John Lithgow talks ‘Pet Sematary ‘ (2019)

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Pet Sematary is out now on Digital and is set for release on DVD & Blu Ray on 12th August.

Here’s what the legendary John Lithgow said about taking on the role of Jud.

Q: How would you describe your take on the iconic character of Jud Crandall?

A: He’s a rough-hewn outdoor guy but I don’t exactly consider him a Maine, down-easter
hillbilly. In my mind, he was something else in his life, before a crisis in his backstory. He
could have been a schoolteacher. He certainly was somebody connected with lots and lots of people. Something has made him become an introvert and a hermit. He’s negligent about himself because he doesn’t care.”

Q: How does that affect the choices he makes?

A: Well, I have to be very cagey about this, but this is a different [from the original] story in a couple of major ways. Jud’s story is quite different. He carries with him a lot of melancholy, a lot of grief, a lot of guilt. Grief and guilt – I’m working from that. He’s had a tragedy earlier in his life, and I think it’s changed him. I think he was a very good man, a very promising man, who became a very troubled and sad man, as a result of something that happened.
He’s very tormented. You know, he immediately takes to this Creed family, and sees a kind of son in Louis. And he immediately connects with this nine-year-old girl, Ellie. To me, any old man who makes that kind of connection so quickly with a young child is a good person, has a good heart. A child can sense that, and I am trying to build on that, a little bit more than you see it in the book.”

Q: Fred Gwynne famously played Jud in the 1989 movie. What did you make of his
performance?

A: Well, I have never seen that, but Fred Gwynne was a good friend of mine. We worked together on stage. And he’s the only actor I’ve ever worked with who was taller than me. I’ve seen pictures of him in [the 1989 movie], but this film is very different. We are faithful to the spirit of the novel but also made some major changes. I think I’m quite different from Fred in that film, but it inspires me that he played the part. I know that he would have been great. Fred and I are innately very different, so our portrayals of Jud will be very different too. I think the more different it is, the happier I am!

Q: One of your other famous horror roles was as the terrifying Trinity Killer in Dexter (2006) and interestingly, your co-star in that, Michael C. Hall, recently recorded an audiobook version of Pet Sematary. Have you two traded notes?

A: No! And thank you for reminding me because I’ve been meaning to send Michael [C. Hall] an email. I’d intended to as soon as I heard he’d done that, and I haven’t heard it yet. I’m sure he does a better Jud than I can possibly! But, you know, I’m departing a little bit from the very heavily accented Jud in the book; just making him a little bit more muted, not such a broad characterisation.

Q: Do you think secrets hang heavy on Jud?

A: Jud is a man with an enormous secret. He knows that there is a way to bring a [once] living thing back to life. He has that secret. He also knows that it’s a very, very dangerous secret, and not something to play around with – a kind of Sorcerer’s Apprentice secret. He has that secret, so his big struggle is whether to put it in play, whether to share it and that, to me, is his great conflict. Any time you approach a role you look for those moments of conflict, the two sides of a person’s nature and those two sides of [Jud’s] nature are that he’s a good and loveable man who’s been… something has destroyed part of him, and he’s got to deal with that tension.

Q: Lorenzo di Bonaventura told us that he thinks a lot of people – in America especially – don’t want to talk about death. Do you think that’s true?

A: Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard that from Lorenzo, or anyone else, but I think it’s interesting. I think Stephen King is preoccupied with death, for sure. Why else would he write these diabolical novels? … I think there is something innocent about America. America has been spared a lot of bloodshed and war. We’ve participated in wars, but not on our own soil since the Civil War. I think the second half of the 19th Century, America lived with death, but I think we’ve grown out of that… I participated in a remarkable concert a couple of years ago, by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

There’s this great conductor called Manfred Honeck, who put together a wonderful concert about death. The central piece in it was Mozart’s Requiem but he also incorporated poems and letters.  He talked about Mozart’s time and place in Europe, where people lived with death, where people were close to death, constantly. Families where half the people would be dead by the time they were 30 years old and how naïve America was in that regard. It was a very haunting concert because it confronted people, confronted the audience and I think it’s a wonderful thing to make a genre film in this vein and to really think deeply about these things. It makes it a much better film. I have this wonderful feeling that I’m making a really good film and it’s because everybody involved is taking this stuff really seriously.

Q: As well as the big themes of Pet Sematary, it’s also a movie packed with great dialogue. Especially some of the intimate scenes between you and Jason Clarke’s Louis Creed. Was that part of the appeal?

A: Absolutely. Those were wonderful scenes to shoot. I hope they’re as good as they felt because they are a real emotional chess game, between two people who each have secrets from each other. It’s kind of like working with Michael [C. Hall] on Dexter. I always called that a chess game. Here, this is two good people who are trying to be good to each other, but things go wrong. That’s a good story to tell.

Q: How have you found working with Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer? Is it a help or a hindrance having two directors at the helm?

A: Those guys are such fun. They live and breathe and eat and drink movies. They just love [them]! And they love and value good horror. That’s why they love Brian DePalma (Dressed to Kill) so much. They flattered me a little by telling me that I’m the only actor they ever wanted to play this part. It’s probably not true, but it’s one of the reasons I said yes… They said that what they liked about having me play this part was that they thought it would give the character a certain gravitas, and it would help people buy the premiseof the whole movie. I’ve done a couple of films in the past few years where I’ve played that part – the sort of good, concrete foundation to the whole structure. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011), playing a man who has Alzheimer’s, James Franco’s father, a man who has an authentic crisis of his health and mind, which leads to apes taking over the world.

Interstellar (2014), that was another old man, in this case the father-in-law of Matthew McConaughey – I have a long list now of all these famous actors whose father I’ve been, or…grandfather, which I’ve also played… So lately it’s sort of been my role to bring a little gravity to genre pieces.

Q: Do Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer ever have big disagreements between them?

A: Oh no, because you’re talking to the same person when you talk to the two of them. They call themselves Devin, or Kennis, or whatever [laughs]. They’re just so enthusiastic, and if there’s any disagreement between them you see it right in front of you and see them thrash it out and come to a conclusion, a consensus but you very rarely see it.

They’re also very open as to what Jason [Clarke] and Amy [Seimetz] and I bring to the discussion.

Q: What did you bring to the discussion, in particular?

A: When I was first sent the script, I had some problems with it. I had a list of three or four things that bothered me, that didn’t make any sense to me, and that I couldn’t quite motivate. Before I even met [Kevin and Dennis] I got on the phone with them and we had a long conversation and I went blow by blow through these things that troubled me and in each case, these things had already troubled them too, and they had already fixed them!

They said, ‘We can’t wait for you to see the draft that we’ve just finished, because it answers all of these questions.’ That sold me on the project as much as anything. I thought, ‘Oh, these guys are smart. These guys are even smarter than I am…’ And that’s always a great relief!

Pet Sematary is available now on Digital Download.

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