Gerald's Game trailer

Gerald’s Game premiered on Netflix over the weekend, so now we can talk about spoilers. If you have not yet watched the latest Stephen King adaptation, you might want to come back to this interview later, because director and co-writer Mike Flanagan discussed all the details and Easter eggs with /Film.

If you watched the movie, you know the set-up: Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) go to their vacation home for a weekend. Gerald wants to play a sex game and handcuffs Jessie to the bed, but has a heart attack and dies, leaving Jessie stranded. While trying to survive the weekend and escape, Jessie also recalls the time her father (Henry Thomas) molested her during a solar eclipse. In the book, Jessie had her own internal monologue, but in the movie, manifestations of Gerald and herself speak to her throughout her ordeal. This felt like a good way to kickstart our spoiler-filled conversation…

Was inventing the manifestations of Gerald and the other Jessie who talk to her throughout this ordeal your big breakthrough in cracking the adaptation of Gerald’s Game?

Oh, absolutely. That was kind of the thing that turned it all around for me. Initially, coming off the read of the novel, there was so much wonderful material in there. I just couldn’t figure out any damn way for that to be in the movie. It needed to be in someone’s mouth. They had to say it. It didn’t feel right to be introducing new characters into this equation to try to get some of that out, even though that’s one of the paths the book had taken. I remember once I had that image of Gerald getting back up off the floor and sticking with us for the rest of the movie, that really blew it wide open. It’s like, wow, this is suddenly becoming a really interesting conversation between three people, which is still our way to deal with the conversation she’s having with herself. That was really the heart of it.

Was the other Jessie an even bigger development, representing a different side of Jessie than we see in the real world?

Yeah, and it was fun because we always looked at Jessie 2 as who Jessie needed to turn into by the end of this. Carla and I talk a lot about how different they were at the start but that the movie was about Jessie in the bed turning into this other version, so that that would be the version of her that walks out of the courtroom in the end. That was some of my favorite stuff, watching those two halves collide which is all Carla.

I imagine she had a double doing her lines when she was attached to the bed. When she played Jessie 2 was there a double attached to the bed for her to react to?

Yes. She preferred to start her day as Jessie 2. She liked to come in in the morning, come in the makeup and do the hair and come from a place of real strength. Then she got her Jessie 2 material for the day with a double cuffed to the bed. Then Carla would change over and finish the rest of the day handcuffed to the bed, which was exhausting for her and I’m sure incredibly difficult to track both of those arcs together. But it’s really funny because there was another performer in the movie the whole time who isn’t in the movie, who performed all of those scenes with Carla and Bruce.

What’s her name?

Kimberly Battista. She was a local hire in Alabama, initially just brought in to be a stand-in for camera department but she got kind of saddled with the third leg of this acting work. It was really amazing to watch. Carla had wanted to rehearse both sides of it ahead of time so that she knew what she was doing on each side of that conversation. That was the tough part. We’d intended for her to be able to have a stand-in who could try to recreate at least the tone of the choices so that she could react to herself appropriately, even given that we’d be shooting different sides of the same conversation hours apart. It was a really bizarre way to work. Anybody other than Carla might’ve had a really hard time making it all come together as organically as she did. I just have nothing but intense admiration for her.

I couldn’t imagine anything more graphic than the way Stephen King described the hand scene. How did you one-up that scene and make it even more cringe-y and awful?

I’ll tell you, the principle difference is the sound. I think that’s the only difference. When I was reading it for the first time, I had to put the book down. It turned my stomach just reading it. Visually, I don’t think we even took it as far as he took it in the book. I think the hand/glove came just about completely off. For us we had it kind of flop back down afterwards because it was just too grizzly. I heard people say, “Oh my God, it’s even worse than described.” I don’t think it actually is. I think the difference is, for all its description, the thing you never consider is the sound. Because we weren’t really using music in the film almost ever, all that sound design is just front and center. That’s kind of what makes it so intense. Even when I would look away while we were shooting it and when we were editing, you can’t get away from the sound. It’s some of the most uncomfortable noise and we just crank it right up. We just wanted to hear every little squish and pop and stretch. It’s gnarly stuff. Someone fainted at the Fantastic Fest screening which is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

How did you get her lips to look so dry for her final day on the bed?

[Laughs] Well, a good amount of that, there was a lot of exhaustion emotionally and physically, pretty much in story order. She was pretty much toast by the time it got there anyway. I think they actually used Elmer’s glue on her lips. They definitely did some things to that but the strain of the shoot was all over her. I think there times we actually had to cover up the extent of the bruising on her wrists that was just natural from those horrible cuffs. She was really put through the wringer. Everybody involved in the movie was incredibly reluctant to complain about anything after about week two, just watching what poor Carla had to endure.

Anyone who knew the book, when we heard she was cast, it was like hats off to any woman who takes that role and commits to it because we know what it entails.

It was really hard to cast because it’s a role that’s very frightening to a lot of actors. That level of exposure and vulnerability and physical discomfort. Also the fact that you’re essentially carrying the movie on your shoulders without having arms or any mobility really for most of it. It takes an extraordinary level of bravery. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. It was a hard search to find Carla and I’m just so glad we did because if it had gone another way, I think the whole enterprise would’ve collapsed.

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