of big movies that came out when I was a kid, like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. They were event movies with lots of big stars in them ... just sort of grand pieces of entertainment. And that's what, I think, this movie sets out to be and succeeds in doing.

On whether Benoit needs to possess a criminal mind to be a good detective

I don't know. I mean, of course, Benoit doesn't really exist in the world, but maybe it would be lovely if he did. But he's a fictional character — somehow he's invited into a quite a serious criminal investigation, and is allowed to stick his nose in. He has an inquiring mind and he sees in this young woman, Marta, who was [the novelist's] nurse, as somebody who's in deep trouble, but is basically a very, very good person. And he thinks that she holds the key to the case. So he takes great interest in people. And I think that's where he finds out the sort of, you know, the crux of the case.

On the resonance of contemporary political arguments in the film

I think, as [Knives Out co-star] Jamie Lee Curtis has so eloquently put it in a lot of interviews, there's a lot of red meat and blue meat being flung around here. So there's both sides of the argument. But there's a central storyline. ... Ana de Armas is playing this character Marta, who is basically the heartbeat of the movie. And her predicament is very modern and up-to-date. It's very much today, now, right now, amidst everything that is going on in this country.

On working as a waiter when he was young, and whether that required acting

I didn't know at first, but yes, it does. It takes ... a persona, really. And you need a persona, I'm sure, as most waiters will tell you, just so you can ignore, you know, how rude people are a lot of the time. ... I was full-on silver service, bow ties and, had to do cocktails and do the whole thing. I did that for years.

We have to ask ...

Myself, but I mean, shaken, of course. Cold as hell and very dry.

This story was edited for radio by Barrie Hardymon and Sophia Boyd, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Knives Out" is a human jigsaw puzzle of whodunit - a rich novelist named Harlan Thrombey found dead in a divan upstairs, scheming, back-stabbing family members downstairs quarrelling over the spoils, an appealing family attendant and famously astute detective in the drawing room, armed only with his wits and, in this case, a slow Southern drawl.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KNIVES OUT")

DANIEL CRAIG: (As Benoit Blanc) But let me assure you this, my presence will be ornamental. You will find me a respectful, quiet, passive observer of the truth.

SIMON: Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Toni Collette, Don Johnson and Christopher Plummer are among the stars in Rian Johnson's salute to a whole genre of films drawn from or inspired by Agatha Christie. And as the master detective and gentleman sleuth Benoit Blanc - Daniel Craig, who joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

CRAIG: It's a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And why the Southern drawl for Benoit Blanc?

CRAIG: Rian Johnson just wrote in the script. It says of the gentlest of Southern lilts. I may not have done that. But I went for it. And he wanted something that placed him - that separated him from the rest of the characters, kind maybe leaves him open for ridicule and does.

SIMON: Not to give away too much of the plot, but, in a way, your gentleman sleuth locks wits with the great mystery novelist, deceased for much of the film - played by Christopher Plummer - because he's tried to scatter clues about his own demise, hasn't he?

CRAIG: I suppose so. I mean, he's also done the opposite, I would say. He scattered clues to put...

SIMON: Misdirection, yes.

CRAIG: ...Misdirection, I think, is what he's really after and for a very, very important reason. But the film is littered with stuff like this. I mean, there are many, many references. I mean, Rian's a fan of - as I am - of Agatha Christie and certainly of the sort of big movies that came out when I was a kid, like a "Murder On The Orient Express" with Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov in "Death On The Nile." They were event movies with lots of big stars in them that sort of - were just sort of grand pieces of entertainment. And that's what I think this movie sets out to be and succeeds in doing.

SIMON: Does Benoit have to possess a criminal mind to be an effective detective?

CRAIG: Oh, that's a question. I don't know. I don't know. He has an inquiring mind. And he sees in this young woman Marta, who was Thrombey's nurse, as somebody who's in deep trouble but is basically a very, very good person. And he thinks that she holds the key to the case. So he takes great interest in people. And I think that's where he finds out the sort of - the - you know, the crux of the case.

SIMON: The mystery writer, I believe - his advice to another character has rung in my mind during these these weeks of impeachment hearings and inquiries. He says, don't lie. Tell fragments of the truth.

CRAIG: And what - are you suggesting that's been happening in the impeachment inquiries?

SIMON: I...

CRAIG: (Laughter).

SIMON: I just found the line more compelling because of...

CRAIG: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...What's going on. Well - but - and contemporary political arguments do make it into the film here, don't they?

CRAIG: They do. And I think, as Jamie Lee Curtis so eloquently put in a lot of interviews, there's a lot of red meat and blue meat being flung around here. So there's both sides of the argument. But there's a central story line to that. As I said, Ana de Armas is playing this character Marta, who is basically the heartbeat of the movie. And her predicament is very modern and up to date. It's very much today now - right now - amidst everything that is going on in this country.

SIMON: You are one of the best-known actors in the world. And I would ordinarily say you're the most famous show-business figure ever to come out of Liverpool.

CRAIG: I don't think that's true.

SIMON: (Laughter).

CRAIG: Thankfully, that's not true. And...

SIMON: There are four other people that are at least ahead of you.

CRAIG: There are four other - and a couple of other people you might add to that. But yeah. I'm very proudly from Liverpool. And I'm very proud to be from the same places as all four of them.

SIMON: I've read that you - when you were a young theater student and actor in London, you worked in restaurants, which is not surprising.

CRAIG: No. Of course, yes. I mean, I did from the age of 16.

SIMON: Yeah. So when you were working in restaurants, did that require any acting?

CRAIG: I didn't know at first. But yes, it does. It takes - it - what it does is you need a persona, really. And you need a persona, I'm sure, as most waiters will tell you, just to sort of like - so you can ignore, you know, how rude people are a lot of the time. Yeah. I had a - I did - I was full-on silver service. I wore bow ties and had to do cocktails and do the whole thing. I did that for years and felt that - I mean...

SIMON: Well, I've got to ask, shaken or stirred?

CRAIG: Myself?

SIMON: (Laughter).

CRAIG: I mean...

SIMON: (Laughter) Yes.

CRAIG: ...Shaken, of course - cold as hell and very dry.

SIMON: (Laughter). So by the time you had to tie a bow tie for another certain character in the movies, you'd already done it, right?

CRAIG: It wasn't part of getting the job. But I could tie my own bow tie, yes.

SIMON: All right. I've avoided the obvious. But do people stop you on the street and go, da, da, da, da?

CRAIG: I do it to myself.

SIMON: (Laughter). Well, I would be - I guess I would be disappointed if you didn't do that.

CRAIG: My own soundtrack.

SIMON: Daniel Craig, the Southern gentleman detective in the whodunit "Knives Out," thank you so much for being with us.

CRAIG: Thank you for having me. Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.