Between The Visit and Wayward Pines, M. Night Shyamalan has been launched back into the spotlight, making him once again an exciting filmmaker to look out for. His latest thriller, Split, in which three young women are abducted by a deranged man suffering from a multiple personality disorder, features a fantastic performance by James McAvoy and retains the writer-director’s signature flair for atmospheric mystery but with a deeper bite.
Shyamalan has surely had his ups and downs, but as of late, seems to have re-discovered that style that made his earlier films like The Sixth Sense and Signs so successful. If nothing else, he’s having fun again, and that’s definitely good news for everyone.
Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Shyamalan in an exclusive interview while he was doing press for Split. Among other things, we dug into his new demented tale and how it relates to his body of work, his love of the flashback sequence and much, much more.
Check it out below, and enjoy!
You gave James McAvoy a hefty order with Kevin but he really knocked it out of the park. From a directing standpoint, what kinds of difficulties arise when you’re dealing with a character with so many personalities?
M. Night Shyamalan: Well, it’s an incredible challenge for an actor to not generalize because they’re playing so many different parts. You can rely on personality and on bad habits, basically.
There are different types of acting. Sometimes you’ll see a sitcom-y kind of acting, which is really personality acting and that’s effective for that kind of storytelling. I think when you’re playing so many roles you could have instincts towards generalities.
We were very, very careful to walk through each character as if that was the only character he was playing and really talk about where they came from, why they’re there, all of those things and he applied all of his craftsmanship and he’s a very accomplished stage actor.
I think, in my mind, where some of the best acting comes from is that training of how to commit and keep going on the stage and I did what I could to make the challenges as clean as possible. So on a particular day, we just had him play Dennis and then the next day Patricia and tried to keep the characters he’s playing as separate as possible so that he was emotionally clear where he was.
So much of the thematic material in your films are focused on acceptance and understanding for people who are different, be it by illness or more extraordinary means. Split really speaks to the empowerment of victims of abuse and to people who feel outcasted because of great tragedy, a similar theme you dealt with in The Village. What keeps you coming back to these themes?
M. Night Shyamalan: There’s a sense of realizing that what’s different isn’t necessarily bad and the things that we go through really make us unique. Is that uniqueness always pejorative? That’s the way we feel. If you’re not normal, that’s a negative. Even when you say the sentence, “oh, he’s not normal. She’s not normal.” That sounds negative.