In just over a month, it'll be time to play all over again – a brand new incarnation of horror icon Chucky is coming in the form of a Child's Play reboot. While original franchise trailblazer Don Mancini isn't on board (he hasn't given this new version his blessing), it offers an all-new tooled-up A.I. take on the killer doll, with Mark Hamill lending his versatile voice to Hollywood's tiniest slashes. Empire caught up with the film's director Lars Klevberg to talk killer technology, working with Luke Skywalker, and the rigours of directing an animatronic Chucky. Watch the trailer above.
EMPIRE: This incarnation of Child's Play gives us a technological Chucky doll – moving away from the voodoo plot of the original. How did you feel about changing the nature of Chucky?
Lars Klevberg: When I read the script, I didn't know anything about it. For me it was a pleasant surprise – not that I have anything against the voodoo concept, but it was just refreshing in many ways. It felt like there was a reason to make this movie. If you want to do a re-imagination, you need to have a 'why?' to do it. It's really interesting, especially in the characterisation of Chucky – you have a character who has the ability to learn, based on its surroundings and his interaction with humans.
What are your favourite killer A.I. films?
It has to be Terminator 2, no doubt about it. That's a good movie regardless, but it's one of my top three movies of all time. I think Terminator 2, and 2001 – but that's just a part of it. I'm a huge fan of the original 1988 Child's Play, but I never saw myself in the future making a Chucky movie. When I read this [script], it was interesting because you have the opportunity to create an antagonist that has his own motivation and his own arc. It's not just about A.I. – it's more like, what happens if you put someone looking at the world for the first time and put them among humans? For me, that's what's really interesting.
From a horror perspective, what possibilities does it open up having Chucky be a tech-savvy A.I. villain?
It opens up a lot of opportunities. A lot of people have an Alexa at home, gadgets, your iPhone – something that talks to you and plans your day. Open that up in a Chucky movie, and you have a great antagonist with the possibility to connect to things that are supposed to help you in your daily life, but if you turn it 180 degrees you can do some really bad things. It can tap into the hub, which controls the environment in the house, the heater, ordering cars, controlling other objects. That for me was really fun. It's not just something that's added on, it's the theme of the movie. He uses stuff that helps us in a really bad way.
Does the tech we have all around us today scare you? Are you a tech-phobe?
I'm pretty positive on it actually! Elon Musk keeps warning everybody about the possibility of AI, but not in a way that it creates robots that fight us – more in the way of fake news and distortion. I'm pretty positive about technology, it helps us a lot every day. Robots are taking care of old people at senior homes; everything that used to take a lot of time we can now do in a finger-snap. What concerns me is addiction to it, like our iPhones. It takes up too much time, and it makes us antisocial. AI is a great tool that helps a lot of people, but it'll be interesting to see where it goes.
You've got Mark Hamill voicing Chucky – how did you direct him to get the performance you wanted?
I had a pretty detailed plan about how I wanted Chucky to look, act, and sound before I started making the movie. Working with Mark Hamill was an amazing experience. He's a great guy, and he's also super professional. He watched all the Child's Play and Chucky movies back to back, he really did his homework. I was looking for someone that I could develop Chucky as a character with – Chucky goes through a lot of emotional states, and it was important that he was able to hit all those notes. Mark instantly knew where I wanted to go, and had a lot of good ideas.
What was the experience like stepping into the booth with him for the first time?
For me, I'm just a guy from Norway being able to do what I've always dreamed of. Of course you're star-struck for a minute. My experience is that many of the iconic actors and actresses are in that position for a reason, and that's because they treat people well, they're super professional, and open to ideas and doing the best job possible. He was great from the first minute. Yeah, of course I grew up with that guy, watching him as Luke Skywalker, so it was a little bit crazy. He was really, really good.
Opposite Chucky, you've got your main kid, Andy. What can you say about him?
Andy is a little bit older in this one, which I think makes sense. He's moved to a new place and he doesn't have a lot of friends, he's a little bit isolated. He has a background and emotional arc that I could really identify when I read it – he's in a place where he seeks to be accepted and to find friends, and in that space he meets Chucky. From there, this friendship starts to develop that for me just makes perfect sense, based on his arc. He's perfectly and beautifully portrayed by Gabriel Bateman who did an extraordinary job.
You used animatronics to bring Chucky to the screen – what was that experience like? How adamant were you to use practical effects, and what were the challenges in wrangling them?
I'm a huge fan of practical effects, and it makes perfect sense when you're dealing with a doll – you build the doll, and then base the animatronic around that. Most importantly, from my own experience, any practical and physical object the human eye catches and the brain analyses, you have a deeper and more honest emotional response to it than something that the brain understands is not real. I knew that this was going to be an emotional story – it's a horror movie, but it's also very emotional for every character involved. For me, dealing with animatronics at that stage made perfect sense. If you had a CG character all the way, I fear that the audience would disconnect. It demands a lot of the crew and the actors, especially the director. Just a scene of Chucky walking from A to B across the room or sitting on the couch, demands minimum four to five people. You have to build the space with almost a basement, so people can hide underneath the floor. I never thought it would be that challenging, but it was very rewarding. It turned out great, and I'm really proud of the crew.
Where were you when you first saw the original Child's Play?
I don't remember! Probably 10 or 11, watching it on a VHS that went around. And of course I thought it was scary, it's an iconic horror movie. I believe, though, that our generation remember the original Child's Play to be really scary based on our experience watching it way too early. If you're 18 or 19 years old and you watch the original Child's Play, I frankly don't think you'll be that scared. It's just a pop cultural phenomenon, one of those movies you watched when you were way too young and kind of gets stuck in you. The same as Jaws and Alien, all the iconic horror movies. Your brain is more fresh and you're way too young to experience those visual images.
Watch the trailer for the original Child's Play below to compare to the modern version. Interview continues after video.
The original series was created by Don Mancini – he's continuing his incarnation on his Chucky TV show. Is it strange for you that there will be another Chucky out there? How are you differentiating from his version, have you spoken to him?
No, I haven't spoken to him at all. He stood his ground that he didn't want anything to do with this remake, which I respect. His version is developed with Universal, but MGM owns the rights for the original Child's Play movie. For me, what's important was the ink on the pages, the script I read was just such a great script. If it didn't have any Chucky in it, it still would be an amazing story about a boy getting a doll that had this AI function. When it had Chucky in it and was Child's Play, it was just extraordinary. So I haven't talked to him – he will develop and do his television show, and I can just wish him the best that I can. This will live its own life.
Now that the film's nearly finished, what's the one thing you're most excited for people to see?
Chucky's arc – our take on Chucky, which is very different from the original one. And the blend of horror and humour, that's part of the Child's Play universe – I loved the script based on the characters and the story and the horror, but I also was amazingly amused and surprised by the humour in it, which is a big part of why I wanted to do this movie. It's got a lot of emotions. I'm looking forward to how the audience will react to it.
Child's Play comes to Australian cinemas on 20th June.