Rian Johnson On His Delightful Murder Mystery ‘Knives Out,’ And The Past And Future Of ‘Star Wars’

Knives Out premiered here at the Toronto International Film Festival over the weekend and, frankly, it brought the house down. There is literally no house still standing. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but, still.) Director Rian Johnson put together an all-star cast to tell the story of a delightfully hammy Danial Craig, as Det. Benoit Blanc, who is hired to solve the mystery of the murder of a wealthy author, played by Christopher Plummer. It’s both an old-fashioned murder-mystery throwback with stars-a-plenty (there are literally so many, listing them all out right here would be too much of a task) and a drop-dead hilarious comedy. It’s one of the best movie theater experiences of 2019.

I met Johnson at his hotel here in Toronto so he could take us through the complicated process of putting something like Knives Out together. (And the complicated process of discussing a whodunit movie without giving anything away — I promise we do not.) But, not surprisingly, during this fairly in-depth conversation, Johnson gets wary (his word) when the subject of Star Wars is brought up. He knows at this point that anything he says can cause a minor internet shitstorm, whether it be the original trilogy, his own The Last Jedi, or his still mysterious future trilogy that no one outside of the halls of Lucasfilm knows anything about – and here all three of those things are discussed, so, watch out.

But, in the end, it sounds like what Johnson really wants to do is make more murder mystery movies, with Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc returning, a la Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. And that sounds like a pretty great thing.

Feeling good? The Knives Out premiere seems to have gone well.

I’m feeling really good and it was really, really fun. I mean, the crowds at this festival are just phenomenal. And also I had like 40 family members there. It was a party. It was fun.

You knew you had a crowd-pleaser, right?

We had done like a couple of test screenings. We did a test screening in Orange County. We also took it out to Texas and did a couple of tests to see how it plays. And yeah, it played very well.

Is there a moment where you know if this gets a laugh, it’s going to be a good night?

If this hits? Well, the whole bit with the mom hearing the crime show in the kitchen. But, also honestly, I think being able to introduce the movie helped it, which I guess is the equivalent of, with real audiences, putting the trailer out. I think audiences knowing that they have permission to laugh. Knowing that, oh, okay, this isn’t a crime movie. This is actually something we can have fun with. That’s a big deal.

Daniel Craig in this movie reminds me of George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove.

Oh my God!

Because we don’t see him like that much.

He raged. He raged! The Big board!

Doing the wacky face and mugging for the camera.

That was the thing on set, we talked about it. I mean, we didn’t really rehearse per se…

For a movie like this that’s actually surprising. Then again, you have so many famous people, getting them together would be difficult.