Filmmaker and playwright Neil LaBute is known for courting controversy, whether in his mysogynistic movie In The Company Of Men, his off-Broadway play Bash: Latter-Day Plays (which resulted in his being disfellowshipped - that's booted out of the Mormon church) or his horrific remake of The Wicker Man, with Nicolas Cage.
His latest movie, Lakeview Terrace, about a racist cop (Samuel L. Jackson) who terrorizes the hot young couple next door (Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington) is primarily controversial for its resemblance to bad-neighbour thrillers like Pacific Heights. Which made me wonder what someone like LaBute was doing at the wheel. Opens Friday (September 19). For venues and times, see Movies, page 101.
What attracted you to Lakeview Terrace?
I've seen other thriller scripts and they just didn't have the elements that I feel this one does, the layer of race, the gender dynamic. It felt like something I could bring something to.
Hasn't this premise already been done about a dozen times?
Yeah, it's got that same innocuous title as so many movies that you have no idea what it means. And when audiences see the trailers and they hear the premise, they are already filling in the blanks about what to expect from a thriller movie. We needed to make sure we were a step ahead, not in terms of twists, but in terms of giving depth and meaning and substance to the story.
Why make the racist cop black?
Race is just the elephant in the room. I could have cast Tommy Lee Jones. It's not so much that the character's racist as he is drenched in power and subtly abusing it. He abuses it at work and then goes home and has trouble turning it off. Even though he escalates to a tragic place, it's in a way that people can really understand. He's not a bad person. He's a widower and a father just trying to do the best he can for his family. His house in that neighbourhood was his American dream, and this couple represents a change away from that.
Patrick Wilson as the nice guy next door is a great choice. Was it hard to find an actor to play off Sam Jackson who could bring a balance to the story?
This would have been a good part for Aaron Eckhart, but I imagine Aaron would've escalated more quickly. Colin Farrell's name came up - good actor. But with the characters he's played and who we imagine him to be, the first time Sam Jackson says anything he would walk over there and punch him. Patrick really comes off as a nice guy who is gradually pushed and pushed and finally finds the backbone to say enough is enough.