Knives Out producer Ram Bergman: ‘A murder mystery like never seen before’

Knives Out producer Ram Bergman: ‘A murder mystery like never seen before’

Francine Wolfisz speaks to Star Wars producer about his latest star-studded thriller, working with Rian Johnson and why the Israel film industry has never looked so great...

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

Daniel Craig and Ana De Armas star in Knives Out
Daniel Craig and Ana De Armas star in Knives Out

Star Wars producer Ram Bergman likes nothing better than a cracking Agatha Christie novel. First the murder is committed, then the suspects are revealed, all seemingly with a great reason to have caused the demise of the now-deceased person, and finally some clever detective swoops in to reveal the killer, usually with some brilliantly-devised twist at the end.

He’s also a massive fan of Alfred Hitchcock, mastermind of psychological thrillers.

“So just imagine what would happen if you take Agatha Christie and add a little bit of Hitchcock,” smiles the Israeli-born producer, who has teamed up with his friend and long-time collaborator Rian Johnson, for their latest film, Knives Out. “You end up with something you’ve never seen before.”

Indeed, writer and director Johnson – who has worked with Bergman on every project since his debut film, Brick, as well as Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi – has rustled up a stylish throwback to Christie’s old school detective stories, combined with Hitchcock’s edge-of-the-seat psychological thrillers.

Then there’s the all-star ensemble cast, which includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Ana De Armas, Christopher Plummer and Daniel Craig.

Having already garnered a 96 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is almost guaranteed – appropriately – to make an absolute killing at the box office.

Set in the sweeping estate of an old Bostonian mansion, the story begins with renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) found dead just after his 85th birthday.

With a wound to his neck and a knife in his hand, suicide seems the only possible explanation, but debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) has other ideas.

He just needs to sift through the web of self-serving lies and red herrings to find out the truth, but just about everyone close to Thrombey has a compelling motive to have seen him dead.

“Essentially, it’s a Rian Johnson whodunnit,” laughs the 49-year-old cinematic hit-maker. “He came up with the idea about 10 years ago, but we only started working on it in January 2018. We worked fast and completed it by Christmas.

“Daniel [Craig] suddenly became available because the next Bond was postponed, so we had a window and began getting a cast together. Lots of people were putting their hands up to sign on, because the film is fun, challenging and not the kind of thing that gets made every day.”

With a lavish $40million (£31m) budget, Knives Out is a far cry from Johnson and Bergman’s first project together, Brick, which was made on a budget of just $500,000 (£389,000) in 2005.

But from humble beginnings came what has turned out to be a very fruitful partnership – with the two recently launching their own film company, T-Street – and as Bergman tells me, a lifelong friendship.

Of meeting Johnson for the first time, he recalls: “Rian had been trying to make this movie for seven years after he got out of school and when I read the script, I realised I’d never seen anything like this.

“I told him the way he was trying to make this movie was the wrong – it was too ambitious and no-one wanted to give him $1million to make it, so I suggested we do it for a few hundred thousand dollars.

“So we went and made the movie and it was a great experience. I knew from the first day of filming that this guy knew what he was doing.

“It’s rare to find people who are so uniquely talented, but also genuinely the nicest person.

“You don’t think when you start out what it could lead to. You just focus on making the movie, but today we are partners and I think I’ll be the luckiest man if I can continue making movies with him for the rest of my life.”

The ensemble cast includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Riki Lindhome and Toni Collette

Bergman first began producing films during his early 20s, having moved from his native Rishon LeZion in Israel to initially New York and then Los Angeles, in 1991. He had no formal training, just a passion for the film industry and a willingness to keep at it.

He worked as a valet, while also “trying to figure out how to make movies” and within the year he was producing his first film, learning his trade while on the job.

Cut to more than two decades later, Bergman has established himself as a formidable film producer working with multi-million dollar budgets and the ability to churn out box office smashes.

His 2017 film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, turned over a staggering $1.3billion (£1bn) worldwide.

Of his success, Bergman, who is married to fellow Israeli producer, Limor Diamant, credits his father – who passed away 16 years ago – and mother for “never saying no to anything and always supporting our dreams. They were the best parents that anybody could imagine.”

Likewise, he attributes his Israeli upbringing for helping him achieve his dreams.

“When you come to the US or anywhere as an immigrant, you are generally hungrier than the people who were born here, because whether they make it or not they are going to stay here.

“You don’t have the base, you don’t have the family or the support, you just have to go and figure out how to pursue your dreams. I don’t necessarily feel it in the day to day, but being Israeli probably did shape who I am.”

As for his views on Israel’s bourgeoning film and television industry, which has seen the likes of Homeland, Fauda, When Heroes Fly and Shtisel exported worldwide, Bergman says he is “blown away by the talent” and is pleased, “more people are recognising Israel for this.”

Having produced Natalie Portman’s 2015 film, A Tale of Love and Darkness, based on the autobiographical novel by Amos Oz, Bergman is keen to again work with Israeli film-makers and writers – with projects already on the horizon.

“We are developing things and hopefully one day we can bring it to fruition. A hundred per cent it’s exciting times for the Israeli film industry.”

Knives Out (12A) is in cinemas from Wednesday

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